Employees at Christensen Shipyards in Vancouver, Washington, marked the end of an era on Wednesday when they rolled the last yacht out of the company’s manufacturing bay in the Columbia Business Park and down the road to the nearby marina for launch.
The luxury yacht-building company was founded in 1985 by Dave Christensen and has operated out of the Vancouver facility for the past 34 years, but current owner Henry Luken plans to move operations to a bigger shipyard in Tellico Lake, Tenn.
The Vancouver facility is slated to become a shipbuilding center for Portland-based company Vigor, which will use the site to manufacture a new type of landing vehicle for the U.S. army.
Vigor announced the deal in February, and both companies said the transition would take place in late spring, giving Christensen a few months to finish up work on two yacht hulls under construction at the Vancouver site and get them into the water.
In principle, the process of launching a yacht is much like launching any other boat — the vessel is mounted on a trailer, pulled by a truck and backed down a ramp into the water.
The key difference is that the Christensen yacht launching this week is five stories tall and weighs 740,000 pounds, mounted on a custom trailer frame that weighs another 135,000 pounds. It’s a slow and careful four-day operation.
“At this stage of the game, you don’t take a chance,” said Christensen Shipyards production manager Allen Bell, who was among the staff assisting in the operation.
Preparations began earlier this week while the yacht was still in the warehouse, Bell said. First the vessel — which bears the name Jackpot — was lifted by interior cranes so the trailer frame could slide underneath, then it was lowered into place and balanced with blocks along the edge of the trailer frame.
The move began at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday in order to minimize traffic disruption. The 30-foot-wide trailer takes up the entire width of Marine Park Way, and even though the distance to the marina is less than half a mile, the journey takes about five hours.
At every turn or bump in the road, the rig has to stop so various sets of wheels under the trailer can be lifted or adjusted to compensate and keep the Jackpot perfectly level. With a vessel this size, any amount of tipping is bad news, Bell said.
The process is a collaboration between Christensen staff and moving contractor Omega Morgan. The trailer is pulled by an Omega Morgan truck designed specifically for slow and super heavy loads — it’s so low-gear that it’s usually towed to job sites rather than driven, Bell said.
The truck bed is stacked with a full load of giant concrete blocks, which push down on the tires to increase their surface area in contact with the road for better traction. A second truck is added when the trailer starts down the ramp, Bell said, to counteract the boat’s enormous weight on the downhill slope.
Only about six Christensen staffers were on the ground helping Omega Morgan with the move, Bell said, but dozens of others worked on the logistics behind the scenes to make sure it all went smoothly. The yacht represents more than 300,000 work hours, he said, so everyone wants to be involved.
“The whole company launches it,” Bell said. “It’s always been like that. It’s special to everybody up there.”
The crew pulled the Jackpot past the ramp entrance at about 9 a.m. Wednesday and then backed it up to the edge, Bell said. They spent most of the day outfitting the rear of the trailer with a pair of “floats” — giant boxy structures that will enter the water first when the yacht is backed down the ramp, giving the entire assembly more buoyancy.
The floats are essential for summer launches when the Columbia River level is lower, Bell said. Without them, the trailer would run out of ramp before the stern of the boat could get deep enough into the water to float on its own.
The actual launch will take place on Friday or Saturday, Bell said, whenever the water level ends up being highest. Once the Jackpot is far enough out to float on its own, the crews will flood the interior of floats to make them sink. Then they’ll move the Jackpot out of the way and haul the trailer back up the ramp.
The yacht will remain in the marina while Christensen staff bring all of its hardware online, Bell said. Then it’ll be put through a series of tests on the Columbia River, followed by a two-day “endurance run” out in the Pacific Ocean before it’s finally delivered to the customer.
The Jackpot will be the last yacht to be fully assembled at the Vancouver shipyard. It’s also one of the largest the facility has ever produced; 165 feet long, 30 feet wide with a fuel capacity of 15,000 gallons, and equipped with an enormous array of features and systems — even an onboard sewage treatment plant.
“This boat’s a small city in and of itself,” Bell says.
One more unfinished yacht hull remains in the Vancouver assembly bay, but it’s been sold to an undisclosed buyer who will complete the construction process. The hull will be moved to the ramp and launched next week, according to Christensen staff, then either barged or towed by tugboat to its new home.