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Dropping Anchor : Couples Give Up Houses for Cozy Life on a Boat and a Future Cruise

September 13, 1990|JANE HULSE

After 22 years in the same Ventura home, Harry and Diana Crane traded their mortgage for a mast and suburbia for a slip.

They sold their house, gave away most of their possessions and moved onto a 41-foot sailboat in Ventura Harbor. They swapped three bedrooms, two bathrooms and 1,385 square feet of living space for a mere 160 square feet of floating oceanfront real estate.

They gave up big parties and steaming baths. In fact, a trip to the bathroom is now a short hike down the dock to the marina's community bathrooms--a nasty commute in foul weather. But after 1 1/2 years of boat living, they couldn't be happier.

"At 3 a.m. you put on your sweats and a trip to the bathroom can be really enjoyable," Harry Crane, an instrumentation inspector, said. "You might see some herons."

The Cranes aren't living afloat alone. About 300 boats in the harbor are classified as "live-aboards," home to an assortment of nautical devotees and even families. At the Channel Islands Harbor, there are another 125 or so.

Why do they do it? Why are they willing to sacrifice a king-size bed for a hard, small mattress shaped like a trapezoid wedged in the pointy ends of the boat? Why do they put up with mildew, and a lifestyle described by some as little more than camping?

For the Cranes and many others, it's a chance to cruise. They live dockside long enough to work and put away some money. Meanwhile, they prep the boat for the journey ahead and hone their navigational skills.

"A year from this November we'll be ready to go," said Crane, whose flexible job enables him to take off for months at a time. The couple, who have been married 28 years and have two grown sons, are veteran sailors and will probably head for the Sea of Cortez.

For now, their address is their slip and they seldom go out on the open water--a surprising fact that many live-aboards are sheepish about admitting. It takes a lot of preparation to take a boat out; everything loose has to be secured. Weekend sailors know this and so they don't have cereal boxes and books lying around. But people who live on their boats are trying to create a homey environment.

"Even if we never go out of the slip, I like living here," Diana Crane, a part-time waitress, said. The Cranes liken their "dock" neighborhood to a small town 50 years ago where neighbors shared meals and looked out for one another.

They admit they are hardly roughing it. Their $81,000 boat is carpeted, and they use a forced-air furnace during the damp, cold winter months. Their boat has a bathroom with a hand-held shower. But like other boat owners, they prefer to use the marina's bathroom to avoid having to pump out their holding tank.

Life on the water hasn't always been so cushy. The boats as well as the boat dwellers have come of age in the past 20 years.

"In the early 1970s they were the rebellious, antisocial types," Connie Breedlove, a saleswoman at Ventura Yacht Sales, said. "At that time it was cheap and that was the reason they did it." Often the boats were inoperable derelicts whose owners couldn't afford to repair them.

"Now more young professionals and retired people are doing it," Breedlove said. The boats are bigger, more luxurious. "It's no longer a cheap lifestyle."

Breedlove knows firsthand. She and her husband, Lynn, have lived aboard their 42-foot sailboat in Ventura West Marina for five years. Below deck the teak wood gleams. Peach and aqua curtains cover the walls, matching the thick carpet throughout. The main salon has bookcases, pictures on the wall, a skylight and a cushioned settee with stuffed animals and a crocheted afghan.

They pay a slip fee of $370 per month and a live-aboard fee of $150 a month. Storage fees and mailbox rental bring the total to $575 a month. On top of that their boat payment is $400 a month.

The Breedloves expect to have their boat paid off by the fall of 1992 when they plan to set sail for Costa Rica and a trip through the Panama Canal and up the East Coast. For now, they are building up their "cruise kitty"--$1,000 for every month at sea.

They have few complaints. The worst is dry-dock, where the boat goes every year or so for paint and repairs to the bottom. They continue to live aboard--teetering up and down a steep ladder.

They have become masters at getting by with less. They've traded a washer and dryer for the Laundromat. They watch television on a nine-inch screen. In the winter they heat the boat with space heaters and a miniature wall-mounted Franklin-style stove that burns six-inch logs.

Cooking on their three-burner stove requires organization. The cutting board fits over the top-loading refrigerator. "I get everything out before I start," Connie Breedlove said.

Because space is at a premium, impulsive shopping is out. "I think about every purchase," she said. For gifts, they usually give each other something boat-related, such as a pair of binoculars.

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