Pendennis The Metamorphosis of a Shipyard

Posted Nov. 12, 2016, 1:12 p.m.


Pendennis   (This complete editorial can be found at: Edition 31)

The Metamorphosis of a Shipyard


Christine Winans

As the third largest natural harbour in the world, Falmouth in Cornwall was always fated to become an important nautical hub. The south west of England, and Falmouth in particular, has a maritime heritage that forms the very foundation of the town. Although historically it was initially the more sheltered Penryn that was the main port, as the Royal Mail Packet Ships became based out of Falmouth between 1688 and 1850 the town boomed becoming central to the delivery of messages to the extremes of the British Empire. The quality of work that is produced at superyacht build and refit company Pendennis Shipyard is a reflection of this local Cornish sea-fairing pride.

The people of the town have always exploited its position, having developed the fishing and oyster dredging industries throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of the local oyster boats, known as Falmouth Working Boats, were built in small local yards around the Carrick Roads, the network of tributaries around the Fal, with a small fleet of these traditional boats still raced today. In fact, a team from Pendennis Shipyard recently competed in the Working Boat World Championships onboard ‘Grace’.

Sailing continues to be a dynamic part of life in the area, with many notable sailing achievements taken place in Falmouth waters, with perhaps the two most well-known being Robin Knox-Johnston’s, who became the first person to sail single handed and non-stop around the world in 1969 and Ellen Macarthur who completed this feat in 2007, becoming the fastest person to do so in the process.

Given this heritage, as the superyacht industry developed and yachts grew in complexity, perhaps it was inevitable that Falmouth would become home to one of the World’s premiere superyacht custom build and refit facilities. Pendennis Shipyard was founded in Falmouth by Peter de Savary in 1988, primarily aimed at constructing a challenge vessel to the America’s Cup. Pendennis' first superyacht contract in 1988 was to build the 125' ketch Taramber, and a major refit of the 228' three-masted schooner Adix soon followed.

Five years later the company was subject to a management buy-out with Mike Carr and Henk Wiekens still at the helm today, 28 years later. Each Director has a maritime background, Mike in Naval Architecture and Henk from the hands-on build side in Holland and New Zealand, and both are passionate about the industry which stems from an inherent enthusiasm for yachts and the sea. Their focus and enthusiasm has seen the yard and the project complexities continually develop, in a response to market trends.

When the company was founded, their initial facility was based out of one of the oldest dry docks in Falmouth, known as Number 1 Dock. Looking back at archive drawings over the years, the location of this facility can be seen in Victorian photos from the 1860s when the rest of Falmouth was still relatively underdeveloped, although it wasn’t until the 1930s that the No1 dock was fully excavated. When Pendennis moved onto the site the ‘main shed’ as it was known provided a covered construction/refit facility, and housed the likes of Adela throughout her rebuild in 1995. However, as the yard’s popularity grew it was apparent that the facility needed to be improved to cater to the number of projects that were interested in Pendennis’ capabilities. More undercover space was needed, so in 2004 a refit complex was created adjoining the dry dock, then in 2009 the outer part of the dry dock was covered to better supplement the main shed.

The historical experience of yachts such as Adix and Adela provide an interesting reflection of the metamorphosis of the yard. Adix was one of the first yachts to visit Pendennis in 1990, at which time moving a 65m yacht was an arduous task, requiring as much man-power as machine. At that time a 1,000 tonne floating crane had to be imported especially for the task, which was of course both expensive and time consuming. As the facilities were improved, so were the yacht lifting capabilities. A 400 tonne hoist had already arrived by Adix’s third refit in 2009, enabling the lifting and relaunch procedures to become more efficient. However, with the main shed still being positioned parallel to the sea, a 90 degree turn was required to slowly maneouver the yachts in and out of the main shed, and still took the best part of a day to complete. Tyrone Harvey, Project Manager, who has supervised all the Adix refits, remembers how the relaunch procedures have changed: “The right angle turn from the main shed into the slipway was somewhat precarious, but even more so after the higher roof on the outer dock was in place following the 2012 refit. I remember watching as Adix’s bow cleared the new roof by inches! The relaunch experience following her most recent refit, with the halls now facing the sea, was a revelation - what used to take the best part of a day, only took a couple of hours. There was very little delay in the work pattern of the refit – Pendennis staff arrived the next morning to a relaunched vessel, with all the infrastructure already in place to continue the recommissioning phase.”

The main focus of the most recent changes at the yard was the improved capacity for larger vessels. In response to the growth of the average LOA of the global superyacht fleet, the Directors recognised the need to extend capacity and capabilities for 60m+ vessels. As Mike Carr explains: “Over the course of a number of years, a plan was formulated to seal our position in the international market. The plan was to replace the existing main shed with three bespoke-designed superyacht halls, specifically tailored to the growing needs of the yard. Project Management and Trade Team productivity would be improved by workshops and offices being based directly alongside the projects in a central spine; an 80m mast painting booth was designed to accommodate larger rigs including those of the J-Class yachts; and built-in extraction ducting in each hall enabled even effective environmental control during infrastructure paint phases.” Building work started in February 2013, and was completed by the summer of 2014. This aspect of the yard re-development was followed swiftly by the addition of a 7,564m² non tidal wet-basin, excavated into the sea bed directly in front of the hard standing area of the yard. With the longest arm at 110m and a draft of over 5m, the wet basin is capable of housing several large yachts for their arrival and recommissioning periods, increasing efficiency dramatically. Mike continues: “Yachts no longer have to be housed at a local marina during their sea trials period, and passing vessels can pop into Pendennis for a bit of TLC if needed. In the space of a year the wet basin has already hosted over 20 yachts, ranging from 24m-86m, with Adix appropriately being the first yacht to christen the basin in May 2015. It has revolutionised the way we work and has established us as having the experience and facilities to compete with any yard globally.”

As for the dry dock, whilst it used to be the main base for 40-50m motor yachts, this size of vessel can now be lifted by the 640 tonne hoist into one of the three construction halls. The dry dock, which is still the longest covered facility onsite, can now focus on even larger yachts, now regularly accommodating 60m+ motor yachts and most recently housing its largest guest to date, the 85.6m Aquila.

It is certainly interesting to review historical images of the area, and seeing how the shipyard and Falmouth itself has grown over the past century. Falmouth is becoming a popular stop off en-route to the Norwegian Fjords or Scotland for those vessels seeking more unusual cruising adventures. Many captains and crews now have homes in the area, and with a plethora of outdoor adventures to enjoy, exotic gardens in stunning locations, historical Castles and Michelin-starred restaurants, and an enviable lifestyle, Cornwall is more than capable of catering to the unique needs of Owners and crews.

Although Pendennis builds and refits motor yachts as well as sail, it cannot be denied that a passion for sailing and being immersed in the experience of the ocean is at the company’s roots. Events that they organise such as Laser regattas for visiting crews, or the Pendennis Cup are testament to this. Notably the company runs an award-winning apprenticeship scheme which is one of the longest running and most respected within the industry, due to welcome its 200th apprentice this summer, with seamanship courses and dinghy training forming part of their four-year experience. This new generation are mentored by experienced employees that foster a respect and passion for the sea that appears to be ingrained into the fundamental work ethic and philosophy of the company.

The ongoing development of the yard has secured the future of the business, but perhaps at the heart of this yard’s success is the pride of the Pendennis team, from the Directors through to young apprentices, that continue to champion the heritage of the region. The company continues to build upon Falmouth’s fascinating and impressive history, to sustain and grow the maritime future of Cornwall.





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