A half year ago, I was asked to write some features on superyachts, so after all that work I thought to put them here after they were published, so here’s the first…
Build it and they will come
When Wayne Huizenga Jr. bought Rybovich Spencer in 2004, the plan was to develop the property into condos, marina and a retail space.
But that’s not what’s happening on those 15 acres of Flagler Drive waterfront now. Huizenga tweaked the plans in 2007, creating what he calls a “superyacht destination” with a five-star marina and DEP-certified “Clean Marina” service facility that are sights to be seen.
At the marina, 60 to 90 gorgeous, gleaming superyachts, up to 315 feet in length, are tied up at almost 1.5 miles of dockage. This would be during peak season, from the end of January to the end of May and heating up again from mid September to Christmas, with average stays of 61 days.
The service side – with new carpentry, mechanical, electrical, pipefitting, paint and fabrication shops, as well as office space – bustles with activity. Yachts are being worked on in nine dry-dock spaces, wet slips, inside special tent-like paint enclosures, or being hoisted up out of the water by an enormous 660-ton lift.
Before 2007, larger boats were passing through on their way to the islands, and to entice more of them to come and get them to stay, Huizenga wanted to provide them with a place to go for repairs and refits. “If you were to drive through the desert, you’d need to know where you could go to get your car fixed,” explains Francois van Well, vice president of business development for Rybovich. “A superyacht destination was not going to happen here if there was no place to get the boat fixed if it had a problem.”
Rybovich also offers a brand new café and gym, because Huizenga wanted to create a nice environment for the crew, van Well says. “A yacht can have 20 or more crewmembers living aboard. Wayne Junior likes to say, ‘We have a resort; the customer brings the bed.’”
Alex Dreyfoos gets the concept. He’s the owner of Silver Cloud, a 134-foot SWATH (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull) that was docked at Rybovich this winter. “Everybody I’ve talked with, they all want to be up here,” Dreyfoos says. “Rybovich has great crew facilities, exercise gym, lounges, Internet cafes. Other shipyards have nothing. So if the owner asks his captain, ‘where should we take the boat?’ the captain most likely will say, ‘We ought to go to Rybovich,’”
Currently, the next best alternative to Rybovich for service and refits are commercial facilities, but those don’t have the yacht owner and captain’s sensibilities.
“Workers need to be technically skilled, but they also have to be clean, tidy and meticulous,” says David Clarke, previous captain of the 240-foot Delta yacht, Laurel, which was also docked at Rybovich this winter. “It’s about care and detail – a different mentality. You don’t want someone putting his tool box down on a nice surface and scratching it.”
Rybovich completes 250 to 300 projects a year that can run from a week to 11 months, van Well says. “We do warranty work, annual maintenance work, service work, five-year work required by Classification Societies, and small to large refurbishments.
“Right now, we have a 160-foot boat that’s going to be extended to a new length, 185 feet. It’s an 11-month project that involves engineering, building the new extension, cutting off the end of the yacht, and putting on the new extension.
“We are also going to refurbish its interior, repaint the whole boat, renew all the teak decks, replace cranes and upgrade some of the mechanical equipment.”
The ability to haul boats out of the water is a major attraction. In addition to the 660-ton lift (which can handle boats 100 to 185 feet) in its main yard, Rybovich has a 150-ton lift at its 15-acre Riviera Beach facility, RMC, where it services smaller boats (up to 90 to 100 feet). Also, its 3,000-ton floating dry dock at the Port of Palm Beach is used to haul the largest vessels (up to 250 feet) out of the water, and serves as an interim solution until Rybovich can dredge a deeper channel from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Riviera Beach facility. Once that’s been done, Rybovich plans to have a 4,000-ton lift, capable of hauling out even larger vessels (up to 340 feet).
“There’s nothing like our facility anywhere. No one has incorporated all the aspects we have into one facility,” van Well says. “We can work on boats from 40 to 300 feet and the fact that we can lift boats out of the water is one of the reasons our customers come to us (typical reasons for hauling boats out of the water include antifouling, painting and fixing rudders, shafts, stabilizers, or propellers).”
For example, “a large boat’s propeller can be six-feet in diameter and hundreds of pounds. If it hit a sandbar and is out-of-balance or chipped or has a bent blade, we’d have to get the boat out of the water to recondition the propellers and pitch the propeller blades in the right position. It’s like when you get the wheels rebalanced on your car,” van Well says.
Or on older boats, sometimes putting in a new engine is necessary when parts are no longer available. In that case, a boat would have to be pulled out of the water so that a hole can be cut into it to install the new engine, he explains.
To be a one-stop-shop, Rybovich has created a diverse workforce, pay-rolling 240 carpenters, fabricators, painters, pipe fitters, mechanics and electricians. For high levels of skill and optimum efficiency, employees are trained and cross-trained.
“We supplement our workforce with subcontractors and co-makers – on average, 200 to 300 workers per day in season – so that we can handle the work that comes to us,” van Well says. “By controlling our processes, we can deliver on time, and due to our efficiency, we can price competitively.”
Rybovich gives fixed-price bids, rather than dollars-per-hour and the cost includes the price of dedicated in-house project managers.
“With a yacht, it’s as if you put a custom Rolls Royce in the water, shake it around, and expect it to stay in seven-star condition,” says Mark Lacey, captain of Arianna, a 164-foot yacht built by Delta. “The yacht comes with the accoutrements of a luxury hotel and it might need any of a multitude of repairs, from engine work, to Jacuzzi or radar repairs, to jet skis servicing. Rybovich has can-do people who can resolve problems.”
The 2007 change in direction was not a mega-foot leap of faith, if you will, but a natural progression.
“More superyachts were being built at that time, and Ft. Lauderdale boatyards were catering to boats up to 150 feet,” van Well recalls.
“We knew our location would be perfect for a superyacht destination, just south of the Port of Palm Beach with adequate draft, no bridges, and direct access to the Palm Beach Inlet and a clean, high-end facility like ours suits Palm Beach.”
The new plan is working well. Rybovich’s revenue is growing at a rate of 20 to 30 percent annually. Economic impact from Rybovich for the county was $133 million last year, with crews alone bringing in $45 million.
“When crew comes here for the yachts’ service periods, they have time to set up a base camp for things like dentist and doctor appointments,” van Well says. “That brings business to our community around our facility.”
Also, Rybovich is working with the local CRA to attract additional support businesses in the yachting industry to the neighborhood, which would make West Palm Beach a more attractive destination for yacht owners and yachting professionals as well as increase economic activity and tax revenue for the city.
During the summer, Rybovich takes on larger projects that take more time, as well as servicing smaller boats.
Sidebar with statistic from Superyacht Intelligence 2012 report:
- At the time of publication, there were 4,433 yachts in the superyacht fleet, and vessels under construction began to move up from 288 yachts in the order book in 2003 to 435 in 2007 to 587 in 2009.
- 415 yachts were under construction at shipyards around the world, with 69 percent built by European yards and 21 percent built in the Americas.
- From a sample of 2,735 yachts, the registered homeport of 48 percent of the superyacht fleet was Europe, with 40 percent based in the Americas.
- Yachts spent less than half the year in their homeports, with the rest of the time cruising. And of that number, the average yacht spent 70 percent of its time cruising the Mediterranean.
A final statistic from the Palm Beach International Boat Show: “This year compared to last year, Palm Beach International Boat Show, one of the top 10 boat shows in the country, overall attendance was up 3.7 percent and in-water boat displays were up 27.7 percent.”
Photo credit: Rybovich