Ship Shaping

 

Chances are that when you think of super yachts, you don’t think of Bridgeport. Yet last August, there was the newly constructed 281-foot Cakewalk, the largest private yacht ever built and launched in the United States, slipping out from the shadow of I-95 next to the still-waiting-to-be-developed Steel Point and across from abandoned Pleasure Beach, into Long Island Sound.

The craft, estimated to cost more than $82 million to build, is the proud product of the Derecktor shipyard, a 23-acre boat-building and maintenance facility on the Sound. Opened a decade  ago by the renowned builder of yachts and commercial vessels, the shipyard has produced a number of ferries, patrol boats, fireboats, tugs and oil-recovery ships in addition to high-end private boats.

“When we started in Bridgeport, the idea was to get into bigger commercial and yacht custom work because our Mamaroneck yard was too small,” says Paul Derecktor, eponymous president of the company that has also built several America’s Cup yachts, including 1987 winner Stars & Stripes ’87. “We did not think we would be building an 85-meter boat right away. Cakewalk opened the door for us to compete with the rest of the world on new- build custom yachts. That’s a huge thing for our company, but it’s also a huge thing for the rest of the industry here in the states.”

Derecktor was founded by Robert E. Derecktor, the legendary boatbuilder, yachtsman and Meriden native known for his fiery personality as much as his relentless pursuit of perfection. In 1946, he opened a small boat-building shop along the water in Mamaroneck, N.Y., and grew that modest operation into a multimillion-dollar ship-building and -repair empire with a yard in Dania Beach, Fla., to go with the ones in New York and Connecticut. He passed away in 2001, leaving son Paul to run the company.

Between its three shipyards, Derecktor regularly employs about 200—the amount fluctuates by yard, by season and by the volume and type of work being done. If there are larger vessels being built, the company will add up to another 250 subcontractors, workers who specialize in whatever particular aspects of the building process are needed.

The day I visit Derecktor is warm, sunny and clear, ideal conditions to be on the water, or at least next to it. The property has a few large, hangarlike structures as well as sundry modular buildings that serve as office space. Numerous boats are up on blocks and receiving attention at different spots around the yard, including private boats, a ferry, a tug, a large catamaran and even an old steam paddleboat. In addition to boat building, a significant portion of Derecktor’s Bridgeport business is maintenance of active vessels, including refitting and painting—one of the permanent buildings here is a 150-by-70-foot climate-controlled painting booth.

Unlike some other shipbuilders, the Derecktor yard in Bridgeport has its own custom metal-fabrication facility, a long and wide building that includes a giant overhead crane that moves along tracks high on the walls; there are also dozens of individual cutting and welding stations, little pockets of spark-filled activity. Most vessels built here are constructed in modules and then fitted together like pieces of a puzzle.

One of the key pieces of the yard is the 4,000-ton dry dock, nicknamed the “Derecktor Protector.” The enormous floating structure is used to transfer vessels between the main assembly building and the Sound. When a newly constructed vessel (like Cakewalk) is being launched, it’s maneuvered down the ramp and into the dock, which then goes out into the Sound before setting the craft into the water. (The process is reversed for taking boats out of the water.) Vessels are moved between the dry dock and the main assembly building via a concrete ramp that allows them to “float” on a specially designed air-cushion system.

“We recently refitted the dry dock to double the capacity,” says Derecktor. “It’s now big enough to handle everything but the very largest vessels in the world. We can now haul out 4,000-ton vessels and move them into our building or launch new construction of that size. We are the only refit yard I know of on the East Coast that can put a 3,000- or 4,000-ton boat under permanent cover in a climate-controlled building.” Protected from the elements, vessels are worked on year-round.

The main assembly building is a 45,000- square-foot, nine-story-high structure, a cavernous working space that can accommodate vessels up to 400 feet long. During my visit, workers here are refitting a dinner cruise ship to make it “green,” that is, more eco-friendly thanks to a efficient propulsion system that will create less toxic emissions.

To move “smaller” boats (up to 650 tons) out of the water and around the yard, there’s a bright blue lift, a giant rolling frame that looks like something out of my old Erector set, you know, other than having wheels that are taller than I am.

Speaking of toys, some of the vessels built here may be considered playthings for the wealthy, but constructing them and keeping them afloat is far from child’s play.

For more info, call (203) 336-0108 or visit derecktor.com.
 

Ship Shaping

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