Building A Fleming That's Right For You - Part 1

By Ron Ferguson

Shipyard visits during construction of your yacht may be the key to getting exactly the right cruising features for you. When the shipyard is in Taiwan, however, timing your visit is crucial for getting change orders accepted before they result in higher costs - or worse, changes that aren’t exactly what you want. Here are some tips from our experiences with a new Fleming 55.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

“Ron, I have good news.”

It was mid-February 2008, and the caller was Brian Hovey, of Chuck Hovey Yacht Sales in Newport Beach.

“I’ve just spoken with Duncan Cowie of Fleming Yachts. A customer in Belgium is asking for a two-stateroom Fleming 55, and they’ve decided to offer it. Would you be interested?”

Whew! That seemingly small bit of information almost took my breath away. My wife, Kathryn, and I had been looking at the Fleming 55 for two years and liked what we saw, but it was offered only in a three-stateroom configuration. We wanted a two-stateroom yacht for coastal cruising in the Pacific Northwest. We immediately told Brian we were interested.

Late that evening an e-mail from Brian arrived with a hand drawn sketch of the proposed two-stateroom layout, and a promise that we could have solid input in layout details. Six days later we signed the Purchase Order for hull 55-203, construction to begin in September and completion by late December.

The hand drawn two-stateroom layout, sent to us in hopes that it might bring us back to look once more at the Fleming. (Click on any image to enlarge.)

That schedule really telescoped our activity. The global economy had just started to tank, with no sign of where it would end. Immediately after our summer cruise, we put Cosmo Place, our Nordic Tug 42’ on the market. The Fleming 55 would likely be our last boat, so our focus was to ensure that its design was exactly what we wanted.

Cosmo Place was a production boat too, and with the Nordic Tugs factory just 65 miles north of our home near Seattle, we visited it every two weeks during construction, leading to dozens of small, but important, changes that made a big difference in our cruising.

With the Fleming, we wanted the same result, but how to do it? The shipyard is in Taiwan, 6,200 miles and almost a 24 hour door-to-door trip, so we can’t just drop in any time we have a free afternoon.

During August and September, we visited every Fleming 55 in the Chuck Hovey inventory on the West Coast. Several evenings were spent aboard a 55 at the dock in Lake Union, with takeaway dinners from a nearby restaurant, or a bottle of wine to check out lighting and fabric colors - or some quality time getting to know the boat’s ambience. During these visits, we settled quite a few option list decisions. A primary goal was to reduce heavy power consumption wherever possible, allowing us to run the genset less in secluded anchorages.

Plan A – visit early in the build process

Prior to boating, Kathryn and I had a 30-year love affair flying sailplanes and we often visited the German factory when a new sailplane was on order - it was always a joy to see your sailplane being built. As soon as we placed the order for the Fleming 55, we knew we’d want to visit the shipyard in Taiwan at least once during construction.

In early August, 2008, we began thinking about the best timing for a shipyard visit. The Tung Hwa Shipyard, personally selected by Tony Fleming in 1985 when he founded Fleming Yachts, is in the south of Taiwan, just outside the tiny village of Wandan, 20 miles east of Kaohsiung (pronounced "gow-shung"). Kaohsiung is a major Taiwanese seaport, but the factory itself is landlocked.

All Flemings are built at the Tung Hwa Shipyard, about 20 miles east of Kaohsiung, on the SW coast of Taiwan. Click on image to enlarge

Kathryn and I thought a November date would be best – when our Fleming would be far enough along in the build cycle to have something significant to see. We queried our Chuck Hovey contacts and after consulting with Fleming Yachts, they came back with two options that would work for them - October 15th-17th or December 10th-12th. These were times that Duncan Cowie, the technical rep for Fleming Yachts, and Adi Shard, the on-site Fleming rep at the shipyard, would be in Taiwan and could meet with us.

These options certainly didn’t include November, so now our decision was, which of the two offered dates would be best? October seemed too early in the build cycle, and December too late. We settled on October, figuring it would be closer to the mid-build timeframe.

As our travel date neared, we learned that Chuck Hovey was sending Peter Shaefer, our yacht broker from Seattle to accompany us. This was very beneficial, with Peter driving the Fleming communications from our side. One major focus was in getting maximum master stateroom space from the new configuration, plus extra space in the adjoining head. Peter sent us an e-mail: “I’m waiting to hear from Fleming whether we can configure this layout while we’re in Taiwan – it should be right about the time they start building the master . . . and it would be great if we can sit down with Adi and Duncan and hash out exactly what they can offer.” This news sparked our interest.

Inside the hull of 55-203, all that's completed is a few longitudinal stringers.

Three days before our scheduled departure, another e-mail from Peter brought shipyard photos taken just a few days earlier of 55-203. These were the first we’d received, and my heart sank when I saw that our hull was just barely out of the mold, with just a few of the longitudinal stringers in place. We’d hoped it would be much further along in the build cycle by this time.

We departed Seattle on October 12th on a United Airlines non-stop flight to Tokyo’s Narita Airport, then a Japan Airlines direct flight to Kaohsiung, arriving late at night on Monday, October 13th.

The next morning, Peter, Kathryn, and I were picked up at the hotel by Duncan. Skillfully winding through heavy morning rush hour traffic, made worse by the thousands of Vespa-type scooters Taiwanese commuters ride, Duncan headed east for the 20-mile journey to the completely landlocked Tung Hwa Shipyard.

Ron and Kathryn pose in front of the open bay area of the Tung Hwa Shipyard. The 55 assembly area is on the right, with 65s/75s on the left. The open bay area is for final assembly, where details are completed just before overseas shipping. The yellow trailer on the right is for the nocturnal transport to the container docks 20 miles away.
The Model 55 assembly area. Flying Colours 55-203 is on the left; to the right of it is 55-200 going to the Caribbean/Puerto Rico; then further right is 55-201 (the other 2-stateroom boat) going to Belgium; at the far right (and almost hidden in the darkness) is 55-202 going to the U.S. East Coast.

The main assembly area of the shipyard is a sprawling open-ended structure, probably owing to the hot and muggy climate, plus the production requirement to easily move hulls and various large structural components around. In the model 55 construction area, we could see four boats in various building stages. At first glance, hull 55-203 was quite disappointing. It had come out of the mold within the past couple of days, and was just a very large, very empty, external hull structure without any decking or superstructure, and a few lower bulkheads in place to give the hull some structure. There wasn’t much to see. Nevertheless, we climbed onto the access railing surrounding it and grabbed photos of what we knew would someday be “our” Fleming.

The aft engine room bulkhead is installed, as well as the floor framing for the lazarette by the time of our October visit.
In the engine room area, the heavyweight stringers. The main bulkhead up to the galley is also installed

Next, we climbed aboard the two 55s ahead of us in the assembly process – one of them the two-stateroom hull for the Belgian customer. This turned out to be the best part of the visit – not only seeing close-up how the Fleming is built, and as we toured through every nook and cranny, discussing with Adi various options on how we could still customize our Fleming. We would suggest something, and Adi would say, “sure, we can do that”, or “no, that isn’t possible, but here’s another option.” We were very impressed by his desire to make our Fleming 55 special for us.

Workmen are putting finishing touches to the cockpit cabinetry and ladder on 55-202, the Fleming 55 just ahead of us in the assembly line.
Kathryn gets a briefing from Adi in the engine room of 55-202. She is the Skipper on our boat, and she takes her duties there very seriously.

In general, we weren’t wild about the master stateroom being in the forward V, but with the extra space gained by eliminating one stateroom, we really liked the new configuration. Adi told us his idea for a special teak cabinet that would house an exercise bicycle - important for us when cruising in remote areas where we can’t get ashore for walks.

In the guest stateroom, we gave our approval for the layout. Across the companionway, we pondered where the stacked washer/dryer combo would best fit.

In the pilot house, we explained that stray logs in our British Columbia and SE Alaska cruising area mean forward visibility is a real concern, and asked for the settee to be raised for better visibility.

In the galley, we discussed concerns about power requirements for the induction cooktop and convection microwave. In planning for a possible future swap-out, Adi agreed to stash propane bottles in the fly bridge and install plumbing down to the galley for that eventuality.

At the bow, we discussed the anchor windlass and chain locker - the standard 400’ of 5/8" anchor chain might be insufficient for our SE Alaska cruising, and Adi agreed to enlarge our chain locker to accommodate 600’ of chain

Adi (at right), Peter Schaefer (middle), and Kathryn (left) discuss the schedule that will hopefully have the new Fleming delivered to us in Seattle by late February, 2009.

In the afternoon, Adi and Duncan took us line-by-line through every item on the Build Sheet, to ensure that we were all in agreement. This attention to detail, plus being able to talk everything out with the guys actually directing the work, wouldn’t have been possible via e-mail.

To our chagrin, Adi gently broke the news that 55-203 was behind schedule by at least a month - that the new completion date was shortly after Chinese New Year on January 26th. We were assured this would still get 55-203 to us in early February, with plenty of time to outfit before our planned departure to SE Alaska for Summer 2009.

As we headed north to Taipei the next day, Kathryn and I were both struck by how much we accomplished in this one brief day at the Tung Hwa shipyard, versus months of back-and-forth e-mails.

Upon entering our 40-th floor hotel room at the Taipei Shangri-La Hotel, we looked out our window upon a most amazing rainbow arcing across Taipei 101, the world's tallest building. What an auspicious sign!

Our conclusion: if you want the visit to achieve custom decisions on your boat, the best time is when there’s little to look at, but with plenty of time remaining to accommodate your changes. You’ll have other production hulls ahead of you, available to climb aboard and compare to yours.

In the next installment, we'll look at Option B - visiting the factory when your Fleming is complete, allowing you to see your finished yacht and accompany it on the nocturnal highway roadtrip to the Kaohsiung Harbour, where it will be loaded on board a container ship bound for its new owner.

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  Building A Fleming That's Right For You - Part 1  
  Building A Fleming That's Right For You - Part 2  
  Building A Fleming That's Right For You - Part 3  
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