I have been thinking a lot lately about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the yachting industry and refit projects and it is clear that, figuratively speaking, we are truly navigating uncharted waters. In maritime terms, uncharted waters are those areas never before mapped – perhaps never even explored. For obvious reasons, navigating such an area comes with risk and requires patience and careful planning on the part of the vessel operators.
DELAYED DUE TO COVID-19
As lifestyles shifted in answer to COVID lockdowns around the world, inventory related to home improvement or yacht build and refit was quickly depleted. Community lockdowns, staggered production times and facility closures due to COVID-19 quarantine protocols wreaked havoc on manufacturers across all categories, from tile to fabricators to kitchen appliances. Initial shutdowns at the onset of the pandemic led to the first round of delays, which were exacerbated by a slow return to production as new protocols were implemented, followed by additional delays as employees would test positive and have to quarantine. Further delays come from the scarcity of raw materials, rising shipping costs and even a shipping container shortage
Owners are ready to refit their boats and anxious to go cruising or send their yachts out on charter right away. But the COVID-19 pandemic has caused yacht owners to face their own uncharted waters: hurdles in areas they’ve previously not encountered.
NOTHING BUT THE KITCHEN SINK
Delays with a land-based residential design project are one thing, but on a yacht it’s quite another! Aboard a yacht so many items are interconnected, so the completion or delay of one item or the installation of flooring, stonework, appliances, etc… will have a domino effect on several others. We’re experiencing this with so many projects right now. Not only are we facing delays due to supply or materials shortages, many of our vendors are individuals working with small teams. So if or when COVID hits – which it has – and affects an entire vendor team – which it has – it causes delays in installation that continue and exacerbate the domino effect already in place due to the supply or materials shortage! The delays caused by COVID-19 are affecting appliances, stonework, awnings, upholstery… you name it!
For one current project, our clients are trying to purchase their own appliances and are having a really tough time. The supply is estimated to not be available until the Fall of 2021 at the earliest. Aboard the 46’ Black Pearl Ultimate Lure, the clients are considering purchasing floor model appliances instead of waiting for their order. Thankfully, we have some “pull” with our vendors and contractors because of our loyalty and 20+ year relationships. One of our suppliers warehouses a lot of inventory so we anticipated that this delay would continue and pre-ordered a few SubZero appliances for another project.
Aboard the 80’ Hatteras Chelsea, it took quite a lot longer than normal to get the awnings and flybridge enclosure finished. The vendor’s entire team contracted COVID, which sent a ripple effect through several of our projects.
PIECES OF THE PUZZLE
Across the board, material and product lead times are growing like never before, causing us to piecemeal projects.
Aboard the 112’ Westport Wild Kingdom, many of our refit plans had to be tabled for Phase 2 to allow the owners time to enjoy their yacht over the summer. It would have taken five weeks to get the desired wood for the flooring – up to seven weeks with installation. The owners wanted the boat done in just over four weeks so they chose to go with carpeting in the interim. Some of their desired furniture was also on backorder, so opted to re-use current furniture as a temporary fix. We had to delay the installation of new mirrors because our installer came down with COVID, and we also had to forego changing items that required longer lead times, like stonework.
There is also a materials shortage, with many of the textile mills being located in Asia, India or the Middle East. I normally have all of the yacht’s furniture custom fabricated, so if there is a specific material desired for upholstery it may be difficult to obtain, especially when at least 40 yards of it are needed. We found materials we absolutely fell in love with for the exterior of Wild Kingdom, but with a 15- to-16-week lead time the owners opted to wait until Phase 2 to update the exterior upholstery.
COMPROMISE OR… COMPROMISE
If there is one thing that many owners are unaccustomed to, it’s having to compromise – not just with one item or two, but on a large scale. We can’t assume that all clients are aware of how the pandemic is affecting the yachting industry. Shipping and delivery itself has been further compromised by weather conditions and staffing shortages – so our clients are finding that even when we are willing to pay an expedited shipping fee there is no guarantee we will receive what we want when we want it. Some clients will navigate the uncharted waters of COVID delays by accepting and compromising, and some won’t, so we have to get creative.
The general sentiment is that the delays will get worse before they improve, so it’s up to us designers to stay one step ahead as much as possible. At the start of a refit project, we used to be able to concentrate on designs before materials because things like materials, stone and appliances weren’t so time sensitive. Now oftentimes we aren’t even finalizing the whole design before making decisions on items like materials. Piecemealing isn’t the way we like to do things but now we have to make decisions on items that have the longest lead time and then move on to the next step. It occurs more organically and does change the priority of selection.
THE NEW NORMAL?
It’s my feeling that we won’t be navigating these uncharted waters for long and things will eventually return to normal. This bubble we’re having of everybody refitting their yacht or re-doing their home will shrink. Demand will decrease a little, supply will go up and it should even out.
But let’s face it, the unexpected happens even when the world isn’t experiencing a global pandemic! It’s a topic I touched upon in my blog post: Yacht Interior Designer’s Guide to Refit or Not to Refit 2
As owners and clients and the industry begin to understand how the COVID pandemic is affecting the yachting industry and refit projects, we will continue to expect the unexpected – and when it happens, the best we can do is communicate, get creative, and manage our clients’ wishes as best as possible.