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On board with Jack and Mary McClurg, owners of 43m yacht Marcato

There were fires and disagreements to overcome but they have made 43 metre Marcato even more special for superyacht owners Jack and Mary McClurg...

It was hate at first sight for Mary McClurg. There was no way she could ever imagine owning that tall, commercial looking boat that towered over them from the neighbouring slip in their marina in Fort Lauderdale. “I can’t stand it,” she remembers thinking, staring up at all that bare, unfaired steel. If she and husband Jack were going to trade up from their pretty 35 metre BenettiCamarina Royale, it would be to a classic, elegant Feadship, or something like it.

But anyway, all the talk of a new boat was just that… talk. Jack and Mary weren’t planning to part with their Benetti any time soon. That was until early February 2016, and a phone call in the middle of the night: “Sir, ah, the boat’s on fire”. A generator had overheated as Camarina Royale was steaming back from the British Virgin Islands, around 70 miles north-east of Cuba in about 10,000ft of water. The crew were well drilled and fought the fire, but eventually abandoned ship into the tender they were towing.

Before doing so they sealed the engine room and hit the halon, but the fire wouldn’t quit. Jack and Mary’s Benetti – the first boat they’d owned – burned to the waterline and sank. “Thank god everyone was fine,” says Jack. “But it was pretty dramatic for the crew. Their distress call was answered by a big propane tanker, which is kind of ironic.”

The McClurgs had experienced just enough of superyachting to know that they wanted to get back in – and quickly. “I thought it was an opportunity [to buy a new boat] that we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” says Jack. “It would probably have taken us a year or two to sell the old boat and find another one, so an opportunity came out of what was an unpleasant experience.”

Mary had her eyes on a Feadship, 46.3 metre Charisma (now Explora), but Jack wasn’t convinced. “We had Camarina Royale for a few years and my vision was that if I ever got another boat, I would probably go for an expedition yacht, something that’s a little more seaworthy, that has a little more capability for toys and carrying stuff with us.”

The breakthrough came (for Jack at least) in March, just a month after the fire. Their broker called: why didn’t they go and look at 43 metre Copasetic, that tall, commercial looking boat that had once been their neighbour? “We’d been running around looking at boats all day and our broker said we could get on Copasetic that afternoon, but Mary refused to go.”

So Jack went alone, and “was immediately in love”, Mary sighs. She was eventually persuaded to look around the boat, but wouldn’t budge: “I really didn’t want it.” The couple spent a day stewing and it was Mary who finally relented. “I knew he loved it. If the price was right, then so be it. I couldn’t be the reason he didn’t have it.” There was one condition, however: Mary demanded an unlimited budget for a refit. If they had to own such a guy’s boat, she wanted to make the interior her own.

The first time I see the refitted, refreshed and renamed boat (she’s now called Marcato, after an Italian word that means “to play with emphasis”) is in Newport in August. Jack and Mary are in town to enjoy the J Class World Championship and take part in a Boat International Owners’ Club event at the New York Yacht Club’s base here. We pad round the boat with their young captain, Jason Halvorsen, taking in the new design – which is all Mary’s work. She’s produced a crisp, elegant interior that relaxes as you climb up through the decks, the pale tones contrasting beautifully against the dark bamboo floors. It’s been very well executed – both by Mary and Rybovich, where the work took place.

Mary had a tight grip on all decisions, right down to stone choice. “We visited just about every stone yard in Florida,” she says. The biggest change took place in the upper saloon. What was a smallish study before has been opened right up by reclaiming territory from the owner’s bathroom to produce a lounge with amazing views and access to an expansive upper aft deck. And it’s here, in the pictures of classic cars covering the wall behind the sofa, that you get your first clue as to what occupies the McClurgs, or at least Jack, when they’re not on the boat. “I just have this attraction to them. My passion is really pre-war convertibles from the 20s, 30s and 40s. Anything where the top could drop and is old.”

He keeps his collection of 20 or so classics in a big hangar at Centennial Airport in Denver, Colorado, which also houses his office and planes. “You see them adding up here?” laughs Mary. “The cars, the planes, the boats….” Jack and Mary set up their company, McClurg Century Investments, in Denver after selling a pharmaceutical insurance business in 2012. The new firm makes boutique investments in everything from public securities to commercial and residential real estate, “and a little bit of everything in between”, Jack says. It’s a true family operation, with Jack and Mary’s daughter Kori centrally involved.

Both father and daughter fly, in Jack’s case a Pilatus PC-12. He uses it to commute to the office from their main home in Steamboat Springs, a couple of hundred miles away in upstate Colorado. “So we fly back and forth. The Pilatus is a great mountain airplane.”

It was flying that got the family into boating. Mary suffered from motion sickness when she was younger, which Jack cured her of by bouncing her around in small airplanes. “We’re from Colorado, so we were thinking… we’re getting a little older, it would be nice to have somewhere warm to go in the winter,” Jack says.

“We thought about houses and where we would buy and then I had this crazy idea of buying a boat instead, so we could have a house that moves. But first I had to make sure that Mary’s motion sickness was cured, so we chartered a couple of boats to test it out and, sure enough, she was fine. So that’s when I went on my quest to get the mobile house that would stay in warm places in the winter time.”

Marcato and Jack’s love of toys are a match made in heaven. They could even haul a floatplane on to that big working deck forward, but haven’t yet tried it out. “This is the only boat I’ve been on this size that can carry a 32ft centre console,” says Captain Halvorsen. “What’s so neat about this deck is we’re so flexible. We’ve got the WaveRunners, we’ve got mopeds, all the tenders – even the first mate’s motorbike. We could even take a 20ft shipping container, which could be a mobile dive set-up, or movie editing studio, or research station. Not too many of these boats are going to let you put a shipping container on them.”

It makes Marcato a fascinating charter prospect for the more expedition-minded customer. It’s definitely got the look – the hull remains unfaired, with just rolled paint over steel preferred to anything more high maintenance – which is backed up with a mighty 8,000 mile range and bulletproof technicals that were installed at the commercial Canadian shipyard where she was built. “There are redundancies for the redundancies,” says Jack. Her original owner wanted a boat he would feel safe taking around the world, and that’s what he did for several years.

The guts of the boat largely remain unchanged from his time, since everything was still under manufacturer’s warranty when Jack and Mary bought her. She’s still pretty new to charter brochures, but she definitely makes a change from your average 43 metre. There’s plenty of volume – 491 gross tonnes – and she draws only 2.3 metres, making her Bahamas-ready.

“We’re in the early stages of planning South America, the Galápagos and then Patagonia,” reveals Jack. “We haven’t figured out yet whether we’ll do the Horn and come up the east side or retrace our steps. We’re looking forward to that.”

The skipper isn’t worried about any wild weather – anything Marcato has so far encountered has been dealt with comfortably, as you’d hope for a boat that looks like this. “We’ve had Jack and Mary out in eight foot seas coming back from Cuba and they were eating on board,” says the captain. “As crew, we came back across the Gulf Stream in 10 to 12 foot seas, which isn’t fun in anything, but we did it, no problem. She’s an incredible mover at sea.” It’s all done at a stately 12 knots but, like Jack says, “if you want to go fast, get an airplane”.

One of the things that makes Marcato such an evidently happy ship is the connection between owner and crew. Jack even joined them on a passage to the Bahamas, donning crew gear and taking orders from the captain. “He said to me, ‘Jason, I kind of want to stick around’. So he spent 10 days with us. He ate in the crew mess, he wore a T-shirt and shorts. I’ve got an old 76 Ford with no air conditioning that he drove around. And he’d get up every morning and go, ‘Jason, what am I doing today?’ So I’d get him to pull an ice-maker out, or something else. And he did it.”

You get the sense from Jack that he’s loving every second of life on board, but what about Mary? It’s true that Marcato is a superyacht that will always divide opinion. Captain Halvorsen tells a story from Bermuda when the captain of 87 metre Musashi wandered down the dock just to say “cool boat”. Then there was a time in Nassau shortly after the refit when he overheard a woman in the marina saying “who owns this weird thing?” If Mary had heard that, she would have proudly answered “me”. She’s a convert. But does she really never think about Charisma, that lost Feadship? “Not even for a second.”

Marcato is available for charter with bluewater.

Images: Billy Black; Morgan Anderson

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