The biggest build from an American shipyard in 80 years represents more than just another new yacht.
When I first heard whispers of the project a few years ago, amidst the restful chitchat of a Fort Lauderdale cocktail party, I got a little chill. Derecktor shipyard had begun construction of the largest vessel to be built in the United States since 1930. Maybe what gave me pause was the ghost of the current record holder, J.P. Morgan’s 343-foot Corsair IV, that was built at Maine’s Bath Iron Works, a short drive from my childhood home. Perhaps it was a glimmer of something, like a tawny and faded recollection that had not yet been leadened by the evening’s other conversations regarding our country’s economic forecasts. Whatever the cause, a few months later I stepped into New York’s Grand Central Station and purchased a ticket to Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was time to go see the project, now named Cakewalk, for myself.
As Kathy Kennedy, Derecktor’s director of marketing, and I stood in the gravel yard outside the building that housed the 281-footer, she told me that the owner had chosen Derecktor after he commissioned the company’s Fort Lauderdale yard to refit one of his previous yachts. “The owner is an American. He’s acquired his wealth here,” she explained. “He wanted an American shipyard.”
A build of such a scale is no easy task for any yard. Prior to this, the largest luxury motoryacht Derecktor had built was the 114-foot Mit-sea-Ah. But it had a history of completing widely varying, demanding projects, including a pair of 235-foot Alaska state ferries and three America’s Cup 12-meter-class sloops, all named Stars & Stripes. Still, to construct a vessel that’s only about seven yards shorter than a football field takes extraordinary expertise and determination. And as I stood there on the unfinished foredeck, four flights above the shop’s concrete floor, with my hand against the smooth, cold aluminum of her unfinished bridge, I tried to comprehend why I was feeling a sense of pride in something that I had no hand in making.
“We came here because we spent almost three years in Holland building the last boat and we wanted more control …over the construction and the methods of construction,” explains Bill Zinser, Cakewalk’s build captain. “Derecktor has a reputation for excelling at the technical aspects.” The yard’s modular-construction technique was another main consideration of the owner and one Zinser praises. This method should allow Derecktor to finish construction in 2010, about 31⁄2 years after work began, and provide both better control over the construction and superior quality.
“It’s working out all the details that is truly keeping the yard busy,” says Gavin Higgins, Derecktor’s director of project management. “It’s hopefully the first of many such builds, and consequently, every element had to be integrated into the design because of the high level of finish required.” One such element was Cakewalk’s acoustical target. The owner specified that the limit for dockside or at-anchor sound levels be 45 decibels (65 dB-A is the level of normal conversation). To achieve this, the engineering team double-rafted (adding redundant mounts) items like gensets, washing machines, and virtually any other vibration-inducing component that would be running on a 24-hour cycle, especially while the owner is aboard. To further dampen vibration, engineers “floated” each module of the interior, giving each section its own isolation mounts.
Tim Heywood Design, which conceived of Cakewalk in concert with Azure Naval Architects of Holland, faced an engineering challenge of its own while drafting the tender bay. (It will house a 37-foot Vikal limousine tender capable of 50 knots, a 35-foot Intrepid with diesel inboards and a top speed of 45 knots, a special edition 33-foot Aquariva Centro, and a 14-foot RIB.) To maintain the structural integrity of such a mammoth space in the midsection of the vessel, Heywood inserted a reverse strongback above the doors. Constructed of steel instead of aluminum, this arched girder disperses weight and eliminates weak points says Zinser.
Even decorative elements on a boat of this scale require inventive approaches. “It took us about two years to design the millwork,” states Liz Dalton, whose company Dalton Designs is responsible for the interior look and arrangement. “We used [a motif of] cherry and went through a lot of iterations getting the right tone for the wood. It’s a medium-brown color, and we didn’t want it to be too dark or simply pale.”
And that’s only the start. Each deck seems to have its own dedicated wood and thus its own unique feel. The main saloon, which is smaller and more formal than the owner’s saloon above, with its limed-oak joinery, contains a library that doubles as a place to greet incoming guests. In order to engender a warm and welcoming feeling, Dalton opted for South American rosewood bookshelves flanking a marble fireplace; the rosewood extends to other parts of the main deck, including dining room cabinets that flank the round 12-person walnut table. Up on the less formal bridge deck, Dalton chose lighter pecky cypress accents to create an ambiance in tune with sunbathing and casual dining.
Obtaining the requisite timber hasn’t been easy. For instance, to get enough high-grade cherry, Derecktor had to select multiple mills, determine and institute a unified staining and finishing process, and periodically travel to the sites to perform quality control. But Dalton says the real trick has been to maintain a constant look and finish for all the various pieces. And when you recall that cherry is just one of the woods used and that wood is just one decorative element among almost countless others, from the paint on the overheads’ frescos to the lapis lazuli eyes of the octopus-shape faucet in the sundeck’s head, the project’s scope and scale becomes apparent.
According to Peter Doering, Cakewalk’s project manager, the key to the build’s success is integrating all of these disparate elements: “[We have] lots and lots of meetings. Each day the heads of all the departments get together and discuss the day’s itinerary. We make sure that everyone’s on the same page and that all of the projects will work together and not impede each other.” This is a difficult task for any build of this size, and judging from the results I saw, the company is handling it quite well.
But perhaps the biggest achievement of the Cakewalk project—one that may be more important to the owner, the team, and me—is that it keeps manufacturing jobs in the United States. On this project alone, Derecktor’s Bridgeport shipyard employs around 300 workers. And that’s not including the myriad contractors and manufacturers looped into the project, many of which are also U.S.-based.
“Twenty-five years ago Bridgeport was the milling-machinery capital of the world,” explains Tom Derecktor, who owns the yard with his brother Paul and the rest of the Derecktor family. “Building Cakewalk…provides jobs to workers in one of the most economically depressed areas of Connecticut. The scale of this project not only means jobs now, but brings skills and techniques that can be used well into the future.”
Zinser agrees, “For an owner that concreted his financial status in America, this project is as much an assertion in his belief in this country as it is a call for others to build here.” The owner believes in American ingenuity and its ability to overcome whatever challenges we face, Zinser adds. Perhaps it was this, or a lightly thawing sense of American exceptionalism, that had actually been the root of my chill at the cocktail party. There’s something bold and exceptional in creating one of the world’s largest yachts on America’s soil after an eight-decade hiatus. An owner’s faith in his country and a yard’s determination to live up to that belief are proving that it can be done.
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This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.