Skylark squeezes her way to the sea

Aquidneck Custom completes RI’s biggest composite sailing cat

By Bruce Burdett
Posted 11/8/18

The immense new catamaran Skylark will battle storms and circle the globe, but few of the challenges to come will compare to those posed by the first couple miles.

At 4 a.m. on a recent October …

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Skylark squeezes her way to the sea

Aquidneck Custom completes RI’s biggest composite sailing cat

Posted

The immense new catamaran Skylark will battle storms and circle the globe, but few of the challenges to come will compare to those posed by the first couple miles.

At 4 a.m. on a recent October day, a big Brownell yacht transportation truck began easing Skylark from the Aquidneck Custom Composites building on Ballou Boulevard in Bristol.

Already the Chris White-design was breaking records. At 72 feet long with 32-foot beam (wide as both lanes of a two-lane road and then some, this was the longest, beamiest and biggest overall composite catamaran ever built in Rhode Island. And it was the widest load ever transported by Brownell in its 64 year history of hauling some of the biggest boats in New England.

The usual route for boats from Bristol’s boat-building center to the water is to the harbor via Hope Street. Street widths, obstacles and boat ramp water depth conspired to eliminate that option. Impossible, too, was a Mount Hope Bridge crossing to Portsmouth.

So company owner Bill Koffler said they settled on an unexplored course — east down Broad Common Road to Metacom Avenue to Annawamscutt Road to the relatively new state ramp there.

“That ramp is perfect,” Mr. Koffler said. Plenty of water, no need for a crane, and calm conditions.

It took two years and “a herculean effort” to build this boat and many weeks to plan its escape to the bay.

Trees had to be trimmed, a few were removed (town and state agreed they were too close to the road anyway for safety), a utility pole needed to be moved temporarily by National Grid, low wires had to be dealt with, and a police escort shut down the route to other traffic from curb to curb.

“We were hoping to be off Metacom Avenue by 6 a.m., but that was a little problematic,” Mr. Koffler said.

“Rounding the corner from Broadcommon to Metacom was an incredible feat. Took about 30 minutes,” added the company’s Maryann Fulton.

“To all of the folks in our path, thank you for your understanding. Please accept out sincerest apologies,” the company wrote in a letter to this newspaper. ”It may only be 1.9 miles but at 72 feet long and 32 feet wide, she went at her own pace. As it had to be.”

From the boat ramp, Skylark headed to Portsmouth’s Loughborough Marine Interests in the Melville area to meet up with new mast and rig. Sea trials and outfitting continue there.

Later, the boat will sail to the Caribbean as colder weather arrives. The owner then plans an around-the-world voyage.

That owner (whose name was not given), knows Bristol and Aquidneck Custom Composites well.

The company has built a boat for him before, an Atlantic 57 catamaran that the owner sailed over 10,000 miles in ten years.

“He loves the work we do,” Mr. Koffler said.

Maneuvering this wide boat into tight harbors won’t be a frequent challenge for this owner, family, friends and three-person crew, Mr. Koffler said. He likes to visit places off the beaten path and anchor out when possible.

The carbon-composite boat (which weighs just 42,000 pounds) will be a comfortable ride. Skylark features four cabins with king beds, has five heads and five showers, AC and heat, washer and dryer, dinner seating for eight in the main cabin and seating for another eight or more “out on the back porch.”

After a Skylark celebration at the Herreshoff Marine Museum’s Hall of Boats, the company’s 16 employees will get right back at it.

More jobs await (“a good thing,” says the owner) — a 50-foot power research catamaran for Raytheon’s Portsmouth facility and then another 72-footer.

Building Skylark was indeed a community effort, Mr. Koffler said.

The list of local subcontractors and participants (all of these are from Bristol) includes:

• Greg Younce of Custom Fiberglass

• Buddy Luther of Luther’s Welding

• Itchiban Yacht Painters

• C&C fiberglass

• Composites One

• Core Composites

• Moore Bros Composites

• Derecktor Marine Technologies

• Temple Machine Shop

• Jamestown Distributers

• Arnold Lumber

• CAM Machine

• F&S Electric

• Herreshoff Marine Museum

• RIMTA

• Thurston Canvas

Incidentally, the name Skylark is an old British Royal Navy term — “Frolic, playing about … in sailing ship days the order Hands to dance and skylark’ … race up the rigging.”

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