True North is only the third yacht delivered to date by Newcastle Marine, but the Florida shipyard is building on a heritage that's generations deep. Kevin Keith is the man in charge at Newcastle Marine, responsible for seeing the 137-foot expedition yacht through to completion. Thirty years ago, when I was designing yachts and commercial vessels further south in the state, I knew Kevin's father as a respected builder of passenger vessels, tugs and workboats.
At that time, the Keith family often worked hand-in-hand with nearby naval architects DeJong & Lebet, a collaboration that continues with True North. Joining the group as stylist for the exterior and interior of this yacht was Luiz de Basto, an equally experienced hand with considerable success in the superyacht field.
The culmination of that deep-rooted team's effort was immediately evident as I entered the starboard foyer of True North. It's a superb area, nicely finished with a variety of intricate stone inlays on the deck and rich dark-chocolate mahogany paneling and moldings on the bulkheads. The foyer sets the tone for the remainder of True North, which is finished to an equally high level of quality.
True North's name and her dark interior might suggest a yacht that's most at home among the fjords and glaciers of the upper latitudes. It's true that her steel displacement hull and tremendous fuel tankage will serve her well as she makes extended forays into those extreme climes, but there's more.
The yacht has lots of outdoor guest space as well. The shaded aft decks on both main and bridge levels will encourage alfresco dining on temperate days up north, and the open top deck will be a favorite spot of sun worshippers in the south. The well deck forward carries a variety of tenders and water toys, including a 32-foot Novurania, for both exploration and recreation. All are handled by a central MarQuipt crane with a lift capacity of 10,000 pounds.
True North was built for her owner's private use but is also available for charter, so her arrangement reflects that intended usage. She carries eight guests below deck in four nearly identical staterooms. Each guest bath is fitted with a combination shower/soaking tub. Each stateroom has its own video screen, of course, but for those who prefer reading or meditation, or who want to stay up a bit later without disturbing their sleeping spouse, there's a guest library to port just forward of the staterooms.
The crew quarters and utility areas are especially spacious, as befits an expedition yacht that will undertake lengthy voyages. Too much togetherness, both between the crew and guests and among the crew themselves, is something to be avoided, and True North provides the remedy. Crew sleeping quarters are below deck, along with a commodious laundry room. Up one level, in the forecastle, is a crew mess and lounge area, along with lots of room for stores. Additional stores are located under the forepeak and in the lower level below the crew quarters.
A compartment at the aft end of the lower level, with a watertight door through the transom to the swim platform, is given over to a well-organized dive room. There's also an icemaker here for both crew use and to supply the tenders. Another door leads forward into the engineroom, whose incredibly open and spacious layout will encourage good maintenance, though with the big Cats operating at a reduced-load "C rating" there should be little need for attention even on lengthy runs. The engines and generators are located well outboard, leaving space on the centerline for a large island workbench that would be the delight of any engineer. Critical systems incorporate redundancy wherever possible for both convenience of service and safety of operation.
The owner's stateroom is often placed forward on the main deck aboard a yacht of this length, but for an expedition vessel, this is not the best location. It would have a limited view forward, blocked by both the tenders in the well deck and the after face of the forecastle. Wisely, de Basto designated this area for the galley and a small dinette. There's a crew entrance directly from the port sidedeck for loading supplies without disturbing guests, and to starboard is a large walk-in cooler for perishable foods. This is a well-thought out yacht, balancing comfort and practicality.
Off the entry foyer is a day head. Aft, double beveled glass doors open to the dining area and saloon, but within that large space, there are actually four distinct areas for guests. The dining table, built of mahogany to match the yacht's fixed joinery and with a flame pattern for interest, seats 10 guests and affords a grand view to port through a large expanse of windows. A bar to starboard seats four, not on spartan stools, but in loose chairs that are taller, comfortably upholstered and provided with high-backed support. Aft of the bar is a game table for four, and to port, abaft the dining table, is a seating area with a comfortable sofa, two overstuffed chairs, and a big chair-and-a-half that will happily accommodate one adult and one child for story time.
Up one deck, the wheelhouse forward is flanked by wing stations for docking and close maneuvering, and has a Portuguese bridge forward to observe any operations on the well deck that can't be seen through the main bridge's span of businesslike forward-slanted windows. Inside, a chart table centered abaft the wheel is padded along its forward edge to serve double duty as a leaning post for the helmsman. There's a desk and communications station to port, and a companion settee and table to starboard for any guests interested in the yacht's navigation.
The bridge deck might better be called the owner's deck, as the master suite dominates the space abaft the wheelhouse. There is no skylounge, but rather a flexible arrangement that allows the owner his privacy when needed, and space to entertain VIP guests when he wants. The master berth is centrally located, with his-and-hers heads forward, and hanging lockers and dressers to either side of the berth. A headboard that can be raised for privacy or lowered for openness is flanked by doors on either side. Thus, the aft end of the enclosed space can be open as part of the sleeping area, or separated to become a study or private reception room. The open deck aft of the study, with a bar and circular table, likewise can be reserved for the owner's private use or opened to host a smaller group for an intimate gathering.
The top deck, with no flying bridge to take up space, is devoted fully to guest enjoyment and is an ideal spot for entertaining larger groups. Forward, the circular whirlpool spa and the spacious sunpads that lie to either side of it can host a bevy of sun worshippers, and any overflow can claim the six reclining lounges that sit just aft on either side of the mast. Consistent with the styling expected on expedition vessels, Luiz de Basto has raised the bulwark forward. This, along with an inconspicuous railing that caps the bulwark, provides safety to occupants of the spa and sunpads, which are raised for a better view forward and to either side.
From the after side of the mast to the stern, a large fixed Bimini top shades the sundeck bar and its seating for six. Aft and to either side are mirror-image L-settees and tables that, along with some loose chairs, will seat another 16 guests.
I've long been an admirer of de Basto's work, and to my eye, True North's exterior is one of the most attractive to be found among the current fleet of expedition vessels. Though her steamer heritage is apparent-DeJong & Lebet have given her a displacement hull with a sturdy center keel, an efficient bulbous bow and long bilge keels in addition to her fin stabilizers-the lady is no tramp. Her exterior curves give her a refined look that is further reinforced by her nicely detailed interior. It will be the fortunate charterer who signs on for a voyage of adventure to remote destinations of his or her choosing.