At the peak of the global lockdown, approximately the third week of March and into the beginning of April, George Whitehouse, Business Development Director at Savannah Yacht Center (SYC) noted a slowing down at the US-based yard, but also quick adaption by the team to this extraordinary situation. SuperyachtNews spoke to Whitehouse for updates.
“We are still fully operational, and we always have been. At the peak of this lockdown, things were quite slow, and everybody was quite concerned, so we implemented the necessary social distancing,” began Whitehouse. As a result of this, SYC tested everybody that came into the yard to work, as well as all the employees, to monitor the situation in detail and put a lot of minds at rest.
SYC has not reported any delays to its inventory of projects yet. “The approximate 10-day pause that was felt worldwide, towards the end of March, resulted in everyone’s schedules getting delayed,” explained Whitehouse, identifying that because it was a global delay it was all relative.
"I would imagine that in the next couple of weeks, certainly by the end of May, we will see owners making decisions about whether their summer is ‘cancelled’, and if they then wish to come to the yard to get work done, as they won’t be using the boat..." - George Whitehouse, Business Development Director - Savannah Yacht Center (SYC)
“We are, however, still not sure when and where the boats here are going next - because the boats themselves aren’t sure,” Whitehouse continued. “[Coronavirus] has forced a few boats that were scheduled to come here to stay in place. I would imagine that in the next couple of weeks, certainly by the end of May, we will see owners making decisions about whether their summer is ‘cancelled’, and if they then wish to come to the yard to get work done, as they won’t be using the boat… or if they will want to stay put where they are.
“It’s a big question for these boats to stay in place - for example in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, or South Florida - as its getting near to hurricane season, so there are a lot of questions regarding what to do and where to go by the management companies,” said Whitehouse.
At present, SYC is 100 per cent confident about its delivery schedules. “If anything, for the time that the yachts are spending here at the yard, they want to add work, which is a good scenario for us,” Whitehouse explained. “If summer is cancelled, a whole new series of jobs will open up, and a whole series of boats wanting to go to a shipyard will open up.
SYC is still actively pursuing boats that want to come to the yard and accommodating these wishes. “It’s an individual guessing game – each boat is guessing what to do and when to do it. We have quite a few boats that want to come, it’s just a case of deciding whether they want to delay that until [Autumn] and have the owner use the boat, or if they want to come straight to the yard,” outlined Whitehouse.
Luckily, SYC has dodged any delays to its supply chain, according to Whitehouse, simply because the projects that are at the yard already have all the right parts due to time constraints that had already been factored in. “Going forward though, a lot of the yachts we deal with [+60m) have vendors and materials that come from Europe, and those vendors – especially the proprietary ones – can’t get here, so it might create an awkward situation with boats wanting to come but materials not being available for that particular project,” said Whitehouse. “That hasn’t affected us yet, but it could,” he added.
“Yachting has always been a wonderful thing, whether it’s on the ownership side or working in the business. I don’t think you’ll see people running away, I think you’ll see people coming back as quickly as possible..."
Looking at the next few months and even years of the industry, Whitehouse was keen to share his optimistic view. “Yachting has always been a wonderful thing, whether it’s on the ownership side or working in the business. I don’t think you’ll see people running away, I think you’ll see people coming back as quickly as possible,” he said.
“On the refit side of things, I honestly think they’ll be fine. Even if owners are not using their boat, the yards are dealing with some of the wealthiest people in the world, so hopefully, their money is still there for this industry, its business and its entertainment, and we won’t get knocked too hard.
“I feel badly for the service part of our industry: the destinations, provisioners and suppliers, port agents etcetera… All the people so used to boats coming and going and people buying products or going into town,” Whitehouse added. “Everybody’s in this together. This is a very social business and that’s what it’s all about. So I hope people have the latitude to hold on in there.
“You can’t do virtual boat shows, or virtual trips to Tahiti and St. Barths. It’s the physical presence and the physical atmosphere of being around people you want to be with that is important to this industry, and I hope that returns sooner than later!”
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