A Refitting Tribute

A capable crew refits Pangaea, a 184-foot expedition vessel, for charter service.

Geologists tell us that in the millennia before Earth's tectonic plates shifted to their present positions, there was a single supercontinent. Because it spanned much of the planet, they call it Pangaea, or "all Earth. Now, an ocean-spanning yacht that will cruise to locales more exotic and remote than those visited by traditional charters carries the same name.

Known as Dream when she was first reported in Yachting ("Dream Works", October 2000), Pangaea has a new owner and an extended mission. An intensive refit has readied this 184-foot expedition yacht to better fulfill the "Global Explorer title that was given to her by builder Trinity Yachts. Changes to her décor, equipment and layout have brought the interior and finish up to the standards expected of top charter yachts. Outside, equally extensive modifications have improved her appearance, comfort and safety.

The story begins, appropriately enough, with another charter yacht and a charter client. As Pangaea Capt. Brian Bennett explained, the client and his family chartered with him on several occasions, each time getting a little more into the cruising lifestyle. Eventually, the client told Bennett he'd like to buy a yacht of his own and have Bennett captain her for personal use and charter service. Bennett shrugged it off as temporary enthusiasm until the client finally asked, "Do you want to do this with me, or should I look for someone else?

The two reached an agreement and began looking for a suitable vessel. In early 2002, Dream appeared on their list of possibilities. She was large enough and rugged enough to go anywhere and do anything, but that ruggedness also posed a problem: Bennett didn't consider her finished to the standards of a demanding charter clientele.

Though she was well built, her original owner had wanted a bit of a tramp steamer aura, and that's what he got. Pangaea's hull wasn't faired and carried a decidedly muted paint job. The steel decks were finished with nonslip paint rather than teak. Open railings resembled those of a cargo ship but did not provide the protection for children that full bulwarks would.

"Ironically, some of the things intended to make the boat lower-maintenance actually made it high-maintenance, said Bennett. For example, the low-luster paint job chalked easily and often required attention.

Equipment was more commercial-grade than typical for a charter yacht. Forward, a cargo boom was fitted to the main mast for loading supplies. Bilge keels helped steady the vessel's roll somewhat, but no active stabilizers were fitted. Bennett recounted the story of their first trip across the Gulf Stream, after which the owner observed, "Well, that was the most expensive crossing anybody's ever had. When the puzzled captain asked why, the owner replied, "Get the stabilizers. He was referring to the Quantum four-fin, zero-speed unit they'd considered earlier but had not purchased.

Inside the yacht, the basic arrangement plan for the guest spaces worked, but the original outfitting, in furnishings and wall coverings, tended toward dark colors. Captain and owner agreed that it had to go. Because of Pangaea's large rooms and high overheads, much of her original interior was completed with standard-size loose furnishings bought directly from home-furnishings outlets. This meant that removing and replacing the joinery would be easier than if it had been custom-built in place. It also meant that the teak-plank bulkheads behind the furnishings were complete and ready for refinishing, something that is not always true with built-ins.

As an experienced charter captain, Bennett felt the yacht did not have cabin space for enough crew to properly function in the charter trade. As Dream, she carried a minimalist crew of five. Bennett wanted at least 12 for normal charter operations, maybe more for longer trips. To accommodate the extra crew, he created cabins by taking over the lower crew lounge and reworking the oversize upper lounge in the fo'c'sle.

When Bennett and the owner considered the purchase of the yacht and her suitability for family use and charter service, they realized that even her supposed deficiencies had a silver lining. Pangaea's commercial-grade specifications, those shortcomings that detracted from her chartering potential, had helped keep her initial building cost down. This figured into her resale price, making the necessary expenses of the conversion to Bristol charter economically bearable.

After the purchase was complete in March 2002, only six months remained until the beginning of the prime charter season. The race was on. Bennett contacted several refit yards, then decided on an ambitious course of action: He and his crew would undertake the refit themselves, working with as many as 70 subcontractors aboard. The cost would eventually hit $6 million, but Bennett said it would have been substantially greater in a yard.

Bennett admitted he might not have fully realized what he was getting into but said he would do it again. "Depends on the owner, he said. "That was the key to the success of the project. It's amazing how much you can accomplish, and without regret, how hard you will work when someone trusts you and believes in you to do the right thing. That's very rare in yachting.

When asked if he would change anything next time, he quickly replied, "Yeah. I'd hire Mike a lot sooner. Mike is mate Mike Schueler, whom Bennett credits with a lot of the day-to-day detail work. Also given a lion's share of the credit for the success of the refit is Bennett's wife, Teresa Bennett. It didn't take me long to realize what a capable and energetic person she is.

In addition to her work on the refit, Teresa serves with Bennett and Schueler as a full-time, triple-threat crew member: She has a USCG 500-ton master's license, an FAA pilot's license and certification as a scuba instructor. The extent of her involvement in the refit became apparent when she ticked off some telling statistics of the work, including more than 350 halogen lights that help lighten the interior and five miles of wiring pulled through thousands of holes drilled through steel beams. There's also an extensive new audio/visual system aboard, with a central control unit that takes up what had been a walk-in locker in the exercise room.

The basic arrangement plan for guest spaces has remained largely unchanged, but oh, what a difference in appearance and livability. As we walked through the completed Pangaea, Teresa pointed out the changes they had made. She was pleased I had seen the yacht when she was new and could fully appreciate the difference.

The value of Teresa's experience aboard previous charter yachts was clear as I looked at the wall covering and speculated that it was rice paper. She said that although that was the look they were after, real rice paper would have been impractical with so many different guests, including children, coming on board. The fabric is washable polyester that resists scuffs and marks. It's just one detail of many that should make Pangaea an outstanding charter yacht.

Like Bennett, Teresa was quick to give credit to others for the refit, too. She praised interior designer Lamar Lisbon for bringing together a great deal of input from the owner's family and the crew. Pangaea was Lisbon's first yacht commission, but Teresa said he quickly understood often-disparate demands of aesthetics and practicality.

As magnificent as Pangaea is, it is this sharing of work and credit that will make her an especially successful and enjoyable charter yacht. Seldom have I seen such camaraderie in a crew. They devote tremendous time to making the yacht a safe and pleasant place for guests, but they don't skimp on the fun, either. I was laughing out loud as they shared tales of practical jokes played on each other-and sometimes the owner. Apparently, the only inviolable rule is that Yoda, the ship's cat, is kept away from award-winning chef Mitchell Davis' galley. There is nothing funny about fur in the food.

Contact: Trinity Yachts, (504) 283-4050; www.trinityyachts.com. For charter, contact: Hill Robinson Yacht Management, (954) 792-6112; www.hillrobinson.com.

**Editor's Note: As of March 2014, it appears Pangaea has been refit again. She has grown from 184' to 191'.