Getting on board with a different style of living

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 July, 2012, 12:00am


News that the two of us were moving onto a boat elicited a range of responses: 'Won't you get seasick?' 'Why would you want to?' 'Where will you put all your stuff?' 'I'm so jealous!'

My most pragmatic friend couldn't fathom the logistics - surely one three-bed, two living-room house wouldn't fit into a 14-metre converted fishing trawler? Not to mention the golf clubs, luggage, mountain of books and so on.

But unlike my Australian compatriot, I'd had practice. Moving to Hong Kong had been the best lesson in taking only what is needed.

And to that friend who had taken an overseas posting before and advised that I would never miss whatever I left behind: you were right. A decade after our move to Hong Kong, boxes of 'stuff' left in storage have yet to see the light of day.

And anyway, our boat has storage space - an abundance of it, in fact, because of the trawler's inherent hull space (the former fish hold) and canny interior design. It has what many Hong Kong flats do not: two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen (with oven), and two levels of outdoor living space.

But to soothe my friends' fears, I asked those in the know, or those already living on boats, how they dealt with the change and what they make of life on the water.

For Californian Janelle Weber, downsizing from a large, Tuscan-style estate in Rancho Santa Fe to a motor yacht in Discovery Bay, storage space was high on her mind.

As new arrivals to Hong Kong four years ago, the family moved into a 62nd-floor apartment above Elements mall in West Kowloon. It had 'the most incredible views', Weber says; but as rent increased, she and husband Wayne decided to look at alternatives.

'Being members of the Discovery Bay Golf Club, we met people living all over Hong Kong, including in the marina. While we had never considered living on a boat, those who did raved about how wonderful it was.'

Compared to what they had in San Diego, the couple were struggling with the lack of storage, space, quiet and privacy that are the bane of many Hong Kong apartments.

'Upon further research we decided to give [the liveaboard life] a go,' Weber says.

A new boat seemed the best option. They bought a marina berth offering cooling breezes and views of Kowloon, Victoria Harbour and the outlying islands.

'Fortunately our builder [from a shipyard in Zhuhai] had a similar vision for the boat,' Weber says of their 18.4-metre long, 5.8-metre wide luxury launch.

'Our homes in California were always decorated in a traditional style. We wanted our boat to be completely different, to reflect how different everything is for us here - so we chose modern.'

The boat has clean lines and minimalistic built-in furniture and fittings. The Italian white leather sofa, which seats six, was custom made by Cierre in Central [] and the 'zen' dining table that accommodates 12 was from Tequila Kola [].

Despite my friends' concerns about squeezing into a boat, the Webers tell me they have 'plenty of space': four bedrooms, all with en suite bathrooms, and a full-sized washing machine, dryer and refrigerator. At the top, an open deck has a built-in gas grill and bar, along with ample seating for 15, providing the owners with a casual and covetable outdoor entertaining venue.

Another Discovery Bay liveaboarder, Michele Cameron, shares a 15.5-metre 2001 motor boat with her husband, two teenage daughters and two dogs. They have lived afloat since December 2005, and Toad Hall is their fifth vessel.

'We decided to live on a boat four months after moving to Hong Kong from Britain. It's a wonderful lifestyle and I still wake up every morning thinking I am on holiday,' says Cameron, who runs her own boat brokerage business, HK Boats and Homes.

The Camerons have owned a teak junk, two Bondway pleasure crafts and a Mandarin cruiser. These have ranged in size from 15.5 metres to 23 metres, with interior space of 2,000 to 3,200 sq ft.

Neither seasickness not seamanship is a problem, Cameron says, adding that most people on liveaboards leave their berth only for once-a-year maintenance.

'Liveaboards are a home - some owners have only free-standing items in their vessels,' says Cameron, who has both. The fittings and furniture in the kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms are all built-in; the lounge has free-standing furniture.

A set of stepped storage for the television and music station, as well as two coffee tables and Chinese-style drawers, are all from Yaali Designs (

'My office furniture is the new pieces from Shambala at Horizon Plaza [], which have a nautical theme. I recently bought the dragon cushions from Indigo Living []. One of my rugs is from Ikea [].'

Storage is 'better than in a house', Cameron says. 'We have storage underneath the v-berth [the sleeping quarters at the front end of a boat] and master bedroom areas, plus lots of cupboards and drawers.'

The Cameron family originally decided to try living on a boat because 'it was different, and where else in the world could we do it?'

Like the Webers, they love the lifestyle - especially waking up each morning to sit on the back deck with a coffee and say hello to those who are heading off to work or school.

'We are a community but I can also escape to the top deck if I want a quiet morning or afternoon with a good book. Plus we have all the facilities: gardens, swimming pool, bar, gym, restaurant and tennis courts,' Cameron says.

Bart Kimman, director of Asia Yacht Services, agrees. He, his wife and his daughter have lived afloat for 18 years, now at Hong Kong's Gold Coast Yacht and Country Club marina. Their 21-metre vessel was purpose-built on the mainland.

'We like the size of the accommodation - it's generally much bigger than the units you get ashore,' says Kimman. 'We also like the peace and quiet of living on the water.'

Their boat has 'everything you can think of', including storage for golf clubs, luggage, bicycles and the ship's tender. It has almost 2,000 sq ft of living space - and that's just the air-conditioned area, says Kimman. The two levels of deck offer 'more space than we can use - we can even have a yoga class up there'.

And they have.

But, waxing lyrical aside, what's it's really like? I'm still a liveaboard newbie; but so far, so good.

Weber is convinced she has found the solution to their housing needs. 'I love the convenience of living within 10 minutes of the club. My husband has room to properly store our wine at home, and we have all of the closet space we need.

'The marina offers a nice community of friendly residents who respect the privacy of others. Boats are well insulated, and we have the peace and quiet we desire. Our berth also provides the gorgeous water and lush green island views that feed the soul.'

Cameron admits to missing her one-acre garden. She compensates by growing veggies and flowers in pots on the front deck, offering a variety of melons, beans, peppers, pumpkins, geraniums and dahlias. The pluses win out.

Says Cameron: 'My husband and I have decided to retire on a vessel.'


The number of people that Janelle Weber can fit around the dining table on board her 18.4-metre luxury boat