There are no well-defined categories, and no formal list, of course, but anyone who has been around big yachts for a while knows there are several tiers of custom builders. The top tier includes Feadship, Benetti and other elite yards that build the best and demand top dollar in return.
The abundance of yachts at recent boat shows, though, reveals an interesting trend. Second-tier builders have become better-much, much better-and some are approaching the quality of finish and outfit previously expected only of top builders.
A prime example is High Cotton, a 95-foot Hargrave motoryacht delivered last fall. Her owners, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Hirsch, could hardly contain their enthusiasm while speaking aboard the new vessel. They were thrilled with the finished boat and the custom building process that gave them just what they wanted.
"I walk through and think, 'What a nice yacht. I could be very happy with this,'" Mrs. Hirsch said. "I have to keep reminding myself that this is really ours."
The late Jack Hargrave operated a design group and a brokerage under his name in West Palm Beach, Florida, but kept the staffs mostly separate. To achieve the best service for customers, Hargrave Custom Yachts President Mike Joyce combined the two groups and moved the office to Ft. Lauderdale. One thing hasn't changed: After getting the design and specifications completed to suit each owner, Joyce searches for the best price from qualified yards around the world. The Hirsches' cost for their new pride and joy is confidential, but Joyce quoted a figure of about $3.2 million for a vessel of similar length and outfit.
That is an incredible bargain in today's market, considering the level of customization and the amount of optional equipment in the package.
The up-rated Caterpillar power package incorporates trolling valves for easy maneuverability. Air-conditioning capacity is increased by 80 percent above standard, including 12,000 BTU just for the lazarette. Sound insulation is doubled for the engineroom and tripled for the master stateroom, and special barrier insulation is built into the bulkhead between the crew and guest areas. Pumps change the engines' oil and transfer fuel. Double the usual number of Racor filters keep the fuel clean. Two Maxwell 3500 windlasses handle the anchors, and a Glendinning Cablemaster handles the 50-amp shore cord. A dedicated Jabsco pump, clutched off one of the main engines, serves as an emergency bilge pump. Delta-T fans and filters manage ventilation of the engineroom.
Shelley Higgins of Interiors by Shelley designed the décor, but as experienced yacht owners, the Hirsches had a big hand in the details that personalize the yacht's tasteful and highly workable interior. My first clue to the Hirsches' involvement was a baby gate-yes, baby gate-recessed into the side of the dinette seating on the main deck forward. The couple enjoys having family aboard as much as possible. To accommodate the grandchildren, the Hirsches included a beautiful yet sturdy mahogany latticework gate at the head of the crew stair. A pocket door at the head of the stair to the owner and guest staterooms serves a similar purpose, making the main deck more "baby safe."
The custom features also are apparent in the dining area, which has two sideboards and seats eight. Forward of the table is a breakfront with full-length doors to either side. The starboard part of the cabinet safely holds the Hirsches' extensive supply of crystal in fitted inserts. The section on the port side accommodates several sets of table linens. Rather than being stuffed haphazardly into a drawer or closet, the linens hang organized, pressed and ready to use. The center section houses a wine locker. The wood grain on each door is oriented vertically and diagonally in four sections, creating an interesting inverted diamond pattern.
Like the breakfront, the rest of the saloon and dining area is finished in high-gloss sappelli mahogany. Light carpeting, overheads and upholstery balance the dark wood, and an abundance of windows and recessed lighting keep the interior bright. A desk is built into the port side abaft the dining area. Comfortably casual loose seating for nine guests encourages quiet conversation with family and friends in the saloon.
As attractive as the unbroken openness of the saloon and dining area is, a closer look raises an issue common to many modern motoryachts: the lack of stanchions or interior handrails. Improved forecasting and satellite communications mean yachts are less likely to encounter rough weather than in years past, but I'd still feel more comfortable having something to hold onto when the waves mount.
Forward of the dining area is a raised pilothouse; a day head is tucked into the corner. Passageways are on either side, with port and starboard doors providing ready access to full-length side decks.
The galley is an L-arrangement with island; appliances are by GE and U-Line. A large U-shape dinette serves double duty as crew mess and casual guest dining. Deep blue leather upholstery and marble countertops complement the mahogany joinery.
Belowdecks, the master stateroom is separated from the engineroom by his-and-her heads with a central tub/shower. The twin berths in the port and starboard guest staterooms convert to kings, and both staterooms have a Pullman berth. A VIP guest stateroom forward has a queen berth and, like the master, has granite countertops in the head and marble on the nightstands. All the guest cabins are en suite with showers, and all cabins, including the master, utilize shoji screens to soften the glow from the portlights. Crew's quarters, consisting of two cabins and a shared head, are forward.
Abaft the raised pilothouse is a spacious flying bridge and upper deck that was extended to provide plenty of space for the Hirsches to entertain. There's a wet bar to starboard, abaft the topside helm; the helm and bar each have three seats. At the after end of the deck is an 18-foot Nautica tender and davit. Tables and perimeter seating for 12 occupy the remainder of the upper deck. For larger parties, overflow guests can be accommodated on the after main deck, where another wet bar, table and seating are located.
High Cotton rides on a semi-planing hull with lines largely unchanged from Hargrave's traditional sea-capable style. Deadrise at the transom is 13 degrees. Construction is solid fiberglass below the waterline, with Divinycell coring in the topsides and superstructure to reduce weight.
Contact: Hargrave Custom Yachts, (954) 463-0555; fax (954) 463-8621; email@example.com.