So you think your place is too small? : WELCOME ABOARD

February 16, 1992|LAURA HENNING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Henning is a Long Beach free-lance writer. and

I know the weather is changing even before I hear the weatherman," said Heather Perkoff. "I hear the wind in the rigging and the water lapping against the hull."

Perkoff, who lives aboard a 22-foot sailboat in Marina del Rey, is one of an estimated several thousand Southern Californians who have cut their ties to the land and live full time on board sailboats and powerboats.

"We live on an island connected to land by four lines," one live-aboard explained.

Living on everything from modest sailboats to palatial power yachts, these live-aboards are as varied as the vessels in which they make their home, said Dave Irons, a dock master in Marina del Rey. His slip tenants include an architect, a Terminal Island bridge tender, the owner of a tobacco shop, an advertising executive, a university professor and a professional musician.

They all have one thing in common, a love of the water.

"There's a certain tranquility about the water," said Jack Woods, head of Pioneer Skippers, an association of Marina del Rey boat owners.

The serenity of the water lured Perkoff from her Beverly Glen Canyon home seven years ago. She originally planned to move to a shoreside apartment and was living on her boat while she looked for one, but she found on-board living so pleasant she never moved back to land.

Through the years, Perkoff, a professional caterer who works out of a commercial kitchen on shore, has perfected the art of compact living. She stores her clothes, which are made of crushable fabrics like jersey and knits, in duffel bags.

An assortment of boating equipment, tools, charts, pots and pans and a case of wine are stored in a variety of lockers shoehorned into every nook and cranny of "The Blue Lady," her Columbia sloop. Always the cook, she keeps a spice rack in her galley where she once prepared a meal for 15 people on just two burners.

"I'm a master of living in a small space," said Perkoff, "but I'm not denying myself any of the comforts."

Somehow she also manages to find room for her business files and small pieces of office equipment. She goes on brief cruises to Catalina Island and San Pedro and when she gets there she calls her answering machine, which she leaves behind in her dockside storage box.

Totally at home in her watery world, Perkoff still misses two things about land-bound living: "A garden to putter in, but as you can see I managed to solve that," said the young woman, gesturing to a variety of potted plants on board and on the dock, including a geranium in which a duck has nested for the past two years.

"The other thing is a fireplace," she added. "I haven't solved that one," she said with a laugh.

Although her boat is "The Blue Lady," Perkoff is anything but. She has a hectic job and the boat is a place to "recharge her batteries." "I don't have to run away to get away from it all," she said. "All I have to do is go home and stretch out in the cockpit with a cup of coffee. It gives me the energy to deal with the chaos that I have to cope with in my profession."

If Perkoff has mastered the art of compact living, Hollywood producer Michael Lesner is awash in space aboard his 1924 classic motor yacht Kinsai. The vessel, which was originally designed by George Converse of Santa Barbara and is docked in Long Beach's Alamitos Bay, is 92 feet long.

"I'm not too sure I would enjoy being a live-aboard on a smaller boat," Lesner said. "That gets a little difficult. But on a larger vessel like this one you have a complete galley and you have room to roam. It's a lot easier."

Lesner is painstakingly restoring the antique motor yacht. He estimates the replacement cost of the teakwood alone at $600,000. The work is being done by a Yugoslav who believes in old-fashioned craftsmanship. Using no nails, he instead fits wooden planks together using tongue-and-groove construction. And, of course, as Lesner pointed out, there is no such thing as using a carpenter's level on a boat, so everything is designed to the idiosyncrasies of the vessel.

"Being 92 feet long, this is a pretty ambitious size vessel for a first boat," Lesner admitted a bit sheepishly. "I originally envisioned this image of putting on a blazer with a little insignia and walking around with a glass of champagne and a funny hat but it didn't work out that way. It's a lot of work."

Like a homeowner who is renovating his abode, Lesner has been living amid a certain amount of dust and disorder. Right now the place looks like a barge, he said. He bought the yacht four years ago to get away from the glitz of Hollywood, and he's glad he did: "I just enjoy throwing on a pair of jeans and hanging out on the boat," which has a Jacuzzi on the aft deck.

Added Lesner: "I've lived in Malibu in a house overlooking the ocean and I had the ocean spray coming right in the bedroom window. But I can't tell you the feeling when you are actually in a boat floating at a dock. It's unparalleled."

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