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Buying Real Estate for Your Boat

Two Harbors - aerial shot
Michael Peters

Sightlines - August 2016

Location, Location, Location

Buying real estate for your boat.

I must admit that I’ve never felt much empathy for the likes of Larry Ellison, who sold his 454-foot Rising Sun because he couldn’t find anywhere other than commercial ports to dock this behemoth-sized megayacht. Only now I find myself in a similar predicament, and understand the loneliness that poor Larry must have felt when he discussed his “problem” with friends. As my wife says, “Nobody feels sorry for you.”

For the last 16 years, our 25-foot Bertram Villam has had its permanent home on our dock behind our house on Siesta Key. We’ve kept our destinations fairly close to home through the years, taking her south for lunch most weekends, or a couple times a year to Boca Grande and Useppa Island, where rental cottages come with a slip. Cabbage Key is a great lunch spot just a short zip across the waterway, with ample dock space for our boat. On the west coast of Florida, we never worry too much about finding a spot to tie up.

On Catalina, we’ve been lucky that the house we’ve rented in Avalon came with a mooring large enough for a 30-foot boat. We restored our 20-foot Bertram Hellcat just for that mooring, and kept her in California for one summer. After my wife declared, “We need a bigger boat,” we upgraded to our 48-foot ULDB Trawler Adele. That’s when our problems began.

Our only destination in California for Adele is Catalina Island. In the early season of May and June, and later in September and October, we have no problem finding a mooring in Avalon or the Isthmus. But on the big holiday weekends of the summer, we can easily find ourselves with no place to moor. Catalina is no longer the wild and free place that I enjoyed as a child. It’s covered from one end to the other with private mooring fields, all owned by individuals, yacht clubs, or the Santa Catalina Island Company. The moorings’ owners get first dibs, and any vacant spots are allotted on a first-come, first-served basis. No advance reservations can be made more than a couple of days out.

My wife and I can’t afford to travel all the way from Florida to cruise our boat around Catalina for a couple of weeks, and end up being turned away because all the moorings are taken. Desperate to find a solution, I did the most uncharacteristic thing for me: I joined a yacht club. Over the years, I had spent a few weeks aboard George Griffith’s Sarissa at the Los Angeles Yacht Club mooring field at Howland Landing, near the west end of the island. We already knew several people from LAYC, so joining the club became the perfect solution for being among friends and having a home for Adele on Catalina. Problem solved, or so it seemed.

Earlier this year, we bought a vacation house in Avalon, near the east end of the island. We had no problem finding a mooring in Avalon for three weeks back in May, but our next trip in July won’t be so easy. The mooring spot at Howland is great, but it’s more than 15 miles up island, so it won’t work for us while we’re living ashore. The next possibility is to buy a mooring, which would solve everything. One little problem: A 50-foot mooring in Avalon Bay lists for around $600,000. That comes out to about $800 per square foot for our footprint on the water, and it only comes with a floating ball and a line to a cement block. With 70-foot moorings selling for $2.5 million, you can easily pay more for the mooring than your boat, and your little spot on the water ranks right up there with the highest real estate costs in the world. A very high price for location.

We find ourselves considering selling Adele, buying a more affordable 30-foot mooring, and getting a smaller boat. It’s a bit of a sad reality that we now have to consider the added cost of not just a boat, but our destination too. It makes me a bit more sympathetic for guys like Larry Ellison. The last I heard, he bought a little island off of Hawaii. I wonder if he did it just so he would have a home for his boat.

Had a mooring challenge like Michael’s on Catalina (such as at the Isthmus)?
Share it with us in the comments below

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.