Thinking about undertaking your first refit? The owners of G2 and Vibrance, who recently completed their first major refurbishments, share their wisdom on how best to refit a superyacht on budget and without compromise.
The sailing yacht refit: G2
The couple that would create the sailing yacht G2 had a specific dream: to sail around the world on a modern fast carbon cruiser with a lifting keel. There were plenty of aluminium yachts on the brokerage market in their size range, but very few existed in carbon. So why buy and refit rather than build new?
“I was hoping I could do it a lot more quickly,” says the owner. That didn’t go exactly to plan though. “Big projects generally cost more and take longer than you think. It certainly applies to this sector – it applies even more than I had expected.”
The couple’s search for their first large yacht ended when they spotted Cinderella IV, a 39-metre carbon sloop built by Vitters in 2009 that had been languishing on the market for the better part of three years. It was an attractive buy and a high-quality yacht, and they quickly got to work reimagining it as their dream boat. They retained its original naval architect, Bill Tripp, whose mandate included scrapping the aft deckhouse in favour of an open flush deck. To realise their ideal minimalist interior – pretty much the opposite of dark, traditional Cinderella IV – they commissioned Nauta Design, who would work on the transformation at Pendennis in Falmouth.
What they all achieved is astonishing. G2 emerged from the yard 18 months later virtually unrecognisable. The new aesthetic, inside and out, is clean and contemporary without being cold or stark. It’s bright and soothing, with a cool colour scheme, bigger portholes and large expanses of glass added to the coachroof. Rearranging the layout forward also gave the couple a more comfortable master suite.
To get there required removing the original interior. “To that extent it was like a new build. I actually stood in the empty hull after they had taken out what was there and started again,” says the owner, who acknowledges that the stylistic aesthetic likely matters more to him than the average sailor.
“Light and space is really important to me,” he says. “That was the theme we were trying to achieve and you can’t really visualise it before you’ve done it. I think it not only met expectations, but it’s even nicer than I imagined it would be.”
The process did cost them one Med season longer than expected, and a lot more money than initial calculations suggested. Part of the extra time and expense came down to an increase in the scope of the work. The glass panels in the coachroof were a significant add-on, as was painting the superstructure. The initial survey also had missed some big-ticket items. In addition, the owner, who describes himself as “naïve” going into the project, quickly learned that refitting comes with challenges. “You have some highly skilled craftsmen doing some great work,” he says, but to achieve the result “you need a lot of them doing the right thing to the right quality and on time”.
The secret to refit success in the owner’s opinion? It’s all about teamwork. “The team that you assemble is really, really important,” he says. “It’s not sufficient to have the right naval architect or the right interior architect, or obviously the right yard. It is really the combination of those people and the extent that they have previously worked together that’s extremely valuable. In my case they hadn’t.
“Take your time, get good references and meet people,” he advises. “Don’t be shy to meet a few candidates for every position you want to fill. That really pays off afterwards, rather than rushing into it and maybe taking unnecessary risks or cutting corners.”
He also learned that having a captain from the planning stage would have been hugely beneficial. When Cinderella IV’s captain left the boat, he warned the owner that it was a mistake not to have a captain on straight away for the refit. The owner thought the comment was self-serving – as the captain would have liked to have stayed on longer – but in retrospect he realised it was just good advice. “It is extremely useful to have a captain that not only has this kind of refit experience but also seems like he is like-minded in terms of quality control and taking ownership of the boat. I was extremely lucky to have that, but it was quite late.”
In the end, the couple got what they wanted: “a boat that we have created, so I’m really happy with the experience. And I would do it all again – a refit versus a new build,” says the owner.
After warm-up seasons in the Caribbean and the Med, G2 headed back to the islands to prepare to sail further afield. She flew her spinnaker for the first time in the Superyacht Challenge Antigua in March 2020 just before the lockdown started. G2 sat out the summer in Antigua, and as we spoke to the owner in late July, he was preparing to fly down to sail her from St Lucia to the Galápagos. After that it would be on to New Zealand or what the owner calls “a very nice Plan B”, Costa Rica. “I’m very excited to explore the world – starting this weekend.”
The motor yacht refit: Vibrance
The most arresting element in the refit that turned Volpini into Vibrance was the result of a happy accident. As the naval architect at Murray & Associates, Patrick Dupuis, was discussing the work to be done, a 3D image of the yacht spun on Dupuis’ screen, and for some reason it showed it as grey instead of its actual white. Dupuis began to apologise for the glitch when the new owner, Duane Robert (Bob) Donaldson, broke in, “Wait a minute, I love that.” He laughs, “I fell in love with the computer image while he was apologising.”
Thanks to that fortuitous glimpse of grey, the 49.3-metre Amels became one of the first superyachts to be painted in Awlgrip’s new High Definition Technology polyurethane clearcoat on top of its Silver Grey Metal flake, transforming a plain white boat into a shimmering head-turner that lives up to her name Vibrance. Donaldson calls the pricey paint job a roll of the dice, but it was a gamble he was willing to take. “I’m a New York construction interior contractor; I’m used to making these risk and reward decisions. If it didn’t come out this great I would have redone it, but it came out unbelievable,” he says, crediting the paint contractor, C&N Yacht Refinishing.
Vibrance’s refit was a three-part process that began at IMS Shipyard in Toulon, France – where much of the major mechanical overhauls took place, including replacing the main engines – and ended at Fort Pierce Yacht & Ship in Florida, two yards Donaldson recommends. In between was a brief stint at a shipyard that he was not happy with: “We had a verbal deal, but as soon as they had my boat out of the water, everything changed,” he says. So he cut the scope of work down to the minimum and on his captain’s recommendation moved the yacht to Fort Pierce.
Once relocated, they did a huge amount of work in just five months. The interior and decks were redesigned by Kerry Allabastro of Allabastro Designs in Stuart, Florida. Every room received a makeover, with new upholstery, flooring, lighting and custom-designed pieces. The aesthetic had been similarly traditional on Volpini, but it looked tired. Allabastro updated it in a luxuriantly elegant transitional style, mixing modern elements into the traditional milieu. While the alder wood joinery was retained, dark burl wall panels were removed.
In place of those panels in the main foyer, for example, is a mural backing the stairwell, its colourful landscape replete with meaning to the owners. The refit also added an al fresco gym on the bridge deck port side where a tender had been stowed, and revamped the sundeck, a spot the couple particularly enjoy for cocktails.
“This was my first refit. I was just doing it the way my wife, Christie, and I want it to be done, but it came out so well that the yard nominated it for the 2019 International Superyacht Society award for Best Refit,” Donaldson says. That’s not to say it was easy. The timetable included a hard deadline to make the yacht’s coming-out party in New York before leaving for the Mediterranean days later. The pressure was intense, and many said it couldn’t be done.
“I just went there myself and got it done, because this is what I do,” says Donaldson, who was on site for the project’s final month. “I build high-rises in New York City, so I deal with the smartest and toughest builders in the world.” As a result, he’s developed a laser focus to address issues pertaining to quality, schedule and cost. “At one point I had 85 people working. What [the previous yard] told me it would take, I did in less than half the time.”
The schedule does affect the cost, he explains. He’s a self-described “budget guy”, but in this case, he says to forget the budget – in fact, plan for it to double. “Get great naval architects, the best you can get, and great interior designers,” he advises. “Then understand your timing, the duration of the job. As my current captain tells me, ‘Give me more time and I can make it on budget. But if you’re going to push me for time, it’s going to cost more.’”
Donaldson’s other advice for owners is make sure you have an experienced surveyor at purchase – he praises Simon Burt, director of Winterbothams in Portsmouth, for doing a good job for him. “An experienced project manager who understands your needs is also paramount,” he adds.
Looking back, Donaldson has no regrets other than not researching yards more thoroughly, and he feels a refit offered good value over a new build. Born in 2004 from a Dutch pedigreed yard, Vibrance was a solid build of steel and aluminium; now with its fresh interior, layouts tweaks, all-new systems and engines and, of course, that extraordinary paint job, she rivals any new launch. “What I am most proud of is my wife’s interior work with the interior decorator,” Donaldson says. “She has never done anything like that before. She just hit it out of the park.”
That imperative party that marked the refit’s end was meant to be the one chance in years the owner’s family, friends and associates would have to see the yacht before she disappeared over the horizon, but the pandemic put a wrench in those plans and Vibrance was recalled to New York. There is a silver lining though; now he and his wife get to share her with family and friends closer to home. They recently spent six weeks on board in Key West. “We sat in a Covid-free cocoon and it was just brilliant,” Donaldson says. “We’re enjoying it the way a boat of this magnitude should be enjoyed.”
This feature is taken from the November 2020 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.shop now