BELFAST, Maine — The protected coves of the Pine Tree State have a storied history as the place to build elegant, traditional wooden sailing ships such as sloops and schooners.
At Front Street Shipyard in Belfast, a different kind of vessel soon will be taking shape: a high-performance catamaran patrol boat, complete with mounts at the bow where long-range weapons can be installed. The T30 boats, designed by a Virginia firm, are being constructed for Toronto- and Newport, R.I.-based Trefoil Marine. The first patrol boats should be rolled out of the shipyard this spring, with their ultimate destinations located all over the world.
“That’s where we’re going with this — the international market,” Jim Mattingly, president of Trefoil Marine, said Thursday in a telephone conversation from Rhode Island. “This is very important worldwide. Some of these ports aren’t very secure. … This is an advanced craft that will provide superior performance and predictability.”
He declined to put a price tag on the boats, which will be built of fiberglass poured into a composite mold that will be constructed this month by the Belfast shipyard’s composites team. According to Mattingly, the 30-foot patrol boats will include a $35,000 electronics package, and that’s just part of what will make them pricey.
“People would look at the price and say, ‘They’re out of their mind,’ but that’s the price they go for,” he said.
The T30 will be zippy and customizable, reaching speeds of 50 knots, or 57 miles per hour. In the first year, Mattingly hopes to build between 20 and 25 of the patrol boats at the Belfast shipyard.
He and J.B. Turner, president of the shipyard, are enthusiastic proponents of the new boat-building venture, which Mattingly said is a continuation of a long relationship among the various company principals. While Trefoil was incorporated just a couple of years ago, Mattingly has been in the industry for nearly five decades.
“I’ve had a long, trusting relationship with J.B. and his partners that goes back many years. I have a really comfortable feeling doing business with them,” said Mattingly, who spent 20 years overseeing Ted Turner’s competitive racing fleet and was a crew member during the 1977 America’s Cup. “They are very responsive to our demands. This is a very complex building project, and they’re able to adapt to the customization of the vessel.”
While Trefoil Marine previously had boats built in New York, Connecticut, Florida and Wisconsin, the company now has an exclusive partnership with Front Street Shipyard. Besides the T30, Trefoil Marine also has contracted with the shipyard to build three water taxis and a 45-foot limousine boat for use in the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.
“We will keep the yard busy for quite some time,” Mattingly said.
Since its inception three years ago, Front Street Shipyard has become a hive of activity, filling several large green buildings along the Belfast waterfront. There are about 100 employees working there now, plus subcontractors, Turner said, and the patrol boats should create more jobs soon for “composite technicians,” which he translated as “fancy fiberglass guys.”
“I could see us hiring 10 or 12 people if these take off,” he said.
Once the shipyard has the fiberglass boat molds constructed, workers will use them to build many more of the boats. The first batch of completed vessels will go to private security companies, which will install the guns or other armaments, Mattingly said. The model also can be customized as a fire boat, or could be used for police, military or rescue purposes. It’s designed for river and shallow-water operations as well as use on the high seas.
If the T30 takes off, the shipyard will have to creatively find enough space to build them, and that might mean production of the models will leave Belfast, according to Turner.
“Winter into spring is our busiest time,” he said. “All of our buildings are full. If we build more, we’re looking at a more production-type facility we’d rent somewhere.”
Mattingly said that he’s been pleased with how the project has started.
“When you walk into the yard, you get a good feeling,” he said. “The employees are very productive. They’re very friendly. The customers spend a lot of money to get these products built, and they can see the effort going into it.”