Cowbells and Condos– and how I miss living aboard

Phone ringing late at night jolts me out of a dream.


“Kip, are you awake?” Bob asks.

“Uhm, I guess so. What’s up?” I groggedly ask.

“Did I wake you?”

“Oh, that’s OK. Had to get up anyway. The phone was ringing.” I make a weak attempt at humor.

“Kip, you’ve got to sell that boat and buy a condo with me.”

“Right now?”

“Yeah, right now,” Bob affirms. “The market is red-hot. We have to buy something right now. Sell the boat and you can live in the condo. We’ll make a bundle.”

Bob’s late night phone call intrigued me for several reasons. I was 26 years old and had been living aboard sailboats for several years. I loved the sailing life but, true to form, ‘A sailboat is a hole in the water, into which one throws money.’ Indeed, boats are a lot of fun but can turn out to be real money pits. Besides, my 38 foot motor sailer had the most annoying habit of dripping water on my pillow as I lay in my bunk. I was getting fed up with wet pillows.

It was the mid-70s and real estate in Orange County, California was hot, hot, hot. My friend Bob was a real estate agent, his father a real estate broker, and I knew Bob knew what he was talking about.

But was I really willing to give up all this to live on shore? Did I want to exchange my bohemian persona for life in a condo? I mean, what would Jimmy Buffett think? Well, I’m pretty sure what he would think. But I was at one of those critical junctions in life. I could go this way or I could go that way and— well you can probably guess which way I went.

Memories of living aboard my motor sailer.

Memories of living aboard my motor sailer.

Today, almost 40 years after Bob’s late night phone call, I sit in my ‘Archie Bunker’ chair and inhale deeply the aroma from the leather sheath of my old Swiss Army knife and can still faintly smell the bilge from my boat. It smells of fish and wet wood and salt water, and it brings back so many memories. The nights aboard were best because then I could hear the screech of the gulls, the occasional bark of sea lions, the slap of a jumping fish hitting the water, the deep resonant call of the fog horn, the rumbling diesel engine of the harbor patrol boat slowly cruising the bay and the way my boat slowly rocked in its wake.

Back then Bob and I decided to become partners, business men, entrepreneurs– and I was going to get off that leaky boat. I sold the boat fairly quickly to a lady from Long Beach who always wanted to live aboard. I wished her well and hoped she could keep her pillows dry. She sailed off into the sunset and I became a landlubber for the rest of my life.

Bob had his sights set on a condo under construction in a ‘condo village’ near us. But we had to fight to get it.

The cow bell rang and I awoke from my uneasy slumber and trudged toward this lady I had begun to detest. For three days now, I had been waiting in line to buy this stinking condo that hadn’t even been built yet. I literally had to camp out in front of the sales office on the building site along with dozens of other potential buyers, or ‘flippers.’ I believe I was the only person there who had any intention of actually living in the condo. The other buyers were simply interested in getting in and getting out; buying low and selling high–flippers, and one of the motivating forces behind this exuberant appreciation of real estate we enjoyed.

These condos were so hot, there were no shortage of buyers. And this rude, imperious sales agent played the upper hand to the max. Periodically she would ring that damn cow bell and we bovinist buyers had to respond to a roll call at her whim. Failure to respond during this random summons meant losing our place in line and missing out on the opportunity to purchase a condo for $50,000 and, six months later, selling it for $70,000– easy money.

Bob and I got that condo and I moved in. It had a tiny man-made lake in back of a tiny patio facing other tiny patios. There weren’t any seagulls around or barking sea lions or jumping fish or horns blowing to the fog, but we did make a pile of money.

A friend waits to come aboard.

A friend waits to come aboard.


2 thoughts on “Cowbells and Condos– and how I miss living aboard

  1. It is just enlightening to be able to sit down and observe how our lives are shaped by decisions we have made in our earlier years! I think this story is just the door to what is coming next and it is so vividly written that one wants to know more…

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