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Credit: Adobe Stock

Owner's logbook: a hair-raising journey in New York and why it took 17 years to convert a trawler

1 May 2024 • Written by Grace Trofa

Every month, superyacht owners reveal where they are in the world and share their future plans. This month, BOATspeaks to Brian O’Sullivan about why cruising the long coastline of British Columbia on his 29-metre yacht Evelyn is his favourite spot. Erik Vonk, owner of the 45-metre superyacht Scintilla Maris, also shares his longer-range plans...

Brian O’Sullivan, owner of Evelyn

Length: 29m
Year: 2001
Location: BVIs

How did you come to find Evelyn?
I was looking for a boat after 41-metre Komokwa that was bigger than 24 metres, but smaller than 30. And the reason for that is, in Canada, if you’re over 30 metres, you have to report into the vessel traffic control system. And that’s a real pain in the butt and I didn’t want to do it. 

Within those parameters, I was looking for something big enough to accommodate crew, but small enough to do short, local trips without any. The boat I was really interested in was a 28-metre Hatteras, but I got outbid on it. And then I went to Bob Denison and also the surveyor who worked on Komokwa, and they both recommended Intermarine. They were built in the early 2000s by an Italian company in Savannah, Georgia, and they’re built to ABS standards.

Where was she lying?
I eventually found two Intermarines. One was in Fort Lauderdale and it wasn’t in very good shape. The other was in Grand Haven, Michigan, and it was in great shape. The exterior had been totally redone but the interior was original. And then I just had a budget to redo the interior, which I did in Florida.

Credit: Getty Images

You then took her through the Erie Canal in upstate New York...
Yes, it was a hair-raising experience. We had to take off the radar arch and all of the bimini top and we had only three inches clearance under one of the bridges, and at another we had just half a metre of water under the boat. We had to go 500 kilometres so it took us five or six days to go through.

Where have you taken her this season?
I left Fort Lauderdale on 1 December bound for the Virgin Islands, via Puerto Rico. We went down to St Barths and Antigua in January then came back. I’ve been on the boat full-time since then and I’m not planning on leaving (apart from a few more days in St Barths) until she ships mid-April.

Credit: Andy Holmes on Unsplash

What’s her best feature?
Her social spaces. The aft deck has dining for 12; the main saloon has dining for nine on a big circular table; the galley has a large country kitchen with dining for eight and then we can fit eight to 10 upstairs on the top deck. Also it has a beautiful sunpad on the bow, which is a great area for conversation. And she’s really solid.

What are your future plans with her?
I’ll keep it in British Columbia and maybe take it to Mexico, I’m not sure. But there’s a lot of cruising on the BC coast. It’s my favourite place and the coastline of BC is longer than the coastline of mainland China. So there are a lot of places I still haven’t been. I plan to spend May through to October every year cruising up and down the coast. So that’s a start!

Credit: Adobe Stock

Erik Vonk, owner of Scintilla Maris

Length: 45.6m
Year: 1989/2023
Location: London

Credit: Damen Yachting

Where are you headed first with your newly converted yacht?
We’re leaving the yard in the Netherlands on 25 April and then will be in London until 3 May. After that we’ll start making our way north to Norway and possibly Svalbard. Afterwards, we’ll head west to Iceland, Greenland and hopefully the Northwest Passage. Longer-range plans include the Pacific archipelagos, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. We want to go to remote areas with relatively untouched cultures.

Credit: Damen Yachting

Why did it take 17 years to convert your yacht?
The truth is, good old Dutch stubbornness played a major role in the length of the project. I previously owned a converted tugboat and I developed the idea to repurpose a North Sea fishing trawler into a yacht. These boats are designed for seakeeping, comfort, strength, safety and hull efficiency.

So, if one wanted a private go-anywhere boat in the 40 to 50-metre range, why design and build a new hull? It makes a lot more sense to use and repurpose an existing one that would be hard to replicate, or improve on the design and construction.

After locating and securing a trawler I liked, I was able to take her to the yard that actually built her – Damen Maaskant Shipyards in Stellendam, the Netherlands – and agree that they’d completely strip the boat and do a rebuild under my direction. The yard’s flexibility and magnanimity in letting me direct the process are what set the stage for a long journey.

Credit: David Henderson on Unsplash

How did you find this particular boat?
The short answer is the yard did. Damen Maaskant has been the pre-eminent builder of North Sea fishing trawlers for decades. When I started to look for a trawler around 2005 I simply approached them and asked for their help with a search.

What does the name mean?
My last name, Vonk, means something like spark, or sparkle in Dutch. “Scintilla” is a close approximation of that in Latin. Using a bit of imagination, Scintilla Maris means “Sea Vonk”.

Credit: Getty Images

What kind of yachts have you owned in the past?  
A 24-metre converted tugboat with a slow-turning six-cylinder MWM diesel. Marine nostalgia at its best. We cruised the Nordics, the Baltic and the UK. Our best memories are reading a good book at night, while sipping rum in her dark wooded main saloon with many polished copper details, during a winter storm. I still own a 16-metre Magnum. It’s more of a big toy. She’s still a classic, though, built in 1989 – the same year as Scintilla Maris – by Magnum Marine in Miami.

What is it about a rebuild project that excites you?  
I have clear objectives in purpose, size, utilisation, accommodation, behaviour, safety, speed, efficiency, and looks! That makes my life easy, because many generations of seafarers have done my homework for me and have developed hulls that meet my objectives. Add an ounce or two of passion for maritime adventure and entrepreneurial challenges and you have the answer to your question.

First published in the May 2024 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.

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