The Boat House

Adventurers Cade and Lisa Johnson

By Bernadette Bernon

Photo of a houseboat perched in her new home 2,300 feet above sea level in the DRSand Dollar, perched in her new home 2,300 feet above sea level in the Dominican Republic, has been the home of Cade and Lisa Johnson for several years.

An American couple who'd cruised in the Caribbean just couldn't let go of their liveaboard lives or their pretty cruising boat. When it was time to stop cruising, they made an outrageous decision. Cade and Lisa Johnson of Apollo Beach, Florida, unstepped the wood mast, craned their 43-foot Polaris, built in 1980, out of the water at Luperón, cut off the lead keel (and sold the lead ingots inside it), extracted the engine (sold that, too), bolted the cutter onto a steel frame Cade had built, loaded that on the back of a hired semi, and slowly hauled the boat up 30 long miles of winding, narrow DR mountain roads until they reached the land they'd bought a few months before.

"Dominicans lined the roads as we passed," said Lisa, remembering the day. "There were so many tense moments! Once, the truck couldn't make one of the hairpin turns. We had to run into the nearest village to find a trash-collection truck to help pull us forward inch by inch." Finally, the circus arrived in El Cabirmal, in Altamira, Puerto Plata. Sand Dollar and the frame were lifted off the truck by a 100-ton crane and planted in the rich earth and bedrock 2,300 feet above sea level, overlooking the mountains and sparkling Caribbean. The boat's cruising days were officially over.

Then the serious work began. Cade and Lisa restepped the mast (truncating it just above the lower spreaders) and built a cinderblock addition containing the home's main entrance, bathroom, storage, and laundry. Once the addition was covered in stucco and finished tight against the boat, they carefully cut a doorway through the hull. They installed rainwater cisterns and a septic system; cut paths and walkways through the banana and coffee trees; and installed a generator to back up their solar panels, which power an LED lighting system. Their plan was to live off the grid — a natural project for Cade, a Georgia Tech engineer, and Lisa, a Kentucky chemist, after spending four years living aboard in Florida and 11 years cruising Sand Dollar through Central America and South America.

Photo of Sand Dollar being lifted off the truck by a 100-ton crane

Photo of Sand Dollar being lifted off the truck by a 100-ton crane

Photo of Sand Dollar perched in its new home 2,300 feet above sea level in the DR

"The DR picked us," said Lisa. "We wanted to live on an island, and we love the coolness and different microclimates of the mountains. When we dropped anchor here, we drove around for months until we found this land."

Meanwhile, they tried without success to sell Sand Dollar. Finally, Cade had one of his crazy ideas: "Lisa, we'll never have a living room as beautiful as this one. Why don't we keep her?" Lisa's learned over the years that it's best to just go along with Cade's schemes. Most times, the outlandish ones are forgotten. But this time, she said with a smile, "We end up living on a mountaintop in a boat!" The Johnsons have since built a 1,000-square-foot cottage on the ridge above Sand Dollar and plan to use the boat as a guesthouse. Unless, of course, Cade gets another one of his bright ideas. 

— Published: December 2015

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