Less than four years ago, the newly formed, China-based HH Catamarans was a newcomer in the luxury performance catamaran segment. Today, the brand is one among several in Hudson Marine Group, which offers numerous HH Catamaran models: 55, 66, 77 (in the design phase) and 88 (hull No. 1 is in the mold). A 50-foot cat is also available with e-glass or carbon-fiber construction; each version costs more than $1 million.

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Hudson Wang, of Taiwan, owns HH Catamarans’ parent company, Hudson Marine Group. He’s a media-shy serial entrepreneur who owns seven other companies, and he built an empire producing high-volume, low-cost goods, including aluminum extrusion baseball bats, plastic injection sports equipment and barbecues. He’s also the largest producer of outsourced Yeti coolers, but his foray into performance boats is new. Wang isn’t a boater, but he’s intrigued by the industry’s potential.

Hudson Marine Group employs about 300 people, including 25 engineers and a handful of expat managers. American Chris Doscher — previously the U.S. sailboat sales manager for Groupe Beneteau — is president of the subsidiary Hudson Yacht Group, while New Zealander Paul Hakes (the other H in the HH Catamarans name) is in charge of production. The naval architecture is done by Morelli and Melvin in the United States.

“We’re positioning the overall company as the BMW of multihulls, with the HH brand as Ferrari,” Doscher says. “Our focus is on composite construction, performance and luxury. We keep a workable backlog, but we want to stay out of the production-build fray.”

Hudson Marine Group produces fewer than 10 HH cats per year. That total is expected to increase to 15 with semi­custom 50-footers being introduced in the United States later this year. And though it takes 40,000 man-hours to build an HH 50, Doscher says the Chinese company’s labor costs give it a significant marketplace advantage. “Here, the labor we use is $14 per hour, while Beneteau pays $60 per hour fully loaded in France,” he says.

HH Catamarans still does a lot of work by hand, including cutting holes for deck hatches (which other builders do with CNC machines) and spraying gelcoat. During my factory tour, I saw an infusion setup propped up by an old tire — an almost comical juxtaposition of high-tech manufacturing and old-school ingenuity.

Substantial cost savings also come from shipping the boats. Working with such shippers as Seven Seas Yacht Transport, Hudson Marine Group can provide early and accurate unit counts, which halves the price of shipping a boat from China to, say, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Larger builders can get volume discounts, but they’re unable to provide final numbers until later in the process.)

HH Catamarans’ staff perform much of the work by hand, while China’s low labor costs give it a significant market advantage.

HH Catamarans’ staff perform much of the work by hand, while China’s low labor costs give it a significant market advantage.

One area that Hudson Marine Group outsources is lamination. “We really can’t keep someone busy full time on low-volume builds, so we hire according to our needs,” Doscher says. “With close management oversight, it works.”

Wang is keen not to overcommit on infrastructure, given that all of his company’s factories are privately owned, with no government subsidies. And Hudson Marine Group’s production isn’t limited to China; it also markets the Montara Surf Boss, an inboard-powered wakesurfing pontoon boat that’s built in Minnesota and Tennessee. Montara manufactures its own interiors and seating, and has in-house machining capabilities, robotic aluminum cutting and robotic welding. With all the brands together, Hudson Marine Group produces about 1,000 vessels annually.

Selling in the United States is important for the company, because while China’s population is large, the country has only about 60,000 sailors, according to Grand View Research in San Francisco. Most of those sailors are students at regional training centers. Experience with big boats is light, and there’s a lack of boating infrastructure. Finding aftermarket services such as boatyards, trained equipment dealers and skilled repair personnel is tough. Moreover, China’s coast is patrolled heavily, and in a military style. It’s not a welcoming environment for boaters.

On the other hand, there is aspiration among the Chinese population. Couples often use boats as backdrops for wedding photos (along with high-end cars or helicopters), and owning a boat is prestigious. Boats are still beyond reach of the masses, but the Chinese government is sponsoring events to raise awareness of recreational boating, including the China Cup International Regatta and the Shanghai International Boat Show.

China has yet to see a surge of entry-level boaters on lakes and rivers with small, outboard-powered boats, let alone consumer demand for multimillion-dollar carbon speedsters like the ones HH Catamarans builds. All but two of HH’s cats have gone to U.S. or European owners, with a number of them being flagged in the British Virgin Islands and Jamaica.

HH chose to compete against such cat builders as Sunreef and Beneteau in a high-end niche.

HH chose to compete against such cat builders as Sunreef and Beneteau in a high-end niche.

The costs that go into building the cats of course include materials. About 50 percent of the materials, hardware and equipment is imported to China, with 20 percent of the goods coming from the United States. U.S. tariffs and Chinese retaliatory measures have had some impact, but Hudson Marine Group has developed workarounds. Materials sourced outside of China include resin from Mitsubishi in Japan, and Marstrom carbon rigs from Sweden. Some items are built in-house, including carbon-fiber heads. For U.S. gear such as Harken winches, Hudson Marine Group sources from European or Australian dealers, sidestepping the tariff issue.

Looking ahead, Doscher says more interest in the HH Catamarans line is expected to come from the United States and Europe. “The specialty sector of really large, purely custom boats like our 88 is looking pretty healthy,” he says. “That’s the high-end segment we started playing in when nobody thought it could be done.” 

This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue.

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