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When Home Is a Boat : The Living Isn’t Easy for the Residents of the Free Anchorage Off Coronado. But They Don’t Want It Changed, Either.

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<i> Jeff Spurrier is a Los Angeles writer. </i>

you look at coffee-table books of San Diego, you’ll always find a glossy shot of boats at anchor in Coronado,” says Ray Ashley, skipper of the Rowdy, a 45-foot Alden yawl. “It’s obviously one of the more picturesque things about San Diego. And yet the Establishment wants to remove the anchorage. It’s odd.”

Ashley’s life centers on the sea. He is a certified captain, an officer in the Merchant Marine, a boat carpenter and a writer for sailing magazines; at one point he was the commander of the Californian, the state’s official Tall Ship. He and his wife, Carlynn, live aboard the Rowdy in Glorietta Bay, one of only two free anchorages on the entire California coast.

There are more than 120 vessels at anchor here in the narrow inlet that wends from the base of the Coronado Bridge to the Coronado marina: yawls, multi-hulls, sloops, a trawler, Chinese junks, cutters, sloops.

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Now, the San Diego Unified Port District has enacted a plan to assume control over the free-anchorage areas in the bay, those areas where previously any boater could freely drop anchor and stay for an unlimited period of time--a necessity for world cruisers, who view San Diego as one of the last chandlery and outfitting stops before leaving the country. A little more than a year ago, boats at free anchor off the Embarcadero and the Commercial Basin were forced to either apply for Port District fixed moorings or leave. A similar set-up is planned for Glorietta Bay--which means the Port District could force all of the live-aboards here to move to moorings at the base of the Coronado Bridge, in the main channel of the bay.

In addition, the port’s master plan limits the amount of mooring time a boat may rent. There are live-aboard sailors who stay just a few months; to others, the anchorage is home, and the new rule will discourage use of the bay outside the marinas for permanent residence “as a matter of policy.” The feeling at the Port District (as well as at the Coronado City Council) is that the bay has become too congested, and that room has to be made for all types of uses--recreational, residential, commercial and military.

To the live-aboards, it’s a familiar tale. For years, it seems, there has always been someone who wanted to get the live-aboards out of the anchorage--from waterskiers who covet the protected waters of the inlet to homeowners along Glorietta Boulevard who dislike seeing the boaters’ cars parked along “their” street. Landlocked opponents have blasted the live-aboards as unemployed, non-tax-paying freeloaders--though actually many live-aboards are raising children, holding down full-time jobs, paying taxes. At times the movement against the anchorage has turned dirty, with live-aboards’ cars being vandalized and their dinghies being burned on the beach.

After stepping into the cabin of Anne and Curt Nutter’s 33-foot boat, it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else. The interior below deck is finished in teak, giving the main galley area a feeling of warmth and durability. There is a brass plate inscribed with a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson: “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.”

The Nutters have lived aboard the Hopeful Traveler for all of the five years they’ve owned her, in anchorages and in marinas from Morro Bay to San Diego. And despite the conveniences of marina living, they’d never go back to it.

“When you’re living in a marina, it’s like you’re living in a hotel--you can come and go,” says Anne, cutting up cheese while their cat, Simon, watches from the open hatch over her head. “Out here now we’re hauling 70 pounds of ice, 70 pounds of laundry, plus bags of groceries. At low tide--that’s no fun. But I’d never move back to a marina.”

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“Here you have a sense of separation or aloneness, like having a home with two or three acres of land,” Curt adds. “The sunrises, the sunsets, the storms--all these things are real enhancements to our lives. During a storm you don’t know what’s going to happen. Everybody sits up, usually, and you may row over and have a drink on a friend’s boat. These are exciting times.”

Despite the frustrations of trying to keep the anchorage open, Gary Habersetzer, another longtime live-aboard, says he would never consider living ashore again--unless he was in between boats. The appeal?

“Lift up the anchor and go,” he says. “This is the longest this boat has stayed in one spot. I’ve actually worked a whole year--almost nonstop. In 10 years that hasn’t happened much. I usually work six months and take off for two years. There’s nothing to going cruising. Like, my girlfriend and I have been talking about going up to Alaska. If we want to go we’ll just put all the food on board, finish a little bit of painting and we’re gone.”

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