Just bling on the houseboat style
Salcombe’s newest, glitziest address is on the water, says Andrew Eames
It is one of the most expensive regions in the country, with second homes lining the shores of one of Devon’s loveliest natural harbours. Salcombe’s population swells from 1,500 in the winter to 20,000 in the summer, but its primary school has barely enough subscribers to survive.
Every year thousands of holidaymakers squeeze through its narrow, boutiquelined streets; barefoot lads in wetsuits, mini-skirted teenage girls and yummy mummies in search of a skinny latte.
And the newest address in town is a pair of floating penthouses fresh in from America, blinging with plasma screens. Traditional Salcombe tars think these parvenus are ugly ducklings, but H2O Resorts, which owns the two boats — Oceanus and Prometheus — see the pair as a solution to a perennial problem: how can more people get a slice of supersaturated Salcombe in the summertime?
Custom-built houseboats like these are big business in the United States, but have not yet caught on in Britain. Here, houseboats are usually ‘‘characterful’’ conversions of existing craft which provide refuge for impoverished writers or divorced men who can no longer afford the price of brick.
A prototype single-bedroom penthouse launched with great fanfare at the Boat Show a couple of years ago has remained just that and is now sitting in London Docklands, priced at £250,000 and awaiting a buyer. The problem, says David Greenaway, the agent with the prototype on his books (www. houseboatcentre.co.uk), is not so much finding a market as finding a mooring.
Finding a mooring is what led one of the first co-owners to take a share in one of Salcombe’s shiny new migrants. Christian Brown, an Epsom-based contractor, has four sporty children aged from nine to 17, and Salcombe has long been on the family radar as a very desirable place to spend the summer holidays. For the Brown family, the question was one of how to get a foothold without spending an arm and a leg.
“You can only really enjoy Salcombe if you’ve got access to the water,” says Mr Brown. “But buying anywhere near the waterside is absurd. It’s outside my reach; I haven’t got a million.” The Browns had already invested in a boat — a rib for water-skiing and covehopping — but they encountered a further problem in where to tie it up, given that there’s a five to 10year waiting list for a mooring.
It was that quest for an accessible home for his boat that led him to H2O. The houseboat solves both problems — mooring and accommodation — in one go.
And the specifications are impressive. Air-conditioned, 55ft x 16ft, these beasts have four double bedrooms, a saloon with a plasma-screen home theatre and fore and aft relaxation decks. Upstairs is a sun lounge area, a bar and a six-person Jacuzzi. Down in the depths are silent generators and a self-digesting toilet system, which allow independence of shoreside facilities.
However, the overall look is not to everybody’s taste. “I’ve had two phone calls of criticism,” says Councillor Jeff Beer, the chairman of the harbour board which granted permission for a fleet of up to seven. “But I’ve also had lots of support. They’re a big improvement on the tatty old boats which they’ve replaced, but there are always going to be people who don’t like the idea of houseboats.”
Christian Brown acknowledges that some passing yachties regard his investment with disapproval, but from his perspective the aesthetics are wonderful. “I have a 360 degree panorama. The kids love the hot tub, especially under the stars, and I can tumble out of bed straight into the boat and take them water-skiing. Everything looks better from the water.”
The houseboats are being marketed under a coownership scheme that H2O Resorts is keen to distinguish from timeshare. In a timeshare the purchasers only buy the right to occupy holiday accommodation, but H2O owners have a share in a named boat and will receive a proportionate share in sale proceeds, as well as a proportion (it can be as much as 50 per cent) of any rental income should they decline to use their allocated time themselves. With high season rental prices of about £3,000 per week, this could amount to handy revenue.
The basic deal starts at £25,000 for one low-season week for the next 30 years, rising to £40,000 for a highseason week, with an additional £480 annual maintenance fee. And weeks at Salcombe can be exchanged for weeks at H2O resorts “elsewhere”. In practice this currently means only the US, although the company has plans to open up European locations.
Mr Brown is not too bothered by talk of world domination. He was interested in gaining a foothold in Salcombe, and that’s what buying into Oceanus has allowed him to do. Now that his older children are turning into adults, he hopes that the boat will remain a safe berth for family holidays — with or without the parents — for years to come.
H2O Resorts: 0845 202 0820; www.h2oresorts.co.uk
Big berther: this pair of four-bedroom überhouseboats, above, moored in Salcombe estuary, come with daily maid service, a personal launch and a state-of-theart saloon