Hong Kong Discovery Bay boat owners mourn ‘death of a community’ as they celebrate last Christmas together
- Most families have left marina or will do so before end of year due to cost concerns and strict requirements for extension of stay
Houseboat families affected by the closure of a Hong Kong marina bemoaned “the death of a community” as they held their last Christmas gathering in the place they had long called home.
The 29-year-old Discovery Bay marina will be closed by New Year’s Eve for a major renovation. All membership will cease and all boats are required to sail out by then. It is not clear how the marina will operate or recruit new members when it reopens.
Existing members, including about 200 boat-dwelling families, were informed of the decision on August 31, four months in advance. Amid the backlash, the marina management offered them a three-month extension of stay at a price. Owners who did not sign the extension agreement but continue to berth their boats at the marina in the new year will have to pay a hefty daily visitor fee.
According to the 40 or so members who attended the Christmas gathering on December 23, most families had left the marina or would do so before the end of the year, due to cost concerns and the strict requirements for signing up for the extension.
Construction site hoardings with barbed wire had already been erected around the marina.
“It’s awful,” said Nina Christie, trying to hold back her tears. She is near her retirement and has been living in the marina for seven years.
“All your friends are leaving … I didn’t even have a tree up. It’s not Christmas.”
Christie was planning to retire in four years, sell her boat and rejoin her children in Canada with her husband. But now the value of her HK$7 million (US$893,700) boat has been reduced to almost nothing because the relatively niche market was flooded by all the Discovery Bay boats in a short time, and she still has seven years of her mortgage to pay.
She and husband will leave the marina on Wednesday and rent a flat – with a quarter the space she had on her 3,000 sq ft boat – in the housing development that the marina is named after.
Christie said she had found a place to moor her boat but declined to disclose the location.
“We are paying for rent. We are paying for the mortgage. So for the next seven years, we can’t do anything,” she said. “I’m delayed [from] being with my children again.”
“It’s the death of a community,” said a 49-year-old supply chain management consultant who insisted on anonymity.
He and his wife had been in the marina since 2010, and they sold their boat for HK$400,000 two weeks ago – a tenth of the HK$4 million they had paid for it. They are now also renting in Discovery Bay while paying off the mortgage for the vessel.
The consultant described the marina community as one where families always left their doors unlocked, and people looked out for one another.
Nico Antico, 50, agreed. In his six years in the marina, he never kept a key for his boat, he said.
The industrial business consultant, who has been in Hong Kong for 30 years and is a permanent resident, is moving to Singapore with his wife later next year. His boat is already on the way there. His two children will enter university in the United Kingdom in September next year.
“It’s a big punch in the nose,” he said. “I feel like [I’ve been] cheated by the city that I loved for the past 30 years.”
A spokeswoman for the marina club said the expiry date had been clearly stated on the club membership and made known to members since the day of purchase. The club had also ceased membership transfers more than a year ago and never indicated that memberships would be rolled over after expiration, she said.
“Given the scale of renovation … we have provided a reasonable notice period for members to secure alternative berthing arrangements,” she said.
But members argued that in conversations before August 31, club management had never told them their membership would not be rolled over. They said that the management had kept telling them not to worry.
The club offered to let members stay until the end of March next year provided they were willing to pay a refundable HK$150,000 deposit, as well as three months of discounted berthing fees in advance.
Those who do not sign up for the extension but keep their boats in the marina in the new year will have to pay berthing fees of between HK$5,000 and HK$12,000 a day. All marina services such as water and electricity will be withdrawn from the new year.
However, signing up for the offer was not that easy, according to insurance broker Andy Kung, 68.
He said lawyers representing the club’s owner, Hong Kong Resort Company, a principal subsidiary of HKR International (HKRI), told him his sailing boat needed to have a liability cover of HK$50 million, while the boat was covered for only HK$10 million.
Kung said he was also asked to give all of Hong Kong Resort Company’s subsidiaries and contractors a “waiver of subrogation”, so that if the companies or contractors damaged the boat, his insurance company could not recover the money from them.
“It was nonsense,” he said. “It could not be complied with.”
The club spokeswoman did not comment on the requirements. But she said “a small number of members” had applied for the offer but later all changed their minds.
She added that “the overwhelming majority of members” had arranged for relocation before year-end.
Twenty-year-old Anna McMaster, who has lived in the marina since she was seven, said she felt “absolutely gutted” about having to move out.
“The saddest thing has been watching all the [hoardings] go up, because they could have waited,” she said. “It’s been an incredible place to grow up.”