The hands-on rebirth of a do-it-yourself sailing superyacht.
If there’s anything in the annals of yachting worthy of the biblical tale of Lazarus, it’s the story of a 150-foot (45.72-meter) sailing yacht called Zeus. Born of an Englishman’s hubristic dream in the 1990s of building—on his own—what was then the world’s largest sloop, the yacht briefly flared in the public consciousness, both for the way she was constructed and for some of her world-class features. Her 175-foot (53.34-meter) mast, for example, was the world’s tallest up to that time. Then she dimmed to obscurity until, in 2002, she was found—forlorn, dismasted and wasting away—on the banks of the Miami River.
That was when an Israeli yacht captain named Eyal Ben Zvi happened to pass by and thought it would make a good refit project for some fellow Israelis he knew who wanted to get into yachting. Zeus had been sold years before, but the new owner was unable to finance the yacht’s costs and it had gone into foreclosure. Ben Zvi spent the next several years prying the yacht loose from a financial straightjacket. In 2005, with the family’s backing, he purchased the yacht at auction. Just getting the vessel up to the Rybovich yacht yard in West Palm Beach, Fla., where it would be refitted, was a major logistical challenge. Tugboats towed the hull, while the long mast and boom were put on another barge, inching along the narrow river and under bridges during the three-day project.
Renamed Milo, after the grandmother of one of the owners, the refit became a long on-again/off-again project that took more than six years, the last two years under Ben Zvi’s direction as project manager. Completed in 2012, the yacht is, in many ways, superior to the original. The five-stateroom interior has a clean, comfortable and contemporary feel, and the new owners replaced virtually all of the systems and electronics with state-of-the-art equipment. The yard considerably strengthened the rigging holding the huge mast, and Gianni Brill, the captain, says the yacht is fun to sail. “It has a lot of power,” he says, “definitely fast.”
One of the interesting ironies of the yacht is that for both the original builder and the new owners, it was largely a do-it-yourself project. Zeus was created by Angus Robertson, a dedicated British sailor who spent $20 to $30 million and four years transforming a 130-foot David Pedrick–designed Brazilian-built wood hull into his dream yacht. He directed the project himself using a slew of local subcontractors, adding another 20 feet to the stern and designing a unique helm platform that lifted hydraulically up a 20-foot radar arch so he could see over the salon house that obstructed his view forward.
Zeus held a number of records that made her one of the most interesting yachts built up to that time. She was the world’s largest sloop-rigged yacht; the $1.2 million mast was the longest single piece of carbon fiber; the keel was the largest ever constructed; the spade runner was also the world’s largest; the Lewmar jib sheet winches were the biggest the company had built up to that time. The sails could be controlled by one man from the helm, a common feature now on major sailing vessels, but at that point was innovative. The North sails themselves totaled 7,600 square feet and could power the boat up to 15 knots in a 15-knot wind and up to 25 knots off the wind. Typical of Robertson’s approach to the build was the way he created the Pedrick-designed 74-ton wing keel, hollowed out to hold extra diesel fuel. He scrounged around local scrap yards to find the lead, rented smelting pots to melt the metal and spent 10 days overseeing the process of pouring the lead into the form on a dock in Dania.
The interior design was intensely personal—a gaudy, baroque mixture of tasseled fabrics, brocaded curtains, oriental carpets and period furniture that sometimes overwhelmed visitors. Major effort went into the circular master bed, which rotated and was placed on gyroscopic gimbals that kept it level no matter how far the vessel heeled. The VIP bathroom, one of 10 heads and three Jacuzzis on board, had a solid mahogany bathtub.
Claudette Bonville, a prominent yacht interior designer, was brought in by the owners to put together the new interior. Touring the decaying, florid rooms stunned her. “It was like a ghost ship,” she recalls. “It was like something out of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ We called it the ‘Black Pearl’ around the office.”
The owners were fascinated with the yacht’s history and unusual features, and a lot of effort went into finding craftsmen who had worked on the original build. But they had never taken on a project like this, and they discovered that the yacht’s overall decay created a whole set of unanticipated problems that added to the refit time. “We were doing it ourselves,” says a member of the family. “We were looking to have everything right and correct.…We paid a lot of attention to details, and those things take a long time.” About the interior: “I wanted something that would please everyone’s eye. I didn’t want it to look American, rich, gaudy.…I wanted it to appeal to everyone.”
Bonville was instructed to design an attractive, almost generic, interior. The result is a very clean, bright look highlighted by cherry woods, white walls and blue accents.
Some awkward features of the original interior were changed to make it more livable. The dining table, for instance, had been placed in the forward lower house, where the mast column forced diners to lean forward and speak around the column. Now the dining areas include seating for eight outside just under the radar arch and a coffee table in the aft portion of the salon that rises and expands for meals inside. The owners converted the lower house to a lounge and bar area. They removed the round master bed in favor of a more standard king-size berth. The owners totally reconfigured the galley and added a dayhead nearby. The mahogany bath in the VIP is gone and the hollowed-out keel no longer holds diesel fuel.
Milo was finished in March 2012 and the owners sailed her across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean for the summer season. Although meant primarily for private use, the yacht is listed with Northrop & Johnson for charter. While there are five staterooms (two VIPs and three guest cabins with double berths), one cabin can be used either for guests or additional crew to supplement the normal complement of seven. Water toys include a 22-foot (6.7-meter) Century tender that is towed behind, windsurfers, snorkel gear, a Sea-Doo underwater scooter, paddleboards and more.
For the family who now owns the yacht, the refit required a lot of patience and a huge learning curve, but they found the result worthwhile. Even the stresses of the long, drawn-out rebuild didn’t faze them.
“I didn’t expect to like and enjoy it as much as I did,” said one family member intimately involved with the project. When the sails are up and the boat is silent, he added, it all became worth the trouble. “That’s the greatest pleasure of the whole boat: You’re outside, you have a drink, you just relax and there’s no noise going into the wind, and that’s the way we enjoy it.”