BATH, Maine — With her suit already soiled with champagne from christening the newest military vessel built in Bath, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins decided a little water wouldn’t hurt.
And with that, she climbed aboard a brand new Greenough Advanced Rescue Craft built by Hodgdon Defense Composites and took it for a whirl in the Kennebec River. Her stint as the vessel’s captain lasted only a few minutes, but Collins was beaming when she returned to the dock with Hodgdon Defense President and CEO David Packhem to applause from dozens of onlookers.
“That was so cool,” said Collins. “Let me tell you, the [U.S. Navy] Seals are going to love this thing.”
The GARC, as it is called, is a Jet Ski-like personal watercraft that Hodgdon is building for the U.S. Air Force Special Command. The 143-horsepower vessel, powered by a jet drive, can travel at 40 knots and is designed to be dropped into the sea by an aircraft.
Hodgdon Yachts President Tim Hodgdon said the company has launched more than 400 vessels in its nearly two-century history, including 144-foot mine-sweeping submarine chasers for the U.S. Navy. In 2007 and 2008, the company built a prototype of an 83-foot “MAKO” vessel for the Office of Naval Research out of advanced carbon and Kevlar composites. However, in recent years Hodgdon has been better known in some circles for building posh world-class pleasure yachts.
“We are extremely proud to add GARC to that lineage and we are very excited about the opportunities associated with this unique and specialized craft,” said Hodgdon Tuesday during a christening event for the fourth GARC built by the company. “Our customers will understand very quickly the commitment Hodgdon Defense Composites has to this program, to the quality and ongoing support of the products we deliver.”
Hodgdon created a subsidiary called Hodgdon Defense Composites, which leased a building near Bath’s north end boat launch adjacent to the former Stinson Seafood cannery in which to build the vessels. The building is owned by the city and was purchased several years ago as a business incubator, though City Manager Bill Giroux said Tuesday that he hopes Hodgdon stays in the space for many years.
“We are so pleased to have them here because they’re creating jobs in a high-tech manufacturing sector,” said Giroux. “We’re the City of Ships and we want to be in the boat-building business as much as possible.”
Though the initial GARCs, designed by Rapid Response Technology of North Carolina, were built for the military, they also are suitable for law enforcement or other entities as a rescue craft capable of handling heavy surf and floating in less than a foot of water. Hodgdon said efforts to secure more contracts for building the vessels are under way. According to Collins, the Air National Guard announced last week that it would purchase at least 16 more GARCs, though those contracts have not been awarded.
“In these challenging times, it is imperative that American special forces be able to operate effectively, quickly and safely in the most difficult conditions,” said Collins. “The Greenough continues a tradition that runs through this five-generation family business. This company proves that even in the toughest times, there is always a market for superior craftsmanship.”