Hirst and friends in bid to buy Chelsea boatyard

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The Independent Online

Leading lights from art and commerce including Britain's wealthiest artist, Damien Hirst, are leading a bid to own a historic London boatyard in one of the capital's most salubrious postcodes.

Hirst has joined partners, including entrepreneur Simon Woodroffe, to purchase the £4.75m Chelsea boatyard, once home to some of the capital's greatest actors and musicians, including Sir Laurence Olivier and Nick Cave. Current residents include Hirst and his wife Maia Norman, Mr Woodroffe and Sir Bob Geldof's girlfriend Jeanne Marine.

The Chelsea Reach Residents Association, of which both Hirst and Mr Woodroffe are members, has formed a new company, Chelsea Houseboats, to buy the boatyard from its owner the Chelsea Yacht & Boat Company.

In the 1970s the yard became a cheap base for bohemians living opposite the Chelsea street, Cheyne Walk, where JMW Turner, George Best and Keith Richards once lived. Since then, inflating prices have increasingly attracted upmarket clientele.

"Living here is the most wonderful thing, it's the best thing I ever did," said Dr Andrew Cairncross, owner of a 46ft boat. "All the residents look out for one another, there's no intrusion. Our bid has been welcomed and I hope to contribute my share to the proposal".

Each resident is set to pay Chelsea Yacht & Boat Company a sum based on the size of their mooring. According to Dr Cairncross, residents are motivated by the hope of a long-term profit and greater security. The Chelsea Yacht & Boat Company, which charges residents mooring and maintenance charges, achieved an operating profit of £472,000 last year. An advertising hoarding facing the river produces a profit of £102,000 a year alone. The yard's 59 moorings account for a fifth of the total on the Thames in London. The yard, founded in 1935, is where many of the Normandy landing vessels were built.

Mr Woodroffe, the millionaire founder of the YO! Sushi restaurant chain, owns three boats, one of which is 84ft long. In 2006, he hosted a fancy dress party at one of his moorings, attended by Sir Bob Geldof.

"The river represents the last undeveloped piece of real estate in London," he said in a previous interview. "The potential has yet to be fully exploited, but I think people now realise living in a houseboat doesn't have to mean damp, cold or cramped conditions."

Hirst and Ms Norman own a boat each on the site.

According to Dr Cairncross, a former chair of the residents association, Chelsea Houseboats has welcomed the bid. Talks are continuing about how the move could be financed.