A couple’s romantic idea to revive a classic yacht into a floating hotel has turned into a committed relationship. It looks like their love affair with Sea Breeze III is set to last.
A photo from 2018, on the day that Charlotte Devereux and Simon Greenwood first visited 32-metre Sea Breeze III, shows excited smiles. “We had no idea what lay ahead,” says Greenwood. “If we had, I don’t think we’d have gone for it, no way.”
Both had grown up in yachting families, and Greenwood’s career includes a stint as grinder during New Zealand’s first America’s Cup “Kiwi Magic” challenge in 1987. Even so, the complexities and cost of refitting a classic wooden superyacht took them by surprise. “It’s certainly been a journey,” he says.
But, back to the beginning. Entrepreneurs Devereux and Greenwood had hatched the idea of purchasing a yacht and turning it into a boutique floating hotel. On the hunt for a boat that had beautiful lines, plenty of space and a great history, they soon discovered Sea Breeze III in Brisbane. Built in 1976 by Australian yard Millkraft for businessman Keith Williams, she later became superyacht owner Graeme Hart’s first Ulysses. During his ownership, in the 1990s, Hart undertook a lot of work, which included a stern extension and the addition of a third rudder. He changed the name to Sea Breeze III when he sold her.
They liked what they saw – the classic lines, the cosy spaces, the marble and a gold-plated washbasin in the dayhead, plus the history, and so three months after they spotted her, Devereux and Greenwood bid on the yacht through an online auction – a nail-biting experience to the end, when they were the final bidders. “It was incredibly exciting, but we were also filled with trepidation,” says Devereux.
After they sailed her to Auckland, getting to know her, it was time to get to work. “We’d developed a comprehensive business plan for a unique charter offering, looking towards the America’s Cup in Auckland in 2021,” says Greenwood.
The interior was in major need of a refresh – something Devereux, as an interiors enthusiast, was itching to get stuck into – and a lot of work was required to bring her into compliance with modern-day classification rules. The couple enlisted the help of naval architect John Harrhy and specialist wooden boat surveyor Cory Ward and plans were made for a five-month refit.
“The main brief was that the boat needed to go commercial and be brought up to modern survey standard,” says Harrhy. “Standards these days are quite sharp compared to when she was built, but luckily it was possible to convert her.”
Major tasks were to ensure the wooden hull could be brought up to the necessary structural standard and that the engine room could meet modern fire safety provisions. “She also needed to meet up-to-date subdivision requirements, which meant that a larger collision bulkhead would be required at the bow – this presented the need to change the forward accommodation layout and rebuild the foredeck,” Harrhy adds. To suit their charter goals, the couple also wanted to maximise the number of passengers that the yacht could safely carry at any one time.
Sea Breeze III arrived at specialist refit yard Oceania Marine in Whangārei in August 2019. “We worked very closely with Simon and Charlotte, and discussions on issues, targets and project developments were flowing almost daily,” says Brad Hall, project manager at Oceania Marine. “Simon made himself very available and wanted to be kept in the loop as much as possible.”
Inevitably, as work progressed, new issues were uncovered and the refit lengthened. Then, in March 2020, Covid-19 hit. “The timing could not have been worse, and I won’t lie and pretend we didn’t wonder if there was any point even completing the refit if we didn’t have customers for our charter business due to the borders being closed for the foreseeable future,” says Devereux. “Scaffolded on the hard of the yard, Sea Breeze III looked like a sad Christmas present that had been left under the tree and nobody wanted to unwrap.”
The couple decided not to give up on their love affair with the yacht and work resumed as lockdowns eased, a short refit now a dream of the past. The significant job list included upgrading old wiring, replacing generators and a water maker, installing a new life raft on the flybridge, plus a full interior overhaul and reconfiguration of the crew quarters. In addition, approximately four metres of the upper aft deck were removed, redesigned and strengthened before being reinstalled to allow the boat to host group events and to increase shelter on the deck below.
Of course, the work also called for an extensive paint job and new teak.“The redesign and construction of the aft upper deck was one of the bigger jobs as the owners wanted to have the ability to run charters with large guest numbers while also keeping the aft lower deck as open as possible,” says Hall. “This meant that we couldn’t simply add additional vertical supports and, instead, we had to turn to composite pillars and a composite ring frame around the aft edge of the deck.”
“Charlotte and Simon never baulked at what had to be done. They just committed to it and got on with it,” says Harrhy. “They had a good attitude and always said, ‘It’s possible, we’ll do it,’ even if we’re not sure how.”
Towards the end of the refit at the close of 2020, Devereux and Greenwood increased their involvement to the point of taking over as project managers, working with the yard team to get the project finished in time for the America’s Cup. That had always been the goal. “Our family became our crew, with all our kids working alongside us at the yard over the Christmas holidays,” says Devereux. “My youngest daughter painted the anchor chain with friends and family sanding, as well as 40 other people working on the boat at the same time.”
They finished the refit in March 2021, with just days to spare before their first charter. As they steamed through the night from Whangārei to Auckland, the couple worked like crazy to get her ready to host their first guests. “I was fighting back seasickness while making up cabins and unpacking the treasures I had collected over the last 18 months, ready for this moment,” says Devereux. “It wasn’t quite the way I imagined it, but I did still manage a few glasses of champagne!”
Finally, only a day before the first charter, the yacht was officially “in survey”. The impossible had been achieved. But after all the work to get to that point, there was no time to rest. The charter schedule was looking busy. “Talk about being thrown in at the deep end,” says Greenwood.
Sea Breeze III, which is marketed under the brand Boutique Superyachts, can host six guests overnight, with a master cabin and two twins, and is licensed for day charters for up to 99 guests. It hosted that many during the America’s Cup events.
The interior is a real source of pride for Devereux, who loved making her mark by creating an appealing blend of old and new that pays homage to the yacht’s heritage. “It’s a blend of mid-century modern and Hollywood Regency, with a touch of nautical influence,” she says. The finds she made in antique and vintage stores dot the interior, while luxurious fabrics by Pierre Frey, Mariaflora and Manuel Canovas complement silk wallpaper from Chivasso and the original teak panelling. Cushions made from a Japanese silk kimono add to the vintage effect.
Much of the original furniture was kept and overhauled and the entire yacht was recarpeted in a bold print made from recycled fishing nets. “Initially the interior scheme was going to be all nautical creams and blues, but then I thought, why not add some colour in,” says Devereux. “I’m sure some people think it’s a bit over the top, but I decided I was going to do something a little bit different and it’s now quite feminine, especially in the bedrooms with the pinks and lilacs.”
At the time of writing, it is winter in New Zealand, and the couple are enjoying a well-earned rest on board between charters – perfect timing for reflecting on the journey that brought them to this point. The course of true love never did run smooth, but when it comes to lessons learned, Greenwood reflects, “Next time we would buy a yacht already in survey.”
“But,” Devereux adds, “we’ve gone through so much that we have a special tie to her because it’s been such an emotional journey. She’s home to us now and we can’t imagine ever selling her.”