Humans have been sailing from A to B since the beginning of civilisation. Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest had dugout canoes as early as 45,000 years ago. China had ships charting the coasts of Asia and beyond from around 200 BC. Fast-forward to the ninth century AD and the Vikings were steering longships through Nordic waters. Shipping has since swollen to a global industry worth more than US$183 billion (HK$1.4 trillion) a year.
And this multi-billion-dollar industry has spawned a wide range of wharves, ports and buildings in important (and formerly important) port cities around the world. It’s also birthed a whole new architectural style – nautical – that goes beyond hanging a picture of Turner’s Dutch Boats in a Gale in the lobby.
Kata Rocks, Phuket
High up in the hills above Kata Beach in Western Phuket is Kata Rocks, the island’s most playful hotel (in-res DJ, sparkling kidney pool, cocktails that glow radioactive under the resort’s lights). Each apartment-style room is shaded by a whiter-than-white canvas canopy, shaped like the hull of a yacht – and made with the same coated fibreglass fabric as the roof of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. This December, Kata Rocks will host its second annual Superyacht Rendezvous – meaning these bobbing party palaces pull up outside the hotel and everybody piles out to the penthouse suite for exclusive parties and dinners.
Ten Trinity Square, London
The former Port of London Authority building has become the Four Seasons’ grandest London outpost. Opened in spring 2017, this super-luxe hotel makes (and has) a magnificent entrance: a beaux-arts building flanked by Corinthian columns. The architect has carefully preserved historical details, such as the brass plaques in the entrance hall that mark the furthest an arrow could be shot from the Tower of London. Rooms – set in a circle around the rotunda, often meaning long walks from the lift – are all black and mirrored, with impressive bathrooms (and giant baths). Considering Ten Trinity Square is on the doorstep of the Tower of London (2.7 million visitors a year) it’s surprisingly hard to find, tucked away on a quiet crescent. From inside, standing under the grand rotunda or maybe having a preprandial earl grey tea-infused Forget-Me-Not cocktail at the bar, you’d never know you were behind one of London’s most visited monuments.
The Boatshed, Waiheke Island
The Boatshed is custom-made for this hippy, windy little island northeast of Auckland off New Zealand’s North Island. Overlooking the white crescent of Oneroa Bay, these timber beach cottages have all the features you’d expect of a nautical-themed bolthole: speckled turquoise sea, lots of teak furniture and crisp white linens. The excellent Oyster Inn (order the fish pie and a glass of local sauvignon blanc) is across the road.
The Maritime Hotel, New York
Fashionable Chelsea location – check. In-res Michelin-starred restaurant (La Sirena) helmed by TV chef Mario Batali – check. Cosy-contemporary nautical design, including portholes begging for Insta shots with the skyline in the background – check. With its dark wood panelling and squashy royal blue sofas, you’ll be unsure whether you’re on the set of Mad Men or in a grand suite on the Titanic.
Sir Nikolai, Hamburg
Carved out of a former Kontorhaus – a maritime commercial building commonly found in port cities like Hamburg – Sir Nikolai is one of Sir Hotels newest openings, on one of Hamburg’s oldest canals, Nikolaifleet. The rather stern-sounding parent group has birthed a breezy son in Nikolai: a modern look (velvet winged chairs, mustard-teal-camel furnishings) centres around the standout feature: a glass roof. The recent sister opening Sir Joan in Ibiza also takes inspiration from the sea: stripped wooden yacht floors and steel wall panels that look like waves when they catch the light.