Dot is much more than a yacht conversion. Once the flagship vessel in Hong Kong’s iconic Star Ferry fleet known as Golden Star, the 154-foot vessel has been transformed into a floating Manhattan loft-style apartment.
Her owner, a British-born Hong Kong resident, first stepped foot aboard Golden Star as a young man making his daily commute from Wanchai to Hung Hom in the late 80s. Every day he rode the ferries across Victoria Harbour. He has always appreciated their robust, yet elegant, build quality, with thick steel hulls and large wooden fenders. In 2011, when Golden Star was offered for sale, he jumped at the opportunity.
The owner spent 18 months converting the boat at the Leung Wan Kee shipyard in Zhuhai, which has had the contract to maintain Star Ferries for decades. He hired a fulltime project manager to oversee the build and deliver on his vision. The goal was to “dress Dot to her strengths,” creating a weekend retreat for his family.
“Dot is heavy, robust, and wide-hipped, and I think a sleek shiny look would not suit her,” the owner told Robb Report, requesting anonymity. “Her original, well-worn thick teak floors and copious steel speak to a factory more than an elegant residence. We didn’t want to fight her industrial history, but rather to celebrate it. These goals drove much of the layout.”
A home designer in France who had completed a conversion for a large sea-going Dutch barge took on the project. “His experience was very useful,” says the owner. “A typical yacht designer would not be used to this kind of industrial vessel, and a traditional home designer would be unfamiliar with the issues of a floating home.”
Golden Star was built in 1989 to be 36 feet longer than her predecessors. Her two-inch-thick decks were designed to handle the heavy footfall of an additional 200 passengers. This robust build has been used to Dot’s advantage, creating 6,000 square feet of living space, plus another 4,000 square feet of storage.
“I have an obsession with old-brick industrial buildings, like those large go-downs, mills and factories built between 1870 and 1905 in the US, Britain, and Germany,” he says. “My home in London has beds built from factory workstations, a weaver’s block and a book press. We have the oldest wallpaper in London from the 18th century, which is little more than rusty pegs and torn remains, but there is great beauty in age and ruin.”
Dot’s oversized living areas, with floor-to-ceiling windows, produce a cavernous interior. All four cabins have en suite bathrooms with full-sized baths and separate showers. There is a dedicated cinema room and private office, but much of the Star Ferry history has been maintained.
“I loved the ferries’ old reversable seating; we have kept some in storage and the rest have found homes around Hong Kong,” he says. “She can still drive at the same speed in both directions with her two propellers. We changed as little as possible.”
The biggest design change is the split-level mezzanine in the salon, with open sliding doors to allow for a cool sea breeze, and a roof that opens for al-fresco dining. “The false ceilings were very low, so we removed them to give more height and added a rust finish to the stripped metal beams. I love industrial furnishings, rust and elegant dilapidation.”
Thirty air-conditioning units provide relief from the summer heat. A 15,000-gallon water storage capacity, with a rain-water collection system, helps to make the boat self-contained. During drier weather, Dot has a water filter system to convert seawater, and separate systems for cleaning and filtering sea water and rainwater, as well as 1,820 square feet of flexible solar panels.
“We wanted to be completely self-sufficient,” says the owner. “On sunny days, the solar provides 75 percent of our energy needs, including air conditioning all night. The double glazing, roof insulation, and shade wings have resulted in huge energy savings. Making water from seawater uses a lot of energy, so it’s great that we use rain water for 90 percent of the year.”
The conversion wasn’t without its challenges. The technical complexities for solar, batteries and generators proved to be testing, and finding water makers robust enough to handle sea water in the winter wasn’t easy. The family had their heart set on a mooring in Hong Kong’s Tai Tam Bay, which is almost impossible for a boat over 100 feet in length. Permitting and approvals were a headache but have proven worth it.
“Dot was designed to create great memories for my three children, and she has delivered them in spades,” he says. “Watching them jump from the roof into the sea; stargazing with them topside; games of charades as the sun sets after dinner. Right now, seaweed is growing apace, and the luminosity at night lights up the fish swimming and jumping ahead of us. This is the magic of Hong Kong that few get to see.”
The owner now wants to transfer this unusual conversion to someone else who will appreciate its historical significance. Dot is listed for sale for about $2.71 million with Seanergy Limited, a member of Ocean Independence. Her mooring in Tai Tam is included. Here are more images.