When Kristine Williams and her husband Chris bought the classic 38.4-metre Feadship classic Berilda, a major refit wasn’t part of the plan. “We fell in love with the romance of owning an older yacht with a lovely history,” says Williams. “It was our first foray into ownership and we went in a little naive, I’d say.”
What they’d had in mind was “a quick paint job” followed by a year of carefree cruising, but that was “a dream that didn’t come true”, Williams admits. The first refit ran over 12 months. Having gone undetected in the yacht’s survey, experts found a hull so thin that in some places you could push a pen through the metal. It was an “unsafe tub”, that needed eight metres of metal replacing, along with new plumbing and electrics and other major works throughout. “At first, we thought. ‘Wow, what have we got ourselves into?’ But then we thought, ‘OK, how can we best use this time, what can we do?’”
The owners of classic yacht Berilda admitted she was in need of more refit work than previously expected.
Quite a lot, as it turns out. Williams threw herself into the renovation process, going on to make multiple changes to the general arrangement as well as the yacht’s interiors. “I got super-involved, and it wasn’t long before I was in the refit yard all the time, under the boat, having a look at all the welding,” she says of her winter spent at Front Street Shipyard at Belfast in Maine. “I remember my daughters coming up to visit me when it was freezing and we were all rugged up, and they just said, ‘Good grief Mum, what are you doing?’ But I was loving it.”
A bunk room with a single bathroom on the lower deck was changed into two queen suites, both with bathrooms. The owner’s cabin on the main deck was made into a VIP and the stew pantry was transformed into its en suite, meaning a new stew pantry had to be made by converting a passageway. “We stole every little bit of space we could get,” says Williams, who quickly came to the same conclusion as all owners: “Every inch counts.”
Before: The master cabin on board Berilda prior to her refit.
A lot of work was required to carry out some much-needed safety improvements. Fire-safety measures were improved and reinstalled, and heavy lifeboats that were previously sitting on the deck were replaced by ones that fit into a railing on the outside of the yacht, making them easier to release (you simply undo the tether and push them overboard) and freeing up valuable space on deck.
Other spaces were changed to suit the couple’s needs and how they wanted to use Berilda. Williams put in a soundproofed office, changing a dayhead and shower into a wine cooler, to allow Chris to keep up with work while on board. “When he’s in there he gets the benefit of keeping up with everything,” she says, “but when he steps out of there he loses his pinstripe-suit persona and relaxes. She’s like a second home to us now,” she says.
After: Refitting a classic yacht is not simply a case of ripping everything up. The new master cabin retains much of the original charm and character. Image courtesy of Thierry Dehove.
The sundeck was reinforced to support a hot tub, as per the requests of the couple’s two daughters (their further plea for jet skis was denied – “too loud for our kind of boating”, says Williams, who also has a son), and a granite barbecue was another must. “We’re Australian so we had to have one,” she laughs, “but it was more complicated than I thought. We had to have granite put round the back of the barbecue, run gas lines, have teak doors made to match the originals…” In fact, Williams explains, it’s worth working with experts who can be honest with you about the scale and cost implications of your “straightforward” ideas. “Listen, if you’re going to put in a dishwasher that washes glasses in three minutes and uses super-hot water, you’re going to need a different, non-plastic plumbing system,” she says.
Before: The sundeck on Berilda before her refit.
A dining area on the aft deck was also transformed. “It was covered and heated, but I took that out because whenever you needed the heating, it didn’t get warm enough, and when you wanted to cool off you just went upstairs. I had everything completely removed [in a second phase of the refit] and a little bar area put there instead, with a shelf that matches the original. That’s one of my absolute favourite areas on board now. You can sit up there when the weather’s good, looking out over the marina.”
Of course, mistakes were inevitably made, and there are things that Williams would do differently if she did it all again. A coffee area on the main deck with a microwave oven was “a waste of time, money and effort”, she says. “We very rarely use that, and neither do the crew as all their spaces were redone too. I’d like to make it more of a little butler’s pantry; at the moment no one bothers to use it.”
After: The sundeck was reinforced to support a hot tub. Image courtesy of Billy Black.
Design-wise, “I made some schoolgirl mistakes”, says Williams, citing sofas that were built without storage underneath (they’ve now been converted) and a crew area that was decorated in “a lovely dark teal velvet that looked very dramatic. I think I should have gone with something more practical, such as pleather,” she says, “and focused more on design elements that I could easily swap out and change, like cushions.”
There are regrets, too. The Williamses were keen to keep the yacht as close to its original design as possible, buying two old teak trees that almost exactly match the original teak on board (guests can’t tell the difference between drawers made from the original or the new wood, says Williams), and maintaining areas that are “a bit dinged up” to keep the character of the boat intact. “We managed to keep so much, and I wish we’d kept the original fittings on the flydeck and had them rechromed,” says Williams. “I was talked out of it at the time, but now I’m a bit sad about it. I just love all those old fittings, I really do.”
Before: the saloon on board Berilda.
With other issues, Williams wasn’t so easily dissuaded. “I knew I wanted light interiors – cream carpet and cream couches – because there’s not a lot of space. Everyone said, that’ll be a disaster, because we’re big red wine drinkers – we used to own a winery in California for years. But I said, ‘Let’s give it a shot,’ and it’s worked out very well.”
Some of the most valuable advice during the restoration and refit process came from the team at Feadship. “They said, ‘Don’t just concentrate on the leaks coming out of the bottom of the boat and the plumbing – check the whole top of the boat as well,’” says Williams. “That was a very good piece of advice, because you think of water coming up, but you don’t necessarily think of it coming down. We acted on it and replaced a lot of deck, and a lot of drain lines too.”
After: The new main saloon has a much lighter look with cream sofas and carpets. Image courtesy of Billy Black.
In fact, Williams says Feadship has been invaluable throughout. “They have quality information, all the original schematics, and they’ve even had people come on board to have a look at her and advise us, to make sure that everything is authentic and up to Feadship quality,” she says.
Today, the couple enjoy being active members of the Feadship Heritage Fleet and frequently attend events or host owners who’ve gone through similarly daunting refits for drinks on board. The biggest testament to what they’ve done, she says, also came from a Feadship employee who came on board recently. “He said: ‘It’s amazing what you’ve done with the space, how much you’ve managed to get into her. If I was building this boat today, I’d need another six to nine metres to achieve this,’” says Williams. “I just thought, ‘Wow, thank you,’ because we’ve made her feel much more than her 38 metres, which is amazing really.”
Berilda's owners enjoy cruising their refitted classic around the coasts of Newport and Nantucket. Image courtesy of Thierry Dehove.
Now, there’s little left to do to improve the classic beauty, and the couple spend happy days with friends, or their children, cruising round areas such as Newport and Nantucket. “What I love is that when friends come on board, they’ve got no problem plopping themselves down on the couch and asking where the TV is.” (Hint: it comes out of a piece of wood shelving next to a stairway at the touch of a button.) “She’s beautiful, but she’s also just very comfortable and practical – everything just works.”
And so, on to the key question: would the Williamses do it all over again, knowing what they do now? “I’d like to enjoy Berilda a little bit more,” she says, explaining that of the four years they’ve owned her, only two have been spent out on the water. “But I won’t say that we’re not looking…”