Boatbuilding facilities come in all shapes and sizes around the world. They range from mom-and-pop shops in little more than a two-car garage under a Banyan tree to ultra-modern manufacturing facilities with skyscraping paint sheds and cranes that look like they belong at the Port of Long Beach, bearing more resemblance to a NASA subcontractor than a yacht yard. It should be no surprise that the nature of the facilities bears no relation whatsoever to the skill and dedication of the builders ensconced therein.
Among the wide variety of boatbuilding venues, the traditional working boatyard is certainly the most inviting to a yacht designer and engineer like me. Being immediately adjacent to navigable water, each working boatyard’s real estate is in high demand by condo developers, nature preservationists, various competing industries and innumerable other would-be buyers or tenants. So it is always a pleasure when I have the opportunity to work with a well-established yard that builds their own boats right where their owners go to have them serviced.
Old-school boatyards are each unique in their own right, but they invariably share several common traits. For one, they are rarely paved; their gravel or crushed-shell grounds provide a reassuring early warning crunch every time a truck or Travelift is on the move.
Old-school boatyards don’t have swimming pools, putting greens or a sushi bar overlooking the day spa. There’s a faded blue 1962 Ford Super Dextra tractor parked where the pool would be, but no one dares dig up the soil for fear of what might have been dumped there in 1940. A putting green might look nice over where the machine shop is, but that’s not gonna happen until ol’ Roy in the dirty overalls smoking a cigarette over there by the propane tank is dead and gone. And sushi tastes best when you catch it yourself offshore, which is the entire raison d’etre of this boatyard in the first place. No plans are being drawn up for “Emeril’s Boatyard Fish House” next to the fuel dock.
The individual vessels resting on jackstands in a real boatyard almost always run the full spectrum, from gleaming Bristol-condition showpieces to the boat which has clearly been rotting away in the same spot for a quarter century. The latter always triggers speculation as to the magnitude of delinquency of the owner’s yard bill, and begs for a guess as to when both the boat and the bill will be cut up by ol’ Roy.
Every true boatyard has at least one “yard car,” a vehicle with no license or registration, and one which could not pass any emissions test in the known universe. The yard car remains in the friendly confines of the yard, never venturing out into the big bad world of soccer moms and strip malls. The yard “car” is often a pickup, without a tailgate or sometimes even a bed, and is used for a hundred tasks a day. During my college summers I worked in a real boatyard, and our worst/best yard car was a pea green Ford Pinto with nothing more than a wood keel block for a left rear suspension. It rode just fine on the gravel.
And no real boatyard is complete without a guest apartment nestled above a wood shop or machine shop. I was a guest in such an apartment at Huckins Yacht in Jacksonville, Florida, for whom we designed the first-ever Huckins sportfisherman with pod propulsion.
This venerable Florida yard has been in business since Ponce de León needed his first pumpout. The shack housing the apartment on the second floor was built before he needed his second. But don’t be fooled by the craggy, salt-baked exterior. Inside this sunburnt building is an ice-cold luxury enclave which would make Conrad Hilton proud, especially after a long hot day around the yard. There’s a living room with a 70-inch TV, a quiet bedroom in the back with a king-size bed and a kitchen with fridge full of beer and Dove bars. You won’t find comfort like that at a NASA subcontractor.