Home is where the water is For some, a boat's better than a house

December 24, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

It's easy to find Gary and Janice Kanner's home during the holidays. It's the one that looks like a giant, gently swaying

Christmas tree.

For the sixth year, the Kanners have decked the 41-foot sailboat that's become their permanent home with hundreds of glowing lights.

They've decorated the porthole, trimmed a miniature tree in the cabin and hung their stockings from a berth with care. Even if they can't roast chestnuts over an open fire, the Kanners and a handful of die-hard sailors in Annapolis still manage to celebrate an old-fashioned Christmas on the water.

"We've squeezed in 10 people and cooked a 10-pound turkey," says Mrs. Kanner, 46.

"Everything is the same, except we can take off at any time. We stow the television and the lamp and we're ready to go."

Their neighborhood, a large marina on Back Creek called Port Annapolis, is nearly deserted at this time of year.

The clubhouse is closed, the pool drained. At night, a raw wind whips off the water, rocking the rows of empty, anchored boats. The boat yard is filled with yachts in winter storage.

But the winter air still smells salty, the ducks still visit every day, and the sun still sets with a brilliant splash of color over the water.

For the Kanners and a dozen other couples who endure cramped quarters to live year-round on their boats, the quiet, almost lonesome atmosphere is a welcome respite.

The "live-aboards," as they call themselves, say they look forward to the calm at the end of the summer bustle. They feed the ducks, repair their boats and invite each other over for gourmet meals.

By spring, they're ready again to face the frenetic summer months, when boats come and go, children scamper across the dock and parties continue until late at night.

"Wintertime is a very special time at the marina," said Astaar Breining, who lives aboard a 42-foot trawler called Carinya with her husband, Grant. The Breinings used to be in the charter business until they traded in their 34-foot trawler five years ago with plans to go on a long cruise.

But their dream had to be deferred. Soon after they sold their home in York, Pa., and moved aboard the boat, they had to care for both of their elderly parents.

Port Annapolis is a typical boating community, close-knit, yet independent.

The live-aboards are all friends, but they also know that they might wake up one morning to find their neighbors gone. Mr. Breining sums them up as a group of "gregarious loners."

"When we lived in houses, it was fortunate if we knew the people next door," said Gary Kanner. "Here, we've made friends with people from all over the world."

He and his wife enjoy the camaraderie and the convenience of simply docking their boat after a long sail. For those who love being close to the water, "it can't get much better than this," Mrs. Kanner said, though she's quick to acknowledge that the lifestyle is not for everyone.

The cabins are snug, with limited storage space and little room for privacy. They've learned to buy only what they can use because they don't have room for laundry detergent in large sizes. And they keep their wardrobe pared down to the essentials -- a few suits and dresses, basic shoes, jeans and sweaters.

But the biggest inconvenience is the mistrust live-aboards often encounter from others who see them as either "hippies" or "fat cats," Mr. Breining said. Live-aboards often have a hard time getting loans from banks and are disparaged as transients who don't pay their taxes, he said. The U.S. Census Bureau lumps them with people who live in caves and boxcars.

"I think some people have the wrong impression that people who live aboard boats are tramps, vagabonds," agreed Mr. Kanner, who is a consultant, as is Mr. Breining. "Most people here are professionals. We've had doctors, lawyers, a commander in the Navy."

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