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On the Water: Unexpected opportunity. On Friday March 13, 2015, at 2 a.m., Hilton de la Hunt shipwrecked on a reef in the San Blas islands of Panama. His story of loss and discovery is a testament of making the best of a bad situation.
Hilton de la Hunt fell asleep and landed his Beneteau Oceanius 52 on a reef. At the time of the accident, he’d been sailing solo for five days en route to San Blas from the Dominican Republic. “I could have gone and bought another yacht, but I needed to be productive and build something on land as a punishment for losing my boat on a reef,” said Hilton.
“I’ll do some hard work for a couple of years, and then I’ll buy another boat,” he said. What grew out of his self-imposed penance is bearing fruit as a good investment; building efficiency-size floating homes with eco-conservative materials and systems.
Floating homes are not a new concept. It is all about how they are built and where and how they are moored. The famous movie “Sleepless in Seattle” storyline was based on living in a floating home in Seattle.
There is a difference between a “floating home” and a “houseboat”.
The latter has an engine and therefore can be driven. A floating home has to be pushed or towed. It is common, however, to call them all houseboats.
De la Hunt chose the Bocas del Toro area to build his floating home. “There are no strong winds here, and that is perfect for houseboats,” he said. He began construction in January 2016 in Bocas Yacht Services, Bay of Almirante, Bocas del Toro province.
“Once the home is completed, I’ll take it to Dolphin Bay. I believe that location will be ideal for the boat. Dolphin Bay is an anchorage well-protected from wind and swells,” said de la Hunt. He is planning to finish this first houseboat within a week or two. “Maybe not 100% finished, he said, “but enough for me to move onboard.”
The houseboat measures approximately 5 x 12 meters, “about 18’ wide and 50’ long,” he clarified. The boat is floated on polystyrene encased in concrete. “Just the float alone is 16 tons. I thought it was going to sink, but it floated in just 12 inches of water,” explained de la Hunt.
“The houseboat superstructure is built in the normal timber frame style. The concrete-polystyrene construction is strong enough to mount an outboard on the back for maneuvering the boat to a mooring, but I will most likely just tow it to its destination and moor it with an anchor,” he said.
It is a single story, sculptured design. “It’s like living in a sculpture,” said de la Hunt, “It is an open floor plan like a studio apartment. You’ve got the bedroom in front with glass all around, in the back is the kitchen, and in the middle opposite the bathroom is a utility room for the solar panels, generator, and other equipment. I catch all the water off the roof where I have six solar panels. The toilet has a system to process the waste on the boat,” he explained.
“I’m not an architect, but I’ve been a builder and a real estate and property developmenter all my life,” he said. He built two of his previous yachts. “They were the first boats I took across the Atlantic,” said de la Hunt.
To find out more about the houseboats, contact Hilton de la Hunt through Bocas Yacht Services 66195601.
On the Water: Unexpected opportunity: is a weekly column that explores the sailing and fishing lifestyle in Panama and its two beautiful coasts.