After more than half a century on the Sidney waterfront, Philbrook’s remains a rare full-service shipyard with a loyal clientele.

Just three short blocks in length, Harbour Road in Sidney, BC is home to several marinas, boat storage and work yards, and the occasional service provider, mechanic and parts depot. At the far end stands a cluster of buildings that is modest in appearance, business-like but neither flashy nor pretentious. This is the home of a unique business with a history of more than 50 years of service to the local marine community: Philbrook’s Shipyard.

Part of what makes Philbrook’s unique is that it remains a full-service shipyard with specialists in almost all of the marine trades, and with facilities to hold up to four large yachts at a time on its twin tandem marine ways.  Additional dock space is adjacent, allowing a number of vessels to be serviced in the water by their staff of more than 60 employees.

Canadian Yachting West had the opportunity to spend a day at Philbrook’s recently and came away impressed with their people, their work and their approach to marine service.

Traditional Shipyard

Founded in 1955 by the father–son team of Eric and Barry Philbrook, the yard started with a specialty in cabinetry and evolved into a shipyard over the years under a variety of owners. The founders sold in the late 1960s. The yard was purchased in 1987 by another father-son team, current owners Hal and Drew Irwin. Drew is now the CEO but Hal is still active and maintains a busy office in the sprawling and often crowded complex in Sidney, just 20 km north of Victoria, BC.

Philbrook’s describes itself as a traditional shipyard but its work is now almost entirely in pleasure craft, there being precious little commercial fishboat business these days. Mechanical, electrical, engine, canvas, carpentry, driveline and fiberglass – all these services are offered by the yard.

Philbrook’s benefits from a couple of not-so-obvious assets: a loyal and skilled core of senior employees, and a long list of satisfied, loyal and oft-returning customers. Many customers, if not the majority, are Americans from the boating communities of Seattle, Portland and the San Juan Islands. Many customers return annually for regular maintenance as well as special projects. The shipyard’s full-service capabilities and its long-standing reputation drive that repeat business.

“It’s a source of real pride,” says Drew Irwin, “that so many of our customers come back to us year after year, and some come quite a distance to do so.”

Indeed, the yard’s customer list includes a number of fourth-generation boaters who know exactly what they want, and who understand and appreciate getting their work done properly.

A growing segment of the customer base is made up of boaters who live in Alberta and California but keep their boats in BC waters for their annual cruising. Leaving Philbrook’s to carry out their maintenance work means their cruising time is spent enjoying the coast, not working on their boats.  

Specialists in Wood

Philbrook’s does have a special reputation in woodwork and joinery. The yard earned some of this in its wooden boat years and from the founders’ skills in cabinetry. But the Irwins have continued that tradition and today their custom woodwork clearly stands out. Evidence of this skill is the oval cabin table with an inlaid compass rose that forms the centerpiece of their boat show booth every year. The rest of the year the table is displayed proudly in the visitor reception room at the yard, reminding all visitors that custom woodwork remains a huge strength.

On our visit the carpentry shop was fabricating a compound-curved coaming out of multiple laminates of a handsome dark sapele hardwood. Destined for a 60-foot sailboat, it required multiple steps to fabricate, with multiple laminations, but it was clearly a source of pride to the team working to get the curves just exactly right.

Routine service and maintenance still makes up about 60 percent of Philbrook’s work, with special projects taking the remainder, and the occasional new-build yacht that is manufactured completely in their shop. Another new build is possible in the near future, and is welcomed by the management team.

“Our last was in ’03”, reports Irwin, “and we have another that we hope to start soon. We like new-builds for the satisfaction of a complete project – and it helps even out the workflow throughout the year.”

Maintaining a full-service capability is not easy these days, given uncertain economic times and the retirement of so many experienced marine tradesmen. Recruiting and training technical staff is always a challenge, as is keeping them busy throughout the year in a notoriously seasonal business. A new-build will help fill the order book, but the full wall of work order clipboards indicates just how busy they are, with a dozen boats throughout their yard and marina.

A co-founder of the Quadrant Marine Institute technical training and development program, Philbrook’s leads its peer organizations in efforts to recruit and train the next generation of marine technicians. A lack of consistent government funding is frustrating their efforts, though. Fortunately they have been able to recruit trades-trained candidates from outside the marine industry and then train them on the job.

“Cabinetmakers on land can do great work on a boat,” Irwin explains, “as long as they don’t expect things to be plumb or square. They have to learn about compound bevels and curves.”

Twin Ways

Philbrook’s is fortunate to retain work space from the heady early days of expansion and growth. Their complex is actually made up of three major buildings, all adjacent, with twin marine ways, each with tandem carriages that can hold two fairly large vessels. This means that four yachts can be “inside” for work sheltered from the weather. A complex system of scaffolding is erected around each vessel and provides “ground-level” access and increased safety for the boatyard crews.

Adjacent buildings have grown up over the years and provide additional space for shops and offices. Nearby is a separate facility for specialized metal work, with several highly-skilled fabricators. On our visit the shop was busy fabricating a custom stainless-steel radar arch and mast. Nearby was a muffler system from a twin-engined powerboat undergoing a modification and rebuild.

Keeping the yard full and the team busy in a seasonal business calls for a constant marketing and promotion effort. In addition to a comprehensive and attractive website, Drew Irwin and his team participate in many boater-oriented events throughout the year. Major boat shows in the Pacific Northwest are always attended, as are select cruising rendezvous.

Brand Expertise

While they work on many types of boats, Philbrook’s has developed expertise with a couple of major brands. One of these is Nordhavn, a brand that is popular among long-distance cruisers in our waters. Philbrook’s has worked on a number of them and is regularly called on to do new-purchase commissioning as well as ongoing maintenance.

Likewise, the yard has developed experience with specific brands of engines and equipment. Philbrook’s is a dealer for MAN engines, as well as Detroit Diesel and Cummins, and has recently done a number of repowering projects with John Deere Marine, an organization that impresses them with their modern, well-engineered products. Northern Lights generators and Kabola furnaces are also represented.   

Marine systems are growing ever more complex, with computerization increasing in all systems, including engines and transmissions, as well as “house” systems such as heating, cooling and lighting. This puts extra pressure on Philbrook’s technical team to keep up-to-date on equipment and control systems, a challenge they relish and can devote time to in the “off-season.”

Challenges remain, however, and seasonality persists as a major one. Late winter and early spring bring a rush of work orders following a very quiet late fall and winter. Then a multi-item work list may have to get pared down to get the essential projects completed in time. Procrastination by owners leads to long days at the yard in spring months.

“We try constantly to get off-season work,” relates Irwin. “It’s a struggle to convince owners to plan ahead to commission work early so we have staff available for them in our quiet months. In June we may only have time for the highest priority tasks.”

Boaters need constant reminders, perhaps even incentives, to schedule their maintenance at the end of the cruising season, not the beginning of their next one.

Whatever their scheduling issues, boat owners should know that Philbrook’s maintains its full-service capabilities and has major facilities and marine ways to tackle almost any upgrade, refit or maintenance project.

And if you call in October you’ll be doubly welcome.

www.philbrooks.com


Story & Photos by Robert Buller

Photo Captions:

1. A dock near the yard has space for boats undergoing service and refit work.

2. Philbrook’s tandem marine ways can each hold two large yachts for service out of the weather.

3. Fine woodwork is a Philbrook’s specialty. Wooden components and trim are fabricated and finished in the woodworking shop.

4. A sailboat coaming is formed in compound curves out of exotic hardwood.

5. A dodger is laid out for custom fitting in the canvas shop.

6. The wall of clipboards in the yard office allows managers and CEO Drew Irwin (right) to track many current propjects

7. The metal fabrication shop is located near the boatyard – a stainless radar arch and mast components await installation.

Lifestyle

  • Prev
This shot was taken last week by Jessica Lee, a freelance photography pro, Albacore racer and part ...
On a sunny and windless day we led Alicia and another sailboat into New York Harbour. There were ...
It was a trip 2 or 3 years ago, and all 4 boats traveled up to the Killarney area in a ...
My name is Alexandrine GOVAN, mother of a 5 years old girl and I found your contact on internet. ...
John Booth, who passed away just a few weeks ago was one of the most amazingly gifted and ...
We left Vero Beach on Saturday morning with Alicia, a boat from Sweden, following close behind. The ...
At the end of last month, Canadian sailors gathered on the Palma Beach in Palma de Mallorca, Spain ...
In 2019, C-TOW celebrates its 35th anniversary of providing 24/7 “Peace of Mind Boating” for ...
West Vancouver Yacht Club reports that following an independent certification process the Georgia ...
It has been hot in the Abacos this winter. Whoever said this area was cool this time of year must ...

DIY & How to

  • Prev
On the Friday before a weekend with a gorgeous forecast, I heard on the news that a boat had ...
A reader suggested we take a look at anchors. Anchoring seems simple enough. A weighted hook with a ...
If you’ve spent any time in a boat yard during spring commissioning season, you won’t find it out ...
As a busy marine mechanic, I tend to have the same or similar conversations often, and they’re ...
This time of year, great deals abound. That boat with the ‘for sale’ sign looks quite attractive. ...
For less than US$2,500, Jim Leshaw, a lawyer who lives and works in Key Biscayne, Florida, ...
Each spring, I tend to notice canvas. I wish it was because it’s been immaculately maintained and ...
I’ve had two emails over the past few weeks with a count-down to launch (47 days per the last ...
Last time we looked at making proper electrical connections – the tools, supplies and methods ...
Winter is a great time to look at some of the hidden spaces on your boat – to take stock of what is ...

Sailboat Under Cloudy Skies

By Joan Wenner, J.D.

Sailboat under cloudy sky by Bill Cox-Unsplash

Have you ever needed on-the-water assistance due to a mechanical breakdown, running aground, taking on water (perhaps from striking a submerged or floating object), having a mishap with another vessel, or have a medical emergency and the authorities are not near, but another mariner answers your mayday or perhaps observes your predicament. Another boater is in the vicinity, but will, or should, that person offer to help perhaps at his peril? What if you were that pleasure craft operator?

Read more about Good Samaritans............

 

  

Monte Carlo 52The launch of the new Monte Carlo 52 will be one of the highlights of the Cannes Yachting Festival 2019. This 50-foot high-end motor yacht is eagerly awaited and will introduce the Monte Carlo “Smart Luxury” generation. The stylish flybridge powerboat has inherited all the superb signature features of a successful range: modern design, elegant lines, distinctive character, incredibly well-used spaces and a careful focus on details, not to mention the iconic large porthole, distinguishing the 15 m (50’) to 18 m (60’) class of yachts made in Vendée. The Monte Carlo 52 has greatly improved all these features.

 

Read more about the Monte Carlo 52..............

 

John ArmstrongOur Canadian Yachting test team, John Armstong and Andy Adams, were at a Jeanneau media event called “Throttle Down” in St. Petersburg, Florida. The media event was held to highlight the Jeanneau Power Boat Line with the emphasis on their outboard models. 

The media event was scheduled to follow their Jeanneau dealer meetings, held earlier at Thunder Marine International in St. Petersburg. The Thunder Marine location is on the water and has a cooperative agreement with Jeanneau to host the full line of Jeanneau power boats in the water for dealer demonstration to their clients.

Read More about the Jeanneau Media Event...........

Destinations

  • Prev
Provincial Boat Havens are those special places to drop anchor in British Columbia’s West Coast and ...
NW Explorations, a Bellingham, Washington-based yacht charter, brokerage, and marine services ...
If you haven’t cruised the Rideau Canal before, you have missed a special treat and even if you ...
At the 2019 Vancouver International Boat Show I had the pleasure of meeting up with Allyson and ...
Following the harsh impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, The British Virgin Islands is making an ...
For the adventurous boater Bunsby Marine Provincial Park is a special place, situated due south of ...
There is good anchoring in Cowichan Bay and nearby, and salt water enough to make any boater happy. ...
We’re gliding through green-blue waters, colours so vivid and bright they hurt your eyes. We’re set ...
The Halifax waterfront has been attracting more and more large yachts in recent years. However, a ...
Ah Canadian simplicity at its finest; small town, big marina. Little Hilton Beach (population ...


ChicagoBy Mark Stevens

Photos by Sharon Matthews-Stevens


From my perspective on the observation deck of 360 Chicago in the John Hancock Building, I have an eagle’s-eye view of this Lake Michigan metropolis.

The city stretched out before us is a forest of concrete. Toward the lake – right below us – there’s a beach volleyball game in progress. White triangles crisscross Caribbean-blue waters in the distance. Sunday morning must be race day – just like home.

 

Read more about Chicago....................

 

Marine Products

  • Prev
When I took the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV down to Wednesday night racing, the people that came over ...
Protecting your boat from scratches and dents isn’t always easy. That’s why the Big Bumper Company ...
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA - Forespar has just introduced a new smaller size version of their ...
As boaters we all have a very unique connection to the water and all the opportunities it presents. ...
Edited by the Quebec Marine Association under the direction of L'Escale Nautique (producer of the ...
Blue Guard has announced the general availability of the BG-One, a solid-state bilge pump switch, ...
With the introduction of the Ion Power Basic, a safe Lithium Ion battery formulated with Lithium, ...
Finding a car brand that you enjoy while it does what you need can be tough, as they can be ...
Yikes! No boat refrigeration? You’ve Got to be Kidding me!! But then again, true campers don’t use ...
The Walker Bay Venture 14 claims to be the world’s first luxury Explorer Sport Tender. It is ...