Getting It Right!

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Visiting a shipyard during construction of your yacht may be the key to getting exactly the right cruising features for you. When the shipyard is in Taiwan, timing your visit is crucial for getting change orders accepted before they result in higher costs, or worse, changes that aren't exactly what you want. Here are some tips from our experiences with a new Fleming 55.

"Ron, I have good news."
It was mid-February 2008, and the caller was Brian Hovey of Chuck Hovey Yacht Sales in Newport Beach, California.
"I've just spoken with Duncan Cowie of Fleming Yachts. A customer in Belgium is asking for a two-stateroom Fleming 55, and Fleming has decided to build it. Would you be interested?"
Whew! That seemingly small bit of information almost took my breath away. My wife, Kathryn and I had been looking at the Fleming 55 for two years and liked what we saw, but it was offered in a three-stateroom configuration only. Preferring a two-stateroom yacht for coastal cruising in the Pacific Northwest, we immediately told Brian we were interested.
That evening an email arrived with a hand-drawn sketch of the proposed two-stateroom layout, and a promise that we could have solid input in layout details. Six days later we signed the purchase order for hull 55-203, construction to begin in September and completion by late December.
The global economy had just started to tank with no sign of where it would end, and with our current Nordic Tug 42 on the market we questioned the sanity of this. The Fleming 55 would likely be our last boat, though, so our focus was to ensure that its design was exactly what we wanted.
Our Nordic Tug was built just 65 miles north of our home near Seattle and we visited it every two weeks during construction, leading to dozens of small, but important, changes that made a big difference in our cruising. With the Fleming we wanted the same result, but how to do it? The shipyard is in Taiwan, 6,200 miles and almost a 24-hour trip, so we can't just drop in any time we have a free afternoon.
During August and September, we visited every Fleming 55 in the Chuck Hovey inventory on the West Coast. Several evenings were spent aboard a 55 at the dock, with takeaway dinners or a bottle of wine-getting to know the boat's ambience. During those visits, we settled quite a few option list decisions. A primary goal was to reduce heavy power consumption wherever possible, allowing us to run the genset less in secluded anchorages along the Inside Passage in British Columbia and Southeast Alaska.
Plan A: Visit Early In The Build Process
In early August 2008, we began planning our timing for a shipyard visit. The Tung Hwa Shipyard, personally selected by Tony Fleming in 1985 when he founded Fleming Yachts, is in the south of Taiwan, just outside the tiny village of Wandan, 20 miles east of Kaohsiung-a major seaport.
We thought a November date would be best, when ...

Getting It Right!

By Ron Ferguson

Visiting a shipyard during construction of your yacht may be the key to getting exactly the right cruising features for you. When the shipyard is in Taiwan, timing your visit is crucial for getting change orders accepted before they result in higher costs, or worse, changes that aren't exactly what you want. Here are some tips from our experiences with a new Fleming 55.

"Ron, I have good news."

It was mid-February 2008, and the caller was Brian Hovey of Chuck Hovey Yacht Sales in Newport Beach, California.

"I've just spoken with Duncan Cowie of Fleming Yachts. A customer in Belgium is asking for a two-stateroom Fleming 55, and Fleming has decided to build it. Would you be interested?"

Whew! That seemingly small bit of information almost took my breath away. My wife, Kathryn and I had been looking at the Fleming 55 for two years and liked what we saw, but it was offered in a three-stateroom configuration only. Preferring a two-stateroom yacht for coastal cruising in the Pacific Northwest, we immediately told Brian we were interested.

That evening an email arrived with a hand-drawn sketch of the proposed two-stateroom layout, and a promise that we could have solid input in layout details. Six days later we signed the purchase order for hull 55-203, construction to begin in September and completion by late December.

The global economy had just started to tank with no sign of where it would end, and with our current Nordic Tug 42 on the market we questioned the sanity of this. The Fleming 55 would likely be our last boat, though, so our focus was to ensure that its design was exactly what we wanted.

Our Nordic Tug was built just 65 miles north of our home near Seattle and we visited it every two weeks during construction, leading to dozens of small, but important, changes that made a big difference in our cruising. With the Fleming we wanted the same result, but how to do it? The shipyard is in Taiwan, 6,200 miles and almost a 24-hour trip, so we can't just drop in any time we have a free afternoon.

During August and September, we visited every Fleming 55 in the Chuck Hovey inventory on the West Coast. Several evenings were spent aboard a 55 at the dock, with takeaway dinners or a bottle of wine-getting to know the boat's ambience. During those visits, we settled quite a few option list decisions. A primary goal was to reduce heavy power consumption wherever possible, allowing us to run the genset less in secluded anchorages along the Inside Passage in British Columbia and Southeast Alaska.

Plan A: Visit Early In The Build Process

In early August 2008, we began planning our timing for a shipyard visit. The Tung Hwa Shipyard, personally selected by Tony Fleming in 1985 when he founded Fleming Yachts, is in the south of Taiwan, just outside the tiny village of Wandan, 20 miles east of Kaohsiung-a major seaport.

We thought a November date would be best, when the build cycle for our Fleming would be far enough along to have something significant to see. We queried Chuck Hovey and Fleming and they came back with two options that would work for them-Oct. 15/17 or Dec. 10/12-times that Duncan Cowie and Adi Shard, the two on-site Fleming reps, would be in Taiwan. We agreed on the October date, figuring it would be closer to the mid-build timeframe. Peter Schaefer, our yacht broker from Seattle, would accompany us, which was very beneficial as Peter would drive the Fleming communications for us.

One major focus was in getting maximum master stateroom space from the new configuration, plus extra space in the adjoining head. As it turned out, Peter was waiting to hear from Fleming to see if we could configure this layout while we were in Taiwan. "It should be about the time they start building the master. We could sit down with Adi and Duncan and hash out exactly what they can offer." This was great news.

Three days before our scheduled departure, Peter sent an email with shipyard photos taken just a few days earlier of 55-203. These were the first we'd received, and my heart sank when I saw that our hull was still in the mold, with just a few of the longitudinal stringers in place. We'd hoped by now it would be much farther along in the build cycle.

We departed Seattle on Oct. 12-a non-stop flight to Tokyo, then a direct flight to Kaohsiung, arriving late at night on Oct. 13.

The next morning, Peter, Kathryn, and I were picked up at the hotel by Duncan. Skillfully winding through heavy morning rush-hour traffic, made worse by the thousands of Vespa-type scooters Taiwanese commuters ride, Duncan headed east for the 20-mile journey to the completely landlocked Tung Hwa Shipyard.

On arrival, and after short introductions, we were taken to see 55-203 for the first time-what there was to see of it, that is.

The shipyard is a sprawling open-ended structure, probably owing to the hot and muggy climate, plus the production requirement to easily move hulls and large structural components around. In the model 55 construction area, we could see four boats in various building stages. At first glance, hull 55-203 was quite disappointing. It had come out of the mold within the past couple of days, and was just a very large, very empty, external hull structure without any decking or superstructure, and a few lower bulkheads in place to give the hull some structure. There wasn't much to see. Nevertheless, we climbed onto the access railing surrounding it and grabbed photos of what we knew would someday be "our" Fleming.

Next, we climbed aboard three 55s ahead of us in the assembly process-one of them the two-stateroom hull for the Belgian customer. This turned out to be the best part of the visit, seeing close-up how the Fleming was built. As we toured through every nook and cranny we discussed with Adi various options on how we could still customize our Fleming. We would suggest something and Adi would say, "Sure, we can do that." Or, "No, that isn't possible, but here's another option." We were very impressed by his desire to make our Fleming 55 special for us.

In general, we weren't wild about the master stateroom being in the forward V, but with the extra space gained by eliminating one stateroom, we really liked the new configuration. Adi told us his idea for a special teak cabinet that would house an exercise bicycle-important for us when cruising in remote areas where we can't get ashore for walks.

In the guest stateroom, we gave our approval for the layout. Across the companionway, we pondered where the stacked washer/dryer combo would best fit.

In the pilothouse, we explained that numerous logs and deadheads in our British Columbia and Southeast Alaska cruising area mean forward visibility is a real concern. We asked for the settee to be raised for better visibility and Adi concurred.

In the galley, we discussed concerns about power requirements for the induction cooktop and convection microwave. Being used to propane cooking, Adi agreed to stash propane bottles in the flybridge and install plumbing down to the galley in case a future swap-out was required.

At the bow, we discussed the anchor windlass and chain locker. The standard 400 feet of 5/8-inch anchor chain might be insufficient for our Southeast Alaska cruising, and Adi agreed to enlarge our chain locker to accommodate 600 feet of chain

In the afternoon, Adi and Duncan took us line by line through every item on the Build Sheet, to ensure that we were all in agreement. This attention to detail, plus being able to talk everything out with the guys actually directing the work, wouldn't have been possible via email.

To our chagrin, Adi gently broke the news that 55-203 was behind schedule by at least a month-the new completion date was shortly after Chinese New Year on Jan. 26. We were assured this would still get 55-203 to us in early February, with plenty of time to outfit before our planned departure to Southeast Alaska for summer 2009.

As we headed north to Taipei the next day, Kathryn and I were both struck by how much we accomplished in this one brief day at the Tung Hwa shipyard, versus months of back-and-forth emails.

Our conclusion: if you want the visit to achieve custom decisions on your boat, the best time is when there's little to look at, but with plenty of time remaining to accommodate your changes. You'll have other production hulls ahead of you, available to climb aboard and compare to yours.

Plan B: Visit At Completion

After our October visit, we made up our minds to return at build completion, if for no other reason than to witness 55-203's nocturnal road trek to the Kaohsiung harbor docks and loading on board the container ship bound for Tacoma.

Because Kathryn and I really enjoy learning how things work, the return visit was as much anticipated-maybe more so-than our October visit. This trip would be purely for fun.

As we began to make plans for departure, the completion date slipped once more-to Feb. 23-with shipping scheduled on Ever Ulysses, an Evergreen Lines container ship leaving Kaohsiung later that week. This time construction was far enough along that the date was firm.

Finally, departure day arrived. Kathryn and I first flew to Taipei where we spent a couple of days. On Sunday, Feb. 22, we took the Taiwan High Speed Rail line for the fast 90-minute ride south to Kaohsiung.

Early the next morning we were picked up at our hotel for the now familiar drive to the shipyard. Our excitement was high, knowing this time we'd see 55-203 in her completed state. An earlier email told us she would be shrink-wrapped by the time of our arrival, and I had visions of the winterized boats in the United States stored on the hard- essentially a plastic bag with an opening in the transom for access. When we drove into the yard, though, 55-203 looked like she could be put in the water. Closer inspection revealed every square inch of the exterior covered with pale blue 12-inch-wide protective tape. She was sitting on the custom transport trailer, ready for the road trip to the container docks that evening.

We were so awestruck at this magnificent yacht that we didn't even notice the radar arch and hardtop weren't installed. Due to height limitations for power lines on the nocturnal drive, they would be trucked separately to the container docks.

We immediately went aboard for a tour, going through the areas where we'd requested custom details. We were very impressed with the quality of workmanship, the incredible attention to detail, and just how well thought-out this yacht was. It was difficult to crawl around on the upper and forward decks, as long teak strips were lashed from the bow to the aft edge of the flybridge deck to deflect low hanging wires along the road.

Frankly, though, the interior looked like another two weeks would be required to finish all the details that remained. Adi assured us, though, that 55-203 would indeed be ready for the journey to the container docks at 3 a.m. that night.

After getting back to our hotel for a couple of hours sleep, Adi picked us up at 2:30 a.m. and we drove back to the shipyard. The transport crew was already waiting for us-a semi-tractor hooked up to the transport trailer-and the driver was itching to get under way. Kathryn and I barely had time to snap some quick photos and the caravan started out to the highway. Two shipyard workers were stationed on the Portuguese bridge to deflect low hanging wires across the road. Pilot vehicles were ahead and behind, and we roared out in front in Adi's car so that we could stop at opportune vantage points to jump out for photographs.

There was so little traffic that the drive was uneventful, but the sight of this transport that took up both lanes was a sight to see. By 4:30 a.m., we were at the Evergreen Lines container docks, and 55-203 was taken to a perimeter area where she would be secure for the next two days. Tired, but elated, we were dropped off at the hotel for some much-needed rest.

At daybreak from our hotel window on the 86th floor, I could see Ever Ulysses with my high-powered binoculars. At 8:30 a.m., we were back at the container docks to watch the Tung Hwa crew hoist the radar arch, fit the hardtop in place, and wire the overhead lights for the flybridge. At that point, 55-203 was ready to ship.

Next morning, Adi telephoned to say that loading of 55-203 aboard Ever Ulysses was scheduled for noon. By now, Ever Ulysses was moored at the container dock-I'd watched her leave the anchorage from our hotel room window earlier in the morning.

We took a taxi to the container dock security checkpoint, where Adi picked us up for the drive inside to the container ship. For the next hour, we watched as hundreds of containers were loaded, taking photographs from every angle and aspect of the loading process. We were surprised to be left alone, without a security detail watching us, and able to roam around the huge overhead cranes.

At 1 p.m., the nearest overhead crane lifted a half-dozen decking platforms into the container ship's hold, providing the flooring that 55-203 would sit on.

One aspect Fleming really likes about Evergreen is their willingness to stow the yacht below decks, reducing the chance for damage, and she stays cleaner. In this instance, containers on either side were stacked five or six high above the ship's main deck, and we knew that 55-203 would be loaded below main deck level, safe and secure from the weather.

Finally, it was time for 55-203 to be loaded, and the tractor-trailer rig was brought into position. The crane's lifting mechanism was lowered to the ground to attach the cable spreader and slings at the four corner points. The cable slings were attached to the cradle, and slowly . . . slowly . . . she was lifted from the tractor-trailer. At about 100 feet, the crane moved outward toward the open position on Ever Ulysses.

To our surprise, the loading boss came over and invited us to board Ever Ulysses to see exactly where 55-203 was being stored and where she would ride across the Pacific. We had secretly hoped this might happen, but weren't sure. A second invitation was not necessary, and we sprinted toward the gangway leading up to the main deck of Ever Ulysses.

Once aboard, we quickly descended two or three steep ladders and deep into the hold, moving aft along dark companionways that seemed lit by 40-watt bulbs. Finally, we stepped through one last bulkhead and into sunshine, and there was 55-203 being lowered. As we entered, the cradle was touching down on the decking plates. We felt like we were in a cavern, with a wall of containers stacked seven high all around us. I was amazed to find that the space taken up by 55-203, horizontally and vertically, displaced a total of 32 containers!

Finally, all was secure, and it was time to disembark, saying goodbye to 55-203 until she arrived in a couple of weeks in Tacoma.

Kathryn and I were completely taken aback at what we'd just witnessed. With the level of Coast Guard and TSA security after 9/11, we figured there'd be little chance of such an adventure when 55-203 was unloaded in Tacoma.

Taking Delivery

On Monday, March 9, we received news that Ever Ulysses was due into Tacoma right on schedule. We also learned that Kathryn and I were on the list of authorized persons allowed into the Port of Tacoma container docks for the unloading.

Wouldn't you know it, our ship would come in on Friday, the 13th! Let's hope this isn't an omen.

At 6:15 a.m., we drove to Tacoma to meet up with the crew from Chuck Hovey Yachts and Lake Union Yacht Center to assist with the unloading of 55-203.

As expected, security at the Port of Tacoma container docks was heavy, and after ID checks at the security gate we were escorted to Ever Ulysses. It was eerie to see her 6,200 miles from our visit in Kaohsiung two weeks earlier.

Shortly, activity from the huge cranes started to pick up around Ever Ulysses, offloading containers at a surprisingly fast pace. A swarm of "straddle" cranes buzzed by, some carrying containers to be loaded, while others hauled away offloaded containers. It looked like a scene from Star Wars where gigantic robotic leviathans clashed. Warning horns from every piece of equipment produced a cacophony of sounds.

At 9 a.m., a minibus brought us to the Ever Ulysses gangway and we scrambled aboard. On deck, we had a magnificent view of the container facility, but we didn't waste time and quickly descended 50 feet down a very steep stairway through the deck floor and headed aft toward 55-203.

Maneuvering below decks of a 964-foot container ship is disorienting, so tracing our way to 55-203 was tricky. We were surprised it was left up to us to find our way-making it important not to lose sight of the person in front.

When we spotted 55-203 she was exactly as we'd left her two weeks earlier, looking no worse for wear. Four longshoremen were removing the cradle straps and discussing where to position the lift slings.

We immediately went to work removing the protective tape along the lower hull, as it would quickly come off in the salt water of Puget Sound once we were under way. The Chuck Hovey and Lake Union Yacht Center crews were busy in the engine room and pilothouse getting 55-203 ready to fire up the engines the moment she was set in the water. The whole process took barely 45 minutes. With preparations complete, we hurriedly disembarked Ever Ulysses to witness 55-203 being lifted out of the hold.

As the overhead crane lowered 55-203 to a few feet above the pier, we followed along on foot. At the stern of Ever Ulysses, she was maneuvered over the water and lowered so the swim step was just level with the pier. We quickly stepped aboard, and she was then lowered for her first-ever taste of salt water.

With the stern of Ever Ulysses towering 10 stories above us, 55-203's engines were started, the slings were unfastened and we were on our way. It was 10:22 a.m.-the unloading had taken a mere hour and 22 minutes.

As we slowly motored north through Commencement Bay, the commissioning crew was checking systems. Kathryn and I quietly moved to the bow to make our ceremonial rum offering to King Neptune.

From the flybridge, we looked astern to find a magnificent view of 14,411-foot Mount Rainier, standing majestically behind Ever Ulysses. What a magnificent morning!

During the hour-long cruise north to Seattle, we began to feel that 55-203 was our new yacht -still unnamed at this moment-and not legally signed over to us just yet.

Once inside the Ballard Locks that separate Puget Sound from Lake Union, Fleming 55-203 was at her new home for the next four months of commissioning and outfitting-almost ready to become Flying Colours. We didn't make it to Southeast Alaska as planned, but we nevertheless enjoyed two wonderful months of summer 2009 cruising the Inside Passage of British Columbia.

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