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Venice, American-style

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It's not a requirement for living in Seattle, but a duck's love of the water helps. The city is sandwiched between Puget Sound on the west and Lake Washington on the east, and overhead there's often rain or a strong hint of it.

One group of residents who revel in this environment are the houseboat dwellers, whose homes form an American-style Venice along the banks of Lake Union and Portage Bay, smack in the middle of the metropolitan area.

These adjoining waterways are busy with pleasure boats, rowing shells, and seaplanes sharing the space. In summer, there are also tour boats that motor by houseboat avenues that jut from the shoreline.

Many residents have kayaks or other small craft ready to go at a moment's notice. Within minutes, a person can be windsurfing or cruising, soaking up the city and lake scenery.

"I have a view of the city," says longtime resident Jann McFarland, "but I can sit here and look out at the water and feel a million miles away."

The houseboat lifestyle combines a relaxed atmosphere and convenience.

"It's wonderful being so close to everything in the city," says Elizabeth Shaw, a nurse, who has migrated with her husband into the city from suburban Bellevue. "We go out at night and we're home in 10 minutes."

The Shaws, like others who joined the neighborhood in recent years, have put a lot into remodeling their home. Inside it is decorator-magazine attractive, yet like many homes along the docks retains a modest, summer-camp rusticness on the outside.

This is not surprising, given the history of these boats, which float but don't have motors.

"Originally this area was for people you might say were homeless," says Hellen Nelson, who has lived on the lake for 38 years.

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