We had been promising ourselves to go visit McConaghy Yachts for some time and finally got round to it the other week.
My first visit to the yard many years ago was to one shed, they now have seven and along the way they have built such boats as the successful TP52, Patches, and the less successful America’s Cup Class Longze (they only built that, didn’t design it).
Mark Evans has been running the yard since its inception and McConaghy was one of the first builders to come to Zhuhai in Guangdong Province and they have seen other builders spring up around them that are no longer there. I am not sure what their secret is but a telling point is that while many Chinese workers almost flit from employer to employer with strange regularity most of the original workers at the yard are still there among what is now the 350 or so employees, only 3 or 4 of which are non-Chinese.
We got to know them somewhat better when they built the first 10 J-70s for the Chinese market but their real strength in the smaller boats has been the Foiling Moth and then the Waszp. To date, they have built around 3,500 of these small foiling boats with iterations like the Bladerider or Mach 2. These boats are built to within grams of each other, never mind kilograms and this accurate one design ethos must account, at least in part, for the fact they are still shipping a Waszp a day on average
It is not terribly uncommon for a builder that specializes to be at or near the top of the tree as McConaghy is in the ‘Moth’ world. It easy to forget that as it is easy to forget that the company’s expertise also built the Likes of Wild Oats 11 and Alfa Romeo and has also been responsible for many of WOXI’s surgeries along the way also.
They also have a full order book for their large cruising catamarans both sail and power. Here they haven’t chased down the Gunboat route but rather have used the lightness of carbon construction to produce luxury catamarans centering on quality, lightness and build techniques that streamline the build process. The accommodation modules for these vessels are completed off the boat with all the electrical and plumbing built in. These modules are then lowered into position and secured more along the lines of engine mounts rather than tabbing to the hull. This clever method avoids the creaking and groaning of many lesser vessels when underway.
Then of course, the main reason we went to visit at this time is they are building the AC40 boat for AC37 and we were fortunate enough to be able to see behind the scenes. The easiest way to describe the initial layup is it was like being shown into an electronics factory clean room. Chilled by air conditioning with filtered air and positive pressure the pre-preg carbon is carefully measured, cut and then, when applied, to the tooling pricked to allow air to escape before being cooked off.
For the Hull One to be sailing and performing as hoped for within a few days of arrival in Auckland with no issues is not surprising having seen the care and attention given to their construction at the yard.
That level of care is apparent throughout the whole facility. In fact, if pushed you could eat your lunch off the factory floor. Quite simply this is how quality boatbuilding should be done.
While we were there the final ‘bits and pieces were being put to Hull 2 and had the rare pleasure of sitting in the ‘driving seat’. It is all black and remarkably simple in appearance. Just inboard and forward of this seat is a self-tailing winch which I was told only hoists the sails. Everything else is hydraulic with much of it controlled by a computerized auto-pilot enabling the sailors t concentrate on where they are going and going fast. In front of the steering wheel are mounts for two mobile phones which apparently loaded with the apps telling the helmsperson (and a good number of them will be female) all that is going on.
As I write this that boat is already on its way to, I expect, INEOS where it will arrive as a complete package. Hulls 3, 4 & 5 were in various stages of completion in a finely tuned, production line process.
Calling these boats simple and complicated in the same breath may seem a dichotomy but it is the complexity of the control systems that are designed to make them relatively simple to sail. That is if you could call speed potentials of around 50kts simple.
Apologies if the above reads a little like an advert but having visited multiple yards/builders/factories over the years both in China and in Europe (including Holland), simply put, this yard ranks with the best there is.
Alistair Skinner aka Shanghai Sailor
Misplaced title inspiration thanks to Wall of Voodoo – ed.