Building Cakewalk was no cakewalk, but Paul Derecktor, CEO of the U.S. yard that built her, says construction of the 281-foot yacht - the largest launched in America in 80 years - is good for Derecktor Shipyards and U.S. boatbuilding.
"There's a mystique about northern European yachtbuilding," says Derecktor, who owns yards in Bridgeport, Conn., Mamaroneck, N.Y., and Dania, Fla. (www.derecktor.com).
Derecktor says Cakewalk's August launch in Bridgeport should throw cold water on that mystique, which has wooed the super-rich away from U.S. yards to those in Germany and Holland for the really big, really sumptuous, really expensive yachts - the superyachts that are 250, 300 even 400 feet. "American clients have a choice now," Derecktor says. "They don't have to go overseas to get a good boat built. They can stay here and do it. It's good for our company, it's good for our suppliers and the other people we work with and, in a small way, it's good for the U.S. economy."
Derecktor has built some very big vessels - 235-foot fast ferries and 270-foot Coast Guard cutters. And he has built some fine yachts - America's Cup and maxi racers, as well as cruising yachts - but nothing like Cakewalk. "The challenge in building Cakewalk is the sheer scope and size," he says. "It's easily 10 times the volume of any yacht we've ever done before."
Derecktor needed lots of space (the Bridgeport yard covers 23 acres); a big enough shed (it has a 300-foot-long shed that can be extended to 400 feet); enough skilled workers (he estimates the number at 400, most in-house but some not); and a supersize launch system. He had to widen his 4,000-ton dry dock to accommodate Cakewalk's nearly 50-foot beam and had to develop a way to roll her between the shed and dry dock - using enormous inflatable tubes.
"We did all the structural work. We did [almost] all the systems. We did the electrical and the exterior work - the big laminated cap rails," he says. He subcontracted the paint job and most of the interior woodwork - a huge undertaking. "It was too much for us. We didn't have enough people," he says.
Cakewalk is a beautiful boat with lots of curves - in the hull especially, which "stand out and set it apart from anything I've seen," Derecktor says.
That, too, presents challenges. "My father [Robert] invented a method for rolling plate - steel and aluminum - that allows us to put compound curves into the plates," he says. The curves hold their shape as plates are welded into the hull or superstructure, so the surface is "extremely fair," he says. "We don't have to use a lot of fairing compound."
The response to Cakewalk has been thumbs up. "Everyone who's seen the boat says it's fantastic," Derecktor says.
This has given him the chance to position the family-owned Bridgeport yard as the "only mid-tier shipyard in New England," one that can build vessels of 400 to 500 feet. He says he has bids out on three yacht projects between 235 and 282 feet and is discussing another dozen builds between 180 and 295 feet - a sign that the yard's stock is rising, even though the economy remains sluggish.
He is trying to woo superyacht refits to Bridgeport, which the yard can work on year-round with the big heated shed. He also is talking about bringing production-boat work to Derecktor for the first time in its history.
He says Derecktor's strength remains its flexibility. It has talented craftsmen who can build and repair fine yachts, as well as burly workboats. "That's what we've done for the last 64 years," he says. "It has helped us through some tough times."
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This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue.