The last time the owner of the 95-foot Hargrave Freedom tried to build a custom yacht, he ended up in court. It was a 77-foot sport-fisherman, and while he won in the end, the months spent battling with lawyers were gut-wrenching. "When I took delivery, there was such a bad taste in my mouth," he says. "That was the second miserable custom boatbuilding experience I'd had."
He’s a developer who loves the design process as much as being on the water. He dreamed of another customized yacht. But he was also gun-shy — and he had a new bride who didn’t like sport-fishermen at all. He took her to the Monaco Yacht Show on a hope and a prayer.
“We went on the Italian boats,” he says, “and they were light and airy and had big windows, and she said, ‘This is what I want. The other boats feel like houses and dark libraries.’”
Unfortunately, those Italian designs didn’t have all the features he wanted.
That’s when he remembered Hargrave. He’d been visiting the builder’s booth for years at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, and they’d always said they could build just about anything.
“I’d been looking at their boats,” he says. “I was not interested because they didn’t do sport-fishermen, but they were nice people. A lot of the builders are snobby and won’t show you the boats if they think you can’t afford it, but these people were never like that.”
After a level of due diligence bordering on an FBI background check, he signed with Hargrave to build Freedom. Owning a 95-foot yacht seemed like a dream that had emerged when his playpen was in the cockpit of his father's Alton Smith Chesapeake Bay Deadrise. By age 8, he'd been sailing a Styrofoam boat that he chunked apart crashing into the dock, and as a teenager, he'd sailed competitively. The first thing he'd done when his career took off was buy a 20-foot Shamrock, for cruising from Florida to the Bahamas.
“I just got progressively bigger,” he says. “I bought a 21-footer, then a 31-footer, then a 52-footer, then a 62, a 77 and now this one. This is not only my first Hargrave but also my first boat that’s not a fishing boat. I just wasn’t fishing as much as I used to, and everybody wanted more space and more sunbathing space and hot tubs.”
To achieve the Italian ambience, he took Hargrave’s designer, Shelley DiCondina, on “a bunch of boats at the shows.” Hargrave built the 95-foot mold based on the design of its 114-foot Jack Sarin high-performance hull, widening the beam to 22 feet at the owner’s request. The yard increased the size of the windows in the guest areas and added windows in the master stateroom while lowering the height of furniture so as not to block views or natural light. In the machinery spaces, at-rest stabilizers were added.
“He’d say, ‘I want this like this,’ and I’d say, ‘Get me pictures,’” says Peter Colagiovanni, vice president at Hargrave. “He’d tear pictures out of Yachting magazine, out of Architectural Digest. We’d do the drawings, and he’d sign off on it.”
“I sat in my office, instead of working, and messed with the plans for my boat for months and months and months,” the owner says.
For the Hargrave team, the experience was equally exciting. Hargrave has long told prospective clients the yard can customize just about anything, but often clients either don’t know what they want or they see an existing Hargrave and ask for something similar. This owner was different, with a clear vision that let Hargrave’s team stretch their creativity.
“Every time I came back from the shipyard,” Colagiovanni says, “I told everybody in the company that they were going to flip out. It was like nothing we’d ever delivered before.”
The owner still gets to fish too. Freedom tows a 32-foot Intrepid center console, and his business partner regularly invites him aboard his 61-foot Garlington.
“Hargrave put me at ease completely. They did more than they said they were going to do. They bent over backward.”
But the real enjoyment comes from knowing he got exactly what he wanted, from a yard that did what it promised.
“So many owners I know have had that similar story, where they have to take over the build or even take over the yard,” he says. “Hargrave put me at ease completely. They did more than they said they were going to do. In any contract, there are ambiguities, but they bent over backward to make sure I was comfortable.”
Colagiovanni says the Hargrave team hopes this relationship will continue for years to come.
“I literally delivered the boat to him, and he called me up and asked if I had time to talk,” Colagiovanni says. “I thought the other shoe was going to drop, that something had him upset, but we went out to lunch and he said, ‘Don’t get too excited, but let’s start talking about a bigger boat. I see what I want to do next.’”