It’s the oldest city in Georgia, home of the state’s most important port for over two centuries and more recently host to the competitive sailing events at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Savannah has indeed enjoyed a long association with the sea and seafarers. Much of this has to do with its location. This 108-square mile city sits 20 miles up the Savannah River from the Atlantic Ocean and five miles upstream from the Intracoastal Waterway. It’s no wonder with such a central location for boat traffic that Savannah is known today as one of the best yacht refit destinations on the U.S. East Coast.
“Savannah is a perfect place whether you’re traveling north from Florida or South from New York,” says Jessica Oxnard, project manager at River Supply, on River Drive, which has supplied a wide inventory of marine supplies, marine repair and boat products for over 30 years. “The central location offers quick, easy and accessible service centers for all types of boats.”
Much of what makes Savannah ideal for refits is that the yards here can handle everything from megayachts to mom-and-pop day-sailors and run-abouts.
“The talent pool here is deep,” says Dustin Hartley, general manager for Hinckley Yacht Services on Mechanics Avenue. “For us especially, there is nothing we can’t handle as all trades are fully represented. This includes, for example, marine carpentry, marine electrical and electronics, marine refrigeration and air conditioning, rigging services, and canvas and boat upholstery.
Another good example of this one-stop-shop advantage is Thunderbolt Marine, a large yacht repair and commissioning yard with a 160-ton Travelift located on River Drive. The service basin here is dredged to maintain an average 16-foot depth and can be reached directly from the ocean without obstacles such as bridges.
“We have over 80 craftsmen in ten in-house departments with shops on-site,” says Karen Pranschke, customer services representative. “Our facility can service, maintain, refit or repair vessels up to 180-feet in length on the hard and approximately 250-feet on the dock.”
Cost is another plus.
“The labor rate tends to be cheaper here, in the middle of the country, that is does to the north or south,” says Ricky Toone, territory sales representative for W.W. Williams, the Dublin, Ohio-headquartered, Westgate Boulevard-located provider of power generation, mechanical service and repair.
Last year, Georgia’s legislators approved a bill that exempts purchases more than $500,000 used to repair large yachts from sales tax. This is designed to help the state better compete with major yacht refit businesses to the south in Florida. Owners of the Savannah Yacht Center were among the driving forces behind this bill. The Center is located on the property of the former Intermarine USA shipyard and was acquired by the Colonial Group in 2010. After a sizable investment, the Savannah Yacht Center welcomed its first project, the 223-foot long Aviva, into its new dry dock.
The Savannah Yacht Center and Thunderbolt Marine as well as the two smaller facilities, Hinckley Yacht Services and Sail Harbor Marina & Boatyard, on Wilmington Island Road, serve as Savannah’s main refit services. In addition, there are soup-to-nuts support operations.
“We can provide for any existing or new services that become available from local centers because we’re full-service on the supply side,” says River Supply’s Oxnard.
W.W. Williams’ Toone agrees: “Repowering is something we’re asked for quite often. We perform this on everything from 20 to 30 Hp sailboat to 2000 to 2400 hp large yacht engines. Some of the marine brands we represent include MTU, Yanmar and John Deere.”
Finally, the need for a refit or not, Savannah is a remarkable destination to visit.
“Our city is steeped in history with remarkable architecture, ironwork, cemeteries, National parks, and ruins. Savannah is quiet enough to find it peaceful, calm and enjoyable but lively enough to enjoy city vibes. We are a year-round tourist destination, so the city calendar is filled with live events, attractions, fetes and expos,” invites Thunderbolt Marine’s Pranschke.