Saturday's launch of the 34-foot aluminum catamaran Wild Cat marks the next chapter for ACI Boats' planned line of production aluminum powerboats being built at ACI's Port Townsend Boat Haven facility.
The first hull in the new Alegria series, Wild Cat is soon to be joined by 30- and 36-foot versions; two other standard lines are in the design stages.
ACI President Cory Armstrong sees a bright future in what he calls the "automotive" model of boatbuilding – designing a standard product line with customizable options, allowing buyers to get a vessel that meets their needs at a far lower cost than a custom-designed boat.
"We've narrowed down a niche market that's just not available," he said.
Ultimately, ACI intends to offer three lines of aluminum catamarans, each with several available variations in size and options, as well as two lines of monohulls with a similar range of versions, all available through standard retail outlets.
NEW KIDS AT PORT
ACI has been at its Port of Port Townsend location since January 2016. The busy shop fills three buildings and employs 33 people, with plans to grow further as the business expands. The facility houses both ACI's new boatbuilding operation as well as the full-service repair and refit operations of Gold Star Marine.
ACI continues to build custom boats; three are currently in production, with three others already launched in 2016. ACI plans to have 30- and 36-foot Alegria models ready in time for the January 2017 Seattle Boat Show.
Armstrong and business partner Jeremy Cornelson had nothing but praise for Peter Quinn, Team Jefferson executive director. "Without Peter Quinn, we wouldn't be here. Team Jefferson pulled all the pieces together to make the Port Townsend facility happen," Cornelson said.
Quinn noted that bringing a business to town has a lot of moving parts, quipping, "My role was to help 'tie the strings together.'"
One of the challenges was startup funding. While Armstrong had more than 30 years of aluminum boatbuilding experience, along with a top-notch design and production team, because ACI was a new venture, getting traditional bank funding was challenging. Team Jefferson helped ACI connect with Jefferson County investors, and helped negotiate a lease with the Port of Port Townsend for 20,000 square feet in the three buildings that had been vacated by Gold Star Marine in October 2015.
ACI hadn't originally planned to do repair/refit work, but the existing Gold Star facility offered an opportunity to expand its business model. It retained the Gold Star name for repair work. Diversifying has been a good choice; Cornelson said the refit projects help even out the financial highs and lows of building new boats. Gold Star has the only full-range hydraulics service at the Boat Haven, and is able to perform repair/refit work on vessels up to 54 feet in length.
FAST & COMFORTABLE
A 34-foot Alegria model, Wild Cat is a high-speed power catamaran, powered by twin 350-horsepower Yamaha outboards. Cruising at more than 30 knots, the boat has hit 42 knots in sea trials. Designed for the rigors of Southeast Alaska, Wild Cat is headed to its new home in Petersburg, Alaska, next week, ready for family adventures.
The twin hulls of a power catamaran offer both high speed and fuel efficiency, compared to traditional monohull designs for fishing and cruising boats, and the wide beam offers enormous accommodation space for the relative size. Cruising cats are noted for their stability and smooth ride, making such designs a good choice for notoriously rough Northwest waters.
Everyone at ACI emphasizes the teamwork approach Armstrong takes to building a business. David Franz, sales manager, was so impressed with the team that he's moving here, joking that Port Townsend is the southernmost city in Southeast Alaska.
"People have a 'let's make it work' attitude," said Franz. "There's a lot of synergy here. The skill-set [at the Boat Haven] is so varied, with all kinds of fit for what we're doing. Cory, as the leader, has a real ability for attracting quality people. Everyone – from the office to the shop floor – is a team player."
Armstrong emphasized that the business is always on the lookout for new people, and not just in the shop, stating, "We're building a team here."
Designer Antonio Salguero took Armstrong’s concept drawings and turned them into 3-D CAD plans ready for aluminum milling. Right now, Salguero is busy designing upcoming custom projects for ACI, including a 32-foot crabber, and a 38-foot semi-displacement catamaran bound for American Samoa.
"It's great to have aluminum boatbuilding right here – it adds to the incredible range of ability here in Port Townsend," Salguero said.
Sam Gibboney, the Port of Port Townsend's new executive director, couldn't agree more. "The port is thrilled with the new ACI splashdown," Gibboney said. "It's exciting to see a new boat launch, and even more exciting to see a new business take off."
Based on the smiles on everyone's faces as they returned from Wild Cat's first run around the bay, ACI's new venture is well on its way.