Marie DuFour and her husband, Jean-Pierre, are building a custom Tennant design at Dream Performance Yachts in Asuncion, Paraguay. Natives of France, they have lived and worked in California for many years. Marie explains why they're enjoying the build process immensely:
A recent survey of cost of living in the world’s capitals identified London and Moscow as the most expensive capitals, while it placed Asuncion at the bottom of the list. Yes, Paraguay is still one of the places where one can live decently for cheap. Land is inexpensive and business cost is low. Salaries are the lowest in all of South America.
When building a boat that requires an extraordinary amount of labor, such as Domino, a 65.5-foot/20-meter custom power catamaran, it makes sense to choose a country where labor is abundant, skilled, and affordable. Certainly, building costs in China and Taiwan are also low, but we are not convinced that the workmanship is as good or the overseeing as easy.
2) Technical Assistance
Norman Hellmers is the heart and soul behind Dream Performance Yachts. Norman is a first-class engineer, capable of mastering all the details of boat building: fiberglass, electrics, electronics, plumbing, fuel, exhaust, and all other systems. His CNC machine cuts all the needed foam or wood panels to perfection and his trained eye watches over the perfect layering of fiber, as well as the mixing, soaking and squeezing of the epoxy resin. He is surrounded by a team of trained mechanics, welders, carpenters and fiberglass technicians.
Norman draws on his 25-year experience of re-building aircraft to the exacting FAA standards and his personal touch and genius are obvious in all the finishing details.
Building his first large boat is a challenge to which Norman is rising with energy. When confronted to an issue, Norman researches possibilities, hammers out the alternatives with the boat owner, and contributes enormously to the success of the project. Working in symbiosis with the builder to achieve the best possible result is a most rewarding experience.
3) Workmanship and Leadership
The Paraguayan people not only have a tradition of excellent workmanship but also of highly structured teamwork. In addition, there is a large pool of workers to choose from and only the best remain on the job. At Dream Performance, we found Lucio, a master fiberglass craftsman and a leader of men whose natural abilities eclipse any MBA recipient I have ever met. His assistant, Julio, is a good-natured Jack-of-all-trades, as nimble with the “tiko-tiko” (jig saw) as with the welding arc. Two years ago, they assembled a team that was eager to learn the new trade of boatbuilding.
After a year on the project, the highly selective team accepts nothing but perfection. Each worker, although able to perform any task, has developed his own area of expertise. There is the Chemist, the Machine King, the Sander, the Finisher, the Plumber. Each is proud of his achievement and eager to expand his knowledge.
4) Technical Control
Perhaps the greatest—and least quantifiable—advantage of supervising the building of your own boat is technical control. Every system design, every pipe, nut and bolt, every piece of equipment is controlled by you. You can change anything you desire; no need to ask the builder a) Whether it’s possible and b) How much the change will cost. You may discuss the technical ramifications of the change with Norman Hellmers, but you can change anything you want—without paying exorbitant “custom” premiums.
The flipside of this coin, of course, is that you have to be technically savvy: either have boating experience, or building experience, or have an engineering mind, which is not granted to everyone. If nothing else, advice from experts worldwide is always available . . . for a fee!
5) Cost Overrun Control
The second greatest—and very quantifiable—advantage of building your own boat is cost control. You decide on the brand, the size, the quality. You want to go cheap? You want to go first class? You want to add, delete, or change an item? Go ahead, you’re the boss and Dream Performance Yachts has trade (OEM) accounts with major suppliers of the boating industry.
If your expectation of buying a one-off, custom catamaran is to have a turn-key boat, the self-build experience is not for you. But if, on the contrary, you have a couple years to devote to your dream (boatbuilding is always a dream), a solid engineering background, a good set of plans (ours are by Malcolm Tennant), and can speak a little Spanish, come down to Paraguay. Your reward will be a boat for roughly half the price of what you would pay in Canada, Australia, or New Zealand (we didn’t cost Taiwan or China), and you will be, as one of my lectors put it, “the world expert on your boat.”
If you'd like more information about becoming an owner-builder, click here to email JP Dufour.
The Dufours hope to launch Domino in 2009.
Domino is a Malcolm Tennant design. LOA is 65.5 feet, beam, 22.4 feet, displacement, 85,980 lb at full load. Twin 300-hp diesels will drive her at 20 knots. Range at 10 knots is estimated at 4,000 nautical miles.