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A true ability for crazy adventures - the building of King Benji

Wide shot of King Benji

A thirst for fun and adventure, a favourite pet and a passion for boats gave birth to Dunya Yachts’ second new build. Cecile Gauert visits King Benji in Istanbul

JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIA

“Idecided to build King Benji because I felt like two things were missing in boats under 500GT,” says Josh Golder, her owner. One was a real connection with the marine environment, “so from any spot on this yacht, you can feel like you’re outside”, he says. “The second was the true ability for crazy adventures, to have a 40ft [12-metre] tender, four 300-horsepower jet skis and every imaginable inflatable toy on there. The goal was to make something that was focused on doing instead of sitting. I go crazy sitting around.” On that note, he says of his Nor-Tech 400 Supersport centre console: “I love Nor-Tech; it’s my sixth one. I love how it handles in any weather; it’s fun to drive; it will do 70 to 80mph [115 to 130km/h]; the stereos are amazing and, in the Caribbean at least, you can land it on a beach.”

King Benji is a nominee at the 2024 World Superyacht Awards

The winners will be announced in Venice between 3 – 4 May

Plunge pools from above

JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIA

JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIA

The Nor-Tech was missing from the vast open deck when I got on board at Dunya Yachts a few months ago – it has since been delivered, ready for action. What was also missing from the freshly painted 47-metre hull was the logo at the stern, a likeness of King Benji, Golder’s beloved dog.

Another passion of his is boats. “We’re up to 14 at the moment,” says Steve Lopez, who’s lent his captain’s knowledge off and on during the project originally conceived as KB6. Golder, who has just become a father, is a driven and energetic forty-something independent thinker, qualities all reflected in King Benji. He looked on the brokerage market for his biggest boat yet but did not find one that ticked enough boxes, Lopez says.

“I felt that this was a flexible size for people to just get out and have a crazy adventure”

Overhead view of King Benji

JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIA

JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIA

One came very close, but it wasn’t for sale – the McMullen & Wing Big Fish, designed by Gregory C Marshall Naval Architect. When it proved impossible to purchase or duplicate (its builder, McMullen & Wing, is out of the yacht-building business), they got in touch with the Victoria-based Canadian naval architect responsible for its design.

Exterior view of King Benji at night

JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIAThe owner’s must-have list included usable outdoor space from the bow to the stern and big windows to take in the environment

JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIAThe owner’s must-have list included usable outdoor space from the bow to the stern and big windows to take in the environment

It was a couple of weeks before the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show when they met, and it sounds as if sparks of inspiration flew. They chatted while looking at various GAs in the 35- to 50-metre range, which revealed Golder’s 10 must-haves. After listening intently, Marshall flipped over a GA and sketched out a profile in ink pen. “Something like that?” he asked. “Exactly that!” Lopez recalls Golder exclaiming.

One came very close, but it wasn’t for sale – the McMullen & Wing Big Fish, designed by Gregory C Marshall Naval Architect. When it proved impossible to purchase or duplicate (its builder, McMullen & Wing, is out of the yacht-building business), they got in touch with the Victoria-based Canadian naval architect responsible for its design.

It was a couple of weeks before the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show when they met, and it sounds as if sparks of inspiration flew. They chatted while looking at various GAs in the 35- to 50-metre range, which revealed Golder’s 10 must-haves. After listening intently, Marshall flipped over a GA and sketched out a profile in ink pen. “Something like that?” he asked. “Exactly that!” Lopez recalls Golder exclaiming.

“It was a five-minute doodle on the day we met him. And it’s crazy to see how similar it is,” says Marshall, looking back on that first meeting. “Every once in a while, you end up with the kind of project that [answers the question] what you would do if you had free rein for the next project. At that time, it was the perfect project, less focused on the interior and more on what you would do with the boat and what fun things you could carry on board,” says Marshall, who is an active boater himself. Golder’s next question for the naval architect was, “So what’s next?”

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Overhead view of the plunge pool on the deck

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JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIA

Exterior of side of boat

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JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIA

Seating area on the deck

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JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIA

King Benji's namesake - the owner's dog

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JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIA

Outdoor dining area

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JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIA

View of boat from side

JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIA

JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIA

The 47-metre hull was freshly painted; custom furniture by Design Unlimited completes the deck (top row). King Benji’s namesake (bottom left). The owner’s full-beam lounge can open for cross ventilation through large windows and doors (bottom right)

Marshall and his team, in constant contact with Golder, worked on the design through the summer of 2019, and construction began at Dunya Yachts, just as the Covid-19 pandemic hit. When I stopped by the yard in late May 2023, the boat was very advanced, but a layout change that made two cabins out of the gym on the lower deck had added a few more weeks to the build.

The gym was part of Golder’s original plan, but with the new addition to his family and a shift in priorities, he decided to make the yacht available for charter – better for everyone, including the crew. Four guest cabins were superior to the initial three in that respect, and the vast open deck, a stylish living area with custom furniture when the toys are in the water, also can serve as a platform for exercise. Although significant, the changes were primarily cosmetic, as plumbing, lighting and air con had already been worked out for two cabins, an indication of the level of detail that went into the planning phase.

“We wanted something that is first class, super detailed but also casual and fun”

Indoor dining and lounge area

JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIA

JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIA

Through all this, the design team and the builder aligned perfectly. “I am a planner,” says Sedat Ergun, Dunya Yachts’ CEO, who worked on big civil engineering projects in the US before creating the family-owned shipyard. He went into it because of his passion for the sea and fell in love with this tough business. The first superyacht the yard built was a 73-metre, the much-lauded Axioma, and one of the late Alberto Pinto’s last yacht interior projects. “If you don’t have a proper budget, then you cannot build that level of quality,” Ergun says. This project appealed to him because of its design and the people involved.

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Indoor soft seating area

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JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIA

Indoor seating area viewed from outside

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JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIA

“A long time ago, I was on board Big Fish,” he says. He remembers thinking, “This is my type of boat – big windows, very functional, not too fancy, it’s very functional. I think I would build it like this.” After several big refits, including confidential projects of high quality, King Benji was an appealing new project. The biggest challenge with it, from Ergun’s perspective, was the gross tonnage requirement – below 500GT. “Everything is so much tighter,” he points out.

Steering wheel of the boat

JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIAThe biggest challenge with it, from Ergun’s perspective, was the gross tonnage requirement – below 500GT

JEFF BROWN - BREED MEDIAThe biggest challenge with it, from Ergun’s perspective, was the gross tonnage requirement – below 500GT

That sub-500GT condition was a must. “I wanted complete flexibility for myself and anyone that’s chartering the boat,” Golder says. It meant no requirements for pilots, for instance, allowing for spur-of-the-moment decisions to cast off any time of day or night. “I felt that this was a flexible size for people to just get out and have a crazy adventure without having the headaches of a larger boat.”