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Five Writers and One Theme: Sanctuary : Cover Story

Working Out On The Love Boat

February 11, 2001|PAUL DEAN | Paul Dean, a former Times staff writer, is the publisher of Robb Report

Our life had evolved into a cumbersome tale of three cities. Los Angeles: Our home for many years. Boston: Where my career had unexpectedly veered. And Phoenix:

Where Mrs. Dean was restarting her public relations company. At the peak of this upheaval, we were loaded down by two houses, one apartment, four cars, two motorcycles, a boat, three cats and a red chow that grinned a lot.

"We have more stuff than most small towns," noted Mrs. Dean. "Time to clean house, especially the houses."

We kept the Phoenix address as home away from my semimonthly commute to Boston. Our transportation fleet was whittled to one Honda Accord and Tonka, a little red truck. The cats and Beau, the smiling chow, stayed. So did the boat as our pied-a-terre, a second home, a floating office for business trips to Los Angeles and a summer asylum in Marina del Rey for months when Phoenix's solar heat overpowers a microwave.

She is our love boat--47 feet of cross-planked mahogany over an oak frame, a classic cabin cruiser with a history reaching back to the '40s. Only a dozen were made by architect Glen Tremaine, designer of World War II PT boats. She was built by the ElcoYacht Division of the Electric Boat Co. of Bayonne, N.J., the same yard that delivered Lt. John F. Kennedy's PT 109. And her first owner was aviation pioneer Donald Douglas, who took her to the Sea of Cortez as part of early National Geographic expeditions monitoring communications between whales.

No one with any sense of authenticity would gut a Victorian and bowdlerize its charm with black glass and high-tech features. Nor should one tamper with the originality of a grand old yacht. So we have equipped her with items from thrift shops, antique stores, marine salvage yards and garage sales. There's a rotary phone in ivory white, quite Art Deco and very Noel Coward. Also, a Grundig radio and a brass Chelsea clock in the main cabin. The galley has a chromium GE coffee percolator and a 1940s-era aluminum whistling kettle and teapot. A period cocktail shaker and ice bucket sit on the wet bar. The main stateroom has Tiffany lamps, brocade drapes and old prints of Dutch waterways.

Decorating her interior has become our fascination and a full-time hobby. Rebuilding a pair of mighty, 700-horsepower Crusader engines and restoring a deep sparkle to her varnished wood-and-nickel-bright work has developed into therapy for a couple often crippled by the cerebral aspects of their work worlds. Despite old claims that boats are a damp route to drying up a bank account, our boat really cost no more than rebuilding a '57 Chevy Impala, and certainly tens of thousands of dollars less than restoring an old house.

In truth, we have a $50,000 floating condo just a slip away from Johnny Carson and his beloved "Serengeti," and that's some neighborhood. Thanks to cell phones and laptops, it is a workplace. Does it beat downtown? I have no commute. And I seem to write better in a Roland Garros T-shirt and sweatpants when my muse is the slap of halyards against a neighbor's mast. Forget shaving. I can nap at the drop of an eyelid. Like Cary Grant in "Father Goose," I have me 10 fine toes to wiggle in the sand; shirttails flying, I'm a blooming dandelion. It's our B&B and very own jungle boat ride into the Pacific, where seals bark from buoys and dolphins romp across the bow at sunset as we laugh and catch dinner. It is another world, and one couple's solid footing, with her name the perfect fit. "I hereby christen thee Pied a Mer," blessed Mrs. Dean.

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Copyright 2001 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation. All rights reserved.

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