Renovating a yacht is a prohibitively expensive business and for many years, the obvious method to choose was a paint job. Intricate, time consuming, fiddly and expensive, it was nevertheless the only way to guarantee a deep, even finish.
But in the last decade or two, change has been afoot in the shape of a vinyl alternative to a paint finish. It’s probably not stating it too highly to say that one of the companies pioneering vinyl finishing, Wild Group International, is changing the landscape of yacht refitting by educating captains, designers and owners on the freedom of a high quality alternative.
Established by Greg Hoar on the Hamble in 1995 and run together with his wife Clare, the company recently expanded and opened an office on the Côte d’Azur a year ago, which in turn has seen turnover increase dramatically over the last 12 months as more and more people become aware of the benefits of using film over paint.
As we chat in the sunshine at the Monaco Yacht Show, Clare, the group’s marketing director, reveals how they morphed from specialising in graphic design on yachts to pioneering new finishes for Superyacht exteriors and interiors.
‘Greg started the company about 20 years ago to fuel his passion for dinghy sailing,’ explains Clare. ‘However, it quickly grew and he sailed less.’
For 16 years, Wet & Wild, as it was then known, branded 16 yachts for each country for the Clipper Round The World Race, as well as branding yachts for Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss sponsored racing yacht, America’s Cup and Volvo. ‘The Hugo Boss branding was very striking and dramatic in black and white,’ Clare recalls.
With a stellar reputation for graphics, they won the contract to brand the hulls and sails of competitors in the Athens Olympics, ‘a turning point’, according to Clare ‘although the high profile stuff isn’t necessarily the most lucrative.’
Greg recognised the opportunity to grow the business and was the first to set up a graphics company in a marina on the Hamble, specialising exclusively in the sailing industry. With the company expanding and taking on more staff, others recognised that yacht graphics was a lucrative marketplace but Greg had by then identified a niche in the Superyacht industry.
‘What we were doing had not really been done before,’ adds Clare. ‘People had always used paint and it had not been very effective as a coating in itself. It was not very clear, a bit patchy and fiddly, and it took a long time to do. Modern day vinyl films are very hardwearing. The beauty is they are manufactured in a controlled environment so there is no dust and few health and safety issues.
‘We are aiming to work alongside paint companies and educate people about the choices that exist and the benefits of different finishes. I love the visual element of this business and seeing the ‘before’ and ‘after.’
So what are the chief benefits of vinyl over paint? ‘Although there is a cost benefit due to simpler logistics, the main benefits for our clients is time and convenience,’ explains Clare. ‘An average 50m Superyacht takes a third of the time to finish in vinyl rather than paint. You do however have to make sure the boat surfaces are filled properly because film doesn’t have the filling agents that paint has.
‘It’s one layer, so it only needs to be applied once, which saves a lot of preparation. We have a team of very skilled applicators, they are not your standard sign writers, they have been trained to work with boats and understand the curves. They apply the vinyl and fit it alongside where the seams or panels are. If there are any areas where it needs repairing, they can take the whole panel out and replace it whereas with painting, you have to respray the whole area. It’s quicker, cleaner, less labour intensive and more cost effective.
‘The boat is out of action for less time, which is particularly important if it is chartered or the owner lives on board. And the beauty of film is it can be reversed, which is useful for owners who want to put their mark on a yacht but not affect its resale worth.’
Greg recently told Superyacht Design: ‘Intricate designs that would otherwise be too complex for a sprayer are easily achievable. Of course, there are restrictions with this material, as vinyls come in different roll lengths and widths. However, the most common is 50m long by 1.5m wide because vinyls that are wider than this are difficult to manage. This leads to joins being present, but a skilful fitter will disguise these over features such as chines/cavita lines/stripes and put joins in places where light changes on the boat to make them difficult to see.’
With a Sunseeker contract to finish over 100 new boats a year in the yacht builder’s factory and Princess looking to follow suit, Greg and Clare are encouraged by the response from an industry not usually known for breaking the mould or taking chances.
‘It was a revelation for Sunseeker, they just want to build white boats so our guys often go in overnight so as not to interrupt work flow,’ explains Clare. ‘It’s quick and transformational. We have a great relationship with Sunseeker and we are building a good relationship with Princess too. Slowly, more and more brokers are using us and recommending us to owners who want to change colour.’
With vinyl also ticking the eco box - it doesn’t release any solvents post-production - it is rapidly becoming the choice du jour for interior refits too, with a range of finishes including leather, wood, carbon, pearlescent, metallic and matt. ‘If a new owner takes on a boat and they don’t like the interior, we can refresh the look and feel using varying effects such as leather, marble and wood grain,’ explains Clare. ‘A very dark interior can be transformed in a matter of days and the new owner can put their own personality into it.’
‘There are also functional films for areas where there is a lot of traffic, so an area that gets a lot of scuffing can be made more durable. Vinyl finishes and films last for three to five years. If the client is completely set on having it painted but wants to highlight areas like arches, two tone style, film is a very good option for those fiddly areas.
‘We recently did a 50m Superyacht here in Monaco called Double Trouble. It was a white boat and the owner lives on it for most of the year and didn’t want to put it into a dusty shed and pay a fortune to have it lifted. So they came to us and we transformed the hull to dark blue. They are very happy. And the 28m Sunseeker Merrick, which is wrapped in metallic grey, looks amazing.’
Greg and Clare’s biggest challenge is getting owners and captains to understand how simple, cost-effective and quick their methods are. ‘It’s a new concept for a lot of people and it takes a while for captains to understand,’ adds Clare. ‘People like traditional methods but once they understand the benefits, they can’t believe it’s quite so simple.
‘The most important thing is to get in front of captains and educate them so they know what is available. You don’t always need to completely refit, it’s a lengthy and expensive process, and you can refresh a boat very simply instead for a fraction of the price. If you want a bright pink glittery exterior on your new boat, that’s fine, and you can resell it by applying a new finish. It gives designers freedom to be more expressive and it allows owners to be unique.’
With their two children enrolled at French school near their home in Valbonne and captains striking up conversations on the school run, it seems that Wild Group International is destined for great things as well as a possible future expansion into Fort Lauderdale.
‘The business has taken off since Greg and I moved here last September,’ adds Clare. ‘Our kids are now pretty much bi-lingual and opening offices in France was the best decision for the business as well as a great lifestyle choice for us as a family. Our kids go to school with a lot of kids whose dads are captains so we end up meeting them in the course of the school run or boot camp!
‘Our current challenge is to develop a new product working alongside a production facility which we are really excited about and which is going to launch soon. We now have a film which achieves the same glossy deep finish that paint can. That is an exciting prospect.’
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*Image Credits: OnboardOnline and Wikimedia