By Robert Wilkes
Having bought Rybovich in 2004, Wayne Huizenga, Jr., made a multi-million dollar gamble. He thought his location in West Palm Beach, Florida, had the potential to attract large yachts from around the world. His vision for a superyacht marina and service center had not been executed on this level before. On the other hand, there were few suitable alternatives in the area for superyachts passing through. To test the idea, he would have to dredge the basin, an expensive undertaking.
Huizenga, as it turned out, was right. Since setting up the world’s first integrated superyacht marina, Rybovich has enjoyed steady growth and expansion. The marina and refit center has acquired a worldwide reputation among superyacht owners, captains and crews that is arguably unmatched in the world.
Without doubt, Rybovich has benefited from the continuous building of new superyachts. There are just under 5,000 superyachts over 30m (100 ft.) worldwide and shipyards are turning out 150 new ones each year. But expanding market size is only part of the story. Huizenga is from a very successful South Florida business family. So it’s no surprise that his success has more to do with sound business practices, most importantly listening to the customer, adapting to market needs and having a clear, “big idea” and staying with it relentlessly.
Changes at Rybovich
Rybovich in West Palm Beach is a Bellingham Marine-built floating dock facility with 57 slips up to 120m (390 ft.) in length. The heavy-duty docks support scissor lifts and a fleet of golf carts. The marina provides fresh water connections, in-slip pump out for gray and black water and superyacht-capable shore power. New power pedestals with increased capacity have recently been installed and the electrical capacity continues to be upgraded. Much of the service work is done in water, and the marina also has 10 dry-space locations for on-land refit for vessels up to 600 tons and 59m (195 ft.).
Soon after purchasing the marina, management could see more space was needed for out-of-water work. In 2006, a 14-acre site two miles north at Riviera Beach was purchased and put in operation. A property improvement plan for the Riviera Beach location is process.
Called the Rybovich North, once complete, Rybovich’s Riviera Beach location will have a 1,100-ton Travelift to complement their 2,500-ton floating dry dock. A 400-ton Travelift will also be added to the facility.
A channel had to be dredged to 4.5m (15 ft.) before the two sites could be operationally linked. Permitting took seven years. The channel allows transfer of very large yachts from one site to the other. Bellingham Marine built a 400 ft. floating dock at Rybovich North to stage 75m to 85m (250 ft. to 280 ft.) yachts for servicing. In 12 to 18 months the facility will have haul out capabilities for large yachts. The goal is to move the industrial work to Rybovich North and have the two sites work seamlessly at the same level of quality and service.
Meanwhile, at the marina, the outside of the east dock was dredged deeper to allow 90m (300 ft.) yachts to tie on the outside. The arrangement provides easy maneuvering and offers the owner’s guests a Palm Beach Island view. Bellingham Marine wave attenuators are planned and permitting is in place for expansion of the north side on the marina that will accommodate several more superyachts.
A global player
Francois Van Well is vice president of business development for Rybovich. “We’re not just a shipyard,” said Van Well, “we’re a full-service marina and we try to keep it full like any other marina. Our customers come here because of the quality of our facilities to maintain and repair large yachts. Our clientele includes larger and larger yachts as our reputation and capabilities have grown.”
Huizenga did more than put up a “superyachts welcome here” sign and wait for business. He hired Chris Denhard as their business liaison and customer relations manager. Denhard travelled the world creating relationships with owners and captains that would later turn into service visits to Rybovich. Van Well and his team approached large yacht manufacturers in Europe and offered to acquire the specialized capabilities, tools and training needed to make Rybovich a provider of warrantee services for their yachts.
The presence of Rybovich in Florida, the growing number of superyachts and congestion in Mediterranean ports combined to alter cruising patterns of large yachts. “We’ve become an integral part of the itinerary for many yachts,” said Van Well. “They plan a stop for annual maintenance either on their way to the Caribbean or on the way back to their home port.”
“As these boats get bigger,” said Van Well, “their capabilities are greater. A steel-hulled vessel 40m and up can go anywhere any time of year and doesn’t have to be put up for storage in winter. They can leave the Mediterranean, go to either coast of the Americas, or go to the Galapagos, Fiji, New Zealand and Asia. We’re helping to encourage yacht visits to our area. We are a co-sponsor of the St. Barts Bucket Regatta held in March for sailboats over 30m (100 ft.), and it attracts many superyachts to the area.”
Taking care of the superyacht customer
“This was uncharted territory,” said Van Well, “when we pioneered the superyacht marina and refit concept. We had to listen to the customer and adapt quickly, and we still do. We learned that the key is to take stress off the captain by removing risks and uncertainties. For example, we have our own fleet of tugboats specifically designed for superyachts. We are taking delivery of a new, larger tugboat and training new crews to transfer large yachts between the West Palm Beach marina and the Riviera Beach Facility. When there are movements there are potential risks, so we make it as stress free as possible for the captain.”
“We have in-slip refueling and that’s fine for boats up to 40m to 45m (130 ft. to 150 ft.),” said Van Well. “Very large yachts need faster refueling. We’re one of the larger fuel distributors in South Florida, and we know the captains don’t want to wait all day for fuel trucks to arrive. So we have fuel trucks back to back, sometimes six or seven of them, to expedite refueling. We tailor our operation to be seamless, accommodating and up to the standards of the boats themselves.”
“Larger boats have larger permanent crew, 30 people on some boats,” said Van Well. “We normally have 500 to 600 crew staying in the marina. They may be here for two months or more. We basically run a hotel where the guests bring their own room. This is their chance to take care of medical and dental needs, go shopping, and relax. We have a crew lounge which acts as a hotel lobby, a restaurant, a pool and a complete exercise facility. Our concierge helps them with any non-technical needs. They used to rent cars, but that was expensive and created a parking problem. Instead we have a complementary shuttle bus to take them anywhere they want to go.”
An economic boost to the region
Relocating out-of-water work allowed Rybovich to begin multi-acre, nautically-themed real estate development at the West Palm Beach site that will include a number of new buildings that will host retail, restaurant, residential and other commercial tenants.
“When you have a marina like ours it’s buzzing with activity, like other ports around the world,” said Van Well. “That’s what we want to capture in our real estate development, a nautical feel that people will want to be around. Instead of fences and security guards we want it to be open to the community and be a place where they can enjoy the atmosphere and excitement created by these large, beautiful yachts.”
Rybovich is having a big impact on the economy. The company and its subcontractors provide hundreds of jobs. They hire and train people from all economic levels of the local area.
Wayne Huizenga, Jr.’s concept of a large-boat integrated marina and service center continues to expand and add capabilities, much to the credit of his management team. As they have from the beginning, they listen to the customer and adapt to their needs. Along the way they have changed the large-boat yachting world and benefited the community they serve.