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Insight: Looking to the future of American yacht building with Westport Yachts

New-Build Business
Written by
Charl van Rooy

For many, Westport Yachts and the DNA that makes up the company remains somewhat of a mystery. This American brand and its secret in-house operations that seemingly keep delivering 100+ foot yachts each season like clockwork leave much to the imagination. An understated brand that leaves the talking to the yachts it produces and their owners who live onboard, Westport is not a yacht builder you will find on your daily Instagram feed or even frequenting the superyacht news headlines. It is with much anticipation, therefore, that I head to my meeting with company President, Daryl Wakefield to learn more about the first name in American composite superyacht construction and his views on questions I am sure to share with many.

W Westport 130

It is in Miami on the latest Westport 125 where I meet Wakefield. It has been some years since my days working on a Westport 164 as crew member and the familiar layout makes me feel at home as I make my way from the aft deck inside through the crew entrance. But the shipyard’s work to make this their most modern vessel yet does not go unnoticed. More grand tourer than the family-saloon Westport 164, the 125’s black mast, raked superstructure and sleek side windows immediately sets her apart from any other member of the Westport family.

But Westport is heading further into the world of contemporary styling then simply relying on the new 125’s good looks which were unveiled in the summer of 2016 for the first time. News about their new 45-metre and 65-metre models broke at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show last year; a topic which remains shrouded in secrecy as development on these new models are in full swing according to Wakefield. 

Westport W112 profile rendering

Having been hired as General Manager at Westport in 1999 by the third partner, as the two owning Rust brothers were making their exit from the company, Wakefield’s position today comes with nearly two decades of experience at the yard. “About a year after I joined, I became President and my job turned to support our design team and to establish what it is that we should be building as we do a lot of speculative construction. We try to make our best guess as to what the new build market would want, which has proven to be a challenge over the last eight years.

Wakefield knew that to keep the trust of their clients through the difficult economic times, Westport would have to make zero mistakes as they keep construction going on their trusted and proven range of yachts. ‘On Time, On Budget, As Promised’ is more than a simple marketing tagline for Wakefield and all those who work at the shipyards in Washington. Making sure that clients are met with no surprises along the way during the build of their yachts is the only reason that Westport is able to accurately predict the launch date of a yacht up to 14 months in advance. This reliable way of operating the shipyard, Wakefield says, will not be found at any other yacht builder in the States. “I would say this is something unique to Westport and there’s a lot of pride that we take in delivering our yachts this way. There is not a person in the shipyard that doesn’t know that this is our mission. We do make mistakes along the way, but when we do, we run toward the solution and resolve it as quickly as possible.

Westport Shipyard yacht building

A businessman at heart, making deals and managing expectations of some of America’s wealthiest families all comes in a day’s work for the Wakefield. Following the economic breakdown in 2008, a handful of prominent American superyacht builders fell by the wayside and are yet to reappear on the yacht building radar. “No one was exempt from the downturn,” he says, “it affected yacht builders worldwide. I would love to say we beat everyone when that happened, but we didn’t.” So how did Westport manage to dodge the same fate that their fellow American builders were met with? “It still took a lot of hard work, to be honest, and keeping everyone focused was key. I think the reason many shipyards disappeared following the downturn was as a result of the desperation that sets in during such a period. As we have found, sometimes the best deal you make is the one you didn’t make. So we have walked away from deals that just weren’t good enough for everyone involved, which I think has kept us alive.

Now that Westport is preparing for the future in what seems to be a stabilising yacht market for America and the rest of the world, can we expect the American yacht building industry to return to its former strength that once saw some of the most iconic motor and sailing yachts be released in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Wakefield is dubious but remains secretly hopeful. “I don’t think we will see it return to the level it once was, but there is a lot of opportunity. There are a lot of yachts being built globally for American owners, and I think that a lot of them would love to have an American shipyard build their yacht. It is something I look forward to.” 

The noticeable return of American buying power in the market is another aspect that is keeping Wakefield optimistic. When asked whether this phenomenon can in any way be linked to the current administration in charge of affairs, Wakefield pauses and selects his words carefully. “America doesn’t embrace wealth or rather the display thereof the same way other nations do. It’s a shame that individuals who have worked very hard, employed a lot of people and risked just as much to do so, are almost viewed as crooks by our previous administration. Like him or not, our President embraces this way of life and it has become socially acceptable to display your wealth.

Palm Beach International Boat Show 2018Photo: Charl van Rooy / SuperYacht Times

To attract these clients and so many other owners from around the world, the aforementioned 65-metre project now in development is designed to cater to Westport’s loyal owners looking to grow along with the brand. Wakefield knows better than anyone that the current Westport line up is simply not enough for some of their more ambitious clients. “A few years ago we introduced a 50-metre boat, which was a huge step for us. We sold many of those models to existing clients but now they are outgrowing it. Delta Marine, Feadship and Lürssen are just some shipyards that have picked up some of our previous clients after our range couldn’t meet their requirements anymore. And that’s what’s motivating us to get the 65-metre in production.

But its not only existing clients Westport is looking to please, the new line additions are designed with new features to appeal to new customers who are looking for their next Made in America superyacht. Only time will tell what it is that this American builder has up its sleeves.

WESTPORT TOP 5

Annastar
One of Westport Yachts’ highest specced vessels in its W164 line, Annastar’s level of customisation is more on the level of a bespoke shipyard than Westport’s usual production method of construction. The 10th hull in the 50-metre series, Annastar’s owners selected the New York firm, Pierce Allen, to design the interior which would set Annastar apart from any other Westport 164.

Annastar in CalviW
W is one of Westport’s popular W130 motor yachts and built in 2014. An active charter yacht, she spends much of her time in the tropical waters of the Caribbean and around Florida. The Canadian designer Gregory C. Marshall, with whom Westport has collaborated on a number of occasions, is the man behind the elegant profile and tapered lines of the 130 line, of which over 40 units have been built since the year 2000.

W Westport 130Silver Moon
Ideal for use shallow-water cruising, it is no surprise to find that Silver Moon, the Westport 112, is spending much of her time around the Bahamas and the Caribbean. She may be the smallest unit in the Westport lineup, but Silver Moon comes complete with all the bells and whistles including a Jacuzzi, bar area and full family-style galley. Inside she accommodates 8 guests who are looked after by the four professional crew members who live on board.

Silver Moon in Pirates Lair Exuma

Black Gold
The most modern and athletic of all the Westport yachts, the new W125 was built to be different than any of her other sisters. Although she retains a familiar Westport feel that you instantly experience upon stepping on board, the yacht was designed from the ground up to offer clients the best in terms of modern features and comfort.

Black Gold Westport 125Evviva
Meaning ‘something beautiful’ in Italian, the 50-metre Westport motor yacht Evviva was launched in 2014 as the 12th hull in this successful line. The yacht is one of the most well-travelled yachts in the Westport fleet and has travelled from the States to the Mediterranean, New Zealand and back again.

Evviva

This article was featured in the latest edition of the SuperYacht Times newspaper. Subscribe now to receive your copy straight to your door and never miss another issue.

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