David McDonald has ushered into the Delta a new era of yachting. He cruised up the San Joaquin River into the Downtown Stockton Marina aboard his beautiful 163-foot, James Bond-themed megayacht Casino Royale on the morning of March 21. His people had advised us a few weeks back of his plans to come up the river and this writer as well as many others were eagerly awaiting his arrival.

By Bill Wells

After a few days of rain, the weather on the 21st was perfect for her trip up the San Joaquin. She left Sausalito at 0430 and about 0830 Bonnie Stetson called from Pittsburg to report her passing and shortly after that Chris Lauritzen called to advise me that she was passing Lauritzen Yacht Harbor in Oakley by the Antioch Bridge. Laura Gregory also spied her as she went under the Antioch Bridge.

5 Star Marina co-owner Terry McDonald invited Blair Hake, John Silva, Elizabeth Stevens and your correspondent to take a ride on his patio boat downstream from 5 Star to meet her. We met her at the port of Stockton where she hove to awaiting low tide. (I guess technically only sailboats can be “hove to,” but I like the term.)

We took the opportunity to circle her and get a lot of good photos. She eventually got underway and passed under the I-5 Bridge at precisely 1230 hours at slack tide. The crew had been worried that the ship might not clear the bridge. They had carefully planned the transit prior to their arrival and David had made arrangements months prior to measure the bridge height from shore by laser and by dropping a line from the top of the bridge to get an exact measurement. While she was in Palm Beach, FL., for maintenance prior to coming to the West Coast, they lowered the mast four feet to make sure she would clear the bridge.

With a crewmember at the top of the mast and a couple of others on the cabin top filming the action, they cautiously passed under the bridge. The captain made it under with exactly 3.5 feet to spare as they had predicted. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) chart 18661 shows a clearance of 50 feet at low water. Apparently, the gauge at the base of the bridge is off by a couple of feet.

You wonder what genius at Caltrans gave the okay for a 50-foot clearance, which effectively prevents many larger vessels from entering the harbor. A Stephens Farallon Clipper can barely squeak under at low tide. It is too bad, because Stockton should be a world-class yacht harbor with its rich maritime heritage and all of the amenities in the area.

The ship arrived in Stockton after a 10,000-mile voyage that began in Genoa, Italy, in October of 2011. Hundreds of people lined the shore as Casino Royale pulled into the Stockton harbor. The crowd cheered when the ship’s powerful Kahlenberg horn was sounded.

She pulled up to the wharf with her bow facing downstream after turning around in the harbor. She will remain at the dock in front of the Waterfront Warehouse building for a stay of several months. Fenders the size of my shore boat cushion her against the dock. David is planning to use Stockton as a home base while he takes Casino Royale on a trip to the Pacific Northwest this summer for several weeks.

David invited us aboard for a tour of this stunning work of art. When she was traveling up the channel, she gleamed like a gem in the water; the polished stainless steel was blinding to the eye. We were honored to be invited aboard for what David calls his $5/E ticket tour. He says it was the best tour of the ship that he offers.

We arrived dockside at 1300 on a warm afternoon and the purser, Stephanie Cook, met us at the gangway and welcomed us aboard. Once aboard, we took a staircase to the bridge deck where David was relaxing with a cup of coffee, the local paper and a notepad computer at his favorite spot: a huge mahogany dining table on the stern.

He introduced us to Chelsea, who is his girlfriend, and their two dogs: a West Highland Terrier named Rocky and a part Bijon named Hunny. The dogs have the run of the ship and whenever they get bored while in port a crewmember will take them for a walk. One of the great features on the yacht is the glass panels under the bottom rails of the staircases that prevent a small dog from tumbling down the staircase if they lose their footing.

He invited us to join him for a cup of gourmet coffee before we began the tour. David explained that he had the custom table installed so that he could seat twelve people on the deck for meals.

David told us of his life. He says he started with trailer boats and then moved up to a 48-foot SeaRay and from there to a 67-foot Ocean Alexander. David is a past member of the Delta Yacht Club and has spent many years cruising the Delta. He says he has many friends in the Stockton area and is looking forward to his stay here.

He sold his Clovis-based security camera business, Pelco, awhile back and began the search for a new yacht. He says Casino Royale was the finest available when he was looking, so he purchased her.

She is registered in the Marshall Islands and has already cruised the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Central America, the Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexico, Mediterranean and the U.S. East Coast.

The whole vessel is climate controlled with a Dometic 36-ton air conditioning system. The deck where we were talking with David is exposed on three sides, but the temperature was perfect due to strategically placed vents in the overhead. The temperature throughout the ship was perfect and we never did hear any air movement or feel a draft. There are 7,000 square feet of interior living space and 3,000 square feet of exterior deck space.

After we finished our coffee, Stephanie returned and led us on a tour of the yacht. Every inch of this vessel is immaculate. She looks like she is just in from the boat show. The teak decks look like they have never been walked on and there is not a scratch or ding anywhere. It is even more impressive when you realize she had just completed a several thousand-mile open-ocean voyage.

The huge glass doors open silently and automatically as you enter the cabin on the bridge deck. Going forward there is a full bar to starboard that will seat several people. You can have your martini shaken or stirred here.

To port there is a bistro table with chairs and forward of that a lounge area with a hidden high-definition television set.

Going forward along a starboard passageway, you pass the elevator and a spiral staircase and pass through a door into the bridge area. To the portside is a complete navigation station with what seems like every communication device known to mankind. To starboard there is a raised seating area with an onyx table and leather seating where guests can watch the operation of the vessel while underway.

The skipper’s cabin with double bed and separate head and shower is just to the rear of the bridge on the port side. This allows the captain to be only a few seconds away from any activity on the bridge that could need his attention.


The helm area itself has 12 or so screens containing every navigation device you can imagine with large-screen radar, GPS, and monitors for the 15-camera closed-circuit television system. The helmsman and others at the bridge have luxurious leather upholstered helm chairs to keep them comfortable while on watch.

Just forward of the bridge is an outdoor lounge where guests can sunbathe and watch the forward progress of the vessel. A railed walkway from here leads to the foredeck.

Stephanie introduced us to her husband; Curtis Cook is the skipper of the yacht Curtis Cook. We also met ship’s engineer Axel Koch, chef Grant Orchard and chief stewardess MaryKay Schwendemen.

The crew is rounded out with first officer Wessel Vorster, bosun Patric Flynn, deckhand Neil Mackay, and stewardesses Jennifer Last and Nicole Letsinger. All of the crewmembers we met are friendly, enthusiastic, very competent, and obviously love their jobs.

The upper sundeck is reached via stairs or elevator. It is a huge teak-decked outdoor lounge area reminiscent of a yacht club or country club veranda. There is a full bar with seating and a large stainless steel barbecue for those alfresco get-togethers.

Toward the bow there is a Jacuzzi®-equipped spa with a view to a thrill covering about 300 degrees. Two lounge tables – the ace of hearts and a one-eyed jack – are perfect for cocktails or they can be raised for meal service.

Two levels down, the main deck is below the bridge deck and accessed by stairs or elevator. Stephanie explained to us that generally the crew and passengers use the stairs, and the elevator is mainly used to transport luggage and heavy items.

Literally everywhere you look there is an artwork or object of beauty. Inlaid in the deck is what I at first thought was a compass rose, but Stephanie noted that it was a roulette wheel. It is made of semi-precious stones and petrified wood perfectly inlaid into the deck. Jeff Homchick, who did the stonework throughout the vessel, created it.

The main saloon has a large lounge area and forward is a dining table that seats 10. Cabinets stow dishes and glassware.

Forward and to port of the saloon is the gourmet galley. Grant Orchard showed us the fully equipped galley. He says they carry enough provisions to live comfortably for at least two weeks at sea. Everything in the galley is stainless steel. There is a large double-door freezer in the galley and a larger freezer below deck.

Grant says he bakes fresh bread every day and while we were there he had just finished a batch of cookies. We had to sample a few, naturally, and they were delicious. The ship is also equipped with ample temperature-controlled wine storage and a complete inventory of cooking devices to prepare gourmet meals.

The full-width owner’s stateroom is forward of the saloon and galley and is accessed on the starboard side through David’s office. In the office, a built-in mahogany-topped desk faces outward with a large port over it allowing David to watch what is going on outside while underway or in port.

The sleeping quarters are fit for a prince with a huge walk-in closet and a vanity on the port side.

The cabin is a riot of beautiful wood, stonework and exotic fabrics. A huge double bed is centered right on the keel line.

All cabins have custom ensuite bathrooms, naturally, and the owner’s is the most spectacular of all. It has a stone floor and a raised tub with stonework and beautiful tile; the large shower stall has etched glass paneling and door. The fittings are golden and the custom towels are embroidered with sea horses and a gold and cream motif.

Fresh flowers finish off the décor. The lighting here, as elsewhere aboard, is Light Emitting Diode (LED), which gives a nice well-lit warm glow to the room.

Next we headed to the lower deck, where the guest cabins are located amidships. Each one is different and beautiful. There is a full-width VIP suite forward of the engine room and other guest cabins going forward. The crew’s quarters are in the bow with their own galley.

Stephanie introduced us to ship’s engineer, Axel Koch. Axel gave us a tour of the immaculate engine room. David calls it the “house of mirrors” – virtually everything visible here is polished stainless steel. I was not trying to do any kind of an inspection, but as I looked around and did not see a speck of dirt or drop of oil anywhere, I began looking to see if I could find something out of place – but alas nothing.

She carries 15 thousand gallons of fuel that can be moved around the various tanks to maintain trim. There is an 800-gallon day tank with a centrifugal scrubber along with a complete series of filters to make sure absolutely no foreign material enters the fuel injection system of the engines. Even Casino Royale’s bilge water is filtered before being pumped overboard.

There is an emergency steering system in the engine room. A steering wheel can be fitted and there is a rudder angle indicator. An intercom from the bridge can relay orders to the helmsman in the engine room.

We noticed a carpenter’s level fastened to a bulkhead, which was a pretty low-tech item in a very high-tech engine room. Axel explained that the previous ship’s engineer had installed it as a trim indicator so when they pump fuel between tanks the vessel can be kept on an even keel.

Axel pointed to a genset and said that it was a 99-kilowatt backup generator. I thought I heard incorrectly and said: “9.9 kilowatt?” He corrected me and said it was indeed a 99-kilowatt unit. He said the main generators are two 120-kilowatt units.

The reverse osmosis water makers can desalinate 100 gallons per hour and she can store 2,200 gallons of fresh water. Axel says they use quite a bit of fresh water washing off the salt and keeping the stainless steel bright.

Motive power is supplied by two MTU 12-cylinder, twin-turbocharged diesels with 1,770 horsepower each at 1800 rpm turning VEEM five-blade propellers. Reverse is supplied by ZF 4650-A gears. She cruises at 12 knots and tops out at 17; her fuel capacity is 15,000 gallons; and she has a range of 4,300 nautical miles.

The hull and superstructure are constructed of a state-of-the art composite of foam-cored fiberglass reinforced with Kevlar® and carbon fiber. The exterior coating is Awl-Grip 2000.

Stabilizers are Quantum QC 1800 zero-speed. She is equipped with a 100-horsepower American bow thruster and a 75-horsepower American stern thruster that is retractable and rotates 360 degrees. The thrusters and stabilizers coupled to a GPS allow the yacht to remain in one position indefinitely without deploying an anchor.

Casino Royale was built by Christensen Shipyards in Vancouver, WA., and launched in 2008 after three years of construction. The yacht was a collaboration between Christensen and John Staluppi and is the largest vessel built by Christensen to date. Staluppi is the founder of Millennium Super Yachts and is noted for his James Bond-themed yachts.

Carol Williamson & Associates of Portland, OR., consulted with Staluppi on the stunning interior.

Casino Royale’s length overall is 163 feet with a waterline length of 147 feet and a 29-foot 6-inch beam. She displaces 848,000 pounds loaded, and draws 8 feet 4 inches of water.

The vessel is equipped with 27 television sets. Several, like the one in the owner’s cabin, are hidden behind artworks and will appear at the touch of a button. David is a NASCAR fan so aboard ship they have NASCAR nights. They watch the races on TV and serve stadium food – hot dogs and such. Depending on where they are in the world, they could be watching NASCAR races in the middle of the night.

There are places the ship travels in the world that do not have good satellite television reception in spite of the ship’s state-of-the art communications equipment, so there is a library of over 4,000 motion pictures on DVD. As you might imagine, there is a complete library of James Bond films aboard Casino Royale.

She is equipped with a state-of-the-art security system, naturally.

She carries a 24-foot Nautica and a 15-foot Nautica for shore boats as well as four personal watercraft. Two Vespa® scooters and a couple of Segways provide land transportation while in port.

“Casino Royale” was Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel. “Casino Royale” was originally published in 1953 and the first edition sold out within a few weeks. Fleming had worked for British intelligence during World War II and Bond was based on actual people Fleming had known in that period.

He went on to write 14 James Bond novels before his death in 1964. The James Bond character, originally played in films by Sean Connery, created a phenomenon that led to hundreds of spy films being made in the 1960s.

The novel “Casino Royale” was first made into a motion picture in 1967 with Woody Allen playing a part and doing some of the writing. By then the spy fad was on the wane and the film was a satire on the genre. I loved the film, though, and especially the theme song performed by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. A newer version of “Casino Royale” starring Daniel Craig was released in 2007. It is also a great film and well worth watching.

David McDonald has gone to considerable personal expense to bring his beautiful yacht to Stockton. Not only did he have the mast shortened to be able to travel under the bridge, he had the dock at the marina rewired to accommodate the yacht.

The crew buys all of their provisions locally and on their free time they visit local restaurants and attractions.

The yacht is also a big tourist attraction to the area; folks are coming in from all over Northern California to see her. We hope he will extend his stay indefinitely.

Naturally, the yacht has her own website that is well maintained by David’s staff. Keep up with her adventures at

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