Wednesday, July 06, 2005 | Almost two years ago, Danny Caldwell got a phone call: He had a slip. After several years on the waiting list at Southwestern Yacht Club in Point Loma, the then-23-year-old native San Diegan had finally secured himself a space. There was only one problem: Caldwell didn’t have a boat.
“They said, ‘you’ve got a 30-foot slip, you’ve got 90 days to put a boat in it’,” explained Caldwell. “I was like, ‘Dad, do you want to co-sign on a loan for me, so that I can get a boat and move onto the bay and be out of your hair finally?’ “
Caldwell is part of a growing phenomenon in San Diego. Young, single and not yet firmly ensconced in a career, he is part of a new generation of locals who want to stay in San Diego, and hope to raise some capital, but quite simply can’t afford to clutch the first rung of the property ladder. The sheer cost of buying property has forced individuals like Caldwell to search out an alternative; some way that they can live within the city limits, while still building some sort of capital.
“I never really wanted to move out and pay someone else’s mortgage,” said Caldwell. “That was always my biggest fear.”
Home for the young graduate, who now works as an emergency medical technician, is a 35-foot power boat. Wider and roomier than sailboats of the same length, “Let Me Ride” was chosen not for its capabilities as a transport vessel, but for its dimensions.
From the exterior, she looks powerful, if a bit worn-out these days. Her canopy was ripped off in a storm, and the wind, rain and sun have wormed away at the upholstery and wood paneling. But the vessel’s hull rises up, bullish and proud from the waterline. For an apartment, she’s pretty cool.
Inside, there is no trace of wear and tear. Caldwell’s living quarters are decked out much like any young bachelor’s living space. From the flat-screen television to the bottles of Jim Beam in the liquor bar set into one wall, “Let Me Ride” is like a floating dorm room, a seaborne studio.
The young sailor spends most of his afternoons on deck, soaking up the sun and chatting with his neighbors or other boaters floating by or just enjoying a beer with some friends. At night, the swaying of the boat rocks him to sleep.
“The best thing possible is waking up and the water’s oily glass and there’s no one around and it’s sunny and flat and calm and you’re like, ‘OK, this is why I do this,” said Caldwell. “You’re in the middle of the city, but you have your own refuge.”
But a refuge like this doesn’t come cheap. Caldwell said the real costs involved ensure that living on a boat costs as much – if not more – than living on land.
Caldwell said that when all is said and done, his monthly “rent” is anywhere between $350 and $400. A survey of San Diego marinas found that slippage fees for a 35-foot vessel ranged wildly, from less than $300 a month to almost $1,000 a month.
Some marinas are incorporated in yacht clubs, which charge separate membership dues and often levy an initial joining fee that can be as much as $8,000. Other marinas are less strict and accept boaters who pay a monthly rent and sign a renter’s agreement similar to a land-based tenancy. The average cost for the marinas contacted was $630 a month.
Added to these fees, of course, are the loan repayments on a vessel. These are, to a certain extent, intangible. Prices vary enormously from boat to boat and according to size, age, condition and performance. Much the same as buying a house or apartment, you get what you pay for. However, there is one important difference to remember – boats, like most vehicles, do not appreciate in value like property.
The vital point for buyers like Caldwell, however, is that at least some of their monthly rent is being salvaged.
“The boat’s going to depreciate, it’s not going to go up in value like a home,” he said. “But at least I have something. Maybe I’m getting 50 percent of my money, other than dumping all of it.”
Of course, added to the baseline costs of owning a boat and storing it in a city marina are a multitude of indeterminate expenses. Once a week during the summer months, Caldwell dons a mask and snorkel and dives into the polluted water of the bay to scrub the bottom of his boat clean. He could pay someone to do this, but that would add about $150 to his monthly rent.
Then there’s the cost of insurance, sewage disposal, electricity bills, increased trips to the grocery store, paint, varnish, fuel, engine maintenance and so forth. Caldwell has his parent’s garage a short trip up the freeway, but for most people, storage space is a big consideration. Then there’s bad weather to contend with.
“The rain sucks,” said Caldwell. “Then I’m at home.”
Not everybody has the luxury of driving back to mom and dad’s place when the going gets tough, however.
Kathy O’Brien has been living on a 43-foot sailing boat at the San Diego Yacht Club with her husband Garrett since 1996. She agrees that the rare rain storms are one of the worst things about living on the water, but said that nevertheless the advantages of boat living far outweigh the disadvantages.
The O’Briens chose to live on a boat as a lifestyle choice, rather than an economic necessity. New, their boat would cost close to $1 million. They routinely haul up and sail to Catalina or down to Ensenada.
O’Brien loves the community at the yacht club where she and her husband have moored their home, and said the close living quarters and shared experiences she has with her fellow boaters makes their floating neighborhood more intimate than communities on land. She said one of the best benefits of living on a boat is often overlooked.
“It’s easy to move,” she said laughing. “Just pull up your lines and go to the next spot, that’s nice.”
Please contact Will Carless directly at