Monday, September 2, 2013

Fixing A Hole

It's often been said by boat owners themselves that boats are nothing more than a hole to pour money into. The unexpected repairs and annual maintenance involved in trying to fight a losing battle against Mother Nature who is doing everything in her power to sink, rust or otherwise destroy a boat are truly not for the feint of heart or pocketbook. Building them is even more expensive and, the bigger they are, the more staggering the numbers.

Current view of Vancouver Shipyards
Take for example the recent $8 billion shipbuilding contract awarded to Washington Marine Group Seaspan to build 7 non-combat vessels including an icebreaker, two naval support ships, three fisheries vessels and one oceanographic vessel.  $8 billion equals the combined average income tax paid by 800,000 Canadian families; a large number by any measurement, especially when the entire Canadian population is only 35,000,000. Even before they can start, Seaspan had to put $200 million into upgrading its existing shipyard and drydock facilities including the installation of a 300 ton gantry crane.

Proposed rendering of  upgraded Vancouver Shipyards

Cruise ship in Vancouver dry dock - photo by Junie Quiroga
The dry dock is already quite capable of handling large vessels needing repairs, retrofits, and maintenance including a variety of freighters, ferries, and cruise ships that have been serviced here over the years. In Victoria, where the Washington Marine Group also owns and operates Victoria Shipyards, repairs and maintenance continue on the submarines Canada bought for next to nothing from Great Britain 15 years ago and still aren't capable of being anything but a tourist attraction despite the billions spent so far to make them operational. Time, however, works against all marine vessels and, if and when these submarines are ever back in the water, their 1960's technology will be hopelessly out of date and taxpayers will be once again digging into their pockets for billions more to build or purchase newer ones.

Canadian submarine in Victoria drydock
These new shipbuilding and repair facilities are supposed to be employing thousands of skilled workers, many of whom do not even yet exist but are frantically undergoing training while the upgrade to the yards continues and Seaspan management works out the logistics to making it all come together.  Given the cost overuns of the FastCatFerry fiasco, (a budgeted $70 million per ferry ended up costing $150 million per ferry) also built by the Washington Marine Group, who then later bought the ferries for $6.5 million each and sold them to buyers in Abu Dhabi for an undisclosed price, it should make us all a bit nervous about the size of this upcoming hole that's sure to appear.

Fast Cat ferry being towed by Seaspan tugs
Nobody can argue there isn't money to be made in the ship building and repair business if you have the facilities, skilled workers, and know how to write a good contract. Since 1902 Vancouver Shipyards has been building and repairing boats for the navy and other government and commercial operators under a variety of corporate owners before becoming part of Seaspan in 1970 and then, in 1996, part of the Washington Marine Group when it purchased Seaspan. Dennis Washington, who owns the Washington Marine Group that his son Kyle is now running, has a net worth of over $4 billion and is listed as the 58th richest person in America.

Attessa IV in drydock
When you have that amount of money the only way you can hope to spend it is by buying a boat, and the bigger the better.  Even if you own the shipyard doing the repairs and retrofitting it still gets expensive. Just ask Dennis who poured millions over a 3 year period into making his yacht an award winning masterpiece and # 23 in the world's largest yachts ranking.  The accompanying link details some of the effort that went into this incredible effort.
Attessa IV out of drydock

Serene waiting to go in dry dock - photo by Junie Quiroga

But no matter how much money you have and how big your boat is there is always someone with even more money and a need for an even bigger boat to spend it on.  This summer the mega yacht Serene, (the 11th largest yacht in the world) owned by Russian vodka tycoon,Yuri Sheffler, was in dry dock getting work done.  Not sure if he was shaken or stirred by the bill when it was presented to him but at least it kept the crew at Vancouver Shipyards busy while they wait for the really big holes to show up to be built or fixed.
Serene in drydock - photo by Junie Quiroga
Serene off Hornby Island