Long Ranger, by Capt. Bill Pike, Photography by Jim Raycroft (continued)
Southeast Asian Travels
The story of how Fritz found Song Thu Shipyard, a wholly owned subsidiary of Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense, and subsequently convinced the principals there to get into the yacht-building business proved pretty entertaining. It began with Fritz’s plan to tap a slice of the marine marketplace that he felt was underserved. He wanted to build large, ultra-safe globetrotting vessels, offer comfortable accommodations in them, and cut their operational complexity to a manageable minimum, thereby facilitating easy maintenance and repairs even in far-flung places.
“Steel is the obvious medium for the hull,” explained Fritz. “In my opinion, it is the strongest and therefore the safest material and, also, it’s the easiest to repair. Maybe you can’t find an expert fiberglass repair guy in the middle of nowhere, but you’re almost sure to find a good welder.”
Based on former experiences in China, Fritz initially focused on that country as the homeport for his new venture. But then he got a call from Lienart, an old friend and associate who’d recently left a quality-control job at a yard in China for a similar job in Vietnam. The once war-torn country, enthused the Brit, was thriving industrially. The shipyards were spectacular, and so was the work ethic.
“All the excitement piqued my interest,” said Fritz. “I caught a plane.”
Within months, Fritz was exploring Vietnam, from top to bottom, urban to rural, sophisticated to rudimentary, checking out one shipyard after another.
“By the time I finally settled on Song Thu,” he said, “I’d done in-depth research on some 20 yards and actually visited a total of 16 over a period of about a year and a half. It was fascinating, really. You know, Bill, you could visit Song Thu yourself—I think you’d find it very instructive.”