Creating the Rybovich Superyacht Yard & Marina is a continuing process for Wayne Huizenga Jr. and his crew.
Sometime in 1900, a 16-year old Austro-Hungarian immigrant by the name of John Rybovich, equipped with some carpentry experience and little else, made it to the shores of the eastern United States, passing through Ellis Island and settling in New York City. Finding work in construction and the burgeoning building sector that the ever-expanding metropolis was undergoing, the young Rybovich began to hear conversations about Florida.
With industrialist Henry Flagler’s railroad connecting the northeast to the south and thus responsible for the development of the state’s Atlantic coast, Florida, and in particular Palm Beach, soon became a haunt for the rich and powerful. To John Rybovich, that meant an opportunity to get in on the kind of work he was capable of doing.
By 1910, he had both the experience and the means and found himself in the ‘boom town’ of Lake Worth’s West Palm Beach. However, with an ordinance forbidding the noise from any carpentry work disturbing the locals during the winter, he was forced to seek out an alternative source of income. It did not take him long to look east, towards the water and fishing.
John Rybovich had quickly reached a crossroads and in doing so, returned to New York City, to get some temporary work to see him through the coming months, and something else, before returning to Florida. He achieved both and by 1911, he and his new bride Anna Pollack, arrived in West Palm Beach, settled into a small rented house and began their new lives.
Eight years later, with three children, John Jr., Ethel, and Thomas, the Rybovich family had outgrown the rental house and the couple bought a home on Lake Worth. By 1925, two more children, Emil and Mary Irene had joined the family and along with the firmly established and growing business, taking on repairs, refit, and maintenance, and garnering a reputation for high quality carpentry and fit and finish woodwork, fishing became a secondary source of income.
Through adversity such as the devastating hurricane of 1928, the Great Depression, the war years and after, the name of Rybovich took its rightful place in the pantheon of American boat building history with both the vessels that bore the family’s iconic name, starting with Miss Chevy in 1947, and the ability of the yard’s craftsmen.
Fast-forward to 2004 for that is when Wayne Huizenga Jr. bought the property, first intending to develop the waterfront area fronting Flagler Drive with a marina and condos along with retail space. However, with his drive, motivation, and passion for all things nautical, and now owning the iconic name, he began to see something much more important looming on the horizon.
Captain George Whitehouse
“I was the captain on Floridian, the former Aussie Rules, a 69.5m/228ft Oceanfast yacht first built by golf great Greg Norman, which the Huizenga family owned. They decided to sell the boat, by the way, around the same time they were working on acquiring the Rybovich property,” said Capt. George Whitehouse, the business liaison and customer relations manager of the Rybovich Superyacht Yard and Marina, as we walked the property.
Superyacht Laurel at the Rybovich Yard
Whitehouse and I go back to the mid 1980’s when he was the dockmaster at the newly built North Cove Marina on the Westside of lower Manhattan, in the shadow of the then World Trade Center and now overseen by the Freedom Tower. I was running several dinner cruise boats at the time in addition to skippering the Honey Fitz, JFK’s former presidential yacht.
“The timing could not have been better,” remembers Whitehouse. “While on this side of the world, all the big Euro-boats, especially those over 50m, and getting bigger and more complex, were looking for a place to go for high quality service, no matter what the project required. In South Florida, there were not too many places to get that kind of specific work done.”
It took a while to get all the permitting done and to put things in place but, by 2007, with the 15-acre property already there and operating as a yard with deep water access and no bridges to impede the larger sailing yachts, Huizenga was able to launch his ambitious undertaking for a superyacht destination. “The general property here in Palm Beach is unlike any other in the world and was obviously going to be a success,” said Whitehouse. “Our goal was to create the most unique shipyard, offering both expert service and five star crew amenities found anywhere.”
MY Turmoil with scafolding
Pulling from the deep well of the talented and skilled refit and repair craftspeople in the area, as well as savvy and knowledgeable management, the Rybovich Superyacht Yard and Marina quickly began to garner the kind of dock talk Huizenga needed to establish the facility as the one-of-a-kind, first class, full service operation he had envisioned when first embarking on the project.
“From the beginning, we wanted to do it right and make what is usually not the most pleasant of experiences, that being involved in extended yard work for a yacht owner and crew, something else,” said Whitehouse. “We’d travel to anywhere in the world at the drop of a dime to see a builder, yacht owner or captain to show them there was a great, new facility in South Florida.” To that end, the yard provides a 24-hour gym, pool, a café with Internet, and shuttle service to local bars, restaurants, doctors appointments and sites enabling a far more civilized and relaxing environment to spend the time in.
Turquoise ready to launch
Sometimes it can take a year or more to get a boat into the yard and dealing with any major yacht’s itinerary can be a daunting task. “Where the boat is, what the time frame is, and what the owner is wanting to do is a prime concern for setting up service. Will it stay in the Med, go to Southeast Asia, to the Seychelles?” said Whitehouse. “And of course, there’s the personal trust we establish with the yacht’s key personnel and the kind of expert experience we bring to the table that makes it all work for everyone.”
To formulate a game plan for a specific yacht, Whitehouse often finds himself spending weeks on end in various locations around the world in order to plan for the future work. “Sometimes it’s spontaneous and in that case, we double our efforts to get the boat in and out,” he explained. “The key is to establish that initial relationship, given that time is money, chill the anxiety as it is and turn it into a positive experience and let that be the driving force for not only repeat business, but have it spread from yacht to yacht. We’re here for them and it’s important that everyone associated with that particular boat knows it.”
Superyachts Aviva and Turmoil
To Whitehouse’s credit, and because of his excellent reputation and friendship with many of the captains of the major yachts, he is able to do just that.
When the contracts have been signed and a slot reserved, the yacht is assigned a specific project manager from the yard who works alongside the captain and engineer to make sure when the boat arrives, everything is as prepared as possible including cost estimates, calendar and time, necessary work force, experts, trade managers, engineering, subcontractors, parts and supplies, and any other specific requirements.
That project manager will also be available to travel to the yacht’s location before arrival, no matter where in the world, to ensure the work that needs to be done is well archived and noted in advance.
“In general, the older yachts, those that have been around a bit longer and have a pretty set itinerary six months out is the kind of project we can easily work with,” said Whitehouse. “With the technology changing so fast, it helps if everybody elevates their game plan as well.”
For service and refit, the yard has nine dry space locations for 59m/195ft vessels, wet slips up to 120m/393+ft, a 3,000-ton capacity dry dock, 150-ton and 660-ton Travelifts, an in-house tug fleet, trade shops equipped with state-of-the-art industrial equipment, the in-house project management crew, skilled labor force, a dedicated quality control department, and separate facility for tender storage, maintenance, and repair.
For paint and refinishing work, custom climate-controlled paint enclosures are erected in the water or on the hard to ensure a clean, safe, and environmentally secure area. The coatings team can tackle all kinds of jobs including topcoat, spot repair, sand blasting, and anti-fouling. Climate controlled paint booths are used for small parts.
On the mechanical side, the yard has its own in-house mechanics and techs, provides five and ten year ABS and Lloyds survey assistance, does drivetrain maintenance and repairs, takes care of setting up all generator and main engine repower projects, and can deliver custom hardware installations.
And for any piping work, Rybovich’s own pipe fitters include ABS and Lloyd’s certified welders capable of doing custom fabrication and system modifications. Other specialties include skilled carpenters, mast and rigging experts, and metal fabrication and electrical work. In addition, the yard will work closely with foreign facilities on work concerning any yacht it has serviced.
Yachting is a passion and a lifestyle and to that end, it was a leap of faith for Huizenga to go ahead with the whole project, conceive of it, build it, get it off the ground, and establish the kind of reputation that has enabled Rybovich Superyacht Yard & Marina, its workforce of around 330 people, and its many facilities to make the efforts pay off year after year. “In this business, it’s all reputation and standing behind your work. Trust and customer service is our number one priority. We take care of the yachts and the crews and make sure we always deliver on both counts. It’s all the little things we do that makes the big thing happen,” said Whitehouse.
Looking around, at the 73.2m/240ft Laurel, 63.8m/210ft Turmoil, 55.4m/181ft Turquoise, 58.5m/192ft Ronin, 68m/223ft Aviva, and all the other superyachts currently in the yard and in the water, and noting the roster of those slated to visit over the next year, I’d say things are just fine.
*All images Ken Kreisler