For liveaboards, home is where the boat is

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Sick of high rents but want to be close to the ocean? Very close? DnA explores the charms and challenges of living aboard a boat, and learns about the changes coming as Marina del Rey becomes more “corporate.”

Houses and housing take many forms in LA, and that includes living on boats in the Southland’s marinas.

So what’s it like to live on a yacht or sailboat? Is it affordable and how do you make it happen?

In the third report in our series “This is Home in LA: From the Tent to the Gigamansion,” DnA examines the life of “liveaboards” at Marina del Rey.

Through conversations with residents, we explore the charms and the challenges of living on water.

And we learn about the changes coming to the Marina as demand grows for bigger slips, more technology and creature comforts.

Kajon Cermak and Bob Muellner are thinking of selling their Thousand Oaks home to liveaboard full time. Photo by Frances Anderton.

Kajon Cermak, KCRW’s own traffic reporter, and her husband Bob Muellner have been married for nearly 40 years, and raised three daughters in a house in Thousand Oaks. Now they are among around 8 percent of boaters at the Marina del Rey harbor who have chosen to “liveaboard.”

Living on a boat can have unanticipated expenses. Besides paying for the boat, the slip rental and the liveaboard fee, liveaboards have to maintain the boat, scrub the hull and pay for repairs.

“It’s one of the best little secrets, and hopefully still will be, because as they do all this new construction, they’re opening new marinas. But it is amazing to have this view… it’s a very upscale way to live at a small price,” Cermak said.

Zuzu’s Petals, the adorable dog belonging to Kajon Cermak and Bob Muellner. Photo by Frances Anderton.

For some people a boat is their first and only home — and in one marina, that home was almost taken away.

Yvonne Clark has lived aboard her 40-foot yacht in the marina for five years.

“I think a lot of people get down here through a divorce, like they had the boat they had the family and the wife gets the house and then the guys come down and they get the boat and then they start hanging out on the boat. Then it’s bachelor life and they find that they don’t ever want to leave,” Clark said.

Clark’s happy life was upended in May when Legacy Partners — that’s the corporation that owns Wayfarer Apartments and the boat slips — sent what seemed like eviction notices to 300 or so liveaboards. The company said it was renovating the dock and needed people to move, and then requalify later for upgraded, and pricier, slips.

But Yvonne and some of her neighbors fought back, and the County of Los Angeles’ Department of Beaches and Harbors — which owns and overseas Marina del Rey — intervened.

Yvonne Clark aboard her boat “Siren and the Muse,” in Marina del Rey. Photo by Avishay Artsy.

“By and large most boaters in the marina are recreational boaters it’s their pastime, it’s not their residence, and that’s what the marina was built for,” said Carol Baker, a spokesperson for the department.

“However in this particular case I think unfortunately the leaseholder sent notification to the boaters that was largely interpreted as an eviction notice and then had to step back and say no, because it caused panic and it caused quite a bit of concern. Had to walk that back and is, to our understanding, is working out a process that will make this a smoother transition. That doesn’t mean that the slip rates won’t go up because when they’ve redeveloped these marinas there they do so at a high cost and they’re providing more amenities — more power, improved restroom facilities, laundry facilities — all of those things that they need to provide and what the boaters require. And what we’re looking for is that the rates that they charge are fair and within market rates.”

The upshot is that the eviction notices were rescinded but Clark says it was too late for some people. And for the old timers who did stay, she says based on her costs, the new rent could be out of reach. She estimates her rent, currently at about $1,100 a month, will go up by about $400.

Yvonne Clark stands next to her boat “Siren and the Muse,” in Marina del Rey. Photo by Avishay Artsy.

Carol Baker concurred that houseboats are no longer permitted at the Marina because boats docked there now have to be navigable. Those that are still there have been grandfathered in, but cannot be sold.

One of Clark’s neighbors is Jonathan Joss, an actor who divides his time between homes in San Antonio, Texas and downtown Los Angeles. He’s best known for his appearances as John Redcorn in “King of the Hill” and Chief Ken Hotate in “Parks and Recreation.”

“We’re trying to be moved off off our sanctuary. We’re a community, we’re a family, and that’s what Marina del Rey was about. Miranda del Rey was supposed to be a marina for the people. Boats were supposed to be limited in size. There was a family feel to it. Now it’s becoming really corporate, corporate living,” Joss said.

Jonathan Joss, an actor who keeps a boat in Marina del Rey. Photo by Avishay Artsy.

“The new requirements are being driven by the whole Silicon Beach thing with the tech companies coming in and raising the rates,” Clark added. “And they think that by raising the rates for the current boaters that will eliminate a lot of people and open it up for the higher end boats. That was the intention.”

Clark says the liveaboards are an integral part of the community.

“I think most of the people like having liveaboards on their dock because that way they have somebody looking out for them. I mean, there’s been cases where people have gotten down on the docks and they’re on somebody else’s boat. And you just tell them, ‘hey what are you doing here. It’s not your boat.’ And so it’s a good way of just keeping an eye on things.”

“They are the eyes and ears of the marinas,” added Carol Baker. “They are vigilant because it’s their home. So having a certain percentage of liveaboards in the Marina makes it safer. On the other hand it’s a balance because the infrastructure of the Marina doesn’t, wouldn’t support a high percentage of liveaboards.”

Baker adds there’s another reason for the upgrades at the Marina. There just isn’t the demand for the slips for the very small boats anymore.

Ben Halfon bought his boat “Cool Change” in 1987, and has lived in Marina del Rey since 1972. Photo by Avishay Artsy.

But there are still some people who find a 30 foot sailboat to be the perfect home.

Ben Halfon lives aboard his boat “Cool Change,” which he bought in 1987 and already carried the name, inspired by a song by Little River Band. His bed space is tucked into a triangle in the prow.

“About 5, 6 years ago and there was an ad for a furnished apartment in the Marina City Club. And I thought, ‘well before I die, I’ll try to live on land just to see what it’s like, because it’s been so long.’ And I noticed that the floor I was on, there were like 12 apartments. I never met anybody in any of the apartments. You know, I’d go up and down the elevator. People come and go. I never met anybody other than maybe cleaning ladies or people doing laundry,” Halfon said.

“Over here, you know everybody. And a couple of weeks ago I had a battery that I had to remove. I don’t have the strength anymore. And everybody was there to help me out. They could see me struggling. And that’s probably the main thing, the camaraderie about the people that live on boats.”

Ben Halfon aboard “Cool Change.” Photo by Frances Anderton.

So is the boat life the life for you?

There’s a common joke among boaters: the two happiest days in a boater’s life are the day that they buy a boat and then the day that they sell the boat.

“It’s one of those situations where you have to go in eyes wide open,” Baker said. “It’s not for everyone. So I would say, practice before you make that commitment.”

Ben Halfon aboard “Cool Change.” Photo by Avishay Artsy.