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Fun lovers could soon spend night in Lamu’s floating paradise

By Reuben Mwambingu
Friday, June 18th, 2021 00:00 | 5 mins read
Fridah Njeri plans to expand the Floating Bar and Restaurant at the Lamu island. Photo/PD/COURTESY

Reuben Mwambingu @reubenmwambingu

Just imagine sipping your finest sundowner while nodding off gracefully to the gentle bobbing of the ocean waves, then waking up the next morning afloat in the middle of the sea.

Such an enchanting night in a floating paradise could soon become a reality for visitors flocking Lamu island, if the Sh25 million-shilling expansion plan of the famous Floating Bar and Restaurant in Lamu is actualised.

The proprietor of the popular joint Fridah Njeri says with the gradual taking off of the Lamu Port, plans to expand the joint is an idea whose time has come.

The 38-year-old mother of two says since the Lamu Port was commissioned, more visitors have been trooping in.

“Seven years ago, some of my mentors warned me that with coming of the Lamu Port, the bar may not be enough to accommodate visitors. I have witnessed that after the opening of the port. It is for that reason that I have decided to expand,” says Njeri.

As part of the expansion strategy, she plans to introduce a conferencing facility and a special package to accommodate visitors for a night or two at the wobbling restaurant.

There will be “a lounge and a very modern kitchen and then a deck in the upstairs just for conferencing of up to 50 people.”

Under the new plans, Njeri says there will be an extension of additional two platforms targeting special merrymakers, one specifically for restaurants and the other for special accommodation bookings.

On the accommodation platform, she plans to put up four structures, each with a capacity to accommodate a family of up to five, opening up opportunities for families to experience a rare adventure of spending a night at sea.

“Ordinarily the restaurant can accommodate more than 100 people. But now with Covid-19 restrictions we only do up to 50. After the expansion we expect to have a sitting capacity of up to 100,” she says.

Njeri says charges will be varied to suit the specific market available based on the kind of visitors.

“I have already done the planning, I have done the costing and I have the Bills of Quantities and the minimum the investment for such expansion will not cost less than Sh25 million,” she explains.

While she admits the business has got its own unique challenges, Njeri says owing to its unique location, the investment requires a lot of money to run.

She has applied for the government’s stimulus package of Sh45 million and she believes the money will help her achieve many of her expansion dreams should the application sail through.

“If this place was on land I could have a title deed worth Sh100 million to help me do what I wanted to do. Because with land in Lamu as collateral, you can get up to Sh300 million but now this is in the middle of the sea and so it is difficult to get collateral,” explains Njeri.

She has commissioned an environmental impact assessment study on the property which will help establish guidelines on proper water and sewerage systems.

“For now we have containers beneath the structure where human waste from the toilets are collected and then in the morning we pour disinfectants and release the waste in the ocean. But in my plan I will have a very elaborate water and sewer system,” she says.

While the coming of Lamu Port is likely to pose competition to the business, Njeri says she is confident that her experience and the goodwill of the market will place her way ahead of newcomers.

The floating structure literally gives you an experience of a complete restaurant at sea. It has a kitchen, a bar, a lounge, a dancing area complete with a raised VIP lounge overlooking the dancing area.

Njeri says she acquired the property from Gerard Johnson, a British businessman who started the floating bar in 2007 to tap into the international tourism market.

Johnson borrowed the idea from China when he visited the country.

According to Njeri, who says she used to be a frequent patron of the floating bar, the venture was a success until in 2012 when a French tourist was abducted by al Shabaab militia a few kilometers from the bar. The incident saw tourism in the area plummet.

Following the attack, Johnson was frustrated and wanted to shut down the business as it had started making losses.

“The business was almost collapsing and Gerard wanted to demolish it but I decided to buy it. In 2014 I bought it at Sh350,000 but it would cost me up to Sh2 million for renovation,” she recalls.

How it floats

She added: “I had to buy a solar panel and a big battery to serve as a source of power. Maintaining the structure is very expensive since after every three months you need to change almost everything except the cinder timber which are very strong.”

The structure is designed using cinder timber coated with woven reeds that form the walls and the floor. Its roof is thatched, giving it a natural look. 

For emergencies, there are standby floaters ready and a rescue boat for rescue operations. Besides there are divers on board who are always ready to act when need arises.

But just how does a structure of that simplicity and capacity float on water?

According to Njeri, the structure sits on some 200 pressurised, airtight plastic drums of 200 liters each which are held together by a wooden structure, creating buoyancy that keeps the structure afloat.

The structure floats based on a science of pressure and buoyancy of the drums forced underwater by the weight of the heavy structure that sits on the buoyant plastic drums.

The structure is supported by giant moorings that sit on the seabed by four giant mooring ropes. The moorings are made of 1,000 cubic-meter plastic drums filled with concrete.

Last year, Njeri says she renovated the structure at a cost of Sh3.5 million. To carry out the repairs, the structure was detached from the moorings and tugged off the ocean for comprehensive repair which took two months.

Sea food

“Because of Covid and the lockdown, we had time to do the repairs. We realised that it had not been repaired for long and we had to do a fresh remodeling because parts of the structure was damaged, having not been repaired since 2007,”she says.

Being a floating structure there are no land rates but she pays the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) for the moorings, and the Kenya Maritime Authority for seaworthiness and maritime safety licenses.

“It is just like a vessel. When you buy your Yacht you have to pay the KMA and KPA for seaworthiness and moorings.”

It is at this unique floating joint where revelers from different cultural and social backgrounds converge every evening to unwind after a busy day.

According to Njeri, most visitors are in love with the place due to its uniqueness.

The restauarant serves typical coastal delicacies. As usual in Lamu, sea food forms the lion’s share of the main.

Visitors can enjoy varieties of seafood such as prawns, dried or stewed, depending on one’s choice and preference, crab soup or fish, served with ugali or rice. Nyama choma is also available on order.

“Everyone who comes to Lamu finds this place unique. First time patrons come back again and again because of the uniqueness and the food we serve,” says Njeri.

Reuben Mwambingu

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