Anouska Hempel’s favourite boat

It was the tightly waisted shape of a Turkish gulet, spotted by the interior designer in a boatyard near Bodrum, that unleashed her imagination

Anouska Hempel on her Turkish gulet, Beluga I, moored in Ischia in the Gulf of Naples
Anouska Hempel on her Turkish gulet, Beluga I, moored in Ischia in the Gulf of Naples | Image: Gaia Cambiaggi

“Ernest Hemingway once said: ‘It was considered a virtue not to talk unnecessarily at sea.’ And that quote sums up a great deal about me and Beluga I, which I owned for 15 years. She was where I found true tranquillity and head space – she was my pride and joy.

Beluga had heaps of personality. When you saw her on the horizon, it was the pirate-black sails that set her aside. She oozed adventure, theatre and fun. It was a romantic notion of travel, sailing under the stars, and definitely something you cannot get on board a shiny white number.

My love of the sea has been with me since my childhood in Australia and New Zealand: I’d spend hours walking along the beach at home and my first boat was a dinghy with an outboard motor that I lost off the back on its maiden voyage. I found Beluga in an old shipyard near Bodrum as I was coming to the end of a summer charter with my husband. All the gulets were out of the water and raised on stilts ready for the winter, and as we walked in, I saw my next project. I fell for the lovely shape of her pine undercarriage: high at the back and tugged down at the tummy – tightly waisted.

We got talking to two men in a local bar and gave them £1,000 to sail her to Mallorca where I planned to have her refitted by my carpenter. They took our money (they hadn’t a bean between them), a little transistor radio and our boat. Fortunately, they were as honest as the day is long and Beluga got there.

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It took two years to refurbish her and there were constant updates and changes as I came up with new ideas – I enjoyed fitting my designs around the intricacies of the boat’s shape. She had four makeovers in the time we owned her, from pale ginger, then white on white, followed by navy blue, then black and ginger. I liked to create a look, a mood, with the varnished wood interiors, raffia blinds, cane chairs and parchment trunks for tables, laid with trays of matching pots found on shopping trips. My favourite place was the aft deck, which was covered in big cushion divans that were long enough to snooze on, although whenever we hoisted the sails it involved removing all the cushions. I remember one occasion, near Göcek, when we were saved the bother, as a speed boat whizzed past so close and fast that all the aft-deck furniture and tableware were swept into the sea and sank to the bottom.

I would love to have spent a month on board, but it was mostly long weekends with a few friends, the crew and Neville Campbell, our chef of many years from Blakes London, who headed up the galley. We sailed along the Turkish coastline, or to CorfuPuglia and Tunisia, drifting slowly into bays where we would moor for a day or two and eat the fresh seafood in local restaurants.

For me, there is nothing like being out at sea when I’m looking for inspiration for my designs, such as the sapphire blues and emerald greens of the waters off the coast of Daçta for my latest hotel project in Paris, Monsieur George. I aim to always create warmth and wonder, which Beluga had in spades, because it was my very own space. I was very sad to part ways with her, but I’m already on the hunt for another gulet in Turkey for my next project.”

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