Plotting High Adventure aboard the MY Gutenberg

A little quiet time on the Northern Star

by Louis Postel and Erica Wagner for Boat International | 2016


Why are we seeing book shelves, reading nooks, and whole libraries on megayachts now that the age of Kindle is upon us? Depending on your longitude and latitude you can download any of 1,330,984 books with just a click.

Why take up that precious physical space? Is it only because all those physical books add soundproofing  to the bulwarks?

Or it is perhaps because the Instagram account “Hot Dudes Reading” now has 618,000 followers of doubtlessly comparable hotness?

Indeed, there may be nothing that turns women on more than seeing a man reading a book, unless it’s a man reading a book on an m/y.

Architect and yachtsman Clement Van Buren sees a deeper connection between libraries and m/y’s, one that may indicate more than a passing trend. “On a yacht you’re exploring the world on a literal basis, engaging with different peoples and cultures and in a library you’re doing basically the same thing; exploring through books,” he says.

The French architect Henri Labrouste brought this connection between travel and reading to perhaps its greatest expression in his glass-and-iron reading rooms in Paris, the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève (1838–50) and the Bibliothèque nationale (1859–75), which both have the appearance the sheds in train stations. I believe he would have had no trouble understanding the difference between a library and a Kindle: that a library is somehow the repository of civilization, an academy separate from the world but also meant to engage with it, where one can have a conversation with the world’s authors past and present, as well as talk quietly with friends on a deeper level.”

This is exactly the brief the owner of Northern Star gave the architect and interior designer Pauline Nunns. “My client collected many beautifully-illustrated and historical books, many of which being treasures that were gifted by friends, and he certainly enjoyed reading. My client also thought it would be a good idea to have a library for private meetings with the captain, or business associates, or whomever, rather than in the big sitting rooms. With something always happening around the rest of yacht where we had everything from a beauty salon to scuba diving, it was important to be able to get away from guests once in a while to a space that was ‘invitation only’. That’s why we situated his library with its two large red leather chesterfields directly off his study and the adjacent master— so he can go get papers from there if needed,” says Nunns, who began her career  restoring the libraries of 18th century country estates in the UK. “I remember being to stand inside the fireplaces they were so grand.”

In the Northern Star library, the hearth is not a fireplace but a yacht model set in the bookshelves of limed oak. Nunns had specialist painters create a background around the model to make it more picture-like. While there’s a large actual window on the right as you enter, with red-checked curtains to play off the chesterfields, the yacht model and surrounding picture itself acts as a kind of additional, bonus view where there was none before. There’s also an ingenious passageway for the crew which gives on a library mini-bar. Its flap door provides access to the master for tidying up unobtrusively.

Soft, low-level lighting, a good sound system, a coffee table convertible for backgammon or chess, a creamy fitted carpet, a flat screen, and even some false books where there was no depth for real ones complete the scene.

Well, not quite.

“The owner delighted in arranging the books on the shelves,” says Nunns. “It was his contribution to the décor.”

As his Lurssen 247’ plows through the Artic ocean, one can imagine Northern Star’s owner deep into the examination of charts with perhaps his captain. Or exploring on his own the mysteries of the civilization he was now apart from and would ultimately return to. So much, then for books as a soundproofing, or Hot Guys Reading, this man in his library was experiencing the soul of adventure.

Dialing back to an era long before Kindle, let’s now consider another onboard library, one that famously helped change our entire conception of humanity as we evolved tad-pole-like from the sea.






Two days after Christmas, in the year 1831,

a young man set sail from Plymouth

harbour. He was just 22 and his voyage

did not start out happily. “The misery I

endured from seasickness is far beyond

what I ever guessed at,” he would write.

But he had some consolation: his library.

Charles Darwin took about 400 books with him, by

all accounts, when he set off with Captain Robert FitzRoy

on HMS Beagle for a round-the-world trip; he expected

to be gone two years. But the Beagle would not return to

England for a full half-decade, making landfall at Falmouth

on 2 October 1836.