Doctors have to take practical exams throughout med school; electricians and other building contractors apprentice under a master. This is all part of the recognition of the value of “hands on” experience. And, for luxury motor yacht brokers, that means getting “our hands dirty” every now and then with a visit to the shipyards.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but to really understand the design elements that make certain products and brands unique in our brokerage space – 70’-140’ – and therefore serve our customers better, we sometimes need to experience the process from the ground up. We need to see for ourselves the details “below the surface” that translate to quality, before that final veneer is put on the woodwork.
You want a broker that truly understands the differences between all of the brands we sell, not just what may be written in the manufacturer’s brochures. Where to find those differences sometimes requires a little detective work. The laborers at the yards often jump around from one yard to the next, so what are the materials, policies, and practices that really distinguishes one builder from the other?
A first-hand visit is the only way to answer that question.
Recently, Nicholas and I took our team on such a learning adventure to tour the shipyards of Taiwan. We went looking for the designs – both interior and hull design – construction techniques, equipment and facilities, and most importantly the leadership behind the yard that make the differences. It was an exciting and eye-opening experience.
The Journey Begins
We met at the office in Marina Bay at 9 AM to catch our ride to the airport. Our ultimate destination, where most of the shipyards are, was Kaohsiung. There are a couple of options when traveling to Kaohsiung. You can fly from the states directly to Taipei, Tawain, and then you can take a bullet train to Kaohsiung. Alternatively, you can fly from the states to Hong Kong, and then catch a one-hour flight from Hong Kong into Kaohsiung. For budgetary and other reasons we chose to fly into Hong Kong, however, the most direct, and probably least taxing route is to fly from LAX to Taipei, and take the bullet train.
On the other hand, if you have never been to this part of the world, Hong Kong can be an interesting layover, and I would suggest spending a day or two exploring the city if you have the time before moving on to Kaohsiung.
Be forewarned though, if you are not planning to stay in Hong Kong, the connection to Kaohsiung can be risky with a short layover that will put you into Taiwan around 11:30 PM which is not ideal. The time difference is exactly 12 hours, so the jet lag can be pretty brutal once you’re there. The trick is to sleep as much as you can on the flight over! 16 hours in the air should give you plenty of time to sleep. In 2005 the arctic routes were opened for the ultra long haul flights so you get the experience of flying over the North Pole, depending on the winds and route your carrier takes. I’ve noticed on the last few flights over and back we typically flew at a lower altitude in a 777, so the view is pretty incredible when looking down at the North Pole and seeing the glaciers, which is a not to be missed part of the experience.
Joining me on this trip was co-owner Nicholas Scherb, William Snyder and Bill Powers. We were to meet our videographer in Taiwan, but that was our first glitch. He didn’t make it out of Hong Kong! Unfortunately he carries a Brazilian passport and didn’t know that he needed a visa to enter Taiwan. When traveling with an American passport, a visa is not required. Before traveling, if you do not hold an American passport, check and make sure you have a visa if it is required by your country of origin. It can take several days to try to get one once you arrive in Hong Kong, as our videographer can attest to!
First Stop – Dyna Yachts
Making the best of that situation, we proceeded to our first stop for this trip, which was Dyna Yachts, located in Tainan City. Tainan City is about an hour’s taxi ride north. It’s easy to hail a cab from the airport, or anywhere around Kaohsiung City, but don’t expect the taxi drivers to speak English. It’s important to write down the name and address of your hotel, and any destination you plan on going to, and google translate it in Chinese. This is very important to do before traveling and will make your travels much easier. Write down the Chinese translation and hand it to your taxi driver.
The island of Taiwan was once known as Dutch Formosa, and there is still a heavy Dutch influence throughout the island. The “old fort” in Tainan City, was built on the foundations of a Dutch stronghold named Fort Zeelandia – it is pretty cool to see.
This area, and indeed where Dyna Yachts is headquartered, has an ancient shipbuilding and maritime tradition. The earliest settlers to the region were lead there by China’s greatest navigator, Zheng He, during the Sung Dynasty, 960 – 1279. What is now known as the Tainan area was renowned during that time for advanced ship building and navigating technologies. Dyna Yachts continues this tradition. Dyna Craft was founded in 1986 by a team of highly skilled marine industry professionals possessing a singular passion about yachting and yacht building technology.
Dyna has two shipyards very close to each other that are not on the water, but inland, which is not uncommon for Taiwanese shipyards. The yachts are moved from one yard to the next after they come out of the molds and are further along in the construction process. Once the boats are completed, they are hauled over to the water for launching and sea trials.
What really makes Dyna interesting for 26 North Yachts, is we know they have the history and skill set to build exceptional semi-custom yachts. They are now extremely serious about becoming major players in the U.S. market by not only building inventory boats to send to the U.S. but also giving 26 North Yachts the opportunity to influence new models and designs.
We began by meeting with Dyna to inspect and further determine specifications for the build of a new Dyna 60 and new Dyna 68 both going to Fort Lauderdale upon completion. The Dyna 60 is about 70% complete and the 68 about 20% having just come out of the molds. Although the 60 and 68 are smaller than our core market, this is just the beginning of what’s to come with Dyna Yachts.
I was immediately impressed with the size of Dyna’s yard. It was large enough to have the skill set and state-of-the-art tooling required to allow for modern hull design and construction, yet small enough for buyers to have a hands-on experience, and their boats built to their individual needs and desires.
As a dealer, this is really the kind of builder you want to partner with. One that is committed to quality and craftsmanship, but who is also open to building boats specific to the requirements of our customers and marketplace. Dyna fits that bill, and then some!
Dyna Yachts continues to be extremely committed to the U.S. market, developing new models for the future. Presently under construction are the 52, 60 and 68 with more models to come.
In Tainan City we stayed at a hotel called Silk Place. This is a very nice property with all the “western” amenities you could hope for, along with breakfast options that include local faire. It is only about 20 minutes from the shipyards, and the yards provided transportation there and back.
After meeting with Dyna for two days we met with President Yachts, which is also located in Tainan City.
President has over 40 years of experience in building and exporting luxury motor yachts. One of the things that sets President apart is their understanding and use of CAD design computer graphics. The company prides itself on its ability to make faster and more accurate 3D fluid dynamic wave patterns and resistance technology studies. This way, potential owners can see and understand a yacht’s performance prior to and during the construction process.
Unlike Dyna, President Yachts is on the water, but like Dyna, they are also a very capable yard. They recently completed and are getting ready to launch a new 88’ for a Japanese customer. They have a 115’ in inventory at their docks, and a 130’ under construction along with a few smaller boats. They are certainly a capable yard building both semi-production and custom yachts to order. Like many of the Taiwanese yards, they are used to effectively using various sized molds, so they can custom build a yacht to your specifications.
President has that very desirable combination of great tools, great laborers, and a desire to put them to use to custom build to the buyers design requirements.
After our visit with President, we took the bullet train from Tainan to Kaohsiung where we stayed at the Grand Hi Lai Hotel. Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan with plenty to do and tons of yacht builders. The Gran Hi Lai is a huge hotel that’s one of the better places to stay in the city, with a large international guest list. It was a nice and relaxing place to return after touring the shipyards.
Kaohsiung is home to most of the Taiwanese motor yacht builders, including: Horizon, Ocean Alexander, Offshore, Hargrave and New Ocean. We chose to visit with Horizon and New Ocean.
Opportunities with New Ocean and Horizon
From President Yachts, we moved on to New Ocean Yachts and Horizon Yachts. New Ocean much like President, and the other smaller builders, was distinguished by its management. Management is the key to getting what you want out of the Taiwanese yards.
These smaller yacht builders often have similar tooling and resources. So, particularly when you are looking at some of the smaller yards such as New Ocean, it is who is managing the shipyard that will set them apart. For me, the beauty of coming here, and dealing with one of these yards, is if you have the right people overseeing the laborers in place, you can truly build a yacht to your exact specifications and customized to your needs.
New Ocean is becoming well-known for building exceptional quality boats from 45-115ft, with several foreign brands building with them.
Horizon Yachts stands apart from many of the Taiwanese shipyards for various reasons. For starters, they have state-of-the-art shipyards that are capable of building just about anything. Their testing and R&D capabilities are unsurpassed on the Island. Horizon has one of the largest CNC routers in the country, and the unique ability to build scale models for tank testing at the local university. Their composite yard is unlike anything I’ve seen before, even here in the States, employing advanced building techniques similar to those used in the aerospace industry.
But one of the things that really makes Horizon the jewel in the Taiwanese shipbuilding crown, is they can price out a boat and provide a build time with almost 100% accuracy. This is largely because of their unique online management system that allows Horizon to monitor each build in real time, from labor cost, materials, all the way through the various stages of construction.
There are status monitors next to every build, where employees are required to check in and out, monitor their tasks, receive instructions, etc. This system not only monitors every build for quality control, it is a way for the yard to constantly monitor itself, and find ways to improve efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Customization is the watchword at Horizon. In their onsite showroom a customer can handpick every material from leather to granites.
Heading for Home
As our plane took to the skies, and banked west heading for home, I looked down on the shipyards, and reflected on our visit.
The best way I can describe my latest visit to the shipyards of Tainan and Kaohsiung was a feeling of a kind of organized chaos. But, the more time I spent at the various yards, the greater my appreciation for this unique workforce grew.
These are a people steeped in a long history of maritime traditions with pride in workmanship I could see reflected in their professionalism and dedication to producing nothing but first class motor yachts. At the same time, it is the culture and government that allows the yards of Taiwan to operate the way they do, and still produce the quality they do. I do not think you could operate a shipyard of the magnitude of Horizon’s in Kaohsiung, and get the same quality, at the same costs, anywhere else in the world — certainly not in the U.S.
The thing is, much of the workforce is a little like an extremely talented sports team without a good coach – they have the raw talent, but they lack guidance to really become champions. This is not true for all, but mainly of the new players to the market. They are very good at doing things by the book, but need a little help in “thinking outside of the box.” That is why these visits are so important. With a little firsthand experience to nudge them in the right direction, they can do great things.
We were all also quite amazed with the hospitality and genuine help we received from our various hosts during our visit. In addition to getting the hands-on education we came for, we got a taste of the Taiwanese culture, had some wonderful meals, met some interesting folks, and were treated to the rich history of this magnificent little island.