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Casting off life's cares

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Eight years ago, Dave Dixon set himself some lofty goals, especially for an unemployed, twice-divorced middle-aged man with no savings. He wanted to live on the water in Newport Beach. He didn't care to work too much. And he aspired to play golf and tennis several times a week.

Today, Dixon, 60, is living his dream, albeit with some compromises. He lives aboard a weathered, beat-up 37-foot mahogany boat he bought on a credit card for $10,000. Lacking a permanent mooring, he often is forced to anchor in the open sea off Corona del Mar, and for hot showers he uses the Orange County Harbor Patrol's guest facilities.

To get around on land, he owns a battered car with more than 300,000 miles on it.

Yet he works only about 15 hours a week, singing at private parties and two Orange County restaurants to cover his lean $565 in monthly expenses (not including food). He gets out on the tennis court or links almost every day, enough to whittle down his golf handicap to seven and his weight by 40 pounds. And he is rocked to sleep each night by the rhythm of the water, surrounded by multimillion-dollar views of the bay.


FOR THE RECORD:
The photo caption accompanying an earlier version of this article said Dave Dixon supported his lifestyle on $535 a month. As the article says, he has monthly expenses of $565.


All in all, he considers himself one of the richest residents of this pricey beach town.

"Time, not money, is the real commodity in life," said Dixon, relaxing in the salon of his boat as a sea lion barked nearby. "And I've got more time on my hands than anyone I know."

It took several careers, two divorces and plenty of prayer and reflection before Dixon settled on this lifestyle, one that he says is divinely inspired. The ordained pastor sees himself living out God's message that faith and people, not possessions, are what is of true value.

"My spirituality has set me free and turned me on to the bondages that the world places on us," said Dixon, a tall man of ample girth with a closely cropped silver beard and swept-back gray hair. "I'm having a ball."

Newport Beach being the heart of Orange County consumerism, Dixon has picked a tough mission field to spread the message that "whatever we own actually owns us."

Raised in Corona, Dixon earned a music degree with a minor in theology from Azuza Pacific University in 1971 and tried to make a career in gospel music. But with a wife and two young boys, he had to find a steady paycheck and started working for Earl Scheib Paint & Body. He eventually started his own auto body and paint shop, which he operated for more than 20 years.

In his off-hours, he kept working on his music, performing as a country and western artist during amateur nights in Hollywood and volunteering his talents to churches.

In 1995, Dixon said, he took a leap of faith, embarking on a quixotic quest to help developing countries prosper that involved an Indonesian princess and millions of dollars in promised funding that never materialized. Dixon said he spent five years fighting government red tape and greedy politicians before calling it quits.

"I was relieved of the burden of trying to save the world single-handedly," he said.

At 52, Dixon returned to Southern California virtually penniless, having spent $400,000 of his family's money on his ill-fated venture. He decided God wanted him to learn firsthand about servitude, so he took a waiter's job at Regatta Cafe in Newport Beach. The restaurateur let him sing between courses, and his rich baritone voice, eclectic repertoire (including opera and pop) and affable personality brought in a new stream of tips.

Dixon said he came across two statistics that changed his life. First, he read that 21-year-olds have an easier time coming up with $1,000 cash than 65-year-olds. And second, he learned -- erroneously, it turned out -- that the average American receives just 15 monthly Social Security retirement checks before death (actually, with retirement at 66, the average is about 18 years of checks).

Whether or not they were true, the statistics motivated Dixon to forget waiting until retirement to enjoy his life. He gave away most of his property until his worldly goods fit into his Volvo station wagon.

"My possessions made me work harder and stole my time," Dixon said.

In 2002, he discovered that he could combine his love for the water with his need for cheap housing by buying an unnamed, rundown 1963 wooden boat and living on it.

Dixon rented dock space for several years, but when the rent doubled, he cast off and became a guest boater in Newport Harbor where he could stay 15 days at a mooring and another five days at anchor. For the remaining 10 days, he anchors in the ocean off Corona del Mar -- unprotected from inclement weather. During one strong winter storm, his anchor dragged along the ocean floor until his boat crashed into another yacht.

There are other hardships to Dixon's minimalist life.

Having no permanent mooring means he needs to move three times a month. Recently, Harbor Patrol deputies padlocked his boat because he didn't pay his rent on time. The problem has been cleared up.

Onboard, he's got a limited amount of water, electricity and waste storage. The salt water ensures that the boat's hardware and wood need constant repair. And every trip off his yacht requires a short voyage in a rubber dingy.

Dixon said he can't afford health insurance, instead relying on God's healing powers, a physician friend and, once, government help for the indigent when kidney stones put him in the hospital.

But life on the water can be magical, with its views, fresh sea air and brown pelicans gliding by. A natural host, Dixon often invites friends and strangers aboard his yacht, serving meals, entertaining with music and occasionally converting someone to Christianity.

A fellow boater, Mike "Pegleg" Juneau, 51, said that one morning Dixon asked if he wanted breakfast: scrambled eggs and crab. A friendship was struck, and Juneau, who says he lost a leg in a motorcycle accident, soon converted to Christianity.

"His heart is so big," Juneau said. "A boat life is kind of a hard life, and Dave gives me spiritual relief and peace of mind."

Dixon also has fans at the Regatta Cafe, where he and the wait staff sing for a few hours on Friday and Saturday nights. Vicky and Ed Berg are among the regulars who come to hear Dixon sing -- and join in on some songs.

Vicky Berg, 54, of Irvine has hired Dixon for private parties and, like other customers, has been invited on the singer's boat.

"Everybody loves him, and he's doing what he loves," Berg said. "He's living the dream."

Dixon's next major project is restoring the exterior of his yacht, which has fallen into disrepair after six years on the water.

When finished, he plans to christen the boat Ambassador.

On the stern, underneath the name, where the yacht's home port usually is listed, Dixon says he'll write "Kingdom of Heaven" to reflect another quixotic dream: that heaven can be experienced on Earth if everyone learns to share.

"We will have access to all the toys," Dixon said, "if we don't need to own them all."

william.lobdell@

latimes.com

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