Hodgdon Yachts launches ‘Comanche’ racing yacht

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 7:30pm

It has been about a year since Jim Clark commissioned Hodgdon Yachts to build him a new racing yacht. This past weekend, that new racer, the Comanche, finally touched down in Boothbay waters.

Hundreds of people gathered in Shipbuilder's Park in East Boothbay this past Saturday, directly adjacent to Hodgdon Yachts, to watch the launch of the vessel. With black and red paint and at 100 feet long by 30 feet wide, the hull of the boat creeped out of its construction warehouse on stilts and slowly made its way to the platform that would lower it into the sea.

Neal Williamson, the director of human resources for Hodgdon Yachts, who was on site during the launch, said a crew of about 60 people helped complete the build in approximately one year on a project that he said could have take up to two years.

"This is typically a two-year build that we did in one year," Williamson said. "It was a lot of hours. We don't typically do multiple shifts, but for a long period of time, we did two shifts."

He said about 30 to 40 workers from Hodgdon Yachts, 10 from Maine-based construction company Cianbro, and 20 from NewCube worked on the build. NewCube is the company that directly represented Clark. That crew completed the build of the boat's hull at the Hodgdon Yacht facility in Boothbay, but construction of the mast and keel were outsourced to companies in New Zealand and Italy, respectively.

Now the racing yacht is scheduled to be towed to Rhode Island where it will receive its mast and keel. From there it will make the journey, by sail, to Charleston, South Carolina, and then it will be placed on a ship and transported to Australia before its inaugural race, the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, which takes competitors on an approximately 630 nautical mile journey from Sydney, Australia to Hobart, Tasmania.

Kimo Worthington, a manager of the Comanche project who works for Clark, said the race is not easy and that, as a sailor himself, it is a race in which he has never participated.

"The Sydney Hobart is not a picnic of a race. It's one of the things I haven't done," Worthington said.

He explained that one feature that will make the boat look unique is where the sail is located. It is near the back of the hull, so it "will look different compared to the other boats," he explained.

Worthington also noted that the winches on the yacht are all manual, so it will be eligible for breaking records.

"It's a trade-off," he said when explaining that the manual winches will be slower than powered versions. "It is lighter to be manual."

As the Boothbay Register has reported before, the Comanche was built with aerospace technology that includes the usage of pre-impregnated composite fibers, "pre-preg," that includes a mix of epoxies and fibers that must be baked in order to become solid.

This forced Hodgdon Yachts to transform its facility in to an oven — one that was bigger than the boat itself and could bake the fibers as hull construction moved forward.

It is perhaps the advanced technology that will help the yacht break records in its upcoming races.

The flashy technology may also be what drew so many people from the Boothbay area to the dock to watch the launch. The Register spoke to a few people at the launch to get their opinions on the boat and why the turnout was so great.

"Knowing what the boat will be used for, it would certainly put Boothbay on the map, and I think that will be a good thing," said Matt Hunt, a resident of Oakland, Maine.

Sally Lloyd, who was also at the launch, said the technology used in the building process could help advance the entirety of shipbuilding through the area.

"I'm the coach of the high school sailing club," Lloyd said. "I think it's important to help bring forward our waterfront."

If nothing else, the launch appeared to go smoothly, and Williamson confirmed that everything moved along as planned.

"I would say the launch went as smooth as silk," he said.