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Live-Aboards Set Their Sails for Floating Homes

August 12, 1985|MIKE EBERTS | Eberts, a graduate student at USC, is a Times summer intern

Hal Rose said he still marvels at the aesthetics of his home environment, even though it has been 20 years since he bought his first sailboat and eight years since he moved aboard the Wanderosa, his 51-foot motor sailer.

Barbara Morgan, who has lived aboard the Wanderosa with Rose for the last three years, describes their life style as "like living on the inside of a post card."

Morgan and Rose are but two citizens of the small community of live-aboards in Marina del Rey. Their exact number is open to debate. Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department figures peg the live-aboard population at 316 as of April 29. (According to the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, Marina del Rey has about 6,000 slips.)

But Charles Wooddell, sales manager of Aggie Cal, a Marina del Rey boat dealer and marina operator, said he believes many more "hide-aboards" are living in the marina, pushing the real total to three or four times the official tally.

Whatever their numbers, their lives are an unusual mix of privilege and hardship. On the plus side, live-aboards cite a breezy and picturesque life style and the unique advantage of being able to take their homes across the marina or across the world.

On the downside, they note cramped living conditions, lack of storage space, high slip fees and boating costs.

To live aboard a boat, "you have to really love the water," said Dave London, 45, a dock security officer in Marina del Rey. "If you do, this is what you want to do. Not even a condo on the beach gives you the same feeling."

London has lived aboard his 41-foot powerboat, Sea Horse, with his wife, Virginia, 45, and son, Derek, 20, for the last eight years. Although he's clearly happy being a live-aboard, London does see some drawbacks.

Maintenance costs for a boat can be at least three times those for a house, said London, who previously lived in a house in Sherman Oaks.

Some boats have washers and dryers, but like most live-aboards, the London family makes regular visits to a self-service laundry. There is a phone aboard the Sea Horse as well as a shower and bathroom, but many people living on smaller boats must use facilities on shore, London said.

Life Style Not for Everyone

Not everyone is cut out for life on a boat, Wooddell said. He said the proximity to water can be dangerous for small children, while adolescents and teens may feel cramped and bored because there is little to do.

Although some marinas prohibit or discourage live-aboards, Wooddell said he believes their presence deters vandalism and theft. "When you have a boat, you usually have some expensive things," like navigational equipment and a radio, he explained.

Live-aboards pay higher slip fees than boat owners who merely dock their vessels and take them out periodically: $11 a foot, versus $7 a foot at Aggie Cal, Wooddell said. The slip fee for his boat is about $400 a month.

However, Hal Rose found living aboard his boat makes good economic sense because he rents out his former Beverly Hills residence.

Although the Wanderosa is larger than most boats in the marina, Barbara Morgan said no matter the savings, "You never buy the giant economy size of anything."

Rose said he and Morgan do not lack amenities. "I just have to go out for ice more often."

But living aboard the Wanderosa is like living in the Astrodome when compared to Jay and Lauren Millman's living quarters--the 38-foot sailboat Que Sera.

Jay Millman said it took him a year and a half to mentally prepare for moving from a two-bedroom apartment near the marina to the Que Sera, where the living space measures about 8 feet by 7 feet. "My wife has done a lot to make this a home," said Millman, a 51-year-old sales representative for Hewlett-Packard.

"The biggest detriment is cost," he said, explaining that a slip fee of $11.50 a foot plus other fees about equals the cost of a nearby apartment.

Art Work in Storage

Books and magazines are stuffed onto several shelves aboard his boat, and Millman, something of a collector, said he has "a whole wall of books" and some art work in storage.

Live-aboards must decide what is important to them, he said. "Your possessions become a lot different."

Wooddell said living aboard a boat "is a test of organization and housekeeping." Along with wife Patti, and their two dogs, he moved from a 4,200-square-foot home in Santa Monica to a sailboat with about a tenth as much space. Their current living quarters, a 36-foot houseboat called the Patti-O, is somewhat roomier, he said.

Ken McKinney gave the impression he could live in a rowboat if he had to. At 78, he has been a live-aboard for nearly 30 years.

"I mowed my last lawn back in 1956," McKinney recalled. He lived in Castro Valley near San Francisco then and was part-owner of a mining operation in Utah.

A man who wanted to buy that interest "didn't have any money, but he did have a boat," said McKinney, who is known to his neighbors as Mac.

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