In today’s economic times, we have become numbed to business disasters, but in 2003 it was a shock when Don Davis discovered that the boatyard building his custom 138-foot trideck motoryacht wasn’t going to finish the boat on time. In fact, the builder wasn’t likely to finish the boat at all. It was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Sovereign Yachts of British Columbia had promised the world when construction began in 2001 but it was soon over its head financially. Davis’s Ward Setzer-designed Cloud Nine was likely to turn into a dark cloud that would remain an unfinished fiberglass monument and a joy only to the lawyers.
So Don Davis bought the boatyard.
He rehired much of the workforce and finished his yacht. Having dipped his toe in boatbuilding and with a boatyard and team of craftsmen in place, however, it wasn’t a big step to continue in the business, changing the company name to Richmond Yachts after the British Columbia town where the yard is based.
Obviously, Don Davis isn’t your typical boatbuilder. A Texan and a talented entrepreneur, he built up several businesses including a chain of Texas Smokehouse restaurants before cashing out to enjoy life. A long-time boat owner, he had moved into ever-larger yachts, which led, eventually, to his ownership of the boatyard. The fact that he owns an island in the Bahamas, Spanish Cay, underlines the point that Don Davis isn’t afraid to tackle unusual projects.
He didn’t approach building yachts in a typical way, either. From his experience with Sovereign (and from studying other builders), he came to the conclusion that custom yachts cost the builder too much. “Ninety-nine percent of the people who buy large yachts are perfectly happy with a semi-custom yacht. They want the boating experience, not the construction process,” he says.
From a builder’s standpoint, building a yacht on spec rather than trying to dance to an owner’s often-changing tune is not just more costeffective, but time-effective as well. By concentrating on semi-custom yachts for inventory, Richmond is able to build both faster and better.
Davis clearly understands what large yacht buyers want, and each Richmond yacht is an improvement over the last. The latest, Richmond Lady, is hull number 5 of the 142-footers and she visibly draws on lessons learned on previous yachts.
While the Setzer hull remains untouched, Davis and project manager Alan Fleet redesigned the pilothouse windows, turning them vertical rather than raked as on previous yachts. This seemingly small change cascaded into improvements throughout the yacht. First, the new windows provided more usable space and better visibility (especially in poor conditions) in the pilothouse.
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This also stretched the flying bridge (which Richmond calls the “fun deck”) by nearly 5 feet. The added room also allows a VIP guest suite on the upper deck just abaft the pilothouse.
Most visitors will board from the transom platform (or the 20-foot Besenzoni passerelle) and, once on the after deck, they’ll find an unusual arrangement. Rather than a conventional settee across the transom, Richmond Lady has a pair of built-in banquettes that curve around a luscious teak table with a removable leaf for dining or cocktail use. There is a teak and granite refreshment bar and, should you tire of watching passersby on the quay, a fold-down 50-inch LCD TV.
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Don’t stop here, though, because a gorgeous salon waits just inside the automatic sliding doors. Arranged for more formal entertaining with two sofas and two armchairs, the high points are a Yamaha disklavier piano and a 52-inch LCD TV in the forward bulkhead. The style throughout Richmond Lady is also set here, with high-gloss sapele pomele, a ribbon-grained African hardwood accented with inlaid burls. Fluted mullions with sconces frame the windows, which have Roman shades for privacy. Overhead, the coffered ceiling leads your eye to a backlit, etched-glass compass rose.
Like the salon, the dining room is formal and elegant. The round mahogany table seats 10, with buffet stowage on both sides for china and stemware. Overhead, a Murano glass chandelier with French gold filigree is centered over the table. But the most spectacular feature, and one that is extraordinary for a supposedly semi-custom spec-finished yacht, is the 7-foot curved gold and sapphire waterfall on the forward bulkhead.
Not only does the waterfall become a pleasant moving backdrop for meals, but Don Davis takes delight in pointing out that it has a useful purpose. As the water cascades over the starburst pattern, it gathers dust from the air, which is flushed away during the automatic daily filtering. As one crewmember noted, “There’s never any dust on this deck!”
The galley is hidden from guests’ view, but not vice versa: A cleverly concealed camera allows crew in the galley to anticipate every need without having to intrude on the dining room. It is a model of restaurant efficiency, from the butler’s pantry with an automatic door to the granite counters and sole.
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The master suite is entered from the marbled foyer through a study with desk, computer center, and bookshelves. The king-sized berth is flanked by a loveseat to starboard and built-in bureaus to port.
Forward, the master head spans the suite with a shower/steamer on his side and a large Jacuzzi tub on hers, separated by an electrically operated “fog mirror” between each for privacy. Once again, marble and granite are used for floors and counters.
Davis and his team also provide a surprise on the lower deck, which -as a spec boat-you’d expect to have a conventional layout that wouldn’t offend a potential client. In this case, there are four staterooms, each with a marble-lined en suite head. All have queen-sized berths except for one, which has been outfitted as a fully equipped gym and workout room. It could quickly be returned to use as a guest cabin but, again, Davis knows his buyers and thinks this is likely to be a selling point. But wait, there are more accommodations on the upper deck, with an airy VIP stateroom tucked between pilothouse and skylounge. With its picture window, it has a great view.
If the main salon and dining areas are formal, then the skylounge is just the opposite: warm, inviting and casual. Leather sofas and chairs add a masculine flavor, and a reversible game table is ready for serious poker. If you’re kibitzing instead of betting, the built-in bar has four leather seats and a good view of the 52-inch LCD TV. The fully covered deck outside the skylounge has a teak table that seats 10, plus an immense built-in stainless steel barbecue and outdoor kitchen, wet bar, and 50-inch plasma TV.
But the flying bridge (sorry, fun deck) is where guests will likely spend their waking hours. The expanse of teak stretches almost endlessly, and it’s all devoted to total decadence. For those who want to watch the scenery, a pair of forward-facing bench lounges are backed by wraparound settees and shaded by custom umbrellas. But it’s under the radar arch-cum-hardtop where you’ll find the action.
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An 18-foot tender is chocked aft of the skylounge, and water toys plus the davit are on the bridge, leaving plenty of space for sun lounges and chairs.
The crew gets the forward hull to themselves, with four wellfinished cabins for eight and three heads, plus a comfortable crew lounge with mini-galley and TV. A passageway hidden behind a bookcase leads directly from the guest cabins to the crew quarters to simplify maid services as well as provide an emergency exit.
Richmond Lady is powered by a pair of 1,800-horsepower Caterpillar C32 ACERTs just like her sisterships. This gives the yacht a comfortable cruising speed of 15 knots, and a top speed over 17 knots.
Though initially a reluctant yard owner, Don Davis has clearly embraced yacht building and his spec-built, semi-custom-but elegantly finished-offerings such as Richmond Lady are likely to intrigue clients wanting a turn-key yacht.
Richmond Yachts, (954) 689-9248, **www.richmondyachts.com**