london bridge
Jimmy Jones

Gene Machine's Incredible Voyage is Guided By an Adventurer's DNA

The owner of the Amels 180 Gene Machine has a bite-out-of-life attitude that spurs on his globe-trotting goals.

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family awakens to a crisp, beautiful August morning. The temperature is hovering in the low 40s, the sun is shining, and the view out their window is breathtaking. That’s because it’s of the glaciers in Arctic Norway’s Svalbard Islands. And the window? It’s in the salon of their 180-foot Amels Limited Editions, Gene Machine. Who knows what adventure today could bring? They might see a polar bear hunting, or feed a blue whale. A lot is possible in this icy frontier, on their cruise of a lifetime. The yacht and family belong to Jonathan Rothberg, a cruising enthusiast whose love of the water goes way back. “My family has been a boating family since I was a child,” he says, describing their early cruising aboard a 25-footer and, later, chartering bareboats with his brother. In the early 2000s, Rothberg’s parents got a larger yacht: a Princess 76, and then a Westport 112. Rothberg joined the yacht owners’ club himself in 2011 with the first Gene Machine, a Westport 130.

Gene Machine
Gene Machine’s Fjord 42 Open tender towed wakeboarders often, as well as carried the crew to answer a Mayday in Svalbard.From left: Ben Sturge; David Honeybun, Ben Sturge (top); Capt. Fraser Gow

“I called it the Gene Machine because I had invented the world’s first machine to quickly decode DNA,” Rothberg says. (Forbes, featuring him on its cover, christened the equipment “the gene machine.”)

After cruising classic destinations, such as the Caribbean and the Med, Rothberg was itching to fulfill other dreams. Enter his steel-hulled Amels 180. According to Victor Caminada, marketing director for Amels Holland, the 180 is both beautifully finished and shiplike in her strength and reliability. He says the model, introduced in 2005 as the first of the builder’s ­six-model Limited Editions range, is the most successful yacht of her size, industrywide. The 22nd Amels 180 is currently under construction at the builder’s shipyard in Vlissingen, the Netherlands, and it’s the most popular model in its range, of which 29 yachts have been delivered in total, with 11 more underway.

Gene Machine is a 2013 build, and Rothberg had a 180 on the assembly line when she came on the market. He snatched her up instead for two reasons: to adventure with his family sooner and because his daughter was a fan of the Hermès leather on board.

“We are also a really big fan of Gene ­Machine,” Caminada says, as well as of how Rothberg uses her. The cruising shows how Amels’ yachts “really have a global capability,” he says, “and it really inspires other superyacht owners that there are so many things to discover.”

Discover is the perfect word too. Rothberg says that, for him, “part of seeing the world is going to the ends of the Earth.” So he did. Gene Machine cruised as far north as 81°44’ this past summer, putting the yacht within 540 nautical miles of the North Pole. And the experience was incredible, Rothberg says. Beyond the polar bears and whales, the family’s Arctic encounter included fishing; hiking and climbing glaciers; seeing waterfalls spill off those glaciers; and, amazingly, getting wet.

Gene Machine
The Rothbergs interacted with nature throughout the cruise, either swimming under or climbing a waterfall, or hiking a glacier.David Honeybun (left); Dr. Jonathan Rothberg

“We had guides who have been in the Arctic, and the one thing they’d never seen was people get in the water every day,” Rothberg says. The water can get as cold as 28.5 degrees Fahrenheit, but from Jet Skiing to paddleboarding to kayaking through the pack ice, the family wasn’t afraid to take the plunge. “We got drysuits and we were determined,” Rothberg says.

While Svalbard was the “ends of the Earth” feat of the summer, Gene Machine visited 10 countries overall, cruising 9,000 nautical miles in 71 days. The yacht started in Monaco, and destinations included Ibiza, Portugal and Denmark. London rolled out the red carpet, opening the Tower Bridge so Gene Machine could cruise through like a queen. And Norway in particular held some rare, rich experiences.

“We also do history,” Rothberg says, explaining that Gene Machine is a floating school for his kids. “We searched for the last German submarine to be sunk before the end of the war.” They found it — quite the field trip — and the kids were amazed to learn that Norway, unlikely as it may seem, resisted Germany the second longest of any nation during World War II. The country also brought forth the family’s adventurous, never-say-never spirit.

Gene Machine
Sharing is Caring: Gene Machine's Instagram account (@mygenemachine) looks like this page, only with a "load more" button. Gene Machine's captain, Fraser Gow, shared images from all 71 days' worth of cruising, and then some, so fans could join the adventure. "We want to share how beautiful the world is," Rothberg says of his yacht's social media presence, "and that we have to be good stewards of it."Capt. Fraser Gow (3), Kevin Dumont (1), Ben Sturge (1), David Honeybun (1), Tatiana Proskuryakova (2), Jimmy Jones (1)

“We were at the base of all of these beautiful waterfalls down the fjords,” Rothberg says. “Usually we send up the drone, but when you do that, you realize that the waterfalls are too big to send the drones to.” (The drones they had on board topped out around 1,640 feet, while some of the waterfalls were 2,625 feet high.) “We couldn’t drone off of it, but we wouldn’t give up,” Rothberg adds. “We actually took a bus to the top of one of these fjords, and we [went] paragliding off of it. It was really cool.”

Experiences like those transcended fun, he says: “One of the take-homes is the grandeur of some of the things on our Earth. Over and over again, the theme of Norway was we are minuscule, we are teeny. It was humbling.”

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Gene Machine sails through Bodø, Norway. One rule on the cruise was: Don’t stay in one location for longer than two days.David Honeybun

Rothberg calls the cruise the best summer of his life, in large part because it allowed him and his family to gain perspective on Mother Nature’s great power, and paradoxical fragility, as well as our duty to preserve her.

“My kids are going to grow up knowing that there are waterfalls that are so big that drones can’t go to the top of them,” he says. “Seeing the kids interact with their friends, their family and their environment was just inspiring.”

His advice to other cruising enthusiasts? “Go where other people aren’t. You’ve got to go on the unbeaten path — that’s fun with your family.”