American yard Christensen Shipyards has announced that it is moving production from Vancouver, Washington to Tennesee. In a deal announced at the beginning of February, the yard's existing 180,000 square-foot facility in Vancouver's Columbia Business Park will be used by the American shipbuilding company, Vigor Industrial, which intends to manufacture a new type of landing craft for the US army called the Maneuver Support Vessel (Light), according to The Columbian. Photo: Christensen Shipyards Based at Tellico Lake, Tennessee, the new shipyard is substantially larger than the yard's existing facility, consisting of 55 acres with 450,000 square feet of climate-controlled manufacturing space and offering 13 large manufacturing and assembly bays. The new facility will allow the yard to expand its portfolio and build hulls up to almost 70 metres. We sat down with Christensen's President, Jim Gilbert, to find out more about the new facility and the shipyard's plans for the future.
The new yard will have facilities for yachts up to 70 metres: what kind of boats will you be looking to build moving forward?
We will be looking, of course, to build larger yachts both in length and beam. One of the drawbacks of the Vancouver facility is that it was set up in the early 1990s to build yachts up to 45 metres and a maximum 10 metres of beam. The 50-metre class yachts we have been building really were difficult to build in the facility, and as you know, the strongest part of the market continues to be in the construction of over-500 GT vessels. The new facility offers us unlimited beam and no future limits on length, as we have plenty of space and ability to expand on the length of yachts we construct spending on market demand. But for starters, we will be building up to 220’ in length.
Have you already sold any projects which will be built in the new yard?
We are currently in negotiations for our first contracts in the new facility. We have six months of work left to finish construction, move existing equipment, and so on. So we are looking to use the intervening time to develop designs for several new lines of boats. But our main aim remains the same, to build seaworthy, large volume boats to the highest standards of maritime safety and finish quality. You have two boats currently in build at your yard in Vancouver, one of which was sold in 2018 (038). Has the other boat, the 042 been sold and will it be finished in the current yard, or taken to Tennessee?
How do you envisage the recruitment process and finding enough new staff will be for the new facility?
Most people don’t understand that this particular area is a centre for medium-size yacht construction. Within a 20-minute drive of the plant are various high-quality manufacturers, including Sea Ray, who at peak production have as many as 5,000 boatbuilders in employment.
The region is also a traditional centre of high-quality cabinetmakers and furniture makers. In addition, the lake boat industry is centred in the same region, offering a workforce experienced in wiring, plumbing and various welding trades. We have offered our current employees the chance to move to Tennessee at their current salaries and are in the process of developing a program for moving benefits, etc. But we don’t anticipate it will prove difficult to staff up the new yard with high-quality craftsmen, artisans and boatbuilders. Christensen Yachts builds a lot of yachts in GRP. If you are moving towards potentially building bigger boats, would you be looking towards building vessels in steel or aluminium?
Yes, while now we are strictly limited to GRP construction, we will have the ability to build in other materials, as well. If the demand is strong enough for steel hulls, for examples, we have enough surrounding property to build a dedicated steel fabricating shed. Photo: ChristensenWhat is your view of the American New-Build market in general terms?
We remain firmly committed to strengthening US yacht-building capacity and quality. But we also believe that in order to tap into a larger portion of the yacht market, it is important to build closer to the centres of American and European yachting. Not only does the Tennessee location add value to our clients due to the lower cost of labour in that region, but having a facility located less than two hours’ flight time from 75% of America’s population we think will make Christensen Shipyards a more accessible and convenient place to build our customers’ yachts.
The Tennessee location cuts by a third the post-delivery time and cost and substantially diminishes the wear and tear to which our yachts were exposed during the previous 5500nm post-deliveries from the Columbia River through the Panama Canal to South Florida.
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