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If Woodstock Would…

Andrew Robinson on his daily drive. Photo by Jan Hein
Andrew Robinson on his daily drive. Photo by Jan Hein

Nestled in the Antiguan village of Falmouth sits a cluster of yellow buildings, each defined by what lies inside. Open doors reveal tools, paint, welding supplies and building materials, in fact everything needed to construct, repair or enhance a vessel as part of an enterprising boatyard.

There is no water access to the place and space for boats is limited but it doesn’t take long to see that Woodstock Boatbuilders is strategically located in the middle of yacht central.  Just a few blocks away, left and right, are marinas occupied by the leading maritime ladies of the world. Megas, superyachts, classic beauties of every breed and size, all in Antigua specifically for the wide range of services offered – many of them pouring from this busy, eclectic yard.

Founder Andrew Robinson launched Woodstock with his newly acquired shipwright skills after sailing to Antigua in 1990.

“We started with just a carpenter and an engineer. By 1995, more services were requested, so we added work on,” says Robinson.

These days, with a crew that averages 20, they handle carbon fiber, fiberglass, composites, stainless fabrication, metal, plumbing, engineering systems, paint and refinishing.

Robinson says there isn’t much they won’t touch except varnishing – leaving that to the Antiguans who’ve honed the skill. “And mirrors,” he adds with a grin. “We don’t do mirrors.”

Inside the office, a lengthy job-board reads like a who’s who of yachting with dozens of ‘cover girls’ on the list. “One of the most amazing things about this yard is the client list,” says Robinson. “We work on the sexiest, fanciest boats. Most of the yards are jealous as hell.”

Working Janley into the Woodstock yard. Photo by Jan Hein
Working Janley into the Woodstock yard. Photo by Jan Hein

One can only imagine the stories compiled after a quarter century in the business of servicing yachts for the rich and famous.

Woodstock’s success comes, in part, from meeting the demands of the ever changing industry by adding new specialists when need arises. Their foray into metal work began when a sub-contractor couldn’t deliver on a J-boat helm hub. “There were mistakes and delays; so we purchased our own lathe to get the job done,” says Robinson. “There’s an advantage for us to do it over an engineer- we’re sailors.”

Work can be routine but given the distinctive character of their clients, it’s usually a foray into problem solving. “We’re frequently inventors,” notes Robinson, “because we never get the same job twice.”

Jim Child and the famous shirt. Photo by Jan Hein
Jim Child and the famous shirt. Photo by Jan Hein

When asked about the most unusual task taken on, Robinson and Project Director, Jim Child, grinned. They’ve dabbled with gold plating; done a bit of marble polishing; and there was a certain wood carving that won’t be mentioned here. The team has handled art installations including some priceless dinosaur eggs that needed showcasing on Maltese Falcon. That mission required some out of the box engineering and fabrication.

Project demands change with the seasons. Summer deadlines are somewhat relaxed until fall kicks off with the Antigua Charter Yacht Show, leaving a wake of work behind. Winter begins with the Super Yacht Challenge followed by the Caribbean 600; and spring is all about the island’s Classic Regatta and Race Week.

For Robinson and Childs, the best jobs take place in their own yard. The 1930 Fife, 6 metre Nada came back to life there during a total restoration in 2006. More recently, the 46ft Kettenburg PCC sloop, Janley, underwent a year-long refit; marking that success by winning First in Class, First Overall and earning the prized Panerai Trophy at the Classic Regatta in 2016.

Summer Cloud racing in the West Indies Regatta. Photo by Jan Hein
Summer Cloud racing in the West Indies Regatta. Photo by Jan Hein

The crew at Woodstock earn respect in Antigua for more than their talent with boats. To enhance local employability and widen the hiring pool, they bring in apprentices, offering work alongside master craftsmen. The company joined with GAARD, a NGO from the UK, to train at-risk Antiguan youth. Students experience a wide range of marine trades followed by local job placement. Perhaps closest to Robinson’s heart is a reforestation project he started as part of the Global Environment Fund. Seeds of fire-resistant trees are grown at his house then planted in an area prone to bush fires.

Juxtaposed against the gleam and glamour of Woodstock’s floating clientele is Robinson’s own boat, Summer Cloud. It has no bronze, no varnish. Systems are minimal at best. There isn’t even an engine. Built on the beach in Carriacou, it’s a former work boat that isn’t far removed from its intended purpose. He races it from St. Barth to Carriacou, always with a lively, salt-stained crew.

A steady hand – Gino Athill puts the finishing touches to his work on a J-Class yacht. Photo by Jan Hein
A steady hand – Gino Athill puts the finishing touches to his work on a J-Class yacht. Photo by Jan Hein

Woodstock Boatbuiders Ltd., have earned international recognition. Their name is synonymous with quality and finesse. The workmanship that pours from their yard is sought after, almost as much as their t-shirts that pose the perplexing question: What wood would Woodstock stock if Woodstock would stock wood?

 

Writer, photographer, sailor, Jan Hein calls the Caribbean home when she’s not on a boat in Washington State. jan [email protected]

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