When Rick Moser left his four-bedroom house in the San Fernando Valley to live on a 28-foot Columbia sailboat in the Ventura West Marina, he gave himself six months to decide if he could commit to houseboat living.
After 12 years of residing on his boat fulltime, he’s happy he made the move.
“I love it — it’s paradise,” said Moser, 53. “I feel like I’m always camping, but it’s camping in comfort. It’s living in nature … we have a great sunset here. And when there’s a nice breeze coming off the ocean, it’s clean air.”
Moser is among approximately 50 percent of 544 residents who live on their boats full time in the Ventura West Marina.
“We’re the biggest live-aboard community on the West Coast,” said Ricki Ormson, who oversees two of the four marinas in the harbor along with her husband, Chuck.
“We have a big live-aboard community because we have these big gorgeous bathrooms and laundry room and a gym. And it’s friendly. We’re all neighbors and everybody helps everybody. It’s a wonderful close-knit community.”
She also noted a nearby village with a cafe among other amenities.
“If you want to have a drink you can walk to the village and you don’t have to get in your car and worry about a DUI,” said Ricki, adding that there is also a free trolley that goes downtown. “Everything you need is right here — the beach, surfing, volleyball. It’s a charming place. There’s nothing like it.”
Many tenants are members of the Ventura Yacht Club, “and they have Friday night dinners and parties for Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day. … That’s a great part of our community, too,” she said.
Ventura Harbor resident Rick Moser aboard the Capricious.
“They have a big racing community so a lot of our tenants go in the races every weekend. And Wednesday nights are when all the sailboats go out. … Then they have big barbecue.”
The residents who live on their boats vary, from retired folks to people who work full time.
“We have a mix of older and younger; we have college students, widows, the military,” Ricki said. “We’re one of few that allow pets and we allow older boats. A lot of marinas don’t want boats older than 1970. But we’re more interested in the condition of the boat and the caliber of the person.”
Moser commutes to his job in Burbank, where he does scene planning and compositing for the television show The Simpsons. Though the commute is sometimes a grind, he finds comfort in knowing he’s coming home to Capricious, the name of the boat that he purchased for $5,000 and fixed up with $10,000 in repairs.
“She was already named when I bought her,” said Moser, noting that her name and his zodiac sign as a Capricorn were serendipitous when he found the boat in Dana Point.
“I fell in love when I saw her,” Moser said. “And capricious is a sudden turn. … In my life it was a sudden turn.”
Before, he was living in a house for seven years with a roommate, where they each had their own bedroom, office and bathroom.
“He ended up getting his girlfriend pregnant … so I said, ‘do you want the house?’ ” Moser recalled.
His roommate said yes, and Moser put his stuff in storage and searched for other places to live.
“Just a guest house was $1,100 to $1,500 a month,” he said. “I had taken a sailing class a year before and I thought, what if I bought a boat and lived on a boat?”
At first, he had a list of criteria for the boat he wanted to buy.
“I wanted a wheel I could steer with. I wanted a certain length. I wanted it to be a diesel engine. I didn’t get any of it,” he said. “I have a tiller and a gas engine and kind of a small boat — but I’m happy I got it.”
Next, he had to find a slip, and decided on the Ventura West Marina because he knew many of the residents lived there aboard their boats.
“They gave me four different slips to look at. One of them was right against the rocks by the hotel and I thought no — it would be like I’m on a show for the tourists,” Moser said.
He then found a slip on a quiet corner at the end of Dock C, which is walking distance from residential facilities, including his mailbox, bathroom and showers. He also rents a clothes locker and a freezer locker, which both free up space on his boat.
“There’s hardly any foot traffic through here,” he said of his private location. “It’s a little bit longer walk to the bathroom but … I’m way at the end of the dock so I don’t have a whole lot of noise. Occasionally you’ll hear a dog bark because a lot of people have dogs, but most of the time you don’t hear anything. Every once in a while you’ll hear the train.”
He also rents a 130-square-foot office on site, where he keeps a range of stuff, including his musical instruments, motorcycle gear, miniature fridge, desk and PlayStation.
“This is my fun room; this is my little sanctuary off the boat,” said Moser. “It’s under $200 a month so it’s not bad for all this extra square footage. This is where I spend most of my time when I’m at the marina.”
The cost to live in the marina — not including his office — is around $600 a month, which includes the slip and a monthly $200 live-aboard fee as well as the cost of his clothes and freezer locker and mailbox.
If he still lived in a home, “I’d be paying at least that much and have a roommate. So this is ideal,” Moser said.
And although there are ongoing costs to maintain Capricious, it’s money well-spent to live in paradise.
“Each time you fix your boat, there’s a saying we have — bring out another thousand,” Moser joked. “So every time, you’re going to bring out another $1,000 at least for any repair you do.
Aboard Capricious, Moser keeps a small barbecue, a miniature fridge, a two-burner Coleman stove, electric kettle, rice cooker, fry pan, two crock pots and cooking utensils, as well as Hawaiian sling fishing poles. His bed, made of regular and Tempur-pedic foam, is equivalent to queen size. He also keeps fire extinguishers and flares on the boat, which are required.
“It’s really comfortable,” he said. “I have these cushions so I can hang out in the back and read a book or enjoy the sunset; I’ve got Christmas lights in here, too, that light up the cockpit at night so when I come it’s all lit up for me. I have everything. I can play on my computer or watch YouTube or work on graphics. It’s all right here.”
When it rains, the movement on board is very subtle, and he puts up a plastic tarp to keep dry.
“I love it when it rains here — it’s amazing,” he said.
Looking back on his decision to live on a boat, Moser has no regrets.
Today, “I’m less stressed out than I used to be. I don’t think I’d be comfortable in a house anymore.”
Ricki and Chuck Ormson have lived on a one-of-a-kind, 75-foot Italian yacht for 16 years, six in San Diego and 10 in Ventura West Marina. When the couple bought the fantail vessel in Italy, they named her Amore.
“Amore was my dad’s favorite song,” Ricki Ormson said. “Plus it’s Italian and my boat’s Italian.”
Before, the couple owned a three-bedroom Mediterranean-style house with a lawn and garden, as well as a smaller boat.
“We had a house but we preferred being on the water,” Ricki Ormson said. “We’d go home after work and get our clothes and go to our boat.”
When they decided to live on a boat full time, the couple rented out their house just in case they changed their minds.
“We weren’t sure at first,” said Ricki. “So we rented out our house for a year. We thought we would miss it, but we never missed it.”
Regular sightings of dolphins and seals, as well as daily fresh air, are some of the reasons why.
“Here we have the most beautiful sunsets in the world,” she said.
Friendly neighbors are also part of the lifestyle.
“You don’t pull into your home or apartment and shut your garage,” Ricki Ormson said. “Here you know your neighbors, just like a big family. A lot of communities don’t have that. Even in a gated community, they don’t always know who lives next door.”
Although their yacht requires regular upkeep just as any live-aboard boat, “she’s our labor of love,” Ricki added.
Aside from their grandchildren, “Amore is our sweetheart.”
The Lorna Lee
Lorna and Doug Londborg lived in a three-bedroom house in Tehachapi for 25 years before they decided to live aboard a 42-foot Californian trawler in the Ventura West Marina.
“It’s like having a condo on the water,” said Lorna. “We’ve always loved the water and we would drive over to Ventura for many years and eat at the restaurant in the marina and look at all the boats. We’d say, ‘Someday, we’re going to own one.’ ”
The couple, who are both retired correctional officers, began their new journey by purchasing a 25-foot Bayliner, and later a 36-foot Silverton.
“We started going on the ocean, learning how to drive and navigate the ocean. Then we just loved it so much we hated to come home,” Lorna recalled. “So we thought, Let’s just get a Trawler and live on it.’ It’s not a whole lot different than living in a motor home. We just happen to travel the ocean.”
For the past year, they have lived aboard The Lorna Lee full time.
“One of my favorite times of day is in the evening; I’ll be sitting in the salon reading my book and the water reflection will be dancing off the ceiling,” Lorna said. “And in the middle of the night, if I can’t sleep, I’ll sit on the sundeck and look at the stars. You don’t find yourself doing that when you live in a house.”
The couple most recently took The Lorna Lee out for a four-day, three-night vacation on Santa Cruz Island over Memorial Day weekend with the Ventura Yacht Club, which they joined when they become full-time residents on their boat.
“What Doug and I do mostly is go out and fish — we love to fish,” Lorna said. “How many people can just pull up a weather report and see the sea is totally calm, and say, ‘Let’s go fishing,’ and then you take your house and go fishing. We barbecue out there, and it’s just perfect.”
Their boat isn’t big enough for a washer and dryer, so the couple uses the laundry room on site. They also rented a 15-by-50-foot storage unit in Port Hueneme to keep tools and motorcycles, as well as Lorna’s clothes that won’t fit in the closet on their boat.
“There’s not enough storage for clothes for a woman … so we rented a storage unit an industrial unit that’s technically his garage — that is one thing Doug couldn’t live without was a garage,” Lorna said. “There’s a lot of maintenance on the boat so it worked out good because we have a place to keep his tools. And I set up my second closet at the storage.”
The upkeep on The Lorna Lee is similar to taking care of a house, she said, but even regular maintenance is pleasurable on the ocean.
“We’re redoing the wood on the boat. I’ll be sitting out there sanding, listening to music and low and behold a seal will pop up, or I’ll see a stingray go by,” she said. “I can’t believe this is my lifestyle right now — it’s beautiful.”