At this year’s MYBA show I had the honour and pleasure of meeting Pepe Garcia-Aubert, President and CEO of MB92 Group. I had been slightly nervous at meeting one of the most revered men in the marine industry, but I had little to be worried about. Pepe was as generous with his kindness as he was with his time and it is clear to see that his staff think as much of him as his clients, who continue to return to the shipyard year in year out. He is master of a yard that puts staff safety and excellence in its quality of work as top priorities.
MB92 has had a celebrated history since its humble beginnings back in 1992, when Barcelona underwent a major facelift in time for the 25th Olympic Games, a games that changed the fate and fortune of a city in dire need of rescue. It’s hard to imagine now as you look out over the throngs of superyachts, some here for their own much needed makeovers, but 80 of which are here in their full splendour for the MYBA Boatshow. It is interesting to remember that it is shipyards such as MB92 that enable them to be so resplendent.
Back in 92 however, the boats in the yard weren’t quite of the same calibre as they are today. At that time MB92 was equipped only with the ability to service boats of up to 25 metres and it quickly became apparent that this was not going to be a profitable exercise, and so in 1993 Pepe, a keen regatta sailor of Wallys, came on board and was soon to change the face of MB92 for good, alongside his team. It’s a little later into the conversation, with a distinct twinkle in his eye, that Pepe explains that there is still some of the original equipment in the yard, which people often question why. It’s simple he explains, those 25 metre boats are todays tenders… oh how times have changed.
Rewind and we find ourselves in 1993. It was at this point that MB92 turned its focus to the superyacht industry and to one particular boat at the time, MY Leander. With only a 19th century slipway that could pull no more than 400 tonnes it was safe to say that the 75-metre-long Leander, one of the largest in the world at that time, was not going to get out of the water that way. So, Pepe began to check the world’s stage for different ways of getting boats onto the dry. Finally he came to the conclusion that a Synchro-lift was the best, safest and most reliable way to haul out, and so they decided to invest.
For those who don’t know what a Synchrolift is, which is probably no-one reading this magazine but just in case, a Synchrolift, developed in the 1950s by Raymond Pearlson, is a system for lifting boats out of the water for maintenance or repair. The vessel is maneuvered over a submerged cradle, which is then lifted by a set of synchronised hoists. The yacht can be worked upon in place or can be moved inland freeing the Synchrolift for other use. It was the perfect solution and in 1997 they received permission and went ahead and installed.
During this time Leander was not only the muse for the lift but also for the paint shed. Unable to do the paintwork as they would traditionally have liked, Peter Allen of Pinmar fame, collaborated with MB92 to create the ideal space for Leander to undergo her work. The bespoke paint shed was the perfect size to take the spectacular Leander, finally lifted out of the water in all her glory in 2000. And so began MB92’s movement into the world of Superyachts.
With the advent of the Synchrolift, Pepe and the team started to notice a shift in the superyacht industry, one which is all too apparent these days. Not only was the size of the fleet growing, but so were the boats. Pepe reminisces that once upon a time Leander looked huge in Superyachts terms, and now, well she’s still a beauty, but there are new yachts out there that are twice the size and growing. And this trend started to ask some very interesting questions. How could MB92 expand enough to cater for the behemoths coming out on to the high seas? Firstly they spoke to their neighbours as it seemed like the sensible answer, however they weren’t in a place to sell at that time. They then went looking to Palma and even down to Marseille, but nothing was right, it didn’t give those answers to those questions.
However, in 2010, the next-door neighbour agreed that the time was right and sold to MB92. Overnight they doubled the space to 24,000m2 and they got straight to work on improving the space for all involved. The beautiful red roofed colonial style building were completely restored and they really bring to life a sense of the history that the area has seen in the maritime industry across the centuries. The quay area was expanded for additional cranes and the dry dock was brought up to international standards that were a far cry from where they were originally.
Somewhat wistfully Pepe tells me of a change that only happened in 2017. The once revered paint shed that had played home to MY Leander and hundreds after her, had to be demolished. She had served her purpose perfectly but was no longer a tenable option either financially or environmentally. Thankfully MB92 had the alternative, one that they had developed all the way back in 2000, and are now the standard in Boatyards around the world – the Cocoon. One of the questions I have been dying to know the answer to presented itself to be asked. “Is all that plastic recyclable”? Pepe answers with a smile.” Absolutely”, he states. “That was one of the primary conditions”. I feel I can rest a little easier at night now that I know that this is at least another thing that is working in the sea’s favour.
Not only were they changing the mechanics of the dock, they were also changing the conditions for the workers and crew that come in, often for long stretches of time. There is now a canteen, supermarket, gym plus all of the typical services such as fresh water, movable cranes and grey removal. Over 900 subcontracted workers plus 700 or so crew, are onsite in the 24/7, 365 secure site, during high season. In any single day, the hardworking gate can see 9000 bodies pass through it. And god forbid you don’t have covered shoes and a hard hat. If the answer is a no then you are relegated to the golf cart, which, I must confess, is not an altogether unpleasant experience, though probably less practical if you aren’t just a visitor! It’s very clear that Pepe takes absolute pride in the safety of his shipyard and all who work within her.
What does the future hold for MB92? In all of this time the group has not for one moment rested on its laurels, but has instead moved in-line with the superyacht fleet and grown in both size and stature. There are two simultaneously exciting events that are well underway, the first was the announcement of the 75% ownership of MB92 La Ciotat which happened in the summer of 2018. This will also see a new lift installed in 2022 which will be able to take 4,000 tonne weight. Even before the lift arrives the dry dock is full and the yard is breaking all figures, whilst working alongside locals and MB92 Barcelona to gather learnings and create synergies.
The second event is the investment in the new 4,800 tonne Shiplift in MB92 Barcelona which will enable the shipyard to increase its capacity to serve ever larger yachts and for longer times. The installation is being implemented as I type and the hope is that that first boat will be able to be lifted later this summer. Though as we all know in this industry, nothing is ever set in stone. However, from my tour around the docks on my golf buggy, work seemed to be nearing its end and the team were buoyantly optimistic.
In the last few years I’ve learnt a lot about the different facets of the yachting industry that I have been exposed to and I find I’m never bored or disappointed by it. When I first knew I was visiting MB92 I knew nothing other that it was a shipyard, but that is so far from the truth and now I understand. It is a mini-city, an all encompassing eco-system, a high-octane work force who don’t stop until these multi-million, strike that, billion businesses float in through their waters a little worse for wear and leave as gleaming beacons for the possibilities of life. MB92 cares for its boats, it cares for the crew that come through the door and most importantly it cares for its people. As Pepe says, “you can have the best facilities in the world, but if you don’t look after the people then the facilities are worth nought”. They are clearly looking after their people! Cheers to that and to them!
By Victoria Pearce