Cruise Control

Cruise Control

A Bethesda couple's yacht provides comforts of home-and then some.

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Fred Ezra commanded his first watercraft at age 6 and never looked back. As the skipper of an 8-foot plywood rowboat, he and his pals spent hours noodling around New Jersey’s Lake Hiawatha.

By the 1970s in Rockville, when his own children were toddlers, he and his wife, Starr, would stow a 10-horsepower outboard motor in the back of the station wagon and put a 16-foot aluminum boat from Sears on the roof, and head for the Chesapeake Bay to go crabbing.

Fast forward about 30 years. At a 2002 Fort Lauderdale boat show, the couple was drawn to a large, previously owned motor yacht. “We saw the 76-foot Horizon and fell in love with it,” Fred says. A dozen years later, “it is still the perfect boat for us.”

These days,  Fred, 74, founder of The Ezra Co., a Washington, D.C.-based tenant advisory firm, and his wife, Starr, 72—a former teacher, therapist, and onetime “shrink and den mother” at the family business—are afloat most weekends and much of the summer between mid-April and mid-November. Their trips range from day-cruising around the Chesapeake to weeks along the Atlantic coast as far north as New England.

 The Ezras toggle easily between their five-bedroom, 1912 Spanish revival home in Bethesda’s Edgemoor neighborhood, where they raised two children, and the cozier confines of the gleaming white Starr docked at the Selby Bay Yacht Club in Edgewater, Md. The yacht sleeps 10 and has many of the comforts of home, including an outdoor grill, Wi-Fi, a washer-dryer, multiple televisions, wine coolers and places to relax.

 “My Bethesda kitchen is very big, but I can do as much in here as I can back there,” Starr says during a recent tour of the boat. The Ezras, who have no immediate plans to sell their Edgemoor place, like to entertain 15 to 20 friends for a day of cruising. Those outings include a meal on board, or a stop at a dock so the whole gang can enjoy a local seafood restaurant.

Visitors board the Starr via the aft deck, where a gleaming teak table and six chairs hint of the hospitality to come. Indeed, the first thing a visitor sees on the right side of the main salon is a wet bar with a granite countertop, a wine cooler, an icemaker—and a large statue of Betty Boop.  

 A deeply curved ivory leather sofa invites reading, conversation, napping or TV-watching. “When we first got [the yacht], there was a very large, old-fashioned television that took up the entire bottom” of a cabinet, Fred says, “so we replaced it with a flat-screen model that you can bring up or make disappear.”

Starr also replaced the white carpeting with a more forgiving palette of sand and burgundy, and hung favorite artwork, including a large Peter Max painting in the salon; a second one hangs in their stateroom.

One step up, near the bow of the vessel, is her culinary lab, a streamlined galley with a full-size, four-burner electric cooktop, a standard oven, an overhead microwave, a dishwasher and a trash compacter. The Sub-Zero fridge and freezer drawers, as well as built-in cabinets that utilize every inch of storage space, are concealed behind paneling of anegre, an African hardwood stained a rich burnt sienna.

A second sofa overlooks the galley and pilothouse, which is fitted with sophisticated navigation and communications equipment. It’s where Fred happily shares his seagoing philosophy: “We never rush. We never run at night. With all the modern weather forecasting technology, we don’t go out if a storm is coming. We’d rather stay over somewhere another night or two.”

The division of labor has changed over time. For most of the 51 years they have owned powerboats, the Ezras were their own crew. “Fred is very mechanical and knowledgeable and is as good as any captain,” Starr says.

Three years ago, however, they hired a live-aboard mate who “does much of the physical maintenance, helps with handling lines while I am docking and keeps the boat sparkling clean,” Fred says. As evidence that Starr once handled heavy ropes, she proudly flexes biceps kept taut by the couple’s thrice-weekly sessions with a trainer when they’re home in Bethesda. 

“Fred always runs the boat. I take over if he needs to leave the wheel for a short time,” Starr says. “When we travel north, we run between four and eight hours, depending on our destination. I am fortunate enough to relax and read for most of the trip, aside from preparing our lunch.”

Built for rough seas, “the boat can stand a lot more than people can,” Fred says. “We have been in situations where we both felt seasick. We always take it slow.”

That means that although the Starr can reach 20 knots, Fred prefers a more fuel-efficient half speed. “At 10 knots an hour, we use no more than 20 gallons of diesel fuel. At 18 to 20 knots, you burn 110 to 120 gallons of fuel an hour.”

Descending a tight spiral staircase up front, Starr shows off a trio of staterooms, each decorated with custom bed covers and pillows. The master suite boasts a beveled sunburst mirror above a king-size bed dressed in shades of green and red. Doorways on both sides lead to the wide bathroom—or “head” in boating parlance—with a toilet at each end, and a center shower with glass walls and his-and-hers doors painted with riotous marine flora and fauna.

 The “VIP stateroom” sleeps two (usually daughter Michelle Jacoby, 48, or son, Mark, 45, and a spouse), as does a small twin-bedded chamber for grandchildren (there are eight, ages 8 to 23). Both guest rooms have a private head with a toilet and circular glassed-in shower. 

Two more staterooms are at the rear of the Starr, one for the mate, the other with a set of bunk beds for two more guests.  

The heart of the vessel is Fred’s man cave, which houses two 1,400-horsepower Caterpillar diesel engines, two Onan generators that run the heating and cooling; a waste treatment system; hydraulics for the bow thruster and anchor, and stabilizers to help control roll. There is also a treatment system that produces fresh water from saltwater, added when they first bought the boat and cruised the Bahamas, where, they say, the cost of buying desalted water was prohibitive.

In good weather, visitors head straight for the upper deck, “the real party space on this boat,” Starr says. A long, curved sofa upholstered in a weatherproof fabric snakes around the deck, offering seating for more than a dozen people. There is also a concealed grill, a two-burner stovetop, a sink and a fridge.

“I either grill or come up here to read,” Starr says. The grandkids prefer lounging on the prow, with its fitted seating and padded sunbathing area. 

Mobility and camaraderie are two big lures to life on the water, the couple agrees. “Boating is a huge subculture. You meet people along the way to travel with and to party with,” Starr says. “When we arrive somewhere, we go out to dinner and explore. The boat is not only a means to get to a place, but to enjoy being there.”

In spring, they might spend “romantic weekends” chugging to St. Michaels on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. July and August find them in the Northeast, at such boating and sailing hot spots as Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, and New York’s Long Island. In each port, they book a slip at a yacht club or a marina and sleep on board.

 On a sunny but chilly spring day, not long after the protective plastic winter wrapping was peeled off the Starr at the yacht club, the Ezras prepared for their maiden outing of 2014. They would launch the season with a weekend visit to St. Michaels as a prelude to adventures with family and friends.

 “What we have loved best” about boating “has been the endless weekends and summers we have spent with our children since they were toddlers, sharing experiences and each other, living in these cozy spaces together,” Starr wrote in an email the next day. “How fortunate we are now to be able to do some of the same things with our grandchildren.”

Annie Groer is a former Washington Post and correspondent and columnist. She writes widely about design, culture and politics, and is at work on a memoir. To comment on this story, email

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