He directed me to the stand of Fora Marine – RM Yachts where we sat down to discuss the topic. It was here when I first heard about the fact that a yacht builder is making big and yet fast sailing cruisers from plywood.
Last week I happened to be in La Rochelle at the Atlantic Ocean Coast and it suddenly struck me as I was driving through a large commercial area when I saw the big RM-Yachts logo and I suddenly remembered. I took the chance and called the company and I was very excited to have Justine at the other end of the line – the very lady who was so kind to arrange the meeting with Marc during the boatshow in the first place: “Sure, of course you can come and have a visit at our yard. We would be delighted!”, she said and offered me her company to show me around. That was my lucky day.
Plywood as an ideal material for building boats
Why is it such a news that there is a company making sailing yachts from plywood? Boats and ships have been made from timber for many hundred years before: Mankind´s first boats have been hollow dug out canoes, Egyptians have set out on the Mediterranean in rafts made of reed, Polynesians have conquered much of the Pacific Ocean in cleverly rigged, very fast tiny outrigger boats and finally had the Europeans roamed the Oceans in huge sturdy yet fast and reliable timber made sailing vessels. But I admit: In a world made of plastic it sounds a bit awkward to have a yacht made from plywood considered to be “modern” or state-of-the-art.
When we entered the large production facility, not after the owner of the company greeted me and was wishing me a nice stay, I was surprised to hear from Justine than RM Yachts is selling some 40 units annually. That is much, much more than very renown Scandinavian boat yards such as admired Luffe for example. “We want to make some 48 boats this year”, she says, “The maximum limit for these facilities as you may see would be some 80 boats anually.” You know what struck me most as I stand in the hall? The smell. No biting GRP polystyrene-odors but the fine smell of wood. Very nice.
Making a plywood sailing yacht is – not unlike the building of a GRP boat – a lot of hand labor. When I was visiting the yard it was bristling with people. What I liked a lot was the fact that I equally saw young people working here as well as elder craftsmen which is a sign of a good healthy workforce and the ensuring of knowledge transition between the generations. There appeared to be no pressure here – people did their work thoroughly, I often saw them putting away the tools to intensively check on the outcome. All of the male workers of course found their time to greet Justine with French bisous as well.
Making the structural skeleton of the sailing yacht
“We have no molds to make a yacht´s hull”, Justine explains as we stand in front of a huge construction made of thick plywood: “That´s the negative model of the hull and the equivalent to the GRP-mold if you want. The craftsmen will put the pre-cut parts in a certain manner to a certain place and thus form the skeleton of the hull.” I get closer to watch: First they will put in the bulkheads. Then stringers and ribs will be complemented. The longitudinal parts such as stringers will be put in place as well. “It´s a giant puzzle!”, I said and she nods, smiling.