Ex-workers see red as firm ends with an escapade

SUSAN STRONGMAN
Last updated 05:00 14/04/2014

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Under a veil of secrecy, Fitzroy Yachts' final build, Escapade, made its way to Port Taranaki early yesterday.

The launch of the boat at midday spelt the end of the superyacht building business that was started by Peter White-Robinson in the late 1990s.

The 37.5m aluminium Escapade, which was built for Swiss businessman Christophe Albin, was moved to the port on a truck and trailer unit, before it was lowered by crane into the water from Blyde Wharf.

It then motored north about 4pm and will be fitted with a mast when it arrives in Auckland.

Onlookers included many former Fitzroy Yachts staff members who had been made redundant during the final build. Some wore red t-shirts with the screen-printed slogan "the last escapade cost me my job".

On the Supporting Fitzroy Yachts Workers Facebook page, former staff member Chris Earp wrote "it's a shame that Christophe is trying to keep all the people that worked so hard on that yacht from seeing her off".

Earp also described Fitzroy Yachts as "the finest yard in New Zealand".

Escapade, the company's 11th superyacht, was still inside the shed on Saturday, surrounded by scaffolding.

According to one former employee, it was christened inside around midday on Saturday and remaining staff continued to work on the boat late that night.

It is understood much of the interior of the boat was still unfinished when it was launched.

Staff no longer working on the boat were not allowed on-site to watch the christening, but a number of former employees watched from the road.

In the past staff and their families, as well as the Taranaki Daily News, had been invited to be present at the christening of the boat.

Both Swiss and New Zealand flags flew from the Fitzroy Yachts flag pole at the weekend.

Escapade will sail under Vanuatu's flag; Fitzroy Yachts Limited's sole shareholder Fitzroy Yachts Holding Limited is also registered to Vanuatu.

Albin lives in Malaysia and is the founder, majority owner and executive chairman of Escatec, a multinational electronics company that has branches in the United States, Britain, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, and Malaysia.

Albin and his wife were in New Plymouth for the boat's launch.

He is understood to have bought the struggling yacht-building company from White-Robinson in 2013 so that Escapade could be completed.

In January managing director Rodney Martin announced Fitzroy Yachts would close after Escapade was finished, with 120 jobs lost.

The Supporting Fitzroy Yachts Workers Facebook page, run by Louise Godfrey, the wife of a former staff member, wrote that it was the end of an era.

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"You should all be very proud of the world-class super yachts that have left the yard over the years.

"Your workmanship, dedication and passion for boat building is second to none and should be applauded.

"This is a huge loss to the workers, their families, and our local community."

- Taranaki Daily News

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