Doing Hard Time
The answer to why one goes through the expense and effort of owning a boat is generally summed up in the experiences that occur while it’s afloat. When you take the water out of the equation, some of the sparkle diminishes. Words like haul-out, maintenance, engine work, rebuilds – none compare favorably to summer cruise, sandbar, blue water, or even the most basic, boat ride. The simple fact is that time spent in the yard is viewed as “on the hard” in more ways than one. Few anticipate yard visits with much more than a mild sense of dread and an eagerness to get to the other side of it. It is work after all, and often intimidating. But the truth is, when done right, it’s not that hard and the end result is worth every minute.
Your first time in a yard should be just the beginning of a long and meaningful relationship. Laying down a good foundation is important. A continuous support model such as the “24/7 worldwide” mantra embraced by the Bluewater Yacht Yards is meant to enhance your boating experience – it’s your backup. For customer Steve Jones, a stay in the Bluewater Yacht Yard in Hampton dramatically altered his entire boating experience. Jones has a type of muscular dystrophy that primarily affects his legs. He uses a motorized chair for his adventures in lieu of legwork, and decided long ago that his condition would only be a limitation to his lifestyle if he let it become one. As an avid fisherman he figured it would just take the right boat and setup for him to continue to hang with the rest of the off shore fleet. Though his initial thoughts regarding accessibility first pointed towards an open, walk-around platform, extensive research and a lot of talk changed his mind. With the help of Bluewater sales associate and friend Kevin Pankoke, he looked at a lot of boats, traveled to many shows and spoke to the best boat builders. After six months of this pointed research he decided that with the right help and a few “tweaks” a convertible sportfish would do a better job of getting him where he wanted to go. When Kevin showed him the 52 Viking he knew it was the one—or could be—and so Cuttin’ Up hit the drawing board.
He knew what he wanted to do and had a general idea of how it should work. What he didn’t know, was how it could be done, or who could do it. Directly next door to the Bluewater Yacht Sales Hampton office and the sprawling Bluewater Yachting Center rises the hub of the Bluewater Yacht Yard. It was there that Jones met the cast who would make it all happen. He had a vision and he turned to Earle Hall and his crew to bring it to life. “I knew what I wanted. What I needed was the technical know-how to actually make it work, and somebody to build it. These guys have the skillset, and then some.” Jones learned early in life that the answer is always “no” if you don’t ask. He knew that just because nobody had done this particular type of project before, didn’t mean it couldn’t be done. For Earle Hall it was a test of sorts. “I’ve always said we could do anything to a boat and make it look like it was always supposed to be that way. In fact, a lot of the things we do all the time now are because someone came along and just asked for it, and then somebody else wanted the same thing until everyone had to have it that way. Steve’s project looked different because nobody had asked us before, but individually the pieces were interesting and doable. It was the sheer scope of modifications that was the most challenging aspect.”
In a nutshell, the premise was to make the boat completely accessible to someone who cannot lift their legs. Jones’ goal was to refit or modify the boat such that he could board, get to the bridge, run the boat (and fight a fish,) get into the fighting chair (and fight a fish,) enter the salon, and traverse down the companionway into the staterooms and head – all without having to lift a leg or ask anyone else to do it for him. Jones can only move his legs across level surfaces, so essentially he wanted to address every level and either add a transition, or make them common to the next. As in any boat design, every inch counts. That is where the conversation with the service technicians began. Earle Hall remembers it vividly, “You’d be surprised what you don’t notice about your own two feet. In order to do this right we had to listen very closely to everything Steve pointed out and then figure out how to make it workable for him. It was a great experience getting into the customer’s vision, creatively overcoming the obstacles and then designing and building the solutions.”
The whole project began with a literal walk-through starting from the dock. Jones needed to be able to step aboard without the luxury of actually stepping, no matter the dock type, distance or height. Although marine davits are somewhat common equipment, none of them would work exactly the way either Jones or the Bluewater crew envisioned for the task. “We got held up a bit trying to use what already existed davit-wise and the manufacturer just didn’t get it. Fortunately the guys here at the Bluewater yard didn’t let that stop them and went ahead and reinvented the whole thing.” The crew cut the flying bridge rocket launcher and hinged it such that it could swing out to allow a bridge mounted davit to lift a person in harness via a lanyard operated control. The cockpit mezzanine was reworked to include a “garage” which doubles as storage when the scooter stays home. Elsewhere in the cockpit, Release Marine created a hinged arm to the fighting chair, a feature now showing up on other boats since it makes maneuvering a large rod and person combo onto the seat a smoother transition.
The next level to address was the step up out of the cockpit itself. A hole cut into the deck masquerades as an innocent hatch cover but conceals a James Bond-like remote operated scissor lift, allowing cockpit deck to meet mezzanine. From there to the bridge, an ingenious hydraulic elevator was added to a completely retrofitted ladder (while also maintaining its ladder functionality) to smoothly lift from salon door up to bridge level. From there, it’s merely one step to a modified electric Stidd helm chair with electric height and lateral adjustments. Back below, unnoticeable to the untrained eye, the salon dinette was raised eight inches from floor level and then you face the companionway steps. Noticeable, but handily integrated, a floor level elevator follows the steps much like an escalator. The coup de gras is ensconced in the master bath, where the marine head now operates from a wall plate that lifts and lowers it along a 30 inch range to ease on and off access.
Across the Board Service
Jones appreciated the ingenuity and quality of work performed on his Viking yacht so much, he also asked Bluewater Yacht Yard to customize his Cadillac Escalade. The team modified a passenger door into a latching gullwing configuration and installed an articulating chair lift to make the vehicle more accessible.
Not Too Hard
From top to bottom, Jones’ traditional sportfish convertible went from a multi-level obstacle course to an even playing field in only eight weeks. The target was to hit the Virginia Beach Billfish Tournament, a challenging prospect timewise, but Cuttin’ Up made her debut at the Rudee Inlet event. When asked if he dreaded yard time, he admits, “It may have been slower than I’d like, but there were some real challenges there. The truth is that I was excited about the whole experience. Not everybody could pull this off, and it wouldn’t have happened without the inventiveness and sheer can-do attitude of the entire Bluewater staff.” Fabrication and engineering genius Brian Motter played a key role in figuring out some of the complexities of the systems and received high praise from both Jones and the rest of the team. Hampton Yard Manager Craig Messick points out, “Brian pretty much figured out all the hard parts faster and smarter. He was the one who kept the ball rolling whenever things started to look tricky.”
Would Jones do it again? “Absolutely. This boat will last though, between the way it was built and how well we take care of it. We come back to Bluewater Yacht Yard pretty often for our routine maintenance. Since day one they’ve been very hands-on and we’ve had more one-on-one conversations than you’d expect from a busy yard.” Lastly, the question everyone is thinking… the name Cuttin’ Up, did that have anything to do with what was done to the boat? Jones laughed, “Nope, Nicholas, my son, came up with that. I told the kids and everybody else that all of this is going to be fun or we’re not doing it at all. That’s what we’re doing when we’re out there – cutting up and having a good time. It’s what we do.”