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Megayachts

Oct 24, 2013 11:32 AM

In a slow market, U.S. yacht builders take their expertise to government, commercial work

Luxury vessels like this 210-foot Palmer Johnson sports yacht, shown here in PJ’s home town of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., used to be the bread and butter of U.S. yacht builders. Today, yards are just as likely to have their eye on other markets.

Courtesy Palmer Johnson

Luxury vessels like this 210-foot Palmer Johnson sports yacht, shown here in PJ’s home town of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., used to be the bread and butter of U.S. yacht builders. Today, yards are just as likely to have their eye on other markets.

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“The signs of recovery are there, but they’re not great,” said Billy Smith, vice president of Trinity Yachts in Gulfport, Miss.

That is the word on the dock from most U.S.-based yacht builders since the economic collapse of 2008 dealt a blow to what was then a booming luxury sector. Despite stalled projects, a decline in newbuild orders and a resale market dominated by bottom feeders, the major players in the industry have remained afloat these last five years, and each one has adjusted course where necessary.

Trinity Yachts may be best known for its custom steel and aluminum megayachts, but this builder’s heritage is all commercial. Trinity was founded in 1988 as the luxury yacht division of Halter Marine, the military and commercial shipbuilder, and began its operations from the Higgins Industries shipyard in New Orleans. A decline in military production in the 1980s created a need to explore new market sectors, so Smith and Trinity Yachts’ founder, John Dane III, who had been working for Halter Marine since the ’70s, joined forces to lead the luxury yacht builder through the best years the sector had ever experienced.

Courtesy Westport Shipyard

Westport Shipyard in the Pacific Northwest used its expertise with composite construction to produce a prototype patrol vessel.

It was Trinity, also, that first turned its attention to the commercial market when signs of the downturn came — an understandable move, given Smith and Dane’s experience in both sectors. The duo had succeeded in the luxury market by combining the skills of building custom luxury yachts with the precision gained from military work. Twenty years later they simply returned to their roots in commercial shipbuilding.

The Deepwater Horizon blowout that devastated the Gulf Coast in 2010 also spurred Smith and Dane to commercial work as orders for 30-foot oil skimmers for the state of Mississippi poured in. TY Offshore was formed earlier that year and now operates out of the Gulfport yard. Yacht building has moved back to its former base in New Orleans.

“We went from 100 percent of our backlog being in yachts,” said Smith. “Today, the yachts are 10 percent of our business.”

Trinity today has married commercial and yacht building technologies and practices. With expertise in aluminum, steel and composite, Trinity incorporates commercial naval architecture and engineering into its megayachts — “The typical yacht owner does not want to be the guinea pig when it comes to naval architecture,” said Smith. But there has been innovation in the opposite direction too.

In collaboration with Quantum Marine in Florida, Trinity developed the MagLift stabilizer on its 122-foot sportfishing yacht Mary P. It utilizes the Magnus Effect — the condition by which a rotating cylinder creates lift that is proportionate to the speed and direction of rotation, thereby stabilizing the vessel. “They have since found military and commercial applications for these stabilizers,” said Smith.

“Our 50-meter yacht hull (164 feet long with a 28-foot beam) has been proposed to three different governments as a patrol boat hull,” said Smith, who adds that most commercial clients are looking for a hull platform with a known displacement and proven speed.

“They want to know they have a parent craft that works. Patrol boats are lighter to start with, but by the time you load the ammunition and equipment, they weigh about the same as a finished yacht.”

TY Offshore is also leading the way in dual-fuel technology with its 302-foot workboats under construction for Harvey Gulf. The vessels’ liquefied natural gas technology may have implications for megayachts.

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