When the chairman of the board at a major yacht-building company wants a new yacht, well, he can get pretty much anything he wants. In this case, the chairman is Ben Vermeulen, the company is West Bay SonShip (the largest yacht builder in Canada), and the yacht is Lady Aleida, a new 107-foot raised-pilothouse motoryacht.
The starting point for this yacht is really 1959, when Vermeulen and his wife, Leidy, arrived in Canada from the Netherlands with plenty of ambition but just $52 in their pockets, never dreaming there was a Lady Aleida in their future. When Vermeulen saw an opportunity in 1967, he seized it, founding West Bay Boatbuilders on the banks of the Fraser River, near Vancouver.
The first shed wasn’t even finished when a client walked in with a sheaf of plans for a 42-foot trawler from the boards of Ed Monk Sr. With that, the Vermeulens were in the boatbuilding business. That first yacht, which is still cruising Northwest waters, was unusual in those years. The mainstays of the yard were fishing boats, tugs, crew boats, water taxis and patrol boats. The first were wood and steel, followed by fiberglass in the ’70s.
A turning point for the company came with a 45-foot motoryacht, followed by a stretched 52-footer, of which 18 were built. The Vermeulens next brought in Howard Apollonio and Glade Johnson as designers. Their updated design became the 58-foot SonShip, which has proved to be an evergreen success; West Bay has built more than 80 to date.
Each 58 is built so well that more than a third of owners wanted larger yachts from the company, now called West Bay SonShip. To accommodate that demand, West Bay now builds the original 58 (and a stretched 64 yachtfish), as well as a 68, a 78, an 87 and the flagship 103-footer, all in composite to ABS standards.
For years, the Vermeulens enjoyed hull number one of the 78 series, but the time came for a larger yacht. Starting with the Jack Sarin-designed 103-footer-a hull from Westport Shipyard that has been used to launch a handful of Pacific Northwest builders-the Vermeulens stretched their boat to 107 feet. The 103 had an open swim platform, but the Vermeulens were concerned about the safety of children aboard. They stretched the hull and enclosed the platform to create a spacious fishing cockpit with high bulwarks, complete with a bait tank and rodholders.
Vermeulen admits he wasn’t really a fisherman-he had to be talked into building the 64 yachtfish. After cruising aboard Lady Aleida from the Northwest to Florida, however, and landing an inordinate number of fish off Mexico, Vermeulen became a convert.
The other notable change requested by the chairman of the board was a full walkaround main deck. The 103 normally has a wide-body saloon that leaves only minimal ledges on each side, but Lady Aleida now has spacious side decks from bow to stern, protected amidships by the bridge-deck overhang.
With 24 feet of beam, those side decks don’t crimp the luxurious saloon one iota. The area is at once warm, with rift-cut American cherry inlaid with Carpathian elm-burl details, and airy, with oversize windows that offer wide views. A curved settee fills the port side, while a step-down full-service bar with burgundy-leather barrel chairs is to starboard, beside the 42-inch pop-up television (housed in a corner console).
An inlaid-burl dining table seats eight, with black-marble-topped buffets to port and starboard. A wine cooler is built into the forward bulkhead along with a pair of under-counter Sub-Zero freezer drawers. Wine stowage is under the buffet to starboard, and a glass locker is in a matching buffet to port.
The passage to starboard leads past a mirrored day head and a formal entry foyer with inlaid travertine to the spacious country galley that has been a hallmark of most SonShips. Set off by golden granite counters, it includes drawer-style refrigeration, a five-burner stove and dual convection ovens. To provide power away from the bulkheads, cleverly disguised outlets pop up from the counters. A breakfast bar separates the suede settee and table from the galley. As in the saloon, large windows provide sweeping views of the outdoors while seated or standing.
Forward and down from the galley area is a pair of cabins, each with an en suite head and a shower. A double berth is to port, while twin berths are forward, all brightly decorated in red, white and blue.
The primary accommodations are amidships, with access from the dining area to a travertine and marble foyer. The master suite, forward through twin doors, includes a centerline king berth, built-in chaise and ample luggage stowage in addition to walk-in closets. The his-and-her head is separated by a jacuzzi and includes intricate stone mosaic soles and towel warmers for chilly mornings. Two staterooms of equal size are aft, with a double to port and twins to starboard, each with an en suite head.
The pilothouse is clearly designed for cruising, with an oversize chart table, a burl dash and a velour settee elevated so guests can enjoy the passing scenery. Under the pilothouse sole is a cavernous space for electronics and miscellaneous systems, accessible from the main deck and fully air-conditioned.
The bridge, which extends the full beam to cover the side decks, is enormous, with a full-service bar, an L-shape dining area and a seawater spa for six. There is room left on the boat deck for a 16-foot Boston Whaler and a 14-foot Rendova RIB, which are launched with a Steelhead 2,500-pound-capacity crane. Three helm stations on the bridge (centerline plus two wing) bring the number of stations, including one hidden on each side of the cockpit, to six.
Particularly notable aboard Lady Aleida are the comfortable crew cabins abaft the engineroom. The captain has a double stateroom with a head, while the crew has twin bunks and another head. Both share a crew lounge with mini-galley.
Power for Lady Aleida is a pair of 1,850 hp DDC-MTU 16V2000 diesels, which give her a top speed of 24 knots, a comfortable cruise of 20, and a 2,000-mile range at 12 knots. Two Northern Lights generators (40kW and 32kW) provide power, and an 8,000-watt Trace inverter can run all the systems (except a/c) at night without generators.
After a lifetime of building boats for others, the Vermuelens included a number of thoughtful features on Lady Aleida. There is a tender-fueling station in the cockpit, full-size washer/dryers in both guest and crew areas, and a sophisticated water-filtration system designed to remove impurities from foreign water supplies.
From the marble-topped cabinets to the cherry crown moldings, the craftsmanship aboard Lady Aleida is a testament to the superb woodworkers at West Bay Sonship.
I asked Vermeulen if he and Leidy received special treatment during construction of their new yacht.
“Every one of our customers, Vermeulen said, pausing for emphasis, “is chairman of the board.