Reader Request Week 2021 #4: Living on a Boat

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Matt C asks:

I recall in a different post you mentioned you spent a summer on a houseboat when you were young? Can you elaborate on the story of how it came about and some or all the shenanigans that ensued?

“Houseboat” is a little grand. It was a sailboat, probably 26 feet long or so, and it belonged to my mother and her (now-deceased) husband Roger. For a time they lived on it in San Diego with a couple of dogs and a parrot, which strikes me as very cramped, given that the interior was basically the size of a small RV (I mean, I guess it was a recreational vehicle, just not one you could take on roads).

Now, as it happens, right around the time that I got an internship at the San Diego Tribune (now the Union-Tribune), mom and Roger were going to pull up stakes in order to run an orphanage in Mexico (don’t ask). However, they weren’t able to bring the boat with them, and it would be several months before their dock rental (or whatever you call it) would be up. So rather than have me find a room somewhere in town, I lived on the sailboat. It benefitted mom and Roger, since someone would be there to look after the boat, and it benefitted me, because I didn’t have to pay rent. They also left me one of their vehicles, a ridiculously huge Ford F-450 that got, like, maybe eight miles to the gallon. That solved my issue of how to get about in San Diego for a summer.

I don’t know how my mother and Roger managed to live on the boat with three animals and all the accoutrement of an actual life, but for a 20-year-old kid who showed up with a small suitcase and no dependents? It was pretty great. Living in a marina is very much like living in an RV park, except on the water — I showered and did my laundry at the Marina and ate out most nights. I had enough space for me, my clothes and my guitar. I’d have friends come over occasionally, mostly long enough to go “well, this is cozy,” and then we would head out somewhere else. I was not actively dating or playing the field, so there was no rocking the boat, so to speak.

And, no, I didn’t actually take it out on the sea. I would have probably crashed it leaving the marina. I didn’t want to drown, y’all.

Otherwise I was living a storybook life for a 20-year-old dude. I was in San Diego, I was young, I had friends, and my internship was with the entertainment section of the paper, so my days were spent writing reviews of concerts that I had seen the night before. I got to interview some memorable people and learned a lot about working at a newspaper, which came in handy when I started an actual newspaper job a year later. It was, basically, a perfect summer, and I’m glad I got to have it. On a boat!

(There’s still time to get in a topic request for this year’s Reader Request Week — go here to learn how to do it and to leave a topic suggestion!)

— JS

14 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2021 #4: Living on a Boat”

  1. I, too, lived on a boat in San Diego. Me and about 5,000 of my closest friends sailed that thing all over the globe.
    They never let me fly the airplanes, though.

    I also used to live within walking distance of the Mission Beach marina. I could throw a rock and hit San Juan cove. Those were good times.

  2. I grew up in San Diego, just a few blocks from the ocean. The only thing that would have made it better, in my kid-mind, would be to live on a boat!

    In later years I dated a guy who lived at a marina- it was cramped, smelled like gasoline and not at all what I had dreamed about…

  3. You say you’d probably crash – out of curiosity, if the dock authorities or someone came by one day and asked you to move the boat out briefly or park it in a different spot – what would you have done?

  4. I get seasick so I don’t go on boats, but this was an interesting story.

  5. Though fine, no song will ever top the first time I heard “D:ck in a Box.”

    I like the idea of living on a boat, but…I think I’d never get over being sick. I have a vestibular condition. If you want enjoyment, watch me “roller skating.”. Schadenfreude orgasm.

  6. One of my sons had a friend whose father lived on a boat after his kids grew up and moved out. He already owned the boat before retirement, so he saved money because rent at the marina was much cheaper than rent or a mortgage in our area (we are an hour north of San Diego). Which strikes me as a parallel to those people who retire and realize they can’t afford their mortgages, so they sell their house and buy an RV, but like a richer and slightly more privileged version of that.

    I have a mother who gets a wild hair every few years and reinvents herself. Sounds like you might as well. Good times.

  7. I hope you realise that you’ve pretty much guaranteed an avalanche of “Hey, could you tell us about that time your mom and Roger ran an orphanage in Mexico?”

  8. LOL, Jerome, an aircraft carrier?

    John, one summer at sleepaway camp, I sailed a few times a week, with a boy who was a couple of years older than me. Friendly, nothing romantic (heck, I was…11…, I think), deeply satisfying. We sailed prams (square-bowed, one sail) and a small boat that had a mains’l and tiny jib on a lake.

  9. Going on two years ago I visited Catalina Island for the first time, which is odd given that I grew up in California but now live in Maryland. As the boat approached Avalon Harbor I could see a densely built condominium complex on the hillside just out of town. This obviously was not for people who worked, as the local economy clearly could not support such an edifice. This left wealthy retirees. I wondered aloud what the condos cost, and was quoted a surprisingly low number. After spending the day there, I understood why. It is a lovely town. It would be marvelous for a long weekend stay. But live there? The leisure options would exhaust themselves rapidly, with a moderately expensive boat ride to anywhere. And of course there would be the doubtlessly much more expensive air trip for any but the most modest medical emergencies. I gather that the retirees cycle through at a fairly high rate, living there a few years. Even those that aren’t bored out of their skulls decide that proximity to modern medical care iss the higher priority. Hence the otherwise surprisingly low prices for the condos.

    I imagine living on a boat to be similar, in overview if not in detail.

  10. I lived in San Diego for five of the last six years, and a summer spent going to shows in San Diego and writing about them does sound about perfect. Any memorable venues? Are any of them still around? My most beloved spots were the Casbah and the Observatory, but I don’t know if they would have been there when you were 20.

  11. As a full-time liveaboard since 1999, I’m tickled you got a taste of the life. As a cruiser, though, I have to say you missed the best parts. Coffee in an empty anchorage I entered for the first time the night before, sunrise producing a brand new (to me) set of shapes and colors…that’s one. They are legion.

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