Recently, I’ve had a string of bad luck with South Florida weather. The past few times I’ve been on the water there, the skies have opened up, the seas turned snotty, and I’ve been subsequently drenched by quarter-size raindrops. Although this doesn’t bother me so much—moderate chop’s good for a sea trial—I prefer not to be in a constant state of panic about keeping our plethora of electronic test gear bone dry.
Finally my luck changed, and I had a day I’ll remember for a long time, especially the next time I have to face strong thunderstorms and steady eight-footers. Copious sunshine played off a pod of dolphins surfing our chase boat’s wake and we saw the occasional tarpon rising in flashes of brilliant silver in an azure Biscayne Bay. Best of all, I was aboard a special lady: American Custom Yachts’ (ACY) new 72-foot Yellowbird.
I generally approach a sea trial with some skepticism, as every builder will tell you their boats are the most seaworthy, comfortable, beautiful, and fuel-efficient on the seas. But after spending the day on Yellowbird, I’ve pictured myself at her wheel, relaxing in her saloon, or even turning wrenches in her engine room. I’ve envisioned her stern-to at a dock on my hometown’s Navesink River, loaded up for a bluewater fishing excursion to the Hudson Canyon. That’s because her combination of modern interior, big-game-ready cockpit, and impressive speed is pretty close to nirvana for a fishing- and modern-design enthusiast like yours truly.
Yellowbird is a collaboration between ACY and owners Carlos and Rosa De la Cruz, international art collectors and fishing fanatics whose 15,000-square-foot Key Biscayne residence is home to one of the country’s most extensive private collections of modern conceptual art. The couple previously owned a 65-foot production battlewagon but needed something bigger, and, as Carlos put it, “I thought I’d get a kick out of working with a custom builder.”
In addition to more LOA, the De la Cruzes sought more control over the boat’s interior that what was offered by a production boatbuilder. A boat’s interior generally follows two routes of design, Carlos explained, one that adheres to the tradition that was established in the Golden Age of boating, and the other based on European interiors popularized by yachts from Azimut, Ferretti, etc. The 72 follows neither of these and instead carves its own design path. “The interior of Yellowbird is [inspired] by the Bauhaus school,” he said, referring to the German avant-garde art and design school whose synthesis of art and architecture with an emphasis on functionality has infused itself in the work of such masters as Mies van der Rohe.
This was evident to me immediately upon entering the saloon via the electronically actuated door, as the 72’s design is miles away from a typical battlewagon interior, be it production or custom. The odes to billfish and overtly masculine color schemes are largely absent, replaced by a saloon that looks and feels more like a New York City loft profiled in a slick interior-design magazine than a hardcore sportfisherman.
It’s gorgeous. Furniture designed by architect Eero Saarinen complements an L-shape settee to port that’s finished with Knoll upholstery, a company whose architecturally inspired furniture and fabric collections can be found in the Museum of Modern Art. Ceramics, light fixtures, and fabrics are all one-of-a-kind, custom-made for Yellowbird by well-known conceptual artists. These furnishings provide a nice contrast to the honey, grain-matched teak in the galley and dinette. Overall, the feeling is open and spacious, with the galley boasting sparkling, high-end brands like Gaggenau, Fisher & Paykel, and Philippe Starck.
The emphasis on function that’s a central theme of Bauhaus makes its presence well known in Yellowbird’s true intentions: raising fish. A 200-square-foot, teak-sole cockpit feels as big as a battlefield (the full-size BlueWater fighting chair seems lost) and is well equipped for fighting big game. Its stowage capabilities are impressive: The stainless steel-lined, in-sole fishbox with ice machine and port-side bait freezer have a combined area of 46 cubic feet, more than enough for a few flats of ballyhoo and a bounty of 100-pound-class yellowfins. (Her flying bridge boasts two more stainless steel-lined freezers with a combined capacity of 25 cubic feet.) Amenities such as a refrigerated bait tray, 60-gallon livewell, ‘fridge with room for several cases of beverages, 33-inch transom door, a total of 18 rod holders, and 44-foot Rupp quad-spreader outriggers ensure anglers will have all they need for their pelagic pursuits.
A dead-calm Biscayne Bay didn’t yield much of a challenge for Yellowbird. In fact, the biggest chop she faced was her own wake. But she sure was fast and an absolute blast to drive. With the twin 2,000-hp MTU 16V 2000s at WOT, the 72 averaged 42.5 mph at 2350 rpm, and her Hynautic hydraulic steering was tight and responsive—a hard turn to port and back to starboard had her dancing on her chines with the balance of a ballerina.
If we had faced rough conditions, her stout construction suggests that she would’ve handled it well. (On her shakedown cruise to Turks & Caicos, Capt. Cameron McDowell claims he maintained a steady 24 knots in a six-foot head sea with nary a problem.) Yellowbird is a cold-molded, wooden boat, built keel-up on a steel jig. Her fir stringers are wrapped diagonally and vacuum-bagged with three layers of bruynzeel plywood on the bottom and two layers on the hull sides. The hull is then covered with Kevlar and finished with resin and fairing compound. According to ACY, the toughness of the Kevlar and the vacuum-bagging result in a stronger, lighter hull with better glass-to-resin and strength-to-weight ratios than a foam-cored fiberglass hull.
Back at the dock, I was skirting the borderline for missing my flight back to New York, but I quickly stowed my gear and went right back aboard the 72. Her crew was washing her down, and I stood as long as I could, admiring the teak cockpit. In the saloon, McDowell was making arrangements for an upcoming trip.
“Next time you’re down this way, we gotta go fishing,” he said.
"Sounds good to me," I responded casually, although I could hardly contain my excitement. I smiled as I thought about my good fortune; now all I gotta do is figure out a way to get back aboard this one-of-a-kind beauty.
American Custom Yachts
none, custom boat
Bausch tuna tower; Furuno FR2127 Black Box radar, FR1932MKII SC-60 satellite compass, and RD-30 depthsounder; Northstar 6000i chartplotter; 3/ Seabrook 18” LCD monitors; Icom M602 and M502 VHFs; Simrad AP22 and AP25 autopilots, EQ60 color sounder; Sea Tel 4003 KU Broadband Marine Communications System; Rupp 44’ quad-spreader outriggers; 2/Mila Epochs teaser reels; 2/2,000-gpd watermakers; 2/25-kW Northern Lights gensets; 2/ 48,000-Btu Aqua Air chilled-water A/C; Gaggenau 4-burner cooktop; Kitchen Aid microwave/convection oven; Fisher & Paykel dishwasher; 2/ Sub-Zero drawer-style refrigerator and freezer; GE trash compactor; Viking 3-cu.-ft. beverage station; Miele T1570C washer/dryer; 50” Pioneer Elite plasma TV, VSX-55txi Surround Sound receiver, DV47Ai DVD/CD player; 3/ Zenith 23” LCD TV in staterooms; 4/ NAD L70 DVD/CD players in staterooms; Sharp Aquos 30” LCD TV in master; custom upholstery, furniture, and fabrics by Knoll and Jorge Pardo
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/ 2,000-hp MTU 16V 2000 M91 diesel inboards
- Transmission/Ratio: ZF 255A/2.03:1
- Props: 41”x48” 6-blade SoftCav
- Price as Tested: not available
This article originally appeared in the October 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.