TRENTON, Maine — A new sailboat is taking shape at the Morris Yacht plant, a boat that will upgrade and enhance the training program at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
The two sections of Hull No. 1 of the Leadership 44 sailing vessel were joined together Thursday using a modern, infusion method by which a liquid resin was pumped into a vacuum mold along the entire length of the hull halves to form the joint. This is the first of eight sailboats expected to be built at a cost of about $800,000 apiece at the yard over the next two years.
The deck is already out of the mold and some of the fixtures already have been installed, but it will be several weeks before crews have finished work on the hull and the two can be joined.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” said Bob Hallock, the Leadership 44 procurement chairman for the Coast Guard Academy. “To watch it go from paper, to the molds, to watch the infusion and to see this [the deck], it’s just amazing.”
Hallock is also in charge of raising money for the new Leadership vessels, most of which is coming from private sources. That process, he said, is moving forward and is ahead of schedule. Coast Guard Academy officials have signed contracts for six of the boats and expect to sign contracts before the end of the year for the last two that the institution plans to buy, he said.
One of the challenges for the Morris Yacht crew is that the boat is being built as a training vessel and not as a recreational sailing vessel, according to company owner Cuyler Morris.
“It’s been designed very robustly,” Morris said. “There’s a lot more material in this boat than even Morris Yachts uses, and we build our boats to last a lifetime. It’s being built to have a long service life.”
The Leadership 44s were designed by David Pederick based on the design he did for the U.S. Navy sail program. According to Hallock, the Coast Guard Academy made significant modifications to that design to adapt it to its training program.
The boats are designed to be rugged, Hallock said.
“Frankly, our boats take a beating,” he said. “We’ve got cadets on there who have never sailed before.”
The boat also needed to be fast and stable, so it could be raced, and it had to be safe, he said.
The Leadership training program takes Coast Guard Academy cadets going into their junior year, places them in teams of six with a safety officer, and has them plan and provision the boat for a 12-day voyage.
“They do the planning and then they set sail and are gone for 12 days,” Hallock said. “They rotate the various positions on the boat during the voyage, so each cadet has one or two opportunities to lead the team.”
According to Morris, the timing for the Leadership 44s project, couldn’t have been better.
“Recreational boating had gone into a quiet period, and this was a big thing for us,” he said. “It’s a high-profile project and we’re very excited about it. We beat out 11 other U.S. boat builders to get this project.”
The contract also allowed the company to start hiring workers again after it had furloughed some during the slow period. The company started hiring last spring, Morris said, and so far has added 15 people on the production side of the operation.
Business has picked up over the past year as evidenced by the activity Thursday around Leadership 44, which was surrounded by five other Morris Yacht boats in different stages of construction along with two decks being finished.
“We need to hire more people,” he said.
The service side of the business has improved also and the company has hired workers there as well.
Morris said the company will probably be able to roll out a new Leadership 44 hull every two or three months. The first boat should be completed and in the water by spring. At least four of the boats should be delivered by the end of 2011 and the rest in 2012.
That may not be the end of the line, however. Morris said there may be an opportunity for the boatyard to continue to build on the same design for other service academies or for private clients once the Coast Guard project is completed.