We are some lucky people in Germany as our lockdown is not as strict as the ones imposed by our neighbouring states like France or Spain. It is still allowed to meet other people – by keeping distance and be aware of other hygienic precautions. So as the first warmer days of this year´s spring appeared and temperatures climbed up, I grabbed the phone and called Matthias Schernikau who – in my world – is one of the luckiest guys I know. Why is that? Well, he owns a Berckemeyer sailing yacht, of course.
When I arrived on his company´s compound, parking my car, a big wide smile appeared on my face: There she was, showing through the windows. The unmistakable mat shine of an aluminium hull. So big that the huge window was filled. Matthias, owner of a company that manufactures special purpose elevators near Hamburg, opened the backdoor and greeted me: Standing there an overall, bearing witness of the loads of work connected to this boat. After all, Matthias works on this yacht for the third year now.
Stepping up the Workforce
“It is tougher than I thought”, he confesses and smiles: The hull of his Berckemeyer BM49 had been built by Yachtwerft Benjamins in the German North Sea-town of Emden in 2018. As Matthias is a skilled metalworker and his own company has all tools and machines at his disposal needed to complete the work, Matthias decided to having the raw hull transported to this place, finishing the boat under his supervision. “Well, I honestly underestimated the amount of work. So I hired a boat builder.” This is when Jörn put out his head of the pilot house and greeted me: “Hi!”, he said and smiled.
Jörn is a skilled boat builder and works almost full time and almost every day on the boat. His task is the internal fitting: A huge work. I know by myself what it means to take accurate measurements and what an elaborate task it is to even make a simple panel fit just fine: Jörn is the one who is in charge of implementing Matthias´ ideas. Standing in the wide cockpit of the yacht, I recollect how the boat looked like when I saw it the last time and what had changed since.
“We sanded the hull to a finished state for almost a complete year”, Mattias said. As one of my own first jobs after starting to work in the boating business was the polishing of a 46 feet-hull, I can imagine what sanding a complete hull would mean. The Berckemeyer looks awesome: Antifouling is applied, hull windows are mounted, traveler for the main sheet, all blocks and rails for the sheet leads are fitted – from the outside she looks pretty ready. “But come inside, it´s a huge difference from last time …”, Matthias invites.
A true Highlight: The Pilot House
Aluminium yachts are “serious” sailboats – people buying these yachts mostly want to sail “anywhere”, away from the well-worn paths of the Coconut-route or the annual ARC. Matthias is no different: The high latitudes, the far North, even icy is what he is dreaming of – and what he is building this boat for. “You will need a pilot house”, he says and I absolutely agree. Last time I saw the boat the hull was one huge empty room – now, with the energetic help and surplus workforce of Jörn, that has changed dramatically. And it has changed for the good.
The pilot house features two huge settees. They are not long enough to stretch out and have a nap, but judging from a short seating-trial they provide enough space to have a relaxed seat when it´s raining or stormy outside. You will have a 360 degree view from here. Great! “I will have all electronic equipment installed up here”, says Matthias. His Berckemeyer will be steered by a huge tiller and an evenly strong auto pilot. “There will be a control panel for the auto pilot here as well.” Matthias shows the positions of the screens and switches. The boat will be commandeered from the pilot house completely: “Downstairs is just living and relaxing – sailing is up here.” I understand that there is no dedicated navigation area nor a chart table in this boat: An accommodation to modern sailing.
As I stepped down the staircase to the saloon and looked back, I realized that the seatings up in the pilot house are actually the ceilings of the aft cabins below. “This boat will have the same layout as my previous one”, Matthias explains. Now that all bulkheads and most of the rough fittings are already in place, imagining this yacht being finished is far easier. I know his previous boat very well: I sailed an almost perfect one-week on his AMAROK, a 40-feet custom-built Judel/Vrolijk aluminium performance-cruiser. This yacht was a 2-cabin boat, drop keel with a longitudinal galley. Same for this: But much bigger of course.
Accurately rough: Interior Fittings
Matthias stands in the saloon. One single floodlight reasonably illuminates the scene: “It´s a pretty simple but straightforward layout. You´ll have the galley right here on the starboard side, the saloon with a large dining table and U-settee on the port side.” Matthias shows me around. “Port side we´ll have a cabin, vis-à-vis a workshop with spare parts and stuff.” There´s a huge bathroom right in the middle of the boat to port side and the forward owner´s cabin.
Touching the roughly assembled interior parts, I ask how exactly they build it: One thing is for sure, it´s not plywood nor real wood. “We use a foam called Airex. I can cut it here in my company with our high-precision plotter.” From both sides the foam is covered with a some layers of 600 grams/square metres GRP-mattresses and everything is baked in a huge oven so that the foam hardens. And it´s as solid as stone, I can tell!
„I chose this material in the first place because it´s much easier to work with, much lighter in the end on the boat and working with it does not produce dust nor dirt in any way.” As I visit them on the yacht, all raw fittings are already in place. The next step of work had begun in the pilot house: “Jörn now leveling and smoothing out the Airex-surface with filler to create an even surface. When this is hardened and sanded, we will give it a nice white paintjob. That´s all.”
For the rails and corners Matthias will fit custom made parts of massive Oak. “That will be the only wooden parts on this boat. I don´t want too much wooden parts here, but when it´s timber, I want it to look awesome and significant.” I can imagine how much lighter and friendlier the boat will be looking when it´s finished: White lacquered surfaces and wooden accessories. Nice.
A huge two Cabin Yacht
The Berckemeyer is huge. 49 feet is quite a punch. On boats of this lengths other brands fit four or five cabins. Berths for 10 or even 12 people are quite normal on boats this size. Not so on this yacht: Like myself, Matthias loves the quietness at sea which makes him minimize the crew of the boats he sails on: Two cabins is more than enough for his new boat. I visit the aft cabin.
The Airex-made lie down area of this cabin will suit more than enough two people, it´s great for just one. There is huge headroom and sufficient space for getting dressed in front of the berths. “Two 1.000 litre-tanks for ballast water on the walls”, Matthias explains – although his drop keel cruiser had more than enough lead-ballast, he will be able to step up a notch when sailing upwind. Nice. Passing the galley on my way forward to the starboard side and the keel-housing to port, I notice a large coffin-like structure made of Airex.
“It´s new. We came up with the idea of fitting this pilot berth just weeks ago”, he explains. Right in front of the entrance to the large bathroom (which by the way is cleverly positioned right over the keel, the pivot of the boat and thus the most stable and calm spot of the boat when sailing), another crew member could find some protection here and snug into this berth. “If not occupied, it´s the perfect spot for stowing your luggage.” Then I enter the forward cabin – owner´s area.
Again, pretty straightforward and simple: There´s the retractable bow thruster and loads of storwage – covered by the Airex-made lie down area of the forward berth. It will be a huge sleeping area for sure. To the left a small settee to sit down and getting dressed/undressed, vis-à-vis a locker for clothing. Two small hull windows won´t add too much of natural light in here: “It´s more a design feature and looks good from the outside”, Matthias smiles.
Rigged for the extreme
I do look at the isolation. Aluminium boats can go anywhere and I am sure that this particular yacht will do so. Anyone having sailed in late autumn or even in winter knows that temperatures can and will get pretty low. A heating system of some sort is not just a luxurious add-on but a must-have. The moisture of the air and wet clothing will quickly make living and working aboard very unpleasant.
5 to 10 centimetres of Amaflex-insulation from the floorboards all the way up to the ceiling will keep temperatures up inside and make for some sound-dampening as well. This black foam reminds me of the same material they use to insulate Garcia or Allures yachts in Cherbourg. “This boat will receive a powerful marine Diesel-heater”, Matthias tells me: “I think this will do. When I realized I need more, I can have a reflex oven or something like this installed, no problem.”
I love the style of this boat: The modern design by Martin Menzner with these sleek, flat and sexy lines of the boat itself paired with the pleasantly unagitated interior design, no frills without ruffle – plain and practical solutions. Like AMAROK this new boat will be a showcase of “true” sailing with a focus on simplicity, practicality and sailing qualities.
Plans for finishing
Matthias takes a deep breath and turns his eyes, looking to Jörn standing next to him – both smile when I ask how long the works will go on until the boat will be ready to hit water: “Well, probably not this year …”, says Matthias. Jörn nods: “Surely not this year.” Although the big machinery like engine and auxiliary has been installed already, there is still so much to do. Thinking back to my own experiences in yacht refit …
The BM49 has had a pretty important day last summer when she was pulled out to open air and her huge carbon-mast had been stepped. It was a dress rehearsal to fit the standing rigging and see if everything was right. For this occasion Matthias had already painted the pilot house in fiery red-orange – the only painted part of the boat. “I am thinking of adding a sort of Cork-tree flooring in the cockpit but that will be practically all.
Apart from that, the outside of the boat seems pretty finished already: The large tiller is still missing, as well as the two auto pilot control panels to either side of the coamings. But the beautiful and huge 62 Anderson winches have already been installed as well as the whole blocks and fittings needed to work the running rigging. I think there is a chance to see the boat in the water by end of next year. I ask Matthias. He looks to Jörn. Both smile: “I´m getting a beer – anyone in as well?”, he asks instead.
I leave the Berckemeyer after two hours of roaming her internals and admiring her nice lines. It´s great to see so much progress and even greater to see the quality of the work: Clearly, the precision of the parts Jörn and Matthias cut out and install is far superior to what I have done on my own boat, no clearance at all, everything looks like a pro has done it. I am sure the yacht will be an eyecatcher.
As I am already leaving, I spot the large carbon mast by Axxon hanging from the ceiling of the production hall. Matthias has clearly solely invested in high quality equipment: Sure, the budget for this boat must be a huge sum in the end, which reminds me of my conversation with Martin Menzner on my idea on fitting an aluminium hull by myself, but in the end, he will get not just a nice looking boat, but a true dream yacht capable of going everywhere at any time. I envy him so much – and I am happy for him being able to fulfill his dream this way. Let´s have an eye on this boat, I will come back in a few months. Maybe the first cabin will be finished by then to get an impression of the ship as a whole.
You may also like to read about these aluminium boats:
Visiting Garcia and Allures of Cherbourg
Cigale 16 by Marc Lombard in La Rochelle