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New Boat Building Venture in the BVI

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Some of the best ideas in boating are born over a beer. Such is the case with a new boat building venture in the British Virgin Islands that will see commercial production of a lightweight, fuel-efficient power catamaran starting this fall.

Richard Wooldridge of Island Yacht Management (IYM) explains the vessels conception: “A few years ago, Bob Phillips raced with designer O.H. Rodgers on Three Harkoms at the Rolex Regatta. They were enjoying a beer or two in Christmas Cove when Morgan Avery showed up on his Flying Carpet, a converted Prindle 19. Bob was impressed with the efficiency of the craft, speeding along with no wake and only a small outboard. He said to O.H., ‘design me a 26-foot version of that,’ and that’s how it all got started.”

There hasn’t been any production boat building on Tortola since the early 1990s when construction of the popular “Tortola Dinghy” cease, as charter companies started to use inflatable dinghies in their place.

“The college and Jost Van Dyke do their best to keep wooden boat building and restoration alive, but the BVIs do not have a production boat building operation,” says Wooldridge, who has worked with IYM over the last six years on the highly successful conversion of 12 old J/24s into the popular IC24 design.

Construction of the “Rodgers 29” started last October when a full sized hull model was created. This was used to create a mold in which the hulls will be produced. Molds for the vessel’s structural beams and other sections are now being made. IYM plans to have hull #1 launched in time for the “Interline” regatta in mid-October. Hull #2, which will be available for sale, should be finished mid-November. The plan is to build one vessel per month thereafter.

O.H. Rodgers is a renowned yacht designer who has a history of success over the last 30 years with designs that include “A” class cats, cruising multihulls and a range of racing monohulls. The “Rodgers 29” is a high-tech build using composite materials to make it strong while remaining as light as possible.

“The design brief was to produce a fuel-efficient boat that is capable of taking the rough trade wind conditions we experience here on the nose,” Wooldridge says. “She should be able to take six to eight adults around the islands at speeds up to 28 knots using under six gallons of gas per hour. This will be possible because we will only be using 50 or 60 HP outboards, which are extremely fuel efficient and relatively inexpensive. A conventional 30-foot powerboat would typically be powered by twin 250 HP outboards that swallow up to 12 gallons per hour each. The vessel will have a 150 mile range with full tanks, giving it true ‘inter island’ capability in moderate sea conditions.”

Boat Building by the Stitch and Glue Method

The build is all epoxy. “It’s all about strength for weight,” says Wooldridge. “You can’t beat epoxy in that department and there will never be an osmosis issue.”

Perhaps the best description of this new power cat came when veteran USVI multihull sailor, John Holmberg, came for a look at the hull.

“He said ‘it’s a 30-foot Tornado with chines,’ ” says Wooldridge. “Add a bridge deck, a console, two outboards and a hard top and you’ve got it!” IYM sees a large market for its new boat.

“We believe that this new power cat will fill a void in the current leisure and work boat markets,” says Wooldridge. “There is simply nothing like it being produced anywhere; its uses are endless, from dive boat to water taxi or chase boat, or just having fun around the islands with family and friends aboard.

“The intention is to keep the first boat here to promote the product and to generally assess the performance under a full range of conditions,” Wooldridge says. “We plan to tour the Caribbean with #1 to show her off. She will certainly be at all the major regattas.”

IYM’s partners in the project are Doyle Sails BVI and the Golden Hind Chandlery. The IYM build team includes newcomer Miles Fossey, veteran IC24 builder Jamel Davies, whose grandfather Claremont Davies built Tortola sloops, and two young apprentices who will be getting their first taste of boat building.

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.


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