The owners of Just B are an adventurous couple gripped by wanderlust who like to leave each destination better than when they arrived. Katia Damborsky tracks their travels around the world...
When you’ve taken your yacht to the far reaches of the planet, it can be hard to choose a favourite destination. But for the owners of Just B, the answer is simple: “Anywhere we haven’t been yet!"
The owners are a couple who are usually based in the US, but they haven’t spent much time on home soil over the past few years. Since purchasing the 1974-built Amels Just B in 2017, they have travelled more than 55,000 nautical miles – the equivalent of two global circumnavigations. That number is even more impressive when you factor in lengthy periods in the shipyard and idle stretches at anchor in remote locations.
Formerly a Dutch pilot ship, Just B is a born explorer capable of reaching some of the world's most remote destinations. The owners have an impressive number of ticks on their bucket list and a healthy bank of tales to go with each destination. Whether a two-week mid-Pacific crossing north to Alaska dining on freshly caught mahi-mahi; sitting in solitude at anchor off Alaska observing a mother bear teaching her twin cubs to fish; or spending Christmas Day on a marathon SUP adventure in a remote atoll of the Tuamotu Islands, this is cruising only a true expedition yacht can deliver.
Both owners have had an unfulfilled quest for adventure since childhood. But the wild nooks of Alaska and the lesser-explored shores of the Solomon Islands are a different breed of travel for them. Incidentally, so is owning a superyacht.
“We are long-time owners of an 18-foot [5.4 metre] Scout,” they explained. “We did the jump from 18 feet to 59 meters in one step.” The primary function of the smaller boat was fishing, snorkelling and sunset cruises, something which they can still do on Just B, but with the added benefit of being able to travel further than before.
The couple started looking to buy their first superyacht in 2014. An extended range, seaworthy hull and economic diesel-electric power were the cornerstones of a strict buying brief. The owners had conjured up an ambitious, cross-planet itinerary well before they entered into ownership and needed a vessel that could match their plans.
“My husband spent many hours researching different yachts on the market,” recalls the owner, (although she admits she didn’t take him seriously at first). In the end, it was Worth Avenue Yachts who introduced them to Just B, which was then known as Intuition II. The yacht started life as a commercial vessel built by MV Scheepswerft (now Amels) and was converted into a luxury yacht in 1997 at the UK’s Vosper Thornycroft.
But after the deal was closed, there was still work to be done to kick Just B into gear. “[She] had been laid up for several years and needed a great deal of work to successfully operate as an anywhere, any-weather, any-time, true explorer yacht,” the owners explain.
Multiple yard stints later, the yacht had been completely gutted with most of the electrical and engineering systems overhauled and the interior completely redone by the Wiseman Group. Comfort underpinned most of the design choices – they wanted to feel at home on the water during long periods at sea – and they ended up keeping the original wood-burning fireplace, a feature that has come in handy during high-latitude voyages.
The yacht can now be “completely self-contained”, according to captain Gabriel Sayles. She has cavernous storage for food and spare engineering parts thanks to her former life as a pilot vessel. Meanwhile, the diesel-electric propulsion “has been an absolute game-changer when exploring regions such as the Tuamotus in French Polynesia. [It allows] Just B to visit atolls that have never been visited before by a yacht of her size,” adds Sayles.
The owners get a lot out of their travels. In August 2022, they visited the Solomon Islands on the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal and plotted the same paths that John F. Kennedy and his men would have taken – all while lining up the lunar and weather conditions to those of 80 years ago. “It deeply touched me to try to experience those defining early battles”, says the owner, a WWII buff whose former naval career saw him spend a lot of time in the Pacific. “Being there adds a richness that book learning cannot.”
The owners spent their days diving above coral-encrusted sunken fighter jets and sailing up close to the rusted bow of the LST-342 wreck, still jutting above the surface of the water like an angry welt on an otherwise unspoilt landscape. From the dense mangroves, hollowed-out canoes would often emerge and glide up to Just B, the locals curious to meet the owners. The region was one of the most remote destinations the yacht had ever visited, described by the crew as “stepping back in time to a forgotten part of the world."
In July 2020, Just B set a course for Palmyra Atoll, a strictly protected wildlife rehabilitation zone rising up from the North Pacific, 960 nautical miles south of Hawaii. The sea here is home to manta rays the size of Mini Coopers and kaleidoscopes of coral and fish, while the skies are alive with rare species of bird.
The crew filled out stacks of paperwork and underwent rigid inspections to be able to cruise here, something Just B is built for. “Crew movements, provisions, guest travel, entry and departure paperwork – all of these aspects are difficult and a challenge on a world cruise at the best of times but during Covid it has presented a new challenge,” says Sayles. Being adaptable is key. “When Just B went to Palmyra they were still in lockdown. There was only one scientist ashore when we arrived and he was unvaccinated, so we were not permitted to interact or be near him as there was no scheduled air service in case of emergency.”
For everything they get out of their travels, they try to give a lot back, too. Prior to their Hawaii trip, they had several water filtration systems shipped overnight to meet the vessel in the Marquesas Islands and brought 200 reusable metal water bottles for the local children. In the Lau islands of Fiji, they came bearing school supplies in the aftermath of a hurricane and volunteered their food supplies when the locals were in need. In Mexico, they partnered with YachtAid Global to support the local mangrove forests in Magdalena Bay. Both the owners and crew are also insistent about employing local guides, not only to enrich their experience, but also to help them navigate local traditions, customs, and unwritten rules of their environment. They try to leave each place better than when they arrived.
Giving back was harder during the height of the pandemic. “At first, we had to focus on keeping our crew and the people in any areas we visited safe and healthy. We were constrained in where we could go and how much interaction was possible.”
With this in mind, the owners say that there are some destinations on their dream itinerary that they won’t visit. Papahānaumokuaākea Marine National Monument, the largest marine conservation zone on the planet, is off-limits. Antarctica is somewhere they have always wanted to go, but rather than add to the “dramatic increase” of yachts cruising the region, they plan on visiting on a specialised passenger vessel.
Just B may be the owners’ first foray into superyacht ownership, but they have thrown themselves into it – with its many joys – without looking back. They are currently moored in New Zealand enjoying a tour of the country, but there is plenty more ocean out there to explore. If A is their home base and B is the wide world, the owners have certainly been from A to B – but it seems they prefer just B.