Smoother Sailing For Local Yacht Builder

It’s nestled among other boat builders on Tampa’s Rattlesnake Point, just south of the Gandy Bridge. Only this one has the 300-ton capacity Synchrolift out front. You don’t find it unless you’ve bypassed the trendy Rattlesnake Grille, you’re looking for work or you’re in the market for a seven-or -eight-figure luxury vessel.

Welcome to the 7.5-acre, 6-bay Westship World Yachts, where, indeed, if you have to ask “How much?” you probably can’t afford it. In fact, Westship’s most recently delivered yacht, a 145-foot “Boardwalk” model, sold (to a Houston buyer) for more than $18 million.

Since 2001, Westship has built and delivered two 103-footers at $8.6 million apiece, and another 145-footer for $18 million plus. A 112-footer ($8.9 million) just closed to a Bay Area buyer. Several others in the 112-foot “Liberty” (yacht fisherman) series are in the works.

They are turnkey operations, points out Allan Hollison, Westship’s vice president/operations. “They’ll have everything from electronics to artwork and bed linens when delivered.

“We were building on spec,” says Hollison, “but we prefer contractual. Like anything else, you need to get that first one out. Once the industry sees it, they’re easier to sell.”Westship is actually a reincarnation. Its previous owner was Trident Shipworks, which hit bankruptcy shoals in 1999. EMC Corp. founder Richard Egan bought it in 2000 and renamed it Westship.

With a cash infusion and a more buoyant economy, the sailing has been decidedly smoother. The competition, says Hollison, is limited to about 20 shipyards worldwide, including a couple in Michigan and several in the Pacific Northwest. Others are scattered in Europe, Australia, New Zealand — and the new (price-cutting) kid on the yacht block, China.

To keep up, Westship must accommodate a market that is demanding larger, more sophisticated product, which includes increasingly high-tech touches — especially in communication equipment. Westship, whose on-site shops include cabinet/mill, metal fabrication, interior refinishing, painting, and electronics plus staff engineers and architects, must stay flexible in its customization work, Hollison underscores.

“Put it this way, it’s a lot more than fabric and wallpaper,” he says. More like a range from formal dining areas, hot tubs and a variety of furniture finishes to accommodations for wave runners and Harleys.

“Our goal,” Hollison notes, “is to build and deliver four 112’s a year. Then supplement that with R&R (repair and refit).” Currently, the R&R work accounts for about a third of Westship’s business. (A recent, full exterior paint job on a 145-footer, for example, cost $250,000.) Last year, the maintenance side did about $2 million. The company anticipates a 50 percent jump in 2004.

Westship, whose 100-employee base is expected to grow to 160-180 (two shifts), also will build non-yachts, such as the $1 million, 65-foot speedboat (commercial thrill ride) it’s fashioning for the owner of a national restaurant chain.

“This is a very interesting business,” says Hollison. “The clients (most of whom prefer media anonymity) have worked all their lives to get themselves in a situation where they can buy a yacht. The dynamics are very low key. Casual. No suits, no leather shoes. Who would they be trying to impress?

“It gets personal and one-on-one,” adds Hollison. “It becomes a matter of trust. The dollars are the score card.”

Younger Yachters

Fueled in part by Information Age, whiz kid gazillionaires, the client base for yachts and the “fishing chic” scene has been trending younger. More like 40-somethings rather than the 50-60ish demographic. Even the crews are younger.

“It used to be older and more tradition-minded,” says Westship’s Vice President/Operations Allan Hollison. “And a lot more formal. I mean it was a big deal to drop the flag at sunset. You don’t see so much of that any more.

“The younger customers want their toys (hot tubs, places to keep motorcycles) and their satellites,” adds Hollison. “People now want the capacity to have their office with them and be able to communicate anywhere in the world.”

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