Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Business: Walking the Plank in the Big Apple

The Weekend Australian
Julie Earle-Levine reports
February 18, 2006

SCOTT Andrews was paying $US2600 ($3450) a month to live in the top floor of a Greenwich Village building when he got notice that rent for his 74sqm apartment would jump to $US3000 a month.He was interested in buying, but escalating prices meant he would need at least $US1 million to secure what he had been renting, and moving into a smaller space was unappealing. He moved out, and on to the Hudson River.

Andrews, 30, who is a commercial property developer, bought a three-bedroom motor yacht, with a living room large enough to fit his two lounges, and now lives at a marina with postcard views of Manhattan. Several of his friends are now doing the same.

His new home is moored at Liberty Landing Marina in New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Andrews figures he has great waterfront views and pays a third of the cost of rent, after slip fees and maintenance.

"I thought, I can buy a tiny, second-floor walk-up in Manhattan with no light, and no views for half a million bucks, or spend half of that on a boat ($US250,000) and get a view of Manhattan." His neighbours include teachers, doctors, office workers and finance types.

'Liberty Landing, is the second-largest marina on the east coast of the US with 600 slips, and is part of Liberty State Park. The park is a bonus, a 8km bike path along the water, past Ellis Island and more green than you might see in the city walking for 10 blocks.

It is also favoured by liveaboards, because it is well protected from the sometimes choppy Hudson. Andrews' marina has showers, a laundry, and its own "pub", a dockside bar and grill.
He catches a $US5 water taxi to his offices at the World Financial Centre, splitting his time staying on the boat and at his girlfriend's house in the East Village.

The only downer so far is that the ferry stops running at 8.45pm, so he has to catch a train, which runs all hours, and a taxi to reach his boat. Still, he wakes up on board a light-filled, gently bobbing boat with views to die for. "I wish I'd done it sooner."

It sure sounds attractive, but there are catches.

Leasing a slip, as well as "liveaboard" fees for marina utilities can cost about $US15,000 a year, including expenses to haul the boat out of the water to paint, and for repairs. Then there is a lack of space on smaller boats, and the winter months can be brutal.

At the West 79th Street Boat Basin in Manhattan, about 50 people live on boats with names like "Freedom" and "Orca". Some have two bedrooms, and two decks, and simply hop on and off the island for work and play, buying groceries from nearby Broadway, or by having the food delivered to the boat.

The marina is a mish-mash of luxury boats, houseboats and yachts, many with children's toys, bicycles and everyday house stuff on the decks. When this reporter visited, the owners looked happy, mostly because the weather that day was perfect. "Usually in January, in any one of the past 25 years, it is seven degrees outside. Once it was below 20 degrees for a week," says one man. Owners heat their floating homes with a diesel furnace or electric heater.

But as soon as the snow melts, the marina is inundated with hundreds of phone calls from people who want to live there. They just want to know how to do it. A resident who has lived there for many years recalls that in the 1970s, it was "like the wild, wild west". "It was kind of a hippie community, people who wanted to live in an alternative way in the city. It was very crowded, with too many boats. Even now it is a different kind of person who lives here, someone who has a free spirit."

Freedom has its price. "Unless you live in the most dilapidated apartment building in Manhattan, you wouldn't be concerned about your living space," another liveaboard says. "But if you come home to a boat and it is taking water, well you might have a three-hour project ahead of you."

Liveaboards at 79th Street maintain their year-round status because they staked claims prior to 1997, when the city curtailed year-round dockage from April through October. Anyone new trying to live there permanently will find a four-year waiting list, unlike Liberty Landing, where there is no wait.

Linda Ridihalgh editor of LiveAboard magazine estimates there are 30,000 liveaboards in North America.
"It's a lifestyle that has wide appeal," she says. She grew up near the Mississippi River, and has spent her life on boats. Most people do it for lifestyle, she says, not to save money.

New houseboats cost anywhere from $US50,000 to above $US1 million.
Others buy smaller sailboats and are "transients" -- those who live on boats with V-shaped hulls that are more mobile than houseboats.

Many people buy a stunning, luxury houseboat and fit it out with designer everything. But they only last a week. Some people never get over motion sickness or they realise, it's not easy.