Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Sun Rises on Delta's New Widebodies

Delta Marine was founded in Seattle in the early 1960s, when brothers Ivor and Jack Jones opened the yard on Seattle's Duwamish Riverfront and began building high-speed pleasure boats. In 1970 the company found there was a need for high-quality, sturdy fishing vessels, so they built their first commercial fishing boat – the 33-foot Tanaga. The boat was a hit, and orders started coming in. In 1971, Delta built ten more fishing vessels, and by 1976 the yard was building boats at a rate of more than 3.5 a month. In 1977 Delta Marine turned out 65 boats, most of which were fishing boats.

The speed at which the yard produced the vessels didn't detract from their quality. Fishermen all along the West Coast, including those fishing in the harsh Alaska environment, swore by the seaworthy craft. The Delta name was synonymous with quality and efficiency, for good reason. Most of the hundreds of commercial boats built between 1970 and 1993 are still actively fishing.

As popular as the Delta vessels were with commercial fishermen, by the mid 1980s the company could see a change coming to the fishing industry. Chris Jones is the company's project manager and son of founder Jack Jones. "We saw the fishing industry slowing, and the demand and need for new construction was slowing down as well," he says. After 317 fishing boats, the company refocused on the pleasure craft market, and geared up to build a series of five 70-foot yachts. The new 70s were well received, and almost overnight Delta moved being from prolific suppliers of quality fishing vessels to premium yacht builders. "We were all of a sudden busy building yachts," Jones says. "We found we didn't have the resources to focus on yachts and still build fishing boats."

From 1993 until 2012, Delta built a string of luxury yachts, in lengths ranging from 54 to 236 feet. While not as prolific as the more utilitarian fishing boats, the company currently has is 43rd yacht under construction.

Located on 25 acres of industrial land on Seattle's Duwamish Riverfront, Delta Marine now has nearly 300,000 square feet of covered manufacturing space in a state-of-the-art facility. The yard features covered refit bays and a marine Travelift capable of lifting 440 tons. The yard also has the support of the Delta Design Group of designers and naval architects. The company houses all the marine trades on site, and sources as many American-made products and supplies as possible. Jones says yacht building technology has improved every year. "We have CNC routers and other machinery we didn't have before."

Jones says the biggest change to the boatbuilding process with this new string of boats is the construction methods Delta employs. "Where our composite boats were hand laid before, we now use a vacuum infusion process," he says. "The buildings have been upgraded, we've added overhead cranes... the facility has changed a lot."

Something that hasn't changed, Jones says, is the company's attention to detail. "We still build a clean, well-built product," he says. "The roots are the same." Delta has kept busy building world-class yachts. Jones says.

Even though the product had changed, Delta hadn't left the fishing business.

The company was still seeing fishing clients while building pleasure craft. "We were still talking to our fishing clients," he says. "We kept the relationships open, and our clients kept bringing their boats back every year to have maintenance or upgrades done."

Jones says the company entertained the idea of going back to fishing boats, "There was demand from the market, and it felt like the perfect storm to build a new 58-foot wide body seiner... the fishing industry was on a rise and our production schedule allowed us space to fit one in.

That relationship with the fishing industry led Delta to build a brand new seiner for client Steve Feenstra. The 58-foot by 23-footF/V Sequel was the first Delta "widebody" 58-footer in 20 years. Feenstra is a second-generation fisherman, whose family has been fishing Delta boats for years. "The Delta boats are some of the best boats ever built," says Feenstra. "I wouldn't build a fiberglass boat anywhere else." Feenstra knows about fishing and boats. He grew up fishing with his father and brothers. "I've run a lot of Deltas – I grew up with Deltas," he says. "I always wanted one, and now I've got one."

The Sequel was started by Delta without a contract or customer. "They built the hull before I got involved," Feenstra says. Much of the work had already been done on the boat when Feenstra became involved. "I designed the wheelhouse, and lengthened my bunk," he says. "Otherwise it was pretty well finished."

Delta has since delivered two more 58-foot widebodies, the F/V Invincible and F/V Rising Sun. Phil Fogle, owner of theInvincible, echoes Feenstra in his praise of the Delta boats. "They're first class," he says. "I've always wanted one." Fogle took delivery of his Delta in March of last year, and couldn't be happier. "The hull design is sleek, but with the wide body it packs 165,000 lbs. of fish," he says. "At the same time, it's fast and fuel efficient."

Dick Miller took delivery of the F/V Rising Sun earlier this year, and the boat is currently fishing for Dungeness crab at Westport, Washington.

"The boat's awesome," Miller says. "They don't get any better – real Delta quality." Miller has owned two Deltas before the Rising Sun, a 53-foot boat and a 58-footer. "This one's the Cadillac of them all," he says. He attributes the build quality to "all that yacht-building they've been doing" over the last 20 years. "The interior is unbelievable," Miller says, "and in the engine room, everything is stainless."
Miller believes a Delta is the finest fiberglass boat you can build. "That's the only place I'd build a boat," he says, pointing out that Delta has been building fishing boats for 40 years. "They're all still fishing," he says. "They're just as good as the day they came out of the yard."

All three of the new boats were designed by Delta's in-house naval architects, with the hull design based on the original hull design of the 1990s widebodies, Jones says, with slight changes to the house and mast.

The new Delta boats benefit from the company's decades of experience building working vessels for some of the toughest places in the world, combined with twenty year's of world-class yacht construction. The yard is currently building a fourth 58-foot by 27-foot boat, this one to a design by Pacific Northwest naval architect Hal Hockema. The hull is complete, and is ready to receive a composite house. The new boat will have two holds with a total capacity of 3,342 cubic feet, as well as a large bait hold with freezer. Chris Jones says the boat can be ready for delivery in September.

To judge by the owners of the three new Delta boats, the owner of the fourth will be very happy with his purchase.

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