Tatoosh motor yacht underway

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Tatoosh: The secrets of Nobiskrug's 92m superyacht

8 September 2022 • Written by Sam Fortescue

When it comes to adventure, Tatoosh has done it all. Her captains and commissioning owner reveal her secrets to Sam Fortescue

If you don’t recognise Tatoosh from a distance, you probably don’t know yachting.” Captain Richard Hielckert doesn’t mince his words, although it’s a 20-year-old boat he’s talking about. From the 12-metre racing sailing boat she carries as a toy to her classically elegant silhouette and twin helicopters, 92 metre Tatoosh has always stood apart.

But to regard her as old would be a big mistake. Shell doors, a swimming pool, owner apartment, cinema, sauna – Tatoosh is bang up-to-date. “She is a timeless boat that has always been at the forefront,” he continues. “She stands out from the majority of boats that all look the same. There are lots of new boats, but they all look like wedding cakes, with maximum interior on minimum exterior. When those boats sit at anchor, you see them swinging and rolling while Tatoosh is still.”

All images courtesy of Thierry Ameller

After a recent massive refit, this iconic yacht is in better shape than she’s ever been in her life, featuring the latest audiovisual system Omniyon by YachtCloud. At the time of writing, she was also for sale, which explains why broker Burgess hooked me up with some of the key people aboard to find out more. It is a rare glimpse inside a boat that has been owned by two of the most successful figures in IT.

Tatoosh’s story begins in the late 1990s, as her prospective owner’s fortunes rode high on the technology boom. Craig McCaw was in the vanguard of the mobile phone revolution in the US, and his companies sold for billions of dollars to some of the biggest names in telecoms – AT&T and Sprint.

Dual helicopter operations were a cornerstone of Tatoosh’s design, enabling her commissioning owner Craig McCaw to fly multiple groups ashore, welcome new guests by air and maintain a safety margin during remote operations

His vision was for a yacht that would provide the ultimate home away from home for his family and a platform for a really ambitious cruising programme with lots of toys. “Tatoosh should feel gracious like a home and also cosy,” says McCaw as he recounts the trials and tribulations of building her. “She should also feel more beachy than yachty. The philosophy was she should be built around tenders and helicopters.”

Renowned German designer Claus Kusch got the project off the ground. “He was the general contractor who chose how to build her,” recalls Gary Wright, build skipper and project manager for the yacht, and now head of Y.CO. “Claus really was the driving force behind the whole build.” This was in the years before he partnered with the Peters Werft yard and began building on his own account. He selected the booming German yard Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) and work began at its smaller Rendsburg site, known as Nobiskrug.

At first Jon Bannenberg was involved, but he and Kusch did not see eye to eye. “This idea of creating curves and lines that are pretty was anathema to Kusch,” says McCaw. “We’d do everything three times until somehow it got right, but it was a continuous war with Jon.”

Helped by Bastiaan Sonneveld and Joost Beekman, Kusch drew the understated lines and exterior design of Tatoosh, as well as her naval architecture below the waterline. Kusch passed away in 2004, after the project was delivered, but he was adamant that the yacht should be built primarily around the requirements of those aboard. “The yacht’s architecture and form develop progressively and conceptually around the functional needs of the guests and crew,”  he said of his design.

What does that mean? Well, Terence Disdale was brought in after Bannenberg to develop a general arrangement that made the best use of the huge 3,229GT of internal volume. And the McCaw family was right at the centre of that plan. They had three young children and wanted their own private space. “After two weeks, the crew and the owner need a little space from each other, so I wanted a galley where I could make some dinner,” says McCaw. “We effectively sectioned it off. The kids could be below with  the parents and the next level could be the  sky lounge with the observation lounge.”

It was a two-storey apartment within the yacht. The owner’s cabin, two big en suites for the children and a galley lay downstairs, with a private lobby upstairs giving access to a huge observation lounge with its own pantry, a gym and the owner’s office. “Terry has a real gift for floor plans,” says McCaw. “While his role was not large, it was seminal.” On his watch, the space allocated to the pool grew, pushing the boat from her original 89 metres out to more than 92 metres. “We ended up stretching Tatoosh because the beach area and the pool got too short.”

Tatoosh has bulletproof 66mm triple laminate glass windows and Kevlar padded walls. It was augmented by a security detail for a few expeditions

The London-based designer is typically modest when it comes to describing his role in the project. “Walls, floors, ceilings, lighting, sockets,” he says, as if he were a glorified handyman. “I did a certain amount of detailing in the bathroom.” In reality, he set the tone for the look and feel of the interior, with its panelled white ceilings, expressive parquet floors and almost architectural use of dado rails and mitred wooden profiles.

Tatoosh is rich and refined – yet has an inviting, kick-your-shoes-off casualness that feels absolutely right on a yacht,” he adds. “Every single element of the structure and interior decoration must be considered: absolutely nothing was designed on a whim. The positioning of windows, for instance, is determined by what goes on within; the dining room windows are lined up with the centre of  the dining table.”

Terence Disdale and US interior designer Thomas Achille were responsible for the boat’s classical but cosy interior. Spaces were designed for the family’s enjoyment, and lend a homely feeling, although there is plenty of formal splendour, such as the dining room

Many of the interior fittings were actually selected by American designer Thomas Achille, who had also worked on several of McCaw’s properties. Furnishing is an eclectic mix of vintage, curio and antique – in line with  McCaw’s fondness for buying at auction. You see  vivid, glossy rattan work and Chippendale armchairs; a real stone hearth (complete with poker and tongs) and elegant Georgian occasional tables; campaign-style chairs and lattice-fronted wardrobes.

“At the beginning, we started looking at catalogues to buy antique pieces,” Achille says. “But most of the furniture you see is reproduction. Craig is not one to gravitate towards super luxury glitzy stuff – he’s a very unassuming gentleman. But he is American and loves America. We decided we were going to give him an American home on the ship, and that’s what we did.”

Colours are mostly conservative, neutral – drawn from the natural materials used. Achille really liked to play with texture, though, so there were grass cloth hangings and chenille fabric, leathers and grained wood. There is also a lot of art, curated by McCaw.

On the walls, there are huge flags behind glass – keepsakes from previous adventures – Japanese prints and a host of eye-watering art. “The owners made several visits to auctions and art houses – they were big collectors,” says Wright. “We were all very lucky to find ourselves surrounded by very good reproductions of original pieces of art they had in their homes.  I had a wonderful van Gogh in my captain’s cabin. Luckily I knew it wasn’t real!”

Architectural styling dominates the vast owner’s suite, which forms part of a two-deck apartment, sectioned off from the rest of the boat

There are other features that mark Tatoosh out, such as her dedicated wine storage and the five-metre by four-metre heated pool with contra-jets and rising floor on the main deck. Nobody had ever thought of putting a big swimming pool on the aft deck before, but Tatoosh built on Kusch’s earlier work, such as on Leander G.

Toys were another major focus for the design team. A whole deck has been christened “the boat deck” and with good reason. Davits that are elegantly worked into the exterior lines of the boat hold a Germán Frers-designed daysailer called Julia and Chase, a gorgeous custom Hinckley Talaria tender. The Frers racer is 13 metres of composite wizardry with a lifting bulb keel, aimed at getting out for a satisfying burn around the anchorage. Speed is also the essence of the Hinckley, which can manage over 30 knots with its twin 420hp diesels powering Hamilton jet drives. More importantly, it makes a handy overnighter for the owner.

“We used Chase for picnics and the like,” remembers McCaw. “It’s very healthy for both the owner and the guests to be able to have space, even if you are in relatively remote areas. Julia  is pretty complex and she’s quick. There’s something beautiful about getting away from all the machinery in sailing – the sweetness of how you can get in and join the coast.”

McCaw was also a keen pilot. The main helipad is high up aft on the bridge deck, and it includes a bunkering station drawing on tanks of 7,000 litres – enough to keep the aircraft flying for days. It features a so-called harpoon grid to make it easier to touch down in heavy weather. And there’s another touch-and-go helipad on the deck above, slightly forward.

“The double helideck was really about having friends to come and visit so you could move yours out of the way,” says McCaw. “It was much more of the Wild West back then with helicopters – you could use them much more widely. The helideck could also be used for tenders.”

It was all part of a philosophy of yachting that meant everything aboard got used. “The order of  the day was to have at least two helicopters  aboard,” remembers Wright. “A Twin Otter would follow us around, so I’d normally be setting out a mooring for the seaplane.”

A well-equipped dive centre rounds out the yacht’s capabilities. There’s an industrial model Bauer compressor and a fill station that can refill four tanks simultaneously; there’s even a nitrox refilling station for deeper dives. It’s all located around the beach club, where a shell door on the starboard quarter creates a dedicated dive lobby. There’s also a hot tub, sauna and an expansive  bar down here.

With great plans to circumnavigate at leisure, Tatoosh was fitted with some unusual security features. McCaw mentions bulletproof glass and Kevlar armour padding behind walls throughout the superstructure. “We didn’t embed rockets in the hull because we were afraid one might go  off, but we had full British armoury in case the worst should happen in the Straits of Malacca,” McCaw says with a wry smile.

There was also an eight-strong contingent of Gurkhas among the crew – a real novelty at the time in the mainly Anglo-Saxon world of yachting. “Every one of them was fabulous,” says McCaw. They could also strip down an M50 automatic weapon in seconds and put together a mean curry for the weekly Nepalese food night.

The pool on the main deck measures four by five metres and features a rising floor and glass portholes looking into the beach club below

Tatoosh was finally delivered in summer 2000 as the world’s 12th-largest private yacht. She wasted no time getting on with the job of cruising. First it was Finland, Sweden, Denmark, then back out of the Baltic and down to the Mediterranean. In the autumn, she cruised out to the West Indies and on to Panama.

McCaw has a particularly fond memory of reaching St Petersburg. Foreign-flagged vessels weren’t allowed onto the city’s waterways, but they bribed a local official to allow the 11-metre tender through. “We managed to talk our way into taking the boat into the canals at  60 to 70 knots with a giant Russian flag up. Blasting through the canals – I will never forget it. It is the closest to James Bond I will ever be.”

But in the dying days of 2001, the tech bubble burst and the McCaws made the heart-wrenching decision to give up the yacht they had invested so much energy in building. They reached a deal with fellow technology billionaire Paul Allen of Microsoft, which saw the boat pass into his ownership, but gave them time aboard for four more years. “Paul saw no need to change anything – just one room,” says McCaw.  “The crew loved having someone on board who knew more about the boat than they did. There was no diminished magic for us.”

Just one of Paul Allen’s yachts, Tatoosh has nevertheless been exceptionally well looked after, with regular refits culminating last winter in her detailed 20-year survey at Kusch Yachts on the River Elbe in Germany. All her engineering has been overhauled and serviced, and the boat has been repainted above and below the waterline.

In her life to date, the boat has toured Africa, the Middle East, the Indian Ocean, the Far East and South East Asia. “Looking at the cruise folder, she’s been all over the world,” says Captain Hielckert. “We were preparing a trip up the Amazon, but unfortunately that never happened. We did visit Fernando de Noronha, a really special island off the Brazilian coast – not many people have been there.”

With robust German construction, Tatoosh is the match of anything the oceans can throw at her. She’s ridden quietly at anchor through 70-knot gusts and traversed big seas. “The hull is not ice-classed, but she can go more or less everywhere,” Hielckert says proudly. And, he adds, "she’s ready to go!”

First published in the September 2022 issue of BOAT International. Tatoosh is now under new ownership.

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