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Home Port : Boatniks Trade Four Walls for Mobility, Coziness and a Bay View


How's this for a trade-off:

Give up all of your furniture, roomy showers, conventional flushing toilets, washer and dryer, designer kitchen, deep-pile carpet, knickknacks, yard, garage, most of your clothes and the comfort of right angles.

In return, you get mobility, coziness and a bay view.

To about 150 independent Orange County residents, this sounds like a perfectly good deal. They have gladly made the trade for the freedom, albeit somewhat Spartan, of living aboard a boat.

They make their homes in the yacht harbors of Orange County, living out a life that most landlocked people have surely dreamed about at one time or another. To the dreamers, such a life might seem idyllic, carefree and unfettered, a chance to spend their days at a kind of personal Club Med, where long pants and shoes are considered formal and the seals and dolphins are your neighbors.

For the actual boatniks, however, life tends toward the practical, sometimes almost mercilessly so. In their buoyant homes, they face a laundry list of particular situations, chores and problems that can dull the gloss of the nautical life, at least in the eyes of landlubbers. Of course, there is that bay view. . . .

"In the summertime, everything is open and you get such a nice breeze through here," said Sandy Taylor, who lives with her husband Michael and two young children on a 37-foot trawler, the Free Byrd, in Sunset Aquatic Marina in Seal Beach. "My husband's lived down here for 11 years, and I've been here for five. Once we started dating, I started coming down here. I was from the Valley, and when I saw this I said, 'God, this is heaven down here.' We've never thought about moving anywhere else."

From the point of view of the house, condo or apartment dweller, the Free Byrd is a nook. But the Taylors have managed to turn it into a comfortable and highly functional home for themselves and their son Chad, 3, and Sadie, 1 1/2. The children and their toys--all secured in nets hanging from the bulkhead--occupy the smaller forward cabin, where there is also a head equipped with a flexible shower hose. Sandy and Michael live in the larger after cabin, which opens onto the stern and also has an adjoining head.

The living room, family room, dining room, kitchen and wheelhouse--the designation changes, essentially, on whim--are amidships.

Every item has its place. There is an almost total absence of clutter. The atmosphere is not sterile but shipshape, and somehow manages to look homey. Still, Sandy conceded, most landlubbers would be horrified to learn what sacrifices must be made to make it all work.

"If they came from a house to a boat, they wouldn't know what to do with all their stuff, because you don't save anything on a boat," she said. "Things you're not going to use, you don't bring home. Everything that's here, we use."

Also, she said, you don't store things on a boat. You don't pile them or stack them, either. You secure them.

"If it looks like it's going to move when you're out on the water, then it's going to move," she said. "So you really don't want it hanging around. When you pick up and untie your lines, you don't want to be putting away all this stuff."

The items that are not bolted down or secured in cabinets are placed on bits of rubber matting called "non-skid." There are very few glass items, the coffee mugs are of the wide-bottomed no-spill variety, and there are two lines strung across the main hatch to keep even the baby secure (Sandy calls them "baby strings").

"We've been in rough water," Sandy said, "and nothing moves. Not even the TV."

The appliances on board are similar to items you might find in any home on land, with one exception: they are almost invariably smaller. Television, microwave oven, stove, refrigerator, table, sinks--all are scaled down. This obviates subtle changes in two common tasks:

Cooking: Sandy said she can cook anything in her on-board kitchen that can be cooked on land--in fact, she said, she has cooked large Thanksgiving dinners--but it must be done in stages because of the limited counter space. "The only thing about cooking here is that you can't make one big mess at one time," she said. "You have to make a little bit of mess and then clean up that mess and make another mess and then clean that up, kind of like one course at a time."

Using the bathroom (actually, the head): Both heads on the Free Byrd are quite confined, so much so that the entire head doubles as a shower. The water simply runs off the bulkheads and flows away through the deck boards.

Fresh water, as well as electricity, comes from hook-ups on the dock, but the Taylors can switch over to on-board water when they shower, since the pump aboard supplies more pressure than the dockside conduit. The toilet must be flushed in a series of steps and the waste collects in an on-board holding tank, which is pumped out periodically at dockside stations.

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