Life at sea fast becoming a luxury alternative to land

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 September, 2009, 12:00am

While glitzy designer shops, grand high-rise apartments and gleaming sports cars line the streets of Hong Kong, lavish yachts and boats are making grand statements on our shoreline.

Luxury is certainly becoming more synonymous with the Hong Kong lifestyle as more people invest in these pleasure vessels.

They are becoming a preference for domiciles just as much as regular houses and apartments. But the lifestyle they offer is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of living on terra firma with its traffic, bright lights and incessant noise.

'It is a fun, great lifestyle - a big contrast to the vibrant and noisy city life,' said Martin Gould, who owned and lived on a boat for seven years.

Although he never took it offshore, he said that nothing could really beat the tranquillity of the sea, the freedom and the rhythm of the water lapping against the boats, which was like 'being rocked to sleep every night'.

Torben and Shoni Kristensen have lived on their 60-foot live-aboard for about two years, together with their daughter Sofie. Their 1,300 sqft floating residence moored in Discovery Bay fits in perfectly with several other sleek contoured vessels.

'We tested the environment by living on a smaller boat. After living here for a few months, we liked the community, the living space and the panoramic sea view. So we bought a bigger family boat,' said Kristensen.

The couple also owns a yacht and a speedboat.

Ian Cheng, account manager and director of PaceBoat Yachts, a company that specialises in custom-built sea vessels, said: 'Overall, owning [yachts and boats] has become more popular. Starting from a small speedboat to a super yacht, a lot of people have become more interested in cruising, and owning pleasure vessels has become more of a status.'

Cheng develops and designs yachts which are manufactured on the mainland. Single-engined SpaceBoat models A and C are priced from HK$3.6 million, while twin-engined B starts from HK$3.9 million. All are 60-foot live-aboards.

'Years ago the term luxury only extended as far as playing golf, owning houses and cars. But now, to join the elite, people buy yachts and sometimes planes as a statement of who they are,' Cheng said.

But, for Gould, living on the water is a form of escapism and practicality, adding that when he started living on his wooden boat in 1995, it cost just as much as living in an apartment.

For the Kristensens, 'Living on land is more expensive in terms of paying per sqft. Monthly mooring fees are higher than management fees in an apartment, but the initial purchase is so much less.'

This rarefied lifestyle may only be accessible to a select few but, according to Bart Kimman, director of Asia Yacht Services, living on live-aboards offers a good return on investment combined with an unbeatable lifestyle.

'However, there are only a limited number of berths available which limits this great lifestyle from developing. Because of this, the prices [of live-aboards] have gone up, but it is still cheap compared to buying a waterfront house,' he said, citing that there would be at least a 25 per cent difference in price.

According to Mark Woodmansey, a broker for Simpson Marine, one of the leading yacht dealers in Asia, despite the lack of mooring space in Hong Kong, it is still the leading market in Asia, followed closely by the mainland.

Prices vary according to design, quality and performance. Top-quality European brands such as Azimut, Ferretti, Sunseeker and Marquis are the most preferred brands. A 60-foot yacht can cost between HK$3 million and HK$20 million, depending where it is built, according to Cheng.

'The most expensive ones are the fully customisable Azimut yachts from 35 metres. They can come with all types of special features such as a US$2 million gold-plated jelly bean dispenser,' Woodmansey said.

Robin Wyatt, Simpson Marine's sales director for Azimut yachts, said the smallest Azimut model, a 38-footer due to be launched this month, would cost about HK$4 million. The biggest, 116 foot, costs about HK$109 million.

The credit crunch has certainly dampened the floating industry. But, despite this, frugality did not seem to be in the vocabulary of Hong Kong-based clients as they saw the drop in foreign currency rates, particularly that of the euro, as an advantage to invest in well-known and trusted European brands.

Woodmansey said: 'We feel people are looking at an investment in themselves, an investment that sees a return in their quality of life rather than just their bank balance. Hong Kong-based customers have been taking advantage of stock clearance from big shipyards and buying up good deals.'

He said that Simpson had sold out many models, with more than 11 Azimut yachts on order for the Hong Kong market alone this summer.

Cheng said mainland-based clients were not particularly concerned about the plunge in currency rates or cheaper prices.

'As long as the brand is famous and luxurious they will buy it.'