High design below decks on local yachts
Glamorous reputation aside, motor yachts are at once confining and liberating. Liberating because, of course, boat owners can charge off to just about anywhere there is water: Maine in summer, the Bahamas in winter. The confining part is just as obvious: Short of the mega-yachts costing tens of millions of dollars (here’s to you, Dan Snyder and Michael Saylor!), most have serious space limitations. And then there are the other challenges, such as keeping dishes from flying around the kitchen.
The interior design of yachts exhibits the same yin and yang, as exemplified by several locally docked vessels.
Modestly sized production boats — and even here we’re talking about models costing north of $300,000 — may come practically complete from the boatyard: built-in seating, standard galley, a specified configuration of cabins and baths and cabinetry. Sometimes a prospective buyer can pick the window coverings (curtains or shades) and the color of the hull (there’s a lot of navy blue out there on the water). Confining, perhaps, but there’s the freedom of not having to make a lot of decisions.
Production boats still may require pricey touches, however. After all, you can’t simply pick out a mattress off the sales floor at Sleepy’s. That’s where designers such as Christine Roney, of Yacht Interiors of Annapolis, come in. Roney began learning about boat design while in college as part of her major in interior design. She interned at and was hired by Yacht Interiors; 10 years later, she owns the company. She and other boat experts know how to make a template for each bed and get a factory to make a mattress to fit (a good queen-size can cost upward of $2,500, and many mattresses are hinged so they can be easily raised to access storage underneath). Boat decorators also know that bed linens start with commercially available flat sheets that are then cut and sewn in local workshops — such as the sheds found behind some Annapolis area houses.
If you step up to a custom creation, you don’t have to have built-in seating, though you might decide to, for practical reasons. In these boats, choices widen: Staterooms can be sited the way the owners want them — including amidship, to take advantage of the widest part of the lower deck. Pilothouses can be reconfigured for co-captains. And such yachts offer a chance to add more individual and luxurious flourishes: recessed lighting, granite countertops, teak paneling and custom-woven albeit water-resistant carpeting.
Yet even yacht owners with high-end fittings often say that boating is a simple lifestyle. That doesn’t necessarily mean an inexpensive one. Boat owners joke that they have learned to think in “boat units” of a thousand dollars here, a thousand dollars there. And you know what “boat” stands for, right? You got it: Break Out Another Thousand.
When Bill Thompson met Debbie Easterling on Match.com four years ago and things seemed to be going well, he popped the question. No, not that one. He asked her if she liked boats. Debbie, who had been on boats all her life, said yes. But Bill persisted, she explains. “He said, ‘No, do you really like boats?’ ”
Happily for the pair, who have now been engaged for three years, the answer was a resounding yes — and the couple, who have a place in Rehoboth and one in Key West, Fla., live aboard Alchemy, their 55-foot-long, 16-foot-wide Hatteras 52 Cockpit Motor Yacht, from March to November.
Bill, who grew up in a Delaware manufacturing family, became sea-savvy as a submarine sailor. A nuclear engineer, he and his group built the USS Lapon, a Navy attack submarine, and “knew every bolt on it.” Managing the innards of Alchemy is no doubt a simpler affair.
Managing the aesthetics of Alchemy is important, too; for that the couple turned to Christine Roney of Yacht Interiors of Annapolis. Roney’s advice to Debbie, who likes things light and airy, was to keep the fabrics neutral “to keep colors flowing,” as Debbie puts it. But within the muted tans and dusty blues there is plenty of texture, including Debbie’s favorite grasscloth wallcovering on the galley and dining-area walls. (Adding a festive touch, artificial branches trimmed with tiny white lights enliven the wall behind the dining table.) Fabric-covered valances soften the boat’s windows, which are covered with custom-cut pleated shades.
The staterooms, as in most boats smaller than multimillion-dollar mega-yachts, have weirdly shaped beds (yacht makers tend to call them “tapered”). Mattresses usually follow the horizontal and vertical curve of the hull; the corners are shaved off, and the finished product is usually set atop a platform to allow for storage underneath. Annapolis has a full complement of specialty workrooms for custom-tailored bed linens, which is one of the reasons it is considered among the best places on the Eastern Seaboard for a boat to call home.
Alchemy, whose replacement value was recently pegged at more than $750,000, has a covered aft deck, a kind of rear porch; a tiny one-person galley two steps down from the salon, adjacent to a dining area with banquettes to seat four; a roomy flying bridge upstairs with raised bench seats in addition to the cockpit chairs (“so you can actually see something” while you’re sitting with the pilot, says Debbie); and three staterooms, all fitted with cushy places for curling up and reading or snoozing. Debbie, a professor of marketing at Salisbury University who is originally from Charleston, S.C., says the salon is her favorite room. The 12-by-12-foot space has the feel of a studio apartment, with aft deck and galley within sight, but with the luxury of more space below deck.
Bill and Debbie could have chosen freestanding furniture for the salon — such as the indoor-outdoor loveseat and chairs they have on the rear porch — but the built-in banquettes they opted for are more practical. The seating has storage space beneath and, thanks to medium-density polyurethane foam with a dacron wrap, the cushions don’t make you feel you’re perched atop a slab of unyielding wood.
Built-ins are also simpler, a fact that appeals to Bill. People who don’t do boating, he says, don’t know it’s not only for the super-rich. It’s a simple, affordable lifestyle, one he has been happy with since his submarine days. Debbie explains that when they arrive in an area, they can pull up to a mooring ball, a type of buoy, and wait for the harbormaster to come around and collect the mooring fee (often about $35 a day). After that, it’s dinner aboard or a cellphone call to a water taxi to a local restaurant.
But there’s change afoot. Says Bill: “We had no intention of ever leaving this boat. But we went from ‘no thought’ to contract [on a new boat] in a week!” The new boat is a 58-foot Hatteras Long Range Cruiser, and it has a significant improvement over the current vessel: a walk-in engine room, meaning that Bill, in his late 60s, can make repairs without having to lift floor panels and shimmy around pumps. It also has a galley on the same level as the salon; Debbie is looking forward to this open-plan arrangement. Also, a larger boat will better accommodate their growing number of grandchildren. Last summer when it was so hot, Debbie says, the boat became something of a multi-generational water park, with everyone jumping off the flybridge and into the Chesapeake. A simple lifestyle and a refreshing one.