This December, the new Bobby’s Boat Yard in Cole Bay will finally be open for business. "We’ve been pursuing this project for at least five years," says General Manager Jeff Howell. "It took three years to get the environmental permit. We now have all the permits signed off and correct."
The new yard inside Simpson Bay Lagoon will be "state of the art," according to Howell. In order to comply with the environmental standards required for the hindrance permit (on a par with those of any European boatyard), combined with consultation with the local community, the yard will offer a sweepable concrete surface and pressured water treatment that guarantees zero toxic return into the lagoon, outdoor bottom sanding with vacuum extraction, and a painting facility under canvas rolling tents.
"We said right from the beginning that we would run the yard in a responsible manner. It’s very easy for us to build everything right the first time, making sure we meet all the environmental issues," says Howell, adding that, "the reality is that the larger boats will not come if it’s not so."
Beyond the environmental concerns, the yard’s main attraction will be a new 150 ton, remote control Travelift with 36′ clear inside. All the docks will be built to the specifications of the 400 ton Travelift, allowing Bobby’s the opportunity to upgrade effortlessly at a later point. The yard will also have a 75 ton Travelift.
"150 Ton is not particularly spectacular," admits Howell, "but it is the entry level for us." Nevertheless, the lift was ordered two years ago in order to obtain the new, upgraded model which had been re-engineered to give some "significant operational improvements.”
"With 150 Tons, we’re restricted to 120-140′ boats depending on the design criteria," says Howell. "There will be storage for vessels. We want to try to extend the season by making sure they do their maintenance here. We’re not in the huge megayacht market yet, but with a 400 ton lift we would be."
While the Airport Road shipyard will continue as normal, with a 50 ton lift for storing cruising yachts, Bobby’s Yard in Great Bay will be cleared to be redeveloped into condominiums and waterfront marina shops. The marina in Great Bay will stay, eventually to be completely renovated, with the addition of a new outer protective seawall which will allow for dockage of mega yachts.
From a sentimental point of view, the closure of the yard in Philipsburg brings to an end a part of local history, but from an economic standpoint, explains Howell, "you cannot afford to have a boat sitting on the ground at so much per square meter as the ground in Philipsburg is worth."
From a marine perspective the new yard, "expands the technical services available on the island. Boats will weigh the costs against other destinations in the States and Europe," says Howell. "I hope they will come to the correct conclusion that we would be more economically viable."
Final construction work on the new yard will shortly begin with the completion of a three-meter security fence around the yard, not least to comply with anti-sound pollution requirements. There will be no slips as such at the shipyard, just a single finger pier for a working dock. As in similar projects in Miami, mangroves will be replanted elsewhere in the lagoon to compensate for those removed at the Cole Bay site.
Nick Marshall is an English journalist living on St. Maarten who was consultant editor of All At Sea from 2003 to 2005.