Superyacht production booming in Washington

SEATTLE – Washington’s leading ship builders are designing and launching ever-larger yachts and leading a global trend toward increasingly extravagant pleasure craft, MSNBC reported in a recent story on its Web site.

Delta Marine Industries Inc. in Seattle is currently preparing to deliver a 240-foot custom-built yacht named Laurel that is, according to the company, the largest yacht built in the United States in 75 years. Laurel’s owners are Americans, although Delta won’t disclose their identity.

Around the state, other builders are building a number of other supersized yachts. Vancouver, Wash.-based Christensen Shipyards Inc. is considering whether to develop a 205-foot yacht, even as it takes orders for its new, 170-foot model.

Westport Shipyard Inc., in Port Angeles, Wash., has launched a 164-foot superyacht that is now the largest of its growing line, while Northern Marine in Anacortes, Wash., is currently building a 151-foot yacht, according to the story.

“People’s appetites for big boats continue to grow,” said Jim Gilbert, founder and former editor of Showboats International. “I don’t think it’s a conspicuous consumption phenomena. I think it reflects the fact that people want to go further and further on their boats; they want to be independent from land.”

Demand for the boats is so high that buyers of megayachts can count on selling their yachts a few years after purchase and making a 10 percent profit, Gilbert said.

“The capacity around the world for building them is quite restricted,” Gilbert said, adding that when these yachts are sold, “It’s common for the yacht owners to make more money than the shipyards that build them.”

Builders expand to meet demand

The demand has driven substantial investments in Washington shipyards, which are expanding to keep up with their order books, according to the story.

Christensen just finished adding 55,000 square feet to its Vancouver plant, and now has 170,000 square feet, enough for a dozen construction bays, each capable of assembling a vessel up to 170 feet long.

The company received orders for three 170-footers in the first few weeks after that model was available, even though the first such vessel won’t be ready until 2009. Christensen also has six 157-footers under construction, with orders for three more. The company employs 450, and president Joe Foggia expects to add another 100 workers.

“We’re going as fast as we possibly can. We start a new one every four months,” Foggia said. The company isn’t even pushing for new orders, because back orders are now “so far out it’s ridiculous,” he said.

Delta last year constructed a 360-foot manufacturing and assembly building where yachts can be built and finished under protection from weather, part of a three-phase expansion that increased Delta’s enclosed manufacturing space to 275,000 square feet, according to the story.

And Westport is building its largest yachts in a 120,000-square-foot facility in Port Angeles that was designed with three mezzanines, so workers can efficiently work on a vessel’s three decks. The company will employ more than 850 when vessel construction reaches its expected rate, said Tammi Higgins, vice president of administration.

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