Castaway camper lives aboard canoe in Boston Harbor

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BOSTON (AP) — They say no man is an island, but Michael Richard Smith has been creating his own floating homes in Boston Harbor.

The Coast Guard and Boston police are keeping an eye on the unconventional camper who has been tying his canoe to small offshore docks in the city’s inner harbor and pitching his tent to sleep at night.

The 49-year-old Maine native said Tuesday he’s been paddling the waters of metro Boston since October with all his possessions aboard a 14-foot, 40-year-old aluminum canoe he patches with duct tape when necessary.

Smith detests the term “homeless” and describes himself as just another “fellow citizen.”

He said he feels most secure when he sleeps out in the harbor, and lists his biggest worries as the wakes of fast ferries and drunken boaters.

“It’s about as safe as I could be,” said Smith, who’s also camped on at least one inner harbor island. “Anybody who would want to hurt me or take my things, they have to have a boat. And boat people stick together.”

The Coast Guard spotted Smith a few days ago, and said while the mariner has been moving around, he hasn’t moored anyplace where he’s a threat to security or his own safety.

“What it really seems like is he’s trying to figure out whether it’s feasible to live out there,” Coast Guard Lt. Joe Klinker said Tuesday.

The Coast Guard official said the agency would take action if Smith entered a security zone, but that he has stuck to recreational areas.

“It’s not a major concern for the Coast Guard right now,” Klinker said. “... A lot of people who don’t have a place, live by the water. But on the water is unique.”

On Monday night, Smith tied up and slept on a floating dock about 100 yards offshore from the New England Aquarium.

Boston Police Department’s Harbor Unit has offered him city services, but he declined, police spokeswoman Cheryl Fiandaca said Tuesday. She said Smith did accept a new life vest with reflectors and a whistle from police.

Police told Smith not to operate his canoe at night, because it doesn’t have lights. And while police said they’ll continue to check on his safety, like the Coast Guard, they said Smith doesn’t appear to be breaking any laws.

Smith said he spent about a year camping further north in Massachusetts before his sister helped him transport his canoe to Boston’s Seaport District. Once there, he put the vessel he named “Alice Williams” in the water behind the InterContinental Hotel, the same neighborhood where Red Sox baseball team owner John Henry has been known to dock his 164-foot yacht “Iroquois.”

The name of Smith’s canoe is a tribute to the family of Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island whom the mariner admires for his support of First Amendment freedoms. He used the name of Williams’ mother, because he said women need more recognition.

Smith said he’s spent years trying to advocate for better public schools, and has passed on a newsletter he’s written on the topic to politicians, including Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. The canoe owner said he thinks about public policy as he’s paddling through the harbor and that living on the water has taught him balance, patience and fortitude.

Smith is a wiry, mustachioed man with long brown hair who tucks a silk pink rose into the brim of his explorer hat. He dresses in layers to stay warm, but also doesn’t seem to mind that colder weather will be coming as winter arrives.

Smith plans to sleep out in Boston Harbor all winter and prefers to concentrate on the beauty of his surroundings rather than the bareness of his accommodations.

Before sunup Tuesday, Smith saw a shooting star skitter across the New England sky and said later he made a wish meant for all people, no matter where they bunk at night.

“I wished self-esteem for all of us,” he said.

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