Build Quality

480’s in build at the Discovery factory

I have debated with myself what would be helpful in this section of the site. A blow by blow description of how to build a 480 would be one approach, and to a large extent would duplicate the build threads I started here:

http://www.ybw.com/forums/showthread.php?509096-Any-interest-in-a-new-build-thread&highlight=Southerly

and

http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/f47/southerly-480-build-thread-208873.html

So I decided I would outline my fears doubts and uncertainty as a customer and how I made myself comfortable, after all it’s a lot of money to spend, so I wanted to be confident it was justified.

I know that some owners of large custom/semi custom boats employ a surveyor or skipper/captain to monitor the build on their behalf. I have not done this, nor do I plan to have a survey done when the boat is completed because at this size I can cover most of the systems myself, with a little help from some industry folk I know well. Importantly I have done my due diligence by factory visits prior to and during the build, meeting with the various engineers and operatives on the ground to become very confident in the company and its ethics, and of course in their quality assurance processes. I wanted to see a repeatable process in place, to feel assured of the outcome.

There were loads of things that were rushing around in my mind and many good sources to understand the reputation of the company including magazine articles and comments from previous owners, but still I worried about stuff like: Is she well moulded and built? Will she get osmosis or other GRP issues? Will there be a long snag list of poor fit and finish, systems that don’t work reliably? Will she creak and groan in anything of a chop? Will she prove robust and still look good in the years to come? These boiled down to:

  • The structural strength of the design
  • GRP moulding quality
  • M&E component specification
  • M&E installation quality
  • Joinery strength, fit and finish
  • A Thorough commissioning process

The structural strength of the design

The design fully conforms to the RCD category A (and other standards such as ISO10133 etc). This in itself is good, however I also wanted to know more about the design. Discovery Yachts Group boats are all designed by some of the industry greats Humphries, Dubois, Holland and the 480 is by Stephen Jones who has an excellent reputation and is very helpful and easy to talk to. The in-house design team that is heavily involved in designing the structures that give the boat its strength were able to show me how this is achieved. I also had some feedback from the experiences of these and other Southerlies returning from various destinations around the world that are not reporting any structural or other design issues

GRP moulding quality

All moulding is done in house at Discovery, so I wanted to see that there were appropriate steps taken to ensure the quality was maintained throughout the process. Firstly, the materials selected, cleanliness and housekeeping in the moulding workshop and the adherence to temperature and humidity requirements. I also wanted to see how the company ensures the layup schedule is adhered to and understand the who and the how used to ensure correct thickness of the gelcoat and wetting out of the various glass Kevlar and carbon mats is done correctly, which I did by a practical meeting with the R&D director.

M&E component specification

In a lot of cases such as the rig and deck equipment, suppliers such as Selden for the rig, and Lewmar for the deck gear are involved in the design stages to work with the in-house design team and produce a layout and component specifications. Items are also selected or deselected as a result of their track record in use in addition to manufacturers specification and assertions. For example, the domestic water pumps fitted are (currently) Jabsco, when I asked them to consider a similar specified gear pump from a different supplier the engineers were able to report that they had fitted those very same pumps to several previous boats, only to have them break down in short order, so they reverted to the original Jabsco.

So in essence I have looked at the specification of nearly all of the components bought in, checked them against the manufacturers specification, and where possible the expected duty cycle, and as a result questioned one or two items, and either they have been changed to suit my preference, or I have learned from the builders experience.

I have to say that I doubt the exercise has avoided any significant problems in the service of our new boat but being in the fortunate position of having five years owning an almost identical boat keen to exploit my knowledge. Here’s an example; I thought it would have been nice if the guardrails and pulpits were just a little higher. I learned that Discovery always fit to a standard which is 2 inches higher than Southerly similarly the anchor stem fitting is a fair bit longer than the Southerly version, allowing for a bigger anchor whilst reducing the chances of clouting the stem as the anchor is deployed. So much depends on the builder’s approach; reassuringly Discovery aim high.

M&E installation quality

This can be an interesting area, generally the use of tapping strips, backing washers, gauge of tubing used for stainless fabrication all of which is obviously well done can be inspected on yachts in build during a factory visit, or talking with existing owners. I’ve not heard of cupboard door hinges and latches breaking, or breakers tripping because the device/wiring is only borderline up to the job. So all good, but there is another side to it, on the one hand everything must be accessible for maintenance and replacement, on the other its important not to use all the storage space so that the boat is easy to build and maintain, but all the lockers are full of gear!

The designers use the 5/15 rule, ie 5mins to get at it, 15mins to fix/replace. Obviously not the big stuff like an engine replacement, but everything must be possible without resorting to a jigsaw.

Looking at several boats in build and asking the design team/ boat builders to explain how the generator/engine/washing machine should be changed and the responses clearly show that these scenarios have been planned for. For example, with the washing machine I was told: “remove these screws, the enclosure is dry assembled, so this section will lift clear then undo these two bolts and the mounting panel and existing machine will then lift clear and will fit through the companionway. Bolt the new/repaired machine onto the mounting panel and replace in reverse order.

Wiring is properly supported through its length normally in ducting, and of appropriate gauge to limit voltage drop, plumbing likewise, pumps and other components are mounted in accessible locations and generally on solid structures so as not to induce vibrations/drumming.

Joinery strength, fit and finish

Joinery is one of the distinguishing features of Discovery Yacht Group. The quality and finish are superb, but all of that is no use at all if it isn’t strong enough or is installed into the boat badly. I had completed several visits to the joinery department looking at how the boats cabinetry is built, and been suitably impressed with the construction, which is normally screwed and glued CNC cut components with a lot of solid wood as well as the inhouse veneered panels. The attention to detail is impressive and the time spent hand building and finishing is evident in the result.

High quality door furniture, catches and butt hinges are used with deep screws that aren’t going to pull out, marine drawer soft close runners are fitted which will not stiffen and bind due to corrosion, on the locker doors cabinet hinges of the clip on type are fitted, which is very helpful in service since it is easy to remove a door if needed.

Cabin sole boards are covered in Amtico which I know from my former working life is incredibly durable, access hatches and soles underside and edges are properly sealed. The supporting hardwood floor grid is substantial so the floor doesn’t flex or creak as you walk through the boat.

A Thorough commissioning process

The intention with this process is to ensure that everything works as intended. That doesn’t mean there will not be some faults that do not show up until later, but it does mean that everything can be demonstrated to be functional and workable at the point of handover.

The commissioning manager for Discovery has a lifetime of experience in the yachting world, from Proctor Masts through ocean racing and years of work at Discovery, he is a man I have great confidence in and as I have observed he will not accept second best on behalf of the customer! I have had the pleasure of sailing with Tony on a short delivery trip, and listened to him explaining his role, whilst he gave an assessment of the boat we were sailing, which was mine.

I will add to this section over the next few months as the commissioning process and handover are completed . but please let me know if there are any other areas of interest that I should include..