Yacht builders moving forward, fueled by passion, bigger boats
Courtesy Crescent Custom Yachts
Crescent Custom Yachts’ 115-foot Life of Riley, left, in the British Columbia shipyard for service, makes room for the new 145-foot Muchos Mas.

North American yacht builders continue to work to regain the strength sapped by the economic turmoil of 2009. With longtime Midwestern builder Palmer Johnson moving all of its operations overseas and the once-prolific Mississippi-based Trinity Yachts ceasing yacht-building operations, megayacht deliveries in North America have yet to approach the levels seen pre-recession.

However, of the eight most notable builders of the mid-2000 boom years, four account for yachts of ever-increasing length today, indicating that the North American yacht-building arena will remain alive — albeit an altered version of its original self.

“We’ve stayed pretty consistent,” said Westport Yachts’ Ron Nugent. The director of marketing for the Washington-based builder’s Fort Lauderdale operations noted that the company’s series of semi-production motor yachts has maintained its strong client base.

The Westport 125 features the latest in composite technology. The Washington-based yard has sold the first three hulls in the class.

Courtesy Westport Yachts

Production of the W Series, which includes the much-coveted sizes of 112, 130 and 164 feet, has continued steadily and is now enjoying a flurry of activity thanks to a new 125-foot model that hit the water in August. The new Westport 125 fills yet another niche for owners looking to move up from the ever-popular Westport 112 but who aren’t quite ready for a 130. The new raised pilothouse motor yacht utilizes the latest in composite technology in a well-engineered and extremely efficient package that has been the Westport hallmark for decades.

The first three hulls of the Westport 125 have been sold — the first to deliver soon and the second and third in production. The next 130 will be delivered in time for the 2016 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in November and the next 164 is on schedule to deliver in March 2017. Ever popular with the builder’s largely North American client base, the 112 remains a consistent best seller, with one launched recently for a Fort Lauderdale debut and two more in production to be delivered to their owners at the end of 2016 and in 2017.

Conditions of secrecy and respect for client anonymity have kept Seattle-based Delta Marine quiet on the details of many of its recent projects, but rest assured the decades-old family-run shipyard has seen its order books and bays full for some time now. An expert in composite and metal construction, Delta consistently produces some of the finest megayachts on the water. The 240-foot Laurel, a steel/composite build launched in 2006, was the largest yacht to have been built in the United States in the last 75 years. Another more recent project is the 216-foot Invictus, also a steel/composite build, which weighs in at 1,943 gross tons and has a staggering 14,500 square feet of space — quite a feat for a yacht that size.

In August, Gulf Coast Shipyard Group delivered the 193-foot Imagine, a Trinity-built yacht with an aluminum hull and superstructure.

Photo courtesy Gulf Coast Shipyard Group

With a dedicated work force of craftsmen and engineers who have enjoyed 20, 30 and even 40 years working with the company, Delta has augmented its healthy refit and repair division, which remains active with projects of various materials and sizes.

At the same time, Delta also has completed its first aluminum hull on site, which will be married to a composite superstructure. As pioneers in building composite superstructures atop metal hulls, Delta has once again solidified its position of expertise in both metal and composite shipbuilding with this latest project.

Just 60 miles south of the original Palmer Johnson yard, Manitowoc, Wis.-based Burger Boat Company focused in recent years on refining the design plans for a series of raised-pilothouse and tri-deck yachts from 112 to 144 feet. Its work force was keeping busy with commercial work, metal fabrication and sharing its expertise in hydraulic, electrical and mechanical assemblies. An order for a fully custom 103.5-foot steel and aluminum expedition-style motor yacht turned attention back to custom yacht construction, and the yard is now bustling with this project in addition to its commercial and refit/repair work. The Luiz de Basto-designed 103 is scheduled for launch in spring 2017.

Imagine was designed by GCSG with a Sylvie Charest interior.

Photo courtesy Gulf Coast Shipyard Group

After falling into the hands of a group of investors, Crescent Custom Yachts of Richmond, British Columbia, had closed its doors just prior to the economic crash but was revived in 2015 when Tim Charles, the grandson of Crescent founder Jack Charles, acquired the brand. When Crescent was sold to the investors, Charles’ company Platinum Marine had taken over the former Crescent shipbuilding facility to continue refit and repair work, and in so doing, retained many of the yard’s original workers and craftsmen. 

With Charles at the helm of the Crescent Custom brand, operations commenced quickly with work on a 145-foot custom composite build designed by Seattle-based Jonathan Quinn Barnett — with many of the yard’s original employees once again working on the project in the same facility Charles’ grandfather had overseen years ago. Sea trials for the 145-foot Crescent boat were scheduled for September with delivery set by October. Immediately afterward, work was set to begin on a Luiz de Basto-designed 110-foot project for a California-based client. Ample yacht refit work keeps the yard alive and well.

“Our yard is very busy with major refits under our Platinum Marine brand and currently completing a 130-foot Oceanfast transformational refit,” Charles said. “It is great to see old Crescents coming back to us.”

The Burger 510, shown under construction at the Wisconsin yard. The Luiz de Basto-designed 103 is scheduled for launch in spring 2017.

Photo courtesy Burger Boat

In June 2015, New Orleans-based Trinity Yachts and its Gulfport, Miss., commercial counterpart, Gulf Coast Shipyard, were acquired by Harvey Gulf. Under the Gulf Coast Shipyard moniker, the last Trinity build under construction — the 193-foot Imagine — was finished and delivered in August of 2016. 

Vancouver, Wash.-based Christensen Shipyards was yet another builder that found itself closing its gates when financial turmoil forced operations to cease in 2014. The builder entered into receivership in 2015 before former owner Henry Luken and a partner acquired majority shares, re-employed many of the workers, and appointed industry veteran Jim Gilbert as company president. 

The yard immediately announced that work on a 164-foot composite motor yacht project, Silver Lining, would resume. Following closely behind was Chasseur, a 160-footer, with both yachts scheduled to make an appearance at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in November. Silver Lining launched on the summer solstice in June, with Chasseur following suit a mere five days later. Both launches took advantage of a new launching system developed in-house that utilizes self-propelled, steerable dollies and large dry-dock-like stern launch structures.

Artist’s rendering of the Burger 510.

Photo courtesy Burger Boat

As a leader in composite construction and vacuum infusion, Christensen had turned its attention to supplying composite parts for non-marine industries when times were lean. Gilbert said the company’s focus now is on building yachts, with long-range plans to build much larger boats at a facility in Tennessee that will have the capacity to assemble 12 220-foot yachts simultaneously. 

“We’re on the verge of entertaining contract talks for 60- or 70-meter boats, and we hope to build our 50-meters in Tennessee as well,” said Gilbert, explaining that megayachts up to 45 meters would be the focus of the Vancouver yard, where two new 50-meter projects are now underway.

“Our management and owners are passionate about saving this portion of American shipbuilding. The great yards of the world used to be American and the best craftsmen in the world are still here. If the Europeans can do it with the high euro, why can’t we?” Gilbert said. “We’re determined to get people focused on the quality of American shipbuilding and yacht construction and increase the American presence in the business.”

The 2016 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show on Nov. 3-7 will see at least six new launches over 100 feet from North American yacht builders on display. The boom years of a decade ago may be long gone, but passion for yachting and for yacht building remains. And as long as there is passion, there will be megayachts.

Categories: American Ship Review, Maritime News