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Drop anchor, you're home

With housing prices high, living on a boat is gaining popularity among ocean lovers.

July 22, 2007|Ann Brenoff | Times Staff Writer

She said living in such close quarters -- about 300 square feet -- isn't a problem because her family "loves being together." Her only condition before agreeing to renting out their 2,000-square-foot Oxnard Shores home and moving onboard full time was that both boys take year-round swimming lessons.

Does the small space ever bother her? Cooking and serving dinner is a cinch, she said, because she doesn't need to take more than a step or two in any direction to reach anything. And when they lived in a land home, "we were all in the same room all the time anyway."

"Less is more," she said. "Some women dream about bigger houses. I dream about getting a bigger boat."

She has an off-site storage area where some family heirlooms are kept. The family's plan is to buy a mountain home in a few years.

Laurin and Caston Dalon spent a year cruising around Central America before the birth of their now-8-month-old son, Cas, prompted them to drop anchor at the Ventura West Marina in January.

"It's a good lifestyle," said Laurin Dalon, 34. "Don't let anyone tell you that's it's necessarily a cheap way to live. It helps if you can work on your own boat, or it can get pretty expensive." She added there's a running joke that "B.O.A.T. stands for 'bring on another thousand.' "

The price varies, depending on size, features and whether they are new or used. Even pre-owned boats can cost $100,000 or more. Many live-aboards get around this by buying fixer-uppers. The Internal Revenue Service permits tax deductions for boat-loan interest provided the craft is used as a primary or secondary home and has cooking, sleeping and toilet facilities. Another way to ensure the interest deduction is to refinance the mortgage on your land-based home to buy the boat.

Author Nicholas, who lives and practices law in Redondo Beach, agrees that the lifestyle only appears to be inexpensive. Typical costs include a monthly boat payment, slip fees, live-aboard fees, insurance and the normal expenses of cable, Internet and cellphone service plus routine boat maintenance and operating costs. He estimated that these could be as much as $20,000 a year.

The Dalons' 46-foot sailboat was a few years used when they bought it for $200,000. It provides them with about 650 square feet of living space on two levels.

Caston, an engineer and businessman, has been a lifelong sailor. Laurin came to the water later, when she met him.

"I can't say we won't, at some point, be land-based," Laurin said. "But we probably will always have a boat."

Although families dot the live-aboard scene, it's more common to find live-aboards like Rick Clemenson, a Santa Monica architect with his own firm. Clemenson, a bachelor, had been living on the water full time in Marina del Rey for the last few years but now spends a few nights a week at his girlfriend's home in Mar Vista.

At 57, he has lived on and off boats for 30 years and came to his current live-aboard status when he and his wife divorced.

"She got the house and everything in it and I got the boat," he said, joking. "It was meant to be."

Although his own boat and dock are clutter-free and spotlessly maintained, Clemenson is quick to admit that some live-aboards cause problems. Live-aboards get a bad name, he said, when they "junk up" the dock with their overflow possessions, don't maintain their boats and disturb their neighbors with excessive partying.

Boats are moored close to one another, Clemenson said, and it's hard to avoid overhearing everything occurring in your neighbors' slip. "Who wants a bunch of drunks next door?" he said. "If you have a bad-neighbor problem, it's literally on top of you."

Clemenson, who calls the Mariners Bay marina home and pays $790 a month for his slip rental (which includes $200 a month for live-aboard privileges), has mastered the art of scaling down possessions to those that are necessary for life on board.

The architect in him likes the minimalism that boat-living necessitates. He uses one of his three bedrooms for storage and tools, and his 150-square-foot living room-galley-dining room area is sufficient space to entertain. There are two bathrooms.

Despite the small quarters, he manages to fit in his books, guitar, laptop and a 17-inch flat screen TV. His business suits hang neatly in a closet tucked behind what doubles as a sink and vanity top. "Things are stacked, so you need to remember where you put them because they are often covered up by something else," Clemenson said.

Live-aboards seem to fall in and out of favor, author Nicholas said. The trend now, he added, is that marinas want "boaters whose boats look good."

He added, "They want their boaters to not look like they have garages in their slips. Right now, they are more flexible with live-aboards. They want people there to keep an eye on things."

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