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Newcastle Harbour Island: Big Time Fun

Harbour Island is the largest yacht built in Florida. Not only that, the 180-foot Newcastle is every bit the southern belle and island of fun her owner was hoping for: an expedition-minded yacht with all the amenities of a superyacht.

Harbour Island is the largest yacht built in Florida. Not only that, the 180-foot Newcastle is every bit the southern belle and island of fun her owner was hoping for: an expedition-minded yacht with all the amenities of a superyacht.

If you have never heard of Palatka, you are not alone. This North Florida town near Jacksonville is a bit under the radar. That also seems to be the case of one of the hometown businesses—Newcastle Shipyards. While it is discreet, this American boatbuilder manages to keep quite busy. Last spring, the newly upgraded shipyard was awash in work. After launching the 114-foot yacht Cortina, craftsmen in Palatka were focused on two advanced projects (one 129 feet, the other 149 feet) and metalwork had begun on a 177-foot expedition-style vessel with styling and naval architecture by Vripack, engineering by Murray & Associates and an interior by Andrew Winch Designs. Meanwhile, craftsmen were finishing the 180-foot Harbour Island at Newcastle’s other yard in Palm Coast, about 40 miles down the road. That is where Newcastle’s first yacht was built.

Kevin Keith, whose father already was a boatbuilder, founded Newcastle Marine in 1999 with business partner Lester Miller. They wanted to build sturdy vessels suited for long-distance travel and their first yacht, the 102-foot Newcastle Explorer, lived up to that commitment. Designed by Murray & Associates with interior design by Octavio Rezende of Beverly Hills, Calif., she ventured all the way to Southeast Asia where she survived a tsunami in Thailand’s Patong Bay and cruised Borneo’s Kinabatangan River. Then came another classic expedition yacht, this time a 125-footer with naval architecture by DeJong and Lebet and interior design by Luiz de Basto. The same team was reunited for the design and construction of the 137-foot True North, the flagship of Newcastle’s expedition series. Now named Rusalina, she continues to cruise around the globe, serving as another world ambassador for the low-key shipyard. In 2008, Newcastle merged with Keith Marine (the boatbuilding company that Kevin’s father founded in 1978) and added the shipyard in Palatka.

Newcastle’s reputation for building sturdy long-range vessels and its location in his home state of Florida were factors that attracted Harbour Island’s owner to Newcastle. The owner, who works and plays in Florida, was born into a yachting family. He was seven years old when he got his first boat, a Boston Whaler. One of his parents’ much beloved boats was a 53-foot Hatteras, which the family often cruised to the Bahamas. The captain let him handle the boat, and it whetted his appetite for more. As an adult, he had a successful career in the merger and acquisitions business, but it required extensive travel. Once he started a family of his own, he looked for more balance in his life. His love for yachting pointed him into a new direction, and for a time he owned a major yacht brokerage company. He brought his extensive experience with both the lifestyle and business of yachting to this project.

Charter was always in the plans, and the theme of a private island retreat developed early on. A later decision extended the vessel to 180 feet (55 meters) from the initial design of 164 feet (50 meters). It was a good choice. The extra length gave the yacht an elongated and pleasant tapered look and expansive entertainment spaces on the main and bridge decks, with an appropriate mix of sun and shade.

While the 180-foot Harbour Island has a sleeker look than her expedition sisters, she shares their long-range ability and serious credentials. She is a substantial yacht with an underbelly full of storage, walk-in refrigerators and freezers. With a 34-foot beam, Harbour Island not only is the largest yacht built by Newcastle to date, but at 1,100 gross tons, she also is one of the largest custom yachts built in the United States in recent years.

Designed by Murray & Associates Naval Architects with an interior by Claudette Bonville & Associates of Fort Lauderdale, this yacht comprises five decks of luxury with 10,394 square feet of living spaces—nearly 8,000 indoors. Newcastle built the steel hull and aluminum superstructure. The yacht had her beautiful Awlgrip paint finish, aesthetic metallic details and interior completed when she headed to the Rybovich facility in Palm Beach for a few last-minute touches.

Seen before launch from the shipyard floor, Harbour Island was an awe-inspiring presence. You had to crane your neck to fully appreciate the elegance of her bow rising over the shop floor. But it was only once on board that you could gauge just how spacious she is. The launch followed careful calculations to ensure a perfect slide into the water. And when the big day came last summer, Harbour Island got her first taste of water in Palm Coast. Shortly thereafter, she looked every bit the southern belle as she slowly cruised down the Intracoastal against a backdrop of oaks wrapped in Spanish moss and summer haze.


Harbour Island hits the right notes with top-notch accommodations that include two master suites. The hardest part is choosing between the two. One of the two king-bedded rooms has a private location forward on the main deck with plenty of room for a desk and vanity, walk-in cedar closets and an ensuite bathroom with round Jacuzzi tub; the second master suite is on the upper deck and enjoys 270-degree views, and its ensuite marble bathroom includes an oval bathtub with waterjets. Four roomy lower-deck suites, two with discreet Pullman beds, complete the guest accommodations. With her configuration, the yacht is friendly to couples, families or even a group of guys on a golf outing.

The yacht boasts great ceiling height, especially in the skylounge. Taking advantage of the height (nine-and-a-half feet at the center), the designers created an attractive dome with backlit fabric stretched on frames. A huge screen and projector drop down for movie night, and there is a nice bar in one corner and a game table in another. The classic décor mixes makoré and sapele, an intricate puzzle of architecture details and curves created and installed by Zepsa Industries, but the emphasis is on comfort, with plush sofas and love seats that can be rearranged for theater viewing. The interior is classic, yes, but neutral enough to appeal to a great number of guests. That, says Claudette Bonville, was the point of the design—good bones and structure for owners to tweak according to their personal preferences. The colorful artwork, which she selected or commissioned on behalf of the owner, and the furniture add a light modern touch. But you could go the other way easily by choosing more classic paintings or period furnishings.

Everywhere, the layout lends itself to hosting large parties or more intimate cocktails. The main deck has a nice lounge area, elevated a few inches from the main teak flooring. It is spacious and comfortable, a perfect spot to unwind with a drink before embarking on a cruise or to sit and watch the action around the beach club below. Doors open wide onto a marble foyer with a colorful stone medallion, flanked by shelves, cabinets and a wet bar. The foyer leads to the salon and then a formal dining room with an impressive table for 12 guests. For a formal dinner outdoors, the huge round table on the bridge deck aft will do just fine.

The private sun deck’s Jacuzzi is a nice playground that includes a swim-up bar with four stools. Five chaise lounges aft complement extra-thick sun cushions forward. It’s a private perch with fantastic views.

For more involved watersports, including diving, the yacht has a beach club. The large transom door unfolds to reveal a deck and a garage with teak flooring large enough for two personal watercraft and two tenders. The yacht will also tow a 32-foot Intrepid. A complete dive locker, including the air compressor, is located within easy reach. All decks feature real teak installed by Florida-based Teakdecking Systems.

That is the other quality that Harbour Island demonstrates. While she is clearly geared to the comfort of guests, she is also carefully thought out on the technical side. The tank deck, for instance, provides access to walk-in refrigerators and freezers, stabilizers, generators and a large laundry room. There is another washer/dryer set near the swim platform. No matter how many dips they take, guests will never run out of dry towels.

At first glance the galley may seem small for a yacht this size, but it has a very practical layout with a cooking area for the chef and sous-chef as well as a dishwashing area and pantry area closest to the dining room. Refrigerators take up minimum space here. A food cart, stored near the elevator, makes it easy to get supplies as they are needed from the larger food stores on the tank deck. Crew (up to 14) can access guest areas easily. Their quarters, nicely finished, are split over two decks, with two cabins forward on the main deck. The captain has his own cabin with large bed and a big window, within easy reach of the bridge.


The generous engine room, with a soundproofed room for the engineer, is split over two levels, including the mezzanine built to provide easy access to all systems. The functional bridge with ship office and leaning post has great views through vertical windows that visually complement the ones surrounding the master suite one deck below. Built to ABS class and in compliance with the full MCA code, this yacht has transatlantic range. Top speed is 15 knots and cruising speed is 12 knots. Fuel burn is about 65 gallons an hour at that speed.

The owner took us on several complete tours of the vessel before her unveiling. He has plans to take a few pleasure cruises with the family, perhaps to the island that is the yacht’s namesake, but ultimately the yacht is available for charter and for sale. That was always part of the plan.

The appealing yacht, docked along an inside slip, loomed large over much smaller boats around her at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, and she created quite a buzz. We caught up with Kevin Keith, who was at the show with his son Nick, who also works at Newcastle. Keith is rather discreet and more comfortable building boats than discussing them. “We are boatbuilders and that’s what we know best,” he says. This said, he was pleased with the talk on the docks and reported with evident pleasure the kudos he had received from other builders who toured the vessel at the show.
All the buzz that surrounded the debut of Harbour Island should help shed a little more light on Palatka and bring more attention to its industrious homegrown shipyard and its sturdy vessels. ■

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LOA: 180ft. (55m)
LWL: 161ft. (49.1m)
Beam: 34ft. (10.36m)
Draft: 9ft. 2in. (2.8m)
Construction: Steel hull/aluminum superstructure
Engines: 2 x Caterpillar 2512B @ 1,410 hp each
Generators: 2 x Caterpillar Kilopak 3-phase; 250kW @ 60Hz; 1 x Kilopak 99kW
Speed (max.): 15 knots
Speed (cruising): 12 knots
Fuel capacity: 29,600 gal. (112,036L)
Water capacity: 5,650 gal. (21,385L)
Stabilizers: Quantum QC1200E ZeroSpeed
Bowthruster: Quantum Model QT 150; 150 hp (112kW)
32ft. (9.75m) Intrepid Center Console;
19ft. (5.79m) Novurania;
14ft. 11in. (4.55m) Nautica MCA-approved rescue boat
Naval architecture: Murray & Associates
Interior design: Claudette Bonville & Associates
Builder: Newcastle Shipyards - 2011
Charter management: International Yacht Collection (IYC)
Central agency: IYC
US: Mark Elliott (
Monaco: Kevin Bonnie (