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Hong Kong housing

Last of Discovery Bay marina members face uncertainty as they prepare to move out before New Year’s Eve deadline

  • Fewer than 10 of the 200 houseboats docked at the marina on Lantau Island remain and most plan to leave by the end of the year
  • Members are angry at what they say is a great distress inflicted by the forced move, as the marina closes for renovations
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 December, 2018, 7:39pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 December, 2018, 10:53pm

Four months ago, there were some 200 houseboats packed in this quaint Hong Kong marina. On Sunday there were fewer than 10, and the Post joined one of the last families sailing out.

Andrew Henderson, a 57-year-old pilot, his wife Nina Schulte-Mattler, a 51-year-old property agent, and their three children, are among the 200 families facing eviction from the Discovery Bay marina.

The marina, which began operating in 1989, will be closed by New Year’s Eve for a major renovation. All memberships 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.

Ten of the Henderson family’s friends helped them move into the marina on May 1, 2009. On Sunday, they were there again to help them move out, to the Kwun Tong Typhoon Shelter, a two and a half hours sail away.

“[The marina closure] has caused an awful lot of people huge amount of financial distress, as well as family distress, which is what we are suffering right now,” Henderson said. “We are having to move house, probably move school. We are having to do something with this boat … It’s caused us a great lot of family distress.”

[The marina closure] has caused an awful lot of people huge amount of financial distress, as well as family distress, which is what we are suffering right now
Andrew Henderson, marina member

Marina members were informed of the closure 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 continued to berth their boats at the marina in the new year would face a hefty daily visitor fee.

Members said most families would leave before the end of the year due to the cost and the strict requirements for signing up for the extension.

Families said their boats were reduced to little in value because the niche market was suddenly flooded with all the houseboats. Many said they were left with boat mortgages unpaid, some facing bankruptcy, while others said they would leave Hong Kong due to the episode.

“I’m being kicked out of my home,” said 11-year-old Ella Henderson, who moved into the marina when she was one and was now reduced to tears.

Ella’s two brothers, Liam, 14, and Callum, 15, also grew up in the marina.

Club defends evictions of boat owners, says revamp will make it world-class

The Henderson family bought their 80-foot boat, named Vital Spark, almost 10 years ago for HK$9 million, including paying for the marina club membership. Schulte-Mattler said they were earlier offered HK$1.4 million for the boat, and they decided not to sell it. She said they found the Kwun Tong anchorage through a friend and would pay a fixer HK$10,000 a month to place the anchor, clean the boat twice a month and ensure the boat battery was charged.

“It’s nice to know that the boat has a place,” she said. “That was the biggest stress, to find the place.”

Unlike the marina, there is no water, electricity or internet at Kwun Tong, so the family cannot live on board any more. They are now renting a flat in Discovery Bay – the popular property development that the marina is named after – and plan to use the boat as a weekend stay.

“It’s a massive, huge inconvenience in every regard,” Andrew Henderson said. “Emotionally, physically, I’m very tired, drained.”

Discovery Bay Marina Club denied us shelter in typhoon, boat owners say

Henderson said he wants to move out of Discovery Bay eventually.

“I don’t trust [the owner of Discovery Bay] any more,” Henderson said. “I don’t want to contribute to their profits any more.”

Hong Kong Resort Company, a principal subsidiary of HKR International (HKRI), owns the Discovery Bay Marina Club and the property development.

The club has previously said that the expiry date had been clearly stated on the membership and made known to members since the day of purchase. The club said it had also ceased membership transfers more than a year ago and never indicated that memberships would be renewed after expiration.

Living on a boat in Hong Kong a ‘legal grey area’

“Given the scale of the renovation … we have provided a reasonable notice period for members to secure alternative berthing arrangements,” a club spokeswoman said in a previous statement.

But Henderson, like many other affected families, said membership had always been renewed since the marina started, and that the club management never told them this time was going to be different.

Henderson said the management had always assured them that the system would remain unchanged.

“Honestly, I feel as if they’ve inflicted maximum pain on everybody here quite unnecessarily,” he said. “[They] really could have managed it so much better.”

“It’s my childhood home,” Callum Henderson said. “I really liked it here. It’s just a shame. We did live somewhere else but I completely forgot about it. It’s that long ago.

“This place will always be the best.”