One boat, three countries, three owners, and one heck of a back story – that’s LifeStyle.
Years ago, this 2002 Lakeview houseboat boarded a freighter from Kentucky out to
Hamburg, Germany, to a man who tried to rent the boat to holiday visitors for sailing. To his own dismay, his business venture failed. But to the delight of neighbors, his loss was their gain.
For a year, Thomas and Ulla Larmann had been looking to abandon their land-living lifestyle and take to the sea – the only holdup was finding the perfect boat. All the houseboats sold in their European corner of the world were unsuited for their tastes; they were either old freighters converted into houseboats, which made it feel like “living in a submarine,” or they were too small to live comfortably in. But while looking online one day, they found it – the ad that changed their life. American-made, but already in Europe, the houseboat in this ad offered exactly what they were looking for: a place to call home. It didn’t remind them of a submarine, and it didn’t restrict their living space. It was the perfect boat.
“And the size!!!” remarked Thomas. “Our boat is a Lakeview of 68 feet. This appears small in the U.S., but large in Europe.”
Though German by blood, Thomas and Ulla are seafaring by nature. That’s why they insist on living in the Netherlands.
“Living on water has to be in the Netherlands,” said Thomas. “From their history they turned water into land and still use the remaining water for living and moving.”
Also, they wanted to have it right next to their sailing yacht, Alternative, which was docked in Amsterdam. Having both side by side is living the dream, being able to glide on the lakes in the houseboat, but go sailing the sea anytime they want to on their yacht.
The American-given name was One More on the House, but Thomas and Ulla decided to rename her to reflect their experience: a significant improvement in lifestyle.
“Our sailing yacht already indicated to be an ‘alternative’ to our traditional life. And
‘LifeStyle’ indicates a significant improvement in lifestyle,” he said. “There is no boat around the next 100 miles providing such a lifestyle in terms of room, quality, and equipment.”
And though the new name represents the boat’s role in their life, one might gasp at them renaming the boat at all. But do they believe in the renaming superstitions?
“No,” says Thomas. “But maybe we should…”
Why should they? Well, it has a lot to do with a storm, a shipwreck, and being stranded on an island – all the things movies are made of.
Mayday Mayday Mayday
After they bought the boat, they realized their problem: transportation. It was too big to sail through inland canals and there was no path of roads wide enough to transport it by truck. The only option was to sail it across the open sea – through the Baltic Sea and the Kiel Canal and across the North Sea. It turned out to be anything but smooth sailing.
A friend who worked with the German Weather Forecast agreed to lead them along the route each day, being aware of the huge windward drift of the boat. Once they were almost to the Kiel Canal, an unexpected storm hit and waves knocked them about abominably, with water crashing inside the boat. The bilge pumps couldn’t pump out the water appropriately, and they had to call for help. They were quickly rescued by the German SAR service who proceeded to effectively pump out the water. Thomas and Ulla were then offered a tug service to the next island, Fehmarn, in between Germany, Sweden and Denmark; they graciously accepted the offer.
Shipwrecked on a Desert Island
After agreeing to the tow, the captain of the rescue boat pressed the throttle and the boat went quickly on its way…in the wrong direction. It plowed right into LifeStyle, and with $80,000 of damages, the only option they had was to stay and live on the island…for three months. This headache prevented them from even attempting to sail the rest of the way in to Amsterdam. But, not being able to find a freighter to take them there, they nearly gave up the dream.
Bringing Her Home
A ray of hope came in the form of a sunken cable boat south of Sweden. Because the owner was Dutch and had to come out and take care of it, Thomas and Ulla took advantage of the situation and found a place on the Dutch man’s pontoon after convincing him to give them, and LifeStyle, a tug. But unfortunately, the trouble didn’t end there. Once they reached the final marina north of Amsterdam, they had to sail around for a few hours to find a harbor where the tug boat could drop them off. Once that happened, a mobile 100-ton crane had to unload the houseboat into the marina where, finally, they could sail LifeStyle on her own keel into her rightful home.
“Don’t ask anything about the costs…” lamented Thomas.
But he would do it all over if it meant he could live the life of luxury that he’s since become accustomed to.
Though you’d imagine it’d require some adjusting for Thomas and Ulla, the only ones that needed adjusting were the electricity and air conditioning. Otherwise, Thomas felt like it was a smooth transition, with the hardest part being the ice, snow, and heavy winds in the wintertime. But the wintertime also brings Christmas, which he says is one of the best parts – having lit up trees on the deck and inside.
“Thanks to the American size, we really live in a little European house with hardly any limitations to a comfortable life,” he said.
Worth Every Minute
Selling their house for a houseboat was everything they hoped for in the end. They love sitting on the different decks, watching all the boats pass by, using the internet to do business, or having a party on the sundeck.
“We could not imagine living like that on any other type of ship,” he said. “We call it our VillaShip.”