This time last year, Alec Liberman was living in a spacious farmhouse in Londonderry. Today, his life is contained in a 36-foot, 1967 Chris-Craft houseboat at a dock off Badger’s Island in Kittery. He shares the small space with his new dog, Penny.
Moving into a boat was a drastic and daunting change in Liberman’s life, but he’s embraced the challenge.
“I think that anytime you want something, even if you’re apprehensive about it, if you just take the plunge and don’t let fear dictate what you get to have, that’s a confidence boost,” he says.
Born in Chicago, Liberman grew up in Bath, Maine, where his family moved when he was a child. A self-described “skinny, shy, band geek” who wasn’t athletic, he joined the ROTC after high school with plans to become an officer in the Marine Corps. Following his graduation in 2009, Liberman put on his “dress blues” and became a second lieutenant. After just a few months of additional training, he learned how to shoot stinger missiles, and a week later he was deployed to Afghanistan.
After a second deployment, he returned home and started a personal-training business. Three years later, he opened On Target Fitness in Portsmouth, where he still coaches clients.
After going through a divorce last May, Liberman knew he’d have to get rid of some belongings and downsize. He soon got a small apartment in downtown Portsmouth. “Even in that apartment, I never more than 50 percent inhabited it,” he says.
That’s when he heard about local people living on houseboats. Life on the water isn’t a foreign concept to Liberman — his first job, at age 12, was harvesting seaweed, which helped him develop a familiarity with boats.
It didn’t take long for Liberman to find a boat with an unbeatable price, but it needed a lot of work, including repairs to roof leaks, a septic system overhaul, sanitization, and electrical work, as well as painting and cleaning. At first, he didn’t have a working toilet or running water. After about a month and a half of work, though, everything came together.
“I’ve always been attracted to the idea and simplicity of living in a small space,” he says. “During my second deployment, I pretty much lived in a shipping container with an AC unit attached to it. I loved it. I loved not having things and clutter.”
Living on a houseboat does come with a particular set of challenges. He’s had to get used to walking outside to turn on the water before a shower or washing dishes, and a lack of hot water. His small kitchen space includes a tiny fridge, but he’s turned that into a positive, noting that it helps him control what and how much he buys. Often, seaweed piles up around his boat, requiring him to regularly push it away. “It’s the closest I get to mowing the lawn,” he says.
Despite these limitations, Liberman doesn’t regret his decision.
“I’ve wanted this for a while, and I thought I’d have to wait a while, but if you let fear stop you, you’re missing out and you’re a little bit less ‘you,’” he says. “I think if you’re going after the things you want, you’re expressing yourself properly.”
In his small space, Liberman has just enough to keep himself and Penny comfortable — a small couch with a bright blue checkered cover and a couple of nautically themed throw pillows, several plants, a long line of books, a bedroom that fits only his bed, and a kitchenette with a single burner. He doesn’t have a TV and spends a lot of time reading.
“Because I’m high strung and will think about things and ruminate constantly, reading is just perfect for me because it’s quiet and it makes your brain focus,” he says.
Liberman has long been an early riser, but living on a houseboat has encouraged him to wake up before dawn and watch the sunrise from his top deck with a cup of coffee. He plans to stay on the boat year-round, indefinitely. For now, he is simply living in the moment.
“Patience is a virtue when patience is required, but I think impatience is a virtue when impatience is required,” he says. “When it comes to my work at the gym and when it comes to the way I’m living, I don’t want to wait. I want to make it happen today.”