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Saunders Yachtworks Now Largest Boatyard on Gulf Coast

Saunders Yachtworks - Photo by Chris Kennan, ALL AT SEA
Saunders Yachtworks – Photo by Chris Kennan, ALL AT SEA

Saunders Yachtworks has opened its newest and largest facility with a 150-ton Marine Travelift on the Intracoastal Waterway in Gulf Shores, Ala. The in-water boat basin with 14 slips and hard storage for over 20 boats is located on ICW mile 155.

With its new Travelift, Saunders has snagged several vessels in the 50 to 120-foot range that previously left the region for service in Texas and South Florida. The expansion was part of a seven-year plan recognizing the growing Gulf Coast market and continued in spite of the BP oil spill and economic downturn.

“We’ve had a significant return of water use since the spill,” says Saunders President and CEO John Fitzgerald. “Over the last 30 years, the Gulf of Mexico has matured as a big boat market with bigger, heavier boats. We hope to increase our business by 50 percent over the next three to five years.”

The yard has identified market segments as sportfish over 70 feet, large motoryachts up to 130 feet, transient traffic from the Mississippi and Tenn-Tom waterways, complete refits up to 120 feet, and military and high speed commercial vessels, like ferries.

Saunders is geared toward full service and has relationships with subcontractors. It employs 55 workers and expects to add 25 more by 2014. Staff reported a busy summer with five boats in the yard for projects. Its first haulout was a 100-foot Broward, She’s My Lady II, for refit work.

“Success in the 70-foot range gives us courage to take on 120-footers,” says Fitzgerald. “I’m not sure we’re on their radar map, but we’ve already quoted against Lauderdale Marine Center.”

Saunders was established in 1959 and also has a full-service facility with a 60-ton lift in nearby Orange Beach. The company partnered with the City of Gulf Shores and Gulf Shores Airport Authority and received a grant from the Federal Economic Development Authority to help fund the new facility.

The marina depth at mean low tide is 7 feet with ICW access dredged to 12 feet.  Saunders has 965 feet of water frontage and a 15,000-square-foot headquarters building with administrative offices, service shop and warehouse. A 3.5-acre service and transient basin, a dock shop to support below-waterline hardware service, and equipment storage are part of its 14-acre site, which also includes an enclosed building for indoor projects.

Additional acreage on the east side of the basin is earmarked for future expansion. Saunders is an authorized mechanical dealer for MTU, Caterpillar, and Mann.

As long as there’s salt, sweat, sea, or swamp involved, freelance marine journalist Lisa Overing feels buoyant. From a long line of working sailors, Lisa splits her time between Coastal Mississippi and South Florida. A native of New Orleans, La., Lisa pens for yachting and luxury lifestyle magazines and wrote under the byline Lisa Hoogerwerf Knapp from 1986-2011.

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