In today's economic times, we have become numbed to business disasters, but in 2003 it was a shock when Don Davis discovered that the boatyard building his custom 138-foot trideck motoryacht wasn't going to finish the boat on time. In fact, the builder wasn't likely to finish the boat at all. It was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Sovereign Yachts of British Columbia had promised the world when construction began in 2001 but it was soon over its head financially. Davis's Ward Setzer-designed Cloud Nine was likely to turn into a dark cloud that would remain an unfinished fiberglass monument and a joy only to the lawyers.
So Don Davis bought the boatyard.
He rehired much of the workforce and finished his yacht. Having dipped his toe in boatbuilding and with a boatyard and team of craftsmen in place, however, it wasn't a big step to continue in the business, changing the company name to Richmond Yachts after the British Columbia town where the yard is based.
Obviously, Don Davis isn't your typical boatbuilder. A Texan and a talented entrepreneur, he built up several businesses including a chain of Texas Smokehouse restaurants before cashing out to enjoy life. A long-time boat owner, he had moved into ever-larger yachts, which led, eventually, to his ownership of the boatyard. The fact that he owns an island in the Bahamas, Spanish Cay, underlines the point that Don Davis isn't afraid to tackle unusual projects.
He didn't approach building yachts in a typical way, either. From his experience with Sovereign (and from studying other builders), he came to the conclusion that custom yachts cost the builder too much. "Ninety-nine percent of the people who buy large yachts are perfectly happy with a semi-custom yacht. They want the boating experience, not the construction process," he says.
From a builder's standpoint, building a yacht on spec rather than trying to dance to an owner's often-changing tune is not just more costeffective, but time-effective as well. By concentrating on semi-custom yachts for inventory, Richmond is able to build both faster and better.
Davis clearly understands what large yacht buyers want, and each Richmond yacht is an improvement over the last. The latest, Richmond Lady, is hull number 5 of the 142-footers and she visibly draws on lessons learned on previous yachts.
While the Setzer hull remains untouched, Davis and project manager Alan Fleet redesigned the pilothouse windows, turning them vertical rather than raked as on previous yachts. This seemingly small change cascaded into improvements throughout the yacht. First, the new windows provided more usable space and better visibility (especially in poor conditions) in the pilothouse.
This also stretched the flying bridge (which Richmond calls the "fun deck") by nearly 5 feet. The added room also allows a VIP guest suite on the upper deck just abaft the pilothouse.
Most visitors will board from the transom platform (or the 20-foot Besenzoni passerelle) and, once on the after deck, they'll find an unusual arrangement. Rather than a conventional settee across the transom, Richmond Lady has a pair of built-in banquettes that curve around a luscious teak table with a removable leaf for dining or cocktail use. There is a teak and granite refreshment bar and, should you tire of watching passersby on the quay, a fold-down 50-inch LCD TV.
Don't stop here, though, because a gorgeous salon waits just inside the automatic sliding doors. Arranged for more formal entertaining with two sofas and two armchairs, the high points are a Yamaha disklavier piano and a 52-inch LCD TV in the forward bulkhead. The style throughout Richmond Lady is also set here, with high-gloss sapele pomele, a ribbon-grained African hardwood accented with inlaid burls. Fluted mullions with sconces frame the windows, which have Roman shades for privacy. Overhead, the coffered ceiling leads your eye to a backlit, etched-glass compass rose.