Living aboard, California style

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Two of the most beautiful boats in the coastal Southern California community of Encinitas are houses — and hard aground.

The slab-sided, plumb-bowed 84-foot “vessels,” constructed of stucco-over-redwood frames, have landscaped bow wakes and portholes for windows. The decks leak and are slanted, and none of the doors are plumb. They have drift-wood decor, a galley, and forward sleeping arrangements. They are cramped at best and in a storm shift on their stilted pedestals.

The boat houses have been home to a multitude of renters since their construction in 1929, and are considered cultural icons to San Diegans who live along the remnants of Coast Highway 101. The SS Encinitas and SS Moonlight sit side by side along Third Street, causing traffic congestion on most any day of the week as visitors stop and gawk, take pictures, and just wonder in amazement at what they’re seeing.

The sleepy coastal hamlet of Encinitas is a half-hour north of San Diego proper, and the two homes sit perched on land just a few blocks from the beach. They were constructed with timbers salvaged from the old Moonlight Beach Dance Hall and Bathhouse on the eve of the Great Depression.

The designer and builder, Miles Kellogg, wanted to construct a tribute to his seafaring ancestors, something to reflect a community with strong ties to the ocean. They were built in a time when hamburger restaurants were shaped like burgers, churches like temples, and record stores like enormous records.

Today, the Encinitas boat houses are a geographical fixture along the coast and serve as rental units for the college student or surfer in the area looking for affordable rent and a chance to live aboard an old boat … sort of.

“Their popularity has drifted from actual history into legend and lore,” says owner Mark Whitley. “If everyone lived in them who claimed to, the boat houses would have to be another century older than they are.”