Sometimes being tied down is a good thing

By Steven Bull

I’m the first to admit, accept and, in fact, celebrate that there is not a single type of boater. There’s no best type, preferred type or even ideal location to boat. It all depends on what you like. Though, I’ve noticed my preferences have changed over the years.

While I grew up with a family that spent weekends at the cottage and espoused the joys of having a boat at the end of a dock, I’m now a cruiser. With my Sea Ray 380 Sundancer I’ve discovered the joys of marina life.

Granted, it’s not for everybody. To some, the idea of spending weekends, weeks or months in the summer season surrounded by other people is the antithesis of enjoyment. Those people are likely the kind to prefer going out to a secluded anchorage and getting away from it all. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just not for me.

My wife spent much of her childhood at marinas with her family’s boat and has nothing but great memories of the communities and their characters.

When we bought our boat a few years ago we had to decide where to keep it.

To non-boating friends and family that was but a minor item on a grand checklist. Certainly acquiring and piloting a 38-foot long, 13-foot wide boat would be the biggest challenge. To us, were weren’t just finding a dock to tie it to, of which there is no shortage where we were looking. Instead we were looking for the perfect slip, the right marina, the right community—complete with characters—to call our home away from home.

We chose the Toronto Islands and we aren’t alone. There are four marinas there—Queen City Yacht Club, the famous Royal Canadian Yacht Club, Toronto Island Marina and the Island Yacht Club. Together there are about a thousand boats of various sizes and shapes on the islands alone. When you include the marinas on the mainland within the inner Toronto Harbour—Marina Quay West, Marina Four (often simply called: Pier 4) and John Quay, where large boats and yachts up to 200-feet dock—the community grows further. Then you have the National Yacht Club and Ontario Place marina just outside the harbour to the west and the massive Outer Harbour Marina to the east. That’s well over 2,000 boats and boaters that make Toronto their home base for the season.

That doesn’t count the transients that come and go to the Big Smoke, T-Dot, The 6ix, or whatever nickname is fashionable right now. It’s a very popular destination. On top of that there are multiple marinas both east and west including Bluffer’s Park Marina, Mimico, Port Credit, Frenchman’s Bay, and even Harbour West Marina in Hamilton are all within a day’s to-and-from. Crowds of anchored boats off the beaches are considerable in the height of summer.

A home marina, to me, offers the best of both worlds. You can have a wonderfully relaxing time or a helluva good party without untying and just enjoying the company of fellow boaters. Or, you can go out for adventure—be it a day trip to anchor off the beach, a tour of the harbour, fishing, or a bigger journey to another port.

Every marina is as different as every boater is, but a common thread I’ve found while cruising Lake Ontario and Lake Erie on my boat is that they remain a great leveler. There are people from all walks of life and various ages that I would, generally, never meet and spend time with in the “real world.” In the boating world, I’ll have a beer with a retiree on one side and a 20-something on the other while watching the Blue Jays at a marina bar. I’ll find myself chatting about bottom paint with man old enough to be my father and a short walk later, talking about the best place to take our son for a boat trip with a mother of four.

I’m biased, of course, but I love having a boat in Toronto. I was born and raised in and around this city. Though I invested a night or two at beach parties as a teen, went to canoe and kayak camps as a kid and saw the shimmering lake every time I walked to and from school or took the GO Train, I never thought of Toronto as a waterfront city in the same way I view most of Florida. It was a city that happened to be on the water, not a city that was all about the water.

Boy, was I wrong.

I’ve become a part of the best-kept secret in boating, one that a couple thousand people have managed to keep; yet the boating scene continues to grow in popularity every year. There’s no hours-long commute north of the city to get to cottage country. You have it here. And it’s always been here. These aren’t new marinas.

Going for a sunset cruise and having the skyline of the largest city in Canada as the northern backdrop may not do it for you but, man, it gets me every time!

Our home marina truly is our home-away-from-home. We keep enough clothes, baby toys and food that we can just show up and spend a weekend. We can wander over to the beach and have our infant son experience splashing in the water for the first time or, when the grandparents stay on board to babysit, we can wander up to the bar for live music and laughs with marina friends.

It may not be for you, but for me, having a home marina we love to be at is about as integral to the boating experience the boat itself.


This article is featured in the Winter 2017 issue of Boats&Places.

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Steven Bull is an Associate Producer and Host of PowerBoat Television. He grew up boating on runabouts and PWCs on the lakes around Huntsville, while his wife grew up on cruisers. It only took months after getting married for Steve to adopt that lifestyle. Together, they purchased a Sea Ray 380 Sundancer they keep at the Toronto Islands. A graduate of the University of Windsor’s business school, Steve worked in the front office of OHL and CFL teams before moving to Europe and working as a Ski Guide in the French Alps. He returned to Canada get a Master of Arts in Journalism from Western University (formerly UWO). Steve’s broadcast experience ranges from the BBC World Service in England, to business reporter with NTV in Kenya, and from 2010-2014 as a multi-platform reporter and host with CBC News. In 2014, Steve combined his passion for boating with his skills as a broadcaster by joining Lifestyle Integrated where he contributes to Boats&Places Magazine,,, and of course, PowerBoat Television.