“I fall in love easily,” explains the owner of Dojo over breakfast at the Hotel Metropole in Monaco. Then he sighs. “When I first saw her, I knew.” This tall man with intense eyes isn’t confiding details of his romantic life, but trying to articulate why he bought and comprehensively refitted a vintage 43 metre Feadship that first tasted salt water in 1981.
He had tired of his 25 metre. “I have known bigger boats all my life. I’ve always felt comfortable on them, and it’s the only way I can really relax.” But he didn’t want a new build. Budget was not the issue — he spent well over €10 million — it was more a question of timing and style. “I was looking for something with character. To use a car analogy, I didn’t want an old Fiat 500 — more like a Mercedes with gull-wing doors.”
And that is just what he saw when he read that a Jon Bannenberg-designed Feadship, then called Branzino (ex-My Gail, Khalifah, Ramses), was for sale. A few days later he was on board. He liked her owner’s suite on the main deck, with a big entertaining space aft. He also liked her VIP cabin and two guest cabins; the wide, relaxing deck spaces and huge sofas on the superyacht sundeck. “The only thing I didn’t like was the stern.”
He asked Andrea Carlevaris of ACP Surveyors for a detailed assessment of the yacht’s condition and potential for refit, also engaging Feadship for a feasibility study on a new stern and upgrading to zero-speed stabilisers. The team spent two days measuring up the boat, and six weeks later the owner got the answer he wanted.
The first job was to commission designs for the new stern. As well as Feadship, the owner asked Italian refit specialist Lusben for a concept, which he ultimately dismissed. The brief was to create a large bathing platform close to the waterline, with steps up to the main deck. This also made room for a necessary technical space under the steps.
“We tried to do what — humbly — Mr Bannenberg would have done if he’d built a swim platform,” the owner says. “Extending at the stern three metres was never an issue of saying ‘this is a 45 metre yacht’. It was about being closer to the sea, playing with the kids and adding liveable space with a shower.”
The aft swimming platform was transformed during Dojo's refit
As he talks, it becomes clear that this owner had a very clear vision of what he wanted from the start, going into the detail that many would shun. It is a theme that comes up again and again in conversation with the whole Dojo refit team. “He defined everything himself,” says Francesca Nenci at ACP Surveyors, who, with Simone Curti, managed the day-to-day details. “I was surprised because normally the wife is involved with some of the interior decisions.”
“We supported the owner, but he also dragged us along,” adds Carlevaris. “He was a whirlwind!”
At this stage, there was still no yard appointed, although both Feadship and Lusben had been asked to quote. It was something of a gamble, but in September 2015 the owner hauled the boat out at Lusben’s Viareggio yard before concluding negotiations with director Paolo Simoncini. It could have been a costly move, but the refit schedule was tight and the owner wanted the work undertaken in two parts, so that he could use the boat during the intervening summer.
Dojo's refit took place at the Lusben yard in Viareggio
Technically, it was always going to be a tall order. The yard would have to cut away the old high rounded stern and replace it with the new one, which was being manufactured off site by a subcontractor. Then there were 250 square metres of teak deck that needed complete lifting, levelling and replacing, and the hull had to be faired and repainted. All in just eight months.
“It was very difficult,” agrees Lusben’s overall technical manager Alessio Centelli as we sip coffee in the all-new crew galley. “When she arrived she was not in good condition. And as the boat is old, you don’t know what you are going to find when you start removing panels.”
As with any superyacht refit project of this size, the owner’s team had to keep a close eye on the progress of work to ensure that the tight deadline was met. Once the yard had come to terms with this, it put Centelli directly on to the refit. As the owner himself puts it: “I knew Lusben could deliver; they had the capacity. But they needed to be followed well.”
Dojo was originally launched by Dutch yard Feadship in 1981
He describes a game of good cop, bad cop, with Carlevaris and him discussing tactics in the car on the way down to Viareggio for inspections. Carlevaris had local knowledge and could verify prices, while the owner took a different approach, learning the names of the workers and a little bit about their lives. “Before going in to see the boss, I would go and speak to the workers on the boat. A little interest buys you incredible results.”
After three weeks of skilled welding, Centelli’s team got the new stern attached in early 2016. By contrast, it took three months to remove the old teak decks, which were glued and screwed in hefty 35mm planking. Some 2,000 litres of levelling compound were used to fair the exposed steel surface before new teak was laid.
In the end, there was even time to squeeze extra work into this first phase of Dojo’s refit. “We had a window to do the plumbing,” says the owner. This involved ripping out all the old copper piping and replacing it with plastic and stainless steel, in line with current practice.
Dojo has a top speed of 14 knots and a range of 3,000 nautical miles at 12 knots
He took the opportunity to remove, scrub and repaint the inside of Dojo’s water tanks, as well as installing state-of-the-art filtration systems. Nobody is likely to try, but if a guest did want to drink the boat’s tap water, they would find it cleaner than Monaco’s mains water.
Clearly this is one of the owner’s foibles, and it comes down to wanting to provide the safest possible environment for his family. His other bugbear was the hygiene of the air-con system, which later led him to install an entirely new system throughout Dojo.
Aware that his negotiating hand would be much weaker if he committed both phases of the refit to Lusben, the owner decided to wait and see how well the yard dealt with Dojo’s new stern before discussing the interior work. “It’s just like a deal — it’s what I do every day,” he says.
The sundeck bar is one of the most popular spots on board Dojo
During his summer cruise, he took stock of progress and decided to stick with the Italian yard for the difficult interior phase. The design work was to be done by Domusnova — who had worked on his apartment in Monaco — run by brothers Marco and Carlo Manzoni.
In a cosmetic refit as recent as 2014, the yacht had been restyled with a beach house feel. But no one seemed to like it, least of all the new owner. His brief was simple. “I wanted to bring the boat back to life, which meant a classic interior,” he explains. “You can’t completely change the inside flavour — if I’d wanted modern, minimalist design, I could have bought a new boat.”
If the brief was simple, fulfilling it was anything but. For a start, the tight time frame left the Manzoni brothers just six months to design and approve the concept, build it and install it. “It’s easier to completely destroy everything and rebuild it, but we had no time,” Carlo says. “So we decided what was good, then created new things around it.”
Dojo's new interior was styled by Marco and Carlo Mazoni of Domusnova
The original interior had been light, varnished oak and it had not aged well — developing a slightly yellow tinge. Nevertheless, the quality of the wood was excellent and heavily built, so it was possible to strip down and repaint large parts of the interior joinery and panelling. The brothers began with the frames around each window, then built out from there.
Key cabinetry is painted in dark tobacco, but the rich grain is still clear. This has been coupled with lustrous cream carpets, large silk panels in turtle dove grey on the walls and deep, vintage-effect leather for key items of furniture. The brothers use the top quality unsplit hide, known as pieno fiore, that is rolled and brushed for softness, then dyed.
In Dojo’s master cabin, this has been employed to great effect around the windows, and it is repeated in the other cabins. Used on the dining room sideboards, the leather gives the effect of a traditional steamer trunk, complete with brass rivets and handles.
The main-deck master cabin was one of the key features that convinced the owner to purchase Dojo and begin this classic yacht refit project
At nearly two metres tall, the owner is a big man, so a key part of the design brief was to gain as many extra centimetres of headroom as possible. The Manzonis worked closely with Lusben to move ducting and trunking so they could raise the ceiling. “The gloss white ceiling panels create a sense of light and space,” says Marco. “In the main saloon, this brings the light from the water inside.”
The other change in Dojo’s main living area has been around the superyacht staircase connecting the bridge deck and the main deck. “It is structural, so we couldn’t do anything with it,” sighs the owner. “It was visible from both the dining room and the saloon, so we built a library to hide it.”
The Manzonis’ solution was to box the staircase into a new vestibule, accessed by mirrored doors from the dining room forward and the saloon aft. The mirrors cleverly create extra light and depth without looking kitsch, while the new walls give both areas a confidential air that the previous open plan arrangement lacked.
The staircase was completely refurbished during Dojo's refit
“I use Dojo a lot as my private escape, going there for a drink after work, for instance,” the owner explains. “Monaco is a small place, so I also use it as a private meeting place.”
The owner’s cabin occupies the full 7.7 metre beam of Dojo, with a shower room finished in bold Bardiglio marble (they went through three tones for the cabinet doors before the owner finally settled on matt white). Just aft is another room that could be attached to the master to make a suite, but is currently set up as a cabin for the owner’s daughter.
On the bridge deck, where the old davits have given way to an outside dining area, a further cabin has been converted into an upper saloon, with a sweeping view aft. There is also a pantry for the family. In each space, the Manzonis have subtly varied their key theme by using slightly different fabrics for the wall panels and cushions. It is both elegant and intimate, bringing out the classic character of the boat. “I wanted people to feel able to sit down and put their feet up if they want,” says the owner.
Dojo is often used as the owner's private escape from the hustle and bustle of Monaco
The crew areas below and amidships have not been ignored either. Hearing grumbling from the original crew about stuffy conditions, the owner has been particularly careful to improve the ventilation and air-con. The whole area has been given a makeover in limed oak.
It’s part of what has helped create a real sense of pride on board Dojo. As skipper Bobby Chapman puts it later as we cruise from Monaco to Villefranche through moderate swell: “To be involved in refitting a vintage yacht and bringing her back to as-new, you learn to respect the old girl more.”
Dojo was finally relaunched on a bright spring morning in early May 2017, with her topsides gleaming. After sea trials and a final snagging session, she was soon steaming her way west to Monaco, where she is now berthed. The owner knows he set a tight schedule, but sees the project as a success. “The Lusben team did a high quality job. I am very pleased with the result and, more importantly, so is my wife!”
As the interview draws to a natural close, one final question remains. Why call the boat Dojo? The owner looks at me for a moment, then grins. “I could make up some romantic story,” he says, “but the truth is I wanted something short and easy to turn into a logo. A dojo is a temple of combat and meditation, and I liked the analogy.”
First published in the November 2017 edition of Boat International.