Weekends on the Water: When home away from home is a 55-foot houseboat

  • Ron Dutton of Agawam heads to the houseboat he owns with his wife, Lynne, at Oxbow Marina in Northampton.

  • The Duttons’ daughter, Jessica Buoniconti, right, and Christine Machos wave to friends on another boat while cruising the Connecticut River Oxbow in a pontoon boat with Jim Blair and Lynne Dutton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jim Blair, from left, Lynne Dutton, Christine Machos, Jessica Buoniconti and Ron Dutton sit down to a dinner of steak, vegetables and stuffed mushroom caps. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ron Dutton waves to members of the Oxbow Water Ski Show Team while driving his pontoon boat on the Connecticut River Oxbow. He says his perch on the river gives him a great view of what’s going on. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jessica Buoniconti waves to members of the Oxbow Water Ski Show Team while riding in a pontoon boat with friends and family on the Connecticut River Oxbow, July 28. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ron Dutton drives his pontoon boat back to his houseboat at Oxbow Marina after a cruise on the Connecticut River Oxbow with friends and family, July 28. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jim Blair, from left, Lynne Dutton, Christine Machos and Jessica Buoniconti wave to members of the Oxbow Water Ski Show Team while riding in a pontoon boat with friends and family on the Connecticut River Oxbow, July 28. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jim Blair, from left, Lynne Dutton, Christine Machos and Jessica Buoniconti talk while riding in a pontoon boat with friends and family on the Connecticut River Oxbow, July 28. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Houseboat owners at the marina often tie their boats together to socialize. Jessica Buoniconti/Contributed Photo

  • Jessica Buoniconti—Contributed Photo

  • Dutton fills the hot tub on the top deck of his houseboat where he and his family and friends spend time sunning themselves and taking dips in the tub. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A friend, Jim Blair, puts steaks on the grill aboard Ron and Lynne Dutton's houseboat. Leisurely meals, often shared with friends, are a highlight of weekends on the river. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hanging out and chatting is a popular activity on the boat. Here Christine Machos, left, and Jessica Buoniconti have a conversation inside the Duttons’ houseboat. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dutton, relaxing here with family friend Christine Machos, spends most weekends from spring until fall on his houseboat with his wife, other family members and friends.

  • Lynne Dutton, right, prepares dinner with the help of her daughter, Jessica Buoniconti, who has a yacht docked not far from her parents’ craft. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Machos, center, pulls in a fish as Buoniconti watches. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ron Dutton drives his pontoon boat, which he uses for excursions on the Connecticut River Oxbow. The houseboat is more difficult to maneuver for quick trips. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Fun is a big part of river life. Jim Blair, from left, Ron Dutton, Lynne Dutton, Christine Machos and Jessica Buoniconti share a toast aboard the Duttons’ houseboat. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Thursday, August 17, 2017

Sunlight streams in through the sliding glass doors as Lynne and Ron Dutton sit at their dining room table on a recent Saturday sipping cups of dark roast coffee, spiked with shots of liqueur. They can feel the room swaying, but it’s not because they’re drinking alcohol. They are inside a 55-foot houseboat, bobbing on the Connecticut River, tethered to a dock at the Oxbow Marina in Northampton. 

“It is really our home away from home,” says Ron. It’s their weekend retreat, just a 30-minute car ride from their house in Agawam.

“It is so serene, relaxing,” says Lynne.

There are many perks to houseboat life, Ron says, but perhaps the best: “you have a 360-degree water view,” and “you don’t have to mow the lawn.”

The couple, both in their 50s, end their busy work weeks here from May through late fall to de-stress. Ron manages a machine shop in Southwick. Lynne is a rehab director at a Governor’s Center nursing facility in Westfield.

The 880 square feet of living space — not counting the roof deck — is plenty of room for them, they say. There is a master bedroom and two tiny bedrooms each furnished with bunk beds, where their grandson, Anthony Buoniconti, 11, often has sleepovers with his friends, and where their daughter, Jessica Buoniconti, 36, slept for many summers before she got her own yacht. That’s now parked across the channel at the marina within view of her parents’ houseboat.

They spend hours in this dining room, chatting with friends and family, who come and go throughout the day.

“We kind of talk about random stuff,” says Lynne. “It’s like a Seinfeld episode – it is like a weekend of talking about nothing.”

It’s like camping on water, the Duttons say, but without leaving the comforts of home behind, like a cozy queen-sized bed to sleep in after a day of beach hopping and a full-sized shower to rinse off the sand. They even have a few pots on the porch where they are growing herbs, like cilantro to make jalapeño cilantro margaritas. 

The dining room doubles as a living room, there is a couch and a flat screen TV hanging on the wall. Fresh flowers are on the counter.

Fishing rods lean in the corner next to a bookshelf where there are also goggles and a plastic tackle box. On cloudy days, like this one, there are some novels to pick through to pass the time.

Every day is a good day to be on a houseboat, Ron says.

Even in the winter, they might make a trip out to go ice fishing off the boat.

A river community

Their craft is one of eight to 12 houseboats that dock at the Oxbow Marina along with well over 300 motor boats. Like the Duttons, most of the houseboat owners live nearby.

“We often see people we know on the river,” says Lynne. They exchange friendly waves and beeps as boaters pass by and they often socialize with one another. 

While most enjoy the serenity of the river on just a seasonal basis, one man lives on his boat all year round, Ron says. The others close their houseboats and store them for the winter. They all pay an association fee to dock here.

“It suits us perfectly,” says Ron, as he gives a tour of the boat’s interior.

A spiral staircase on the porch leads up to the roof where there is a hot tub. On nice days, they recline on lawn chairs facing the sun and take dips in the tub. From here they have a clear view of hot air balloons that sometimes float by; on this particular weekend the Westfield International Airshow is in full swing and they can spot U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flying overhead.

The kitchen is the first place Ron heads for in the morning; he typically wakes up first, around 6 a.m. He makes Funfetti pancakes for the kids — grandson, Anthony, and whatever friend he is hosting for the weekend — before frying up some bacon and eggs for the adults. 

When they want to take a river excursion, they use a small pontoon to get around because the houseboat itself can be cumbersome to maneuver. They call it “the car” and often use it when they go out to some of their favorite spots on the river, like Rainbow Beach in Northampton.

Lazy day

On this most recent Saturday, around noon, the sky is cloudy and the grownups are content to hang out inside. Through the open kitchen window, there is the indecipherable chatter of Anthony and a group of other children playing by the water on the dock. They hook a bit of shrimp on the end of some fishing wire and drag it through the dark river water.

“Not that we are snobs, but we only use shrimp and lobster for fishing,” Ron jokes. Actually, they typically use worms, he adds. 

The kids have been outside for hours. One child swoops a huge fishing net through the water, pulling up a small silver fish and tosses it back. By lunchtime, Anthony himself has caught and released 44 tiny fish.

“What’s wonderful is that they are not on iPads or cell phones,” Ron whispers, to avoid being overheard by the kids, whose devices are stacked on the table. 

When the children finally get bored, they are welcomed inside with hot dogs sizzling on the grill.

This is where the Duttons say they make many fun summer memories. There is always meat cooking on somebody’s grill. Neighbors docked nearby will regularly stop in to say hello. They have parties out on the water, tying up to six houseboats together. In the past, the Duttons had a band play on their boat.

On this Saturday night, they have plans to watch a double-feature on a neighboring houseboat. Their friends, Jason Hollway and Cheryl Hollway, will pull down their projector screen and play one movie for the kids and then one for the adults after the children go to bed.

Family tradition

The story of the Duttons’ houseboat summers starts 17 years ago, when they were looking into buying a vacation home. They found that was beyond their means, but they wanted a place that would allow them to include their adult son, Ron Jr., who has muscular dystrophy and relies on a wheelchair.

Lynne had fond memories of spending time with her grandparents on their boat as a child.

“I grew up with boats in my blood,” she says. Those summer days, she remembers, there was nothing to do, nothing to think about, and it was wonderful. “It is a lifestyle thing.”

The Duttons bought their first boat, Maya, at Brunelle’s Marina in South Hadley.

Unfortunately, it turned out Ron Jr. didn’t enjoy the water and now prefers to stay home.

But Ron Sr. and Lynne and daughter, Jessica, fell in love with the boat right away.

The couple upgraded to a bigger houseboat, already named Primo One, from the Chester Point Marina in Connecticut 10 years ago.

Now with Jessica owning her own yacht, and Anthony, spending weekends on the water, too, they are continuing the family tradition.

“Just the laughing grandchildren makes it worthwhile,” says Ron.

Lisa Spear can be reached at Lspear@gazettenet.com