When Jim Donovan decided to spend last winter living on his boat, he didn’t know the season would become entrenched in a polar vortex. But he was not going through it alone. The TV and film director met a small, tenacious and stubborn group of Canadians who’d also elected to ride out the rugged winter on board their boats. Jim decided to pick up his camera; the resulting mini-documentary is this week’s featured video.

Why live on a boat?
It’s this idea that you can live a lot more simply than when you’re in a normal house or apartment. Boats aren’t notorious for being cheap places to live, but you would have to be sharing an apartment to equal the costs. Add it all up, and if you’re traveling, you have to make a budget for fuel and whatever. But at the end of the day you’re on the water, and sometimes you can just live for free, so that’s part of the attraction.

What are the downsides to living on a boat?
You sacrifice some comfort. I have a good boat (a Beneteau 351 made in 1994), but they’re not made to be out in minus 20-degree weather. You basically have a quarter or half-inch of fiberglass between you and minus 25. The centre of the boat can be warm and as you approach the sides, it gets cold again, or the cold comes in from underneath. Sometimes the systems just fail. In my case and in Danica’s case, the water just froze. How do you do dishes? How do you make food? It gets a little tough in the deep winter.

Last year we also had that ice storm and it took a toll. When the power grid goes down you can’t just start a fire in the boat. A lot of people who didn’t have generators had to abandon ship. Sadly it wasn’t in the documentary, but it was a whole other adventure. Windstorms are another problem. I went through one where we had gusts up to 100 kilometres an hour, and I thought for sure the whole enclosure that I had built would rip off. Somehow it didn’t.

What did you learn making the film?
It allowed me to give more attention to the nature that’s around the area. I mean this is just 20 minutes outside of Toronto, and you have coyotes, birds, and all these ecosystems that you just take for granted. We don’t stop and appreciate nature as much in the city. So for me the biggest lesson from making the film, other than of course meeting the people and getting a sense of who they were, was how awe inspiring and beautiful nature is.

Will you do it again?
Maybe not this winter. I have other plans afoot. But I’m missing it already. It’s always sad to leave the marina.