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Johnson 79: As They Like It

With their Johnson 79, this Florida couple redefines the notion of semi-custom.

With their Johnson 79, this Florida couple redefines the notion of semi-custom.

Photos Forest Johnson

The transcendent Johnson 79 yachtfish Seven D’s has all the trappings of a yacht twice her size. It is a veritable mini-superyacht. Its build is the story of a determined couple that tenaciously and persuasively pushed a production boatyard to the absolute limit.


“We wanted an ocean-prowling beast capable of heavy seas—safe and practical inshore and offshore—but also a luxurious sportboat for fishing and family activities,” says the husband. “We did not want to lay a keel or start from scratch, so were looking for a builder who would work with us to reconfigure an existing mold.”

Having owned a series of increasingly larger boats, including a Wellcraft, a Sea Ray and a Tiara, the couple was equipped with plenty of practical boating experience and knew what they were looking for as they traded up.

“We wanted a composite boat that would be a compilation of designs,” he says. “Perhaps it would have the cockpit of an 80-foot Viking, but a front end that looked more like a sleek Italian yacht.”

The boat had to have a wide beam, four superior staterooms, a dayhead accessible to the cockpit, abundant power and ample fishing capacity. It also needed plenty of storage space for a wide variety of big-game fishing gear. The most inviolate criterion, though, was the boat could not exceed 78 feet 4 inches so that it could fit behind their house. (It ended up having two inches to spare.)

They traveled to a dozen well-known builders all over the world.

“Everybody could build their boat for us, but no one would build us our boat,” says the husband.


While on reconnaissance, they came upon a Johnson-built brokerage boat that had exterior lines similar to those they were seeking, and the interior volume that could work if they changed the layout.

“We wanted a clean, spacious contemporary feel inside with high ceilings and lots of light,” says the wife.

One of their problems with the Johnson was that the main helm was inside, and it cut the interior off from natural light. They flew to the Johnson yard in Taiwan and met with Edward Huang and Frank Chyan, principals of the company, to see what they could work out. Johnson had never built a custom boat, but the builder agreed to terms and a build time of 14 months. One requirement was to have twin 1,800-horsepower MAN diesels. Johnson representatives were not sure the boat could accommodate engines that big, but encouraged the couple to meet with designer Bill Dixon. They flew to Dixon’s studio in Southampton, U.K., and discussed their vision for their boat. Dixon re-drew the plans for them from stem to stern, working within the parameters of the original mold and maintaining structural integrity.

Countless changes were made to the original boat. The top deck was cut off, a retractable hardtop was created and the main helm was relocated to the flybridge. They added a discreet secondary helm below. Rerouting hydraulic and electrical cables to one side elevated the entire ceiling, creating more headroom and volume. A country kitchen with seating for 16 replaced a small galley.

To create more room in the main salon, the dayhead was repositioned as far aft as it could go, and the salon couch was moved three feet forward to gain even more space. Skylights were installed in all the staterooms except the master suite where deck prisms were utilized to bring in light, but afford privacy.


The couple specified the air-conditioning ducts be concealed in the coffered molding around the overheads throughout the boat.

“We have the ability to think in 3-D,” the husband says. “We utilized space that others might not know exists. We studied the plans and looked at every nook and cranny to uncover hidden volume. We had the builders move wall facings and unnecessary joinery to create additional interior space. All 90-degree corners and sharp edges were eliminated and replaced with rounded radii.”

Taking charge of the interior décor, they had the wall and overhead coverings manufactured with a unique textured shagreen material in a pearl color that simulates the markings on the belly of a stingray. They used anigré throughout the boat and were impressed with the yard’s superb joinery and finishes, which included 17 coats of lacquer.

They hired an onsite project manager, but were hands-on with every decision, traveling to the yard 17 or 18 times. Through the course of the build, they gathered unique interior materials from all over the world: San Pietro, Italy; Cebu in the Philippines; Hanoi; and many places in Burma. They hand-picked all the marble and onyx. The detail is breathtaking. For instance, the sinks in the dayhead were custom-painted to match the spectacular turquoise-and-pink marble. They used onyx in the galley and, for the salon, they found a slab of unique, translucent marble from Tanzania. They designed the stained glass in the galley with a scene of sunflowers to contrast the seascape.

“The builders really thought we were crazy when we required seven different colors of grout for our stained-glass mosaic,” the wife says. In order to have a large master with a walk-in closet, they did away with one of the guest bathrooms. Defending their decision, they said, “We spend a lot of time with our family,” says the wife. “We have five kids and nine grandchildren, but we faced the fact that they would be coming and going and we would be there most of the time.”


The boat name, Seven D’s, is a play on the seven core family members, plus a pun-intentional nod to a special birthday. Concessions were made for the grandchildren having to do with safety and entertainment. There are high gunwales and safety rails everywhere. One area created especially for recreation was a sunpad on the flybridge, under the curved windows. It has become a play area for the children and a comfortable lounging space for the adults.

Since safety was of paramount importance, they made a point of having electronics with built-in redundancy. While they are hands-on owners, they prefer to run the boat with a full-time captain and mate.

Midstream in the build, they decided they wanted fishing chairs in the cockpit. Once the engines were in, there was some concern that there might be too much weight aft. Working with Dixon, they discovered some open space in the transom and added more ballast to create additional stability. The boat rides extremely well. Top speed is 26 knots, and cruising speed is in the 18- to 20-knot range. If they run at 10.5 knots they can go 500 to 600 miles on a 1,600-gallon tank of fuel.


Upon delivery of the boat, they traveled to the Bahamas, as far east as San Salvador, fishing for wahoo, yellowfin tuna, mahimahi and red snapper. “We fish for sport or food,” the wife says. “If we don’t eat it, we release it. Sometimes we tag fish.”

Not fully retired, but having the flexibility to take more time away from their business, they built the boat to enable extended excursions. They spent this past summer in Alaska. From there, they planned to make their way south, stopping along the California coast, on to Mexico and eventually through the Panama Canal. They have some specific long-range plans but are also taking advantage of having the time, means and mode to be spontaneous.

“If we love a place, we’ll stay,” says the husband.

And that is the beauty of having a having a boat just the way they like it.

For more information: 954 401 4428;


LOA: 78ft. 2in. (23.8m)
Beam: 21ft. (6.4m)
Draft: 6ft. 4in. (1.93m)
Displacement: 75 tons
Construction: composite
Engines: 2 x 1,800-hp MAN
Speed (max./cruising): 26 knots/18 knots
Fuel: 1,600 gal. (6,056.7L)
Water: 350 gal. (1,324.9L)
Builder: Johnson Yachts Company Ltd