FED UP WITH noise, insects, and seeing her children spending their time sitting indoors watching television, Anna Lovell Knight decided this year that she'd had enough of apartment life. So, together with husband Martin and children Milly, eight, and Josh, five, she moved onto a boat moored at Discovery Bay Marina.
'We got sick of people drilling upstairs, drilling downstairs,' she says. 'Here, it's very quiet, we don't get mosquitoes, and it actually works out about 20 per cent cheaper than living in a flat.'
Knight and her family moved onto a 55-foot junk with 1,500sqft of living space. Their previous home was similar in size, 'but it didn't feel as big. Here we have so many different levels. You can get away from people. It's a brilliant lifestyle for the children because they're outside all the time. They go canoeing and they fish, and they can run from one boat to another'.
Mike Wall - who, as managing director of Kiwi Marine Consultants, surveys boats for potential purchasers - has heard similar comments made by other contented boat dwellers. 'The lounge and open-plan kitchen area are about 370 sqft, with the bedrooms immediately below occupying much the same space,' he says. 'The master bedroom is usually right aft on the lower deck, fitted with a queen-sized bed and lots of wardrobes/vanity units and an en suite bathroom. Some like the more solid timber against the lighter GRP [fibreglass]. You can hear the water lapping against a GRP hull, but less so with the timber hull.'
Knight's family spend most of their time on the main deck, which includes a living area and a fully equipped kitchen. A few steps lead down to a playroom and guestroom, and on the next level there's a master bedroom with en suite bathroom, two children's rooms and another bathroom. The lowest level, accessed by trapdoors, houses the engine and one of many storage areas.
For Knight, one of the best things about living aboard is being able to eat outside. On the open top deck, over which awnings can be pulled, there's a barbecue, sink and a built-in ice box. 'You can't get better than this,' she says.
Not far from Knight, another 55-foot boat is home to Fiona Brockway, her husband and children Holly, 12, Zac, three, and baby Zoe. She was reluctant to leave Lamma because of the island's sense of community. But at the Discovery Bay Marina, where more than 100 live-aboards are snugly moored, she's found a community just as close.
Brockway's boat is the same size as the Knights' with some design differences. A smaller playroom allows space for a compact, fully functioning office, from where Brockway runs a dance and choreography business. 'We have more storage by far than we had in the 1,400sqft house [on Lamma],' says Brockway, whose show costumes and shoes are all stored aboard. 'It's so cleverly done.'
As on Knight's boat, storage space is concealed along the sides of the boat, and under the beds and the narrow teak floorboards. It's a point of pride with the boat builder, Ole Soltau, of Bondway Enterprises. 'One thing we've learnt to do is maximise the use of space,' he says.
Soltau progressed from converting junks to building live-aboard vessels. Construction moved from wood to fibreglass in the mid-1990s, which Soltau welcomed. 'We could do more in terms of design with fibreglass, and do more to make the look contemporary,' he says.
The attraction has as much to do with the lifestyle as the boats themselves. 'Everyone has a fairly laid-back lifestyle,' says Soltau, who has lived on a boat for the past eight years. 'I'd say most people are still living here nine to 10 years after getting their boats.'
Soltau customises boats to clients' requirements, but variations are minimal because boat shape is limited to berth size. 'Most people have the basic needs - a master bedroom and en suite with a shower, two children's bedrooms, a bathroom with bathtub and shower, plenty of wardrobe space, an office and a guestroom,' he says. 'People have a tendency to do very big kitchens, with double-door fridge freezers, and a lot have wine fridges and barbecues.'
Unusual requests are rare, but he's installed an outdoor jacuzzi and an indoor tub in marble, as well as a fireplace with a fake electric fire.
Bondway's newest design is a 55-foot fibreglass boat with about 2,000 sqft of living space. The main deck has a sleek white interior with teak floors, and a large, open-plan stainless steel kitchen.
The new Bondway boats cost upwards of $3.1 million, including fittings and appliances. Both Knight's and Brockway's boats are about five years old and cost about $2.2 million second-hand, but cheaper options in wood are available. 'The difference is that the GRP junks are higher capital/lower maintenance cost, whereas the wooden junks are lower capital/higher maintenance cost,' Wall says.
David Francois, a designer, lives on a 20-year-old, 63-foot cruiser with about 1,500 sqft of living space. He estimates its value at about $68,000. 'The best thing about living on a boat is the quality of life,' he says. 'There's nothing difficult about it, but it depends on your lifestyle. Some people like living in a flat. If I wake up and see another building, I'm depressed.' Francois does most of the maintenance work himself. 'Every year, you have to do some paintwork,' he says. 'Every two years, all the outside paint needs to be redone, and the outside wooden varnishing needs to be done every six months.'
But it's not necessary to be a dab hand at maintenance - where there are boats, there are boat boys, and many live-aboard residents hire them to carry out the cleaning and maintenance work.
'All the live-aboard boats must have the bottom cleaned and anodes renewed once a year, to protect the underwater hull and fittings,' Soltau says. 'They, therefore, need an engine and a qualified coxwain with a local master's certificate to get them to a slipway and back. Most finance companies and the Marine Department insist on some form of third-party insurance and a licence fee is payable annually to the Marine Department.'
If you don't have a navigation licence, you can hire a captain to do it for you, although few Discovery Bay Marina residents take their boats out. Resident Roenel Turner says it's difficult to navigate out of the marina and most people can't be bothered to secure their possessions.
Typhoons are a different matter, however. When heavy winds hit, fragile objects have to be put away and boats secured. Then there's little to do but wait it out in the club, where Turner and Brockway say there's a great sense of camaraderie at such times.
Although boats can appreciate in value, Soltau, who has a months-long waiting list for new boats, says investment isn't the only reason for buying a live-aboard. 'I've always told people, don't do it for the money, do it for the lifestyle.'