This spring, in the echoing halls of a fabrication building at Derecktor Shipyards in Bridgeport, Conn., sat a massive, golden teak rail with a perfect curve. It was the cap rail for Cakewalk, the longest motor yacht built in the United States since the 1930s.

Cakewalk, shown above shortly after the vessel’s launch in Bridgeport harbor. Cakewalk’s American owner brought the vessel concept out to bid at the Monaco Yacht Show in 2005 and approached yards in Europe as well as the United States before settling on Derecktor, whose Florida yard had handled a refit on a previous yacht. (Photos courtesy Derecktor Shipyards)

Cakewalk, 281 feet long and 2,998 gross tons, was launched August 8. The champagne christening in Bridgeport harbor marked a step forward in Derecktor’s two-year battle to emerge from bankruptcy court.

On the water, the boat makes quite a statement. From top deck to tank deck, it is packed with luxurious features, the culmination of the American owner’s experience with previous megayachts (Cakewalk is the fifth vessel to bear the name).

Perhaps the most striking feature is a tender bay on the lower deck just aft of the engine room. Forty feet long and 10 feet high, it extends 47 feet from side to side and houses three boats, including a 36.7-foot, 50-knot Vikal custom limo from Tim Heywood, the principal designer for the entire project. Elizabeth Dalton of Dalton Designs was the interior designer.

Cakewalk features Steen windlasses and a huge expanse of teak, purchased from Asia and worked at Derecktor’s Mamaroneck, N.Y., shipyard.

“It’s the biggest tender garage I have ever seen,� said Hugo van Wieringen of Azure Naval Architects, which provided the naval architecture for the yacht’s 17-knot displacement hull.

Bill Zinser, the captain and project manager, whose collaboration with the owner goes back through four boats and 15 years, says the tender bay presented a technical challenge: how to maintain the boat’s structural integrity to pass muster with Lloyd’s.

“It’s a monster,� Zinser said. “We had to double up the longitudinals under the deck. The bulwark on top of the tender bay door is … made out of one-inch-thick rolled steel to create a long strongback that comes down from the curve of the hull all the way down to the aft deck.�

The curves are a signature feature of Tim Heywood, the principal designer.

Appearance is everything on a luxury yacht, and Heywood’s trademark curves are evident from the sun deck down, with an aluminum snail shell motif that was fabricated by craftsmen at Derecktor’s yard in Mamaroneck, N.Y. — the same yard that put together the cap rail.

Dominating the interior is a spiral staircase with gilded ironwork and cherry paneling that sweeps from deck to deck, although there’s really no need to walk — all decks are accessible by elevator. For that upstairs/downstairs feeling, there’s separate crew-only access to the upper decks.

Cakewalk’s range is 5,000 nautical miles at a cruising speed of 15 knots. The yacht’s power comes from two MTU 16V 4000 M71 diesels rated at 3,306 hp each at 2,000 rpm driving five-blade Rolls-Royce single-pitch propellers via ZF7666 gears.

A Jastram 400-kW bow thruster offers maneuverability and four Quantum Zero Speed stabilizers make life at sea more comfortable. The yacht will fly the Cayman Islands flag.

The navigation and communications suite is designed with long ocean transits in mind and includes Raytheon DGPS and a Transas charting system plotter. One unusual feature of the bridge is a carved wooden pew-like passenger bench directly behind the captain’s station.

Derecktor craftsmen in both Bridgeport and Mamaroneck worked on the vessel.

The owner’s deck, naturally, has a full-beam master’s suite, and there are six guest cabins on the main deck. But this is a comfortable boat for the crew of 24 as well: There are 15 crew cabins on the lower deck plus a captain’s suite on the bridge deck and a staff cabin on the main deck, with joinery by U.S. Joiner. A quick visit to the second engineer’s cabin showed comfortable space and a porthole.

And while the owners get his-and-her gyms (the emphasis is on machines in his and on mat work and yoga in hers), crewmembers get a gym of their own.

Building a vessel such as Cakewalk isn’t easy, says van Wieringen. He came to yachts from commercial shipbuilding; by comparison, he says, “a yacht is very, very complex.�

“A yacht has smaller margins for changes than a passenger vessel,� he said. “If you put in a bathroom on a passenger vessel you might have two inches to spare — not on yachts.�

Tim Heywood was signed up as the principal designer.

Yachts also have special needs such as hydraulic ladders. Cakewalk has three, two side-boarding ladders and a passer rail at the stern. “All those things are technically difficult,� said Zinser. “You have to fit them in, make them look beautiful and still have them functional.�

Controlling vibration is especially important. And there are concerns in yacht design that shipbuilders generally don’t have to worry about, such as finding a place for the rescue boat that doesn’t spoil the sightlines, but allows for quick release. The solution aboard Cakewalk: an enclosed space to starboard, forward on the owner’s deck.

As for the lifeboats, they too are placed discreetly on the sun deck, three to port and three to starboard, in a position that allows for push-button or hydrostatic release but doesn’t spoil the looks of the boat.

And in another departure from commercial shipbuilding practice, the yacht has thick glass windows in the hull and main deck so the crew doesn’t have to mount storm shutters for ocean crossings.

It’s Derecktor’s intention to debut Cakewalk at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show October 28 through November 1.

It will make its appearance in a market so devoid of new orders that yachtbuilders across the country are scrambling for other work instead. In the Gulf, Trinity Yachts and Overing Yacht Designs jumped at the chance to build skimmers for the Deepwater Horizon cleanup, and Trinity signed a contract earlier this year to build two LNG tugs.

In Washington state, Westport Shipyard, which laid off cabinet workers earlier this year, is trying to interest customers in patrol boats, and Christensen Shipyards, which has also imposed layoffs, set up a subsidiary last year to build blades for wind turbines.

Derecktor itself is pursuing other lines of business. In June, it christened a 4,000-ton dry dock that was cut up the middle and widened with the help of nearly $4 million in grants from the federal government and the state of Connecticut.

The dry dock is aimed at commercial refitting work, and it was put to work almost immediately handling barges.

“With the new dry dock, we can handle things we haven’t handled before,� said Kathy Kennedy, the company’s director of marketing.

The company has also told the U.S. Coast Guard it’s interested in building a series of Offshore Patrol Cutters scheduled to be awarded to a shipyard next year.

Derecktor consists of three yards, in Bridgeport, Mamaroneck, and Dania Beach, Fla. In June, total employment was about 200 (according to Kennedy, some workers travel between Mamaroneck and Bridgeport as needed).

The company has built a variety of boats since it was founded in Mamaroneck in 1947. The much newer Bridgeport yard’s résumé includes ferries, fireboats, tugs and even a lobster boat, and Dania Beach just converted an 85-foot aluminum vessel once used by the U.S. Air Force to retrieve missiles into a patrol boat for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at a cost of $1.3 million.

But according to court records it was yachtbuilding that landed Derecktor in bankruptcy proceedings in June 2008, when it filed for Chapter 11 protection in an attempt to reorganize.

That was two years after the contract with Cakewalk’s owners was signed, but the omens were not favorable. The yard still houses the unfinished hull of a $20 million, 150-foot sloop that it was building for Dennis Kozlowski, the Tyco International executive who was sentenced to prison in 2005 for stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from his company.

After that came a dispute with the owners of a $27 million sailing catamaran, and within months the shipyard was forced to seek protection from its creditors.

Completing a 281-foot yacht under such conditions is no, well, cakewalk. With an army of lawyers and a bankruptcy judge scrutinizing every move, companies can typically cover their costs and nothing else.

The sheer volume of paperwork is overwhelming; by the beginning of September, there were 808 entries on the court docket related to the bankruptcy case. And Chapter 11 brings petty indignities, too: three days before the launch, the creditors’ committee was in court to try to prevent its happening.

When Cakewalk makes its appearance in Fort Lauderdale, Derecktor will have achieved something of a miracle. The next question is whether the company can pull off another feat and make it out of Chapter 11.

By Professional Mariner Staff