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Mega-yachts, Big money, Cool Toys & Technology.

Evolution of tech in the private yachting community.

The motor-yacht Mystique

1987. I started my glorious boating career back in high school when I worked as a dock-boy at Robinhood Marine Center on the coast of middle Maine. I even remember our coast guard call sign to this day. WHF938, or Whiskey Hotel Foxtrot 938. Those summer days were spent fueling owners boats, renting out dock space or moorings to overnight water travelers, and drinking  Sunkist soda.

The following summer I went to work for Casco Bay Yacht Exchange in Freeport, Maine. It was, and still is, a previously-owned boat sales and service yard. We had over 200 consignment boats, for sale, on the bulletin board at any given time, and over 50 boats located on the lot for service and for sale. I got most of my education in boating and engine repair here at CBYE and I also used my computer skills to benefit the company.

In 1989, we had a Mac SE with a 10mb external hard drive. I was doing a small amount of bookkeeping by entering the check register into our Mac computer, and then the accountant would take it from there. I also would create the description labels for the boats we had for sale, add a polaroid to it, and post on the wall. There wasn’t much use of the Internet in those days, so marketing was mainly done via word of mouth and in the newspapers.

In 1994, I drove from Colorado to Florida, to interview for a job on a private 91’ motor yacht that was owned by a grocery store mogul in New England. The captain and his wife were in their 60’s and looking for a someone new to the yachting industry in order to teach a newbie their way of doing things. I lived in a small cabin with a TV on board the yacht, and we traveled through the Bahamas, Caribbean, and up the coast to Rhode Island and Nantucket. This was about the time that Loran navigation, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LORAN), using land based radio beacons was being replaced by GPS as the primary technology for navigation. Obviously GPS, using triangulated satellites was more accurate. The military still had control over the original GPS satellites, so the accuracy was roughly 30-50 feet then. Our GPS systems are now accurate to a few feet.

The chart-nav systems were still in their infancy and too expensive for most yacht owners. These systems would display NOAA ocean charts on a screen, and a separate GPS system provided the location overlaid onto the chart image. The charts were originally in raster format, and eventually they were switched to vector format. Raster formatting is like taking a picture of a picture, no matter where you zoom in on the picture, the text size and the image will always look the same. Vector formatting allows the text size, line size, and basically the entire map to reformat itself with each zoom. Its why your smartphone mapping software takes a few extra seconds as you zoom in and out. The charts came on CD-roms and you had to purchase 2 CD’s for about $500, to have the charts for just the East Coast of the US. These days you get the entire world on a small thumb drive.

An example of chartnav software for boating.

All private yachts in the 1990’s had the typical VHF radio’s, short wave radio’s, GPS systems, Loran systems for backup, and radar. Each yacht usually had 2 radar’s in case one died at anytime. The radar system was pretty basic and just showed any vessels and their distance. Calibrating the radar to filter out the ocean waves and rainfall was the most complicated part and had to be re-calibrated on every voyage.

I worked on 2 private yachts around 1995 and quickly left the industry after a very scary trip from the Bahamas back to Fort Lauderdale. It was during the night and the seas were especially rough in the Gulf Stream. We got the crap kicked out of us. Anything that wasn’t secured in the bow of the boat, was tossed all over the place, including the fax machine. oops

I moved back to my home state of Maine to continue my computer and CAD drafting career. In 1997, I received a phone call from my stepbrother, who was currently working on a yacht in the Mediterranean, and playing volleyball on a beach with a few topless ladies. How could I resist his insistence that I return to the yachting community? I quit my job, sold all of my belongings…again, and moved to Florida to look for work on even larger yachts. The bigger the boat, the larger crew that lived on board, and it made for a more social and fun experience. I got work on a 165’ motor yacht, named Mystique. This is a great website showing beautiful interior and exterior pictures of the Mystique: Fraseryachts

It was new age looking yacht with a dark blue hull and sparkling white decks. It had 8500 horsepower of jet engines. Meaning a large diesel engine combined with underwater jet propulsion drives. (I didn’t want you to picture an airplane jet engine on board.) The center motor was 3500hp and provided propulsion only. The 2 wing motors were 2500hp each and provided steering for the yacht. At a top speed of 31 knots or 36mph, only reached with the fuel tanks less than half full, the engines would consume over 250 gallons of fuel per hour. At the cruising speed of 21 knots, the engines consumed 120 gallons per hour. A 18 wheel big rig would meet us at the dock to fill our fuel tanks.

The technology was starting to improve rapidly and this yacht was equipped with 2 of the latest radar units. Each radar had the ability to track multiple targets, and inform you of their speed, heading and the time and distance until point of intersection (POI), if you happened to be on a crossing path. One night, a target showed up on the radar with a SOG (speed over ground) of over 140 knots. It was confusing at first, but we eventually realized it was a low flying aircraft, that was most likely on a drug run in the Bahamas.

This was the first yacht I worked on that had a personal computer on board. It was mainly used for bookkeeping for the captain, and for the crew to send and receive emails. There were a few manufacturers that were selling PC’s designed for use on ocean-going yachts. These PC’s had vibration isolation built into them and sealed cases to prevent salt air from getting in. These ridiculous PC’s were sold for over $4000 a piece, when a normal PC was selling for $1500-2000. Most yachts were large enough to have central air conditioning and heating systems, so the bridge, where the PC was typically located, was not susceptible to salt air issues. In my many years of yachting, I don’t think I ever found a computer that died due to vibration at sea. If the seas were rough, we would shutdown the computer to protect the spinning hard drive.

If we had a phone line on the dock where the yacht was sitting, we would have dial-up Internet access. High speed Internet wouldn’t be pervasive until a few years later so, some of the yachts had a satellite Internet system for use while traveling at sea, and while docked in foreign countries. I passed my 100 ton US Coast Guard Captain’s license exam while on-board the Mystique.

My next yacht that employed me was called ‘Starship’. A crew agency set me up with the interview and the captains first job for me was to climb into the jet propulsion intakes and cut a bunch of ropes off of the drive shafts. The yacht was out of the water at the time. It was 146’ long and had a crew of 9. Captain, 1st Mate, Chief Engineer, Chief Stewardess, 2nd Mate (me), 2 Stewardesses, deckhand and a Chef. We all worked full-time on board.

Motor-yacht StarShip.

The boat carried 4 jet skis, a 16’ tender with 90hp outboard, and we towed a 32’ tender with twin 200hp outboards. We also had a helicopter pad for the Bell 206 JetRanger, which happened to be flown by the captain. This yacht didn’t really have any updated technology compared to Mystique, but it did have a pretty impressive system to monitor the large diesel engines.

I did a few charters with some C-list celebrities and business owners, and the captain also had a pyrotechnics license, so we did some pretty cool fireworks shows from the beaches in the Bahamian Islands. It was my closest experience to understanding military combat, when the captain threw the 250 ball fireworks box on the bonfire and we had to run for our lives down the beach, as one inch balls of hot flame bounced past us. A few months into this job, I dislocated my shoulder playing basketball with another crew member, and that cut my yachting career short. It figured that the very next charter, after my accident, was Puff Daddy, and Jennifer Lopez. Maybe it was a good thing that I never got to meet them.

Part 2 coming tomorrow….. Cheers, Steve.

Disclaimer: All posts are based upon my perceptions. If any of the parties in the post have a different viewpoint, please contact me or comment below. These are just my thought and memories.

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