The UAE has a number of properties that have exceptional water views, but Mark Moore and Rosella Age's home holds an obvious advantage over even the most luxurious of houses: theirs isn't just near the water – it's on it.
The couple, who moved from the US to the UAE in 2018, have been living full-time in a 1990 Skipperliner houseboat for more than a year. Dubbed Rena, a name of Hebrew origin that means joy, the cheery boat is fitted out with five bedrooms, a lavish upstairs deck for grilling and a fully equipped kitchen. As Age puts it: "It's everything I've ever wanted in my dream home."
Why they took the plunge...
Moore, 44, and Age, 28, are the first to admit that they weren't exactly "water people". When the couple moved to Dubai two years ago for work, they lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Dubai Marina for the first year. As time came closer to renew their lease, they decided to look at other housing options.
"Cookie-cutter was never our style. I just didn't feel the pull towards a villa despite the fact that there are some gorgeous ones in Dubai. So, I made a list of things I wanted in a home – four bedrooms or more, a big kitchen and a low-maintenance yard," Age says.
"At that time, I was also watching a Netflix show called How to Live Mortgage Free with Sarah Beeny and one of the first episodes was about a woman who had renovated a Dutch barge. When I saw that, I thought there must be yachts for sale in Dubai, too."
When Age browsed Dubizzle for yachts, she found most were going for millions of dirhams, so she lowered the price range and came across Rena. The American houseboat was owned by an Australian couple. Moore and Age visited the vessel, berthed at Dubai Creek Marina, next to Park Hyatt Dubai, and fell in love with it and the surrounding area. They put in a successful offer and took proud possession of Rena last September.
“Mark is an actuary, so we drew up an excel spreadsheet,” says Age. “We ran the numbers, compared this to purchasing a villa and found that it was far more affordable.”
Over the past few years, living on a boat has become increasingly common as it is regarded as more cost-effective than renting an apartment. At the moment, Dubai Creek Marina is the home of choice for a number of Dubai residents, including Moore and Age. According to a representative of Park Hyatt Dubai, there are seven boats that double as houses moored on the marina.
The berthing fee depends on the size of a boat. A 50-foot houseboat costs about Dh57,000, including water, electricity and a one-time joining fee. This also grants owners access to the facilities at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club and Park Hyatt Dubai – including the swimming pool and gym, and discounts in restaurants. As Moore puts it: "We are paying less to live here than we were paying for our Dubai Marina apartment."
Less space just means less stuff
There are other perks, too. Age doesn't wake up every morning to an alarm clock, but to the chirping of birds and natural sunlight drifting in through the windows. She previously worked at insurance company Aetna, alongside her husband, but left her job this year to keep her new home, well, shipshape.
She has since transformed the boat into a colourful, homely space filled with knick-knacks from the couple’s travels, as well as putting up photo frames, plants and even a tiny bookshelf.
Rena has an area of roughly 500 square feet, but counting the upstairs deck (where the couple enjoy grilling and their evening meals) and basement area that holds four sleeping spaces (or bedrooms), it provides a total living area of about 1,500 square feet. The main indoor area has a spacious kitchen, a bathroom, a lounge with bright couches and the master bedroom.
Although it might not look it, Rena can comfortably sleep five. The kitchen is fully equipped with two fridges, a microwave, stove and sink.
Moore admits that it doesn’t quite lend itself to as much storage space as an average apartment. “When we left the apartment, we had to sell most of our stuff,” says Moore. “But I think it’s actually been liberating. With less space, we’ve had to be more intentional with what we need to keep and get rid of.” Age adds: “It’s a less materialistic lifestyle because you are enjoying the atmosphere. You don’t need things – you need time to really enjoy life.”
The pandemic has not changed their minds, either. Despite the fact that the couple bought the boat well before people knew how much time we would be spending indoors this year, Moore says Rena has made this period restful instead of stressful.
“Not having to go to the office allowed us to have more time within this space, and even though we were confined here, it’s still very open. I know a lot of people who stay in studio apartments without a balcony and you can feel sort of disconnected there,” he says.
Learning the ropes and dealing with barnacles
Of course, it’s not all smooth sailing. “Initially, it was daunting to take on all of the different things as there are so many moving parts to keep track of,” Moore says.
The air conditioning, for instance, is provided by seawater that is pumped in to cool the space. If the pump cuts out for any reason, so does the air conditioning, something that has happened before, in the peak of the Dubai summer. The boat has a maximum power capacity, too. A circuit breaker is set up so if there are too many appliances running at the same time, there's a risk that everything will shut down.
Moore also has to dive under the boat to manually scrape the hull from time to time, to remove any barnacles or seaweed that could get stuck and degrade it over time. The water tanks pose another maintenance issue. Since the boat doesn't have a direct water line, the tank has to be manually refilled from time to time, using a valve and hose or the water could run out mid-shower.
Luckily the former owners, whom Age and Moore are still in touch with, gave them detailed instructions on maintaining the boat. "There are a lot of little things to keep track of, which I actually enjoy doing," says Moore. "But these are things you would never have to worry about in an apartment unless something actually breaks."
Another little niggle the couple is still getting used to is ordering takeaway. "I usually have to give very detailed instructions and a good tip for finding the place when I'm ordering through Deliveroo or Zomato," says Age, with a laugh.
It's all worth it in the end, though, the couple say. "Every day feels like a vacation. I could never go back to living full-time in a house. If we somehow manage to fill up the house with children, I would just get a bigger boat," Age says.
“It’s the peace, the serenity,” she adds. “You cannot put a price on that feeling we get every morning. We love houseboat life. It’s been so good to us.”
For Moore it's the sense of community in Dubai Creek that has made the experience so special. "The people here have become like family to us," he says, referring to other boat owners as well as regulars in the area, including the security guards. "We didn't know them, but it started with them helping us bring the luggage on to the boat when we moved in. We've shared meals with them. It's become such a neat experience. Life-changing."