PMG Shipyard: Pride of Thailand
Best known internationally for building the new Silent 60 for the fast-growing Silent-Yachts, the PMG Shipyard in Thailand owned by Philippe Guenat also produces its own solar-assisted Heliotrope powercats as well as custom builds in a spectacular two-hectare beachfront facility that’s now also equipped for catamaran refits.
Philippe Guenat (second left) with staff at PMG Shipyard
As Silent-Yachts showcases the first hull of its new Silent 60 in Europe this autumn, the man who oversaw its construction for the past two years is almost 10,000km away in his PMG Shipyard on the coast of Rayong.
Philippe Guenat, the shipyard’s owner and General Manager, is responsible for the construction of not just the first but several hulls of the Silent 60 at PMG, which is named after his initials like his other companies in his native Switzerland and Panama.
Guenat (in red) receiving an award on behalf of Bakri Cono, now PMG Shipyard
Guenat admits that after a testing couple of years building hull one through the Covid period alongside other units of the same model, he felt both relief and pride to see the first unit delivering upon all expectations during sea trials in the Gulf of Thailand before it was delivered to Spain.
“I could see from the reaction of the Silent-Yachts engineers during sea trials that they were very happy. The boat performed perfectly. It made my day to see their reactions,” says Guenat, whose fascinating life includes a career in hospitality, adventurous passions like flying, sailing and scuba diving, plus a deep, ongoing commitment to developing luxury solar-electric yachts.
The first Silent 60 solar-electric catamaran during sea trials in the Gulf of Thailand
Promoting itself as a ‘Custom Yacht Builder’, PMG Shipyard focuses on catamarans, whether solar-assisted like the shipyard’s own Heliotrope line launched in 2013 or fully solar-powered like the Silent-Yachts models, which it has also been building since 2019.
In fact, ‘Silent’ and ‘Heliotrope’ signs top the entrances to two of the shipyard’s four largest open-front production halls, each measuring in the region of 50m deep by 25m wide (164ft by 82ft). There are three more halls on the impressive site, which spans 200m along a beachfront road and covers over two hectares (20,800sqm).
PMG Shipyard’s two-hectare site spans 200m along a beachfront road in Rayong
As well as specialising in vinyl infusion, the shipyard packs some serious hardware including a 50-tonne-capacity travel lift that was specially made in China by Magicart. This purpose-built hoist is 9.6m high and has a width of 14.4m so it can transfer cats to the shipyard’s 13m-wide outdoor testing pool, which is 25m long and can take boats up to 80ft.
More recently, the shipyard has welcomed a custom-made boat trailer that took 2½ years to design. Specially made for cats up to 80ft, the trailer enables PMG to move boats across the road, down the beach and into the sea in just 15 minutes, meaning the days of hiring external companies for each boat launch are over.
The site has immediate access to water for launching
The new trailer’s ability to retrieve catamarans from the sea also means PMG can now offer refits, previously not possible due to an inability to haul out boats from the shore.
Despite the challenges of Covid, the shipyard employs about 100 staff, with over two-thirds of them graduates of Thailand’s specialist boatbuilding schools in the likes of Khon Kaen, Sukhothai and Nakhon Si Thammarat, an initiative inspired by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a passionate sailor.
The 47ft-wide Magicart transfers a Silent 60 to PMG Shipyard’s pool
Remarkably, Guenat’s family owns a historic shipyard by Lake Geneva that built two boats for the former King of Thailand while he was studying in Switzerland.
Growing up in Geneva, Guenat began boating and flying, inheriting a passion for planes from his father and uncle who were both military pilots. However, he didn’t follow the family tradition in the business world. Instead of a career in private banking, the family business, he forged a career in hospitality that only ended in the middle of this year when he sold his company.
The testing pool is about 42ft wide and can take boats up to 80ft
“I loved the five-star industry and became a hotelier,” recalls Guenat, whose hospitality business took him around the world including a decade in Thailand from 1990-2000.
His interest in solar power developed from his flying days when he became friends with fellow pilots Bertrand Piccard, now 63, and later Raphaël Domjan, 49, both renowned adventurers. Piccard’s long list of achievements include becoming the first person to complete a non-stop circumnavigation by balloon (1999) and the first to circumnavigate by solar-powered fixed-wing aircraft (2015-2016).
Showing the solar panels on the first Silent 60
Domjan’s remarkable career includes the first circumnavigation on a boat using solar energy, which he completed on the 31m catamaran Planet Solar from September 2010-May 2012. He’s also the founder and pilot of SolarStratos, an aeronautical project aimed at flying a solar-powered airplane to the stratosphere.
HOTELIER TO BOATBUILDER
Meanwhile, Guenat wanted to pursue his own dream of building a luxury yacht assisted by solar power, even while he was still managing his hospitality company.
“When we were flying, we were always talking about solar and what could be done, what should be done,” says Guenat, a board member of Domjan’s SolarStratos.
PMG has a new custom-made catamaran trailer for both launching and retrieval
“Bertrand and Raphaël were adventurers, very extreme. I owned a hotel group, but said something should be done in yachting, like covering the roof in solar panels. However, nobody had seen it or done it, so people weren’t interested.”
In 2008, Guenat talked to many shipyards in Europe about his idea for a solar-electric boat, which he was willing to finance, but time and again he was turned away – politely and impolitely.
MEETING OF MINDS
Having lived and worked in Thailand for a decade, Guenat was still a regular visitor to the Kingdom, where he had furniture made for his hotel group in Switzerland. He was also aware of the country’s boatbuilding schools and knew of several small shipyards by Ocean Marina Yacht Club in Jomtien, just south of Pattaya, where he tried his luck in 2009.
The Heliotrope 65, Guenat’s first solar catamaran
After drawing a blank at the first three shipyards he tried, Guenat was on the cusp of giving up on his quest when he visited Bakri Cono. Inside, he found open-minded support in the form of South African owner Corrie Lamprecht, who was running the yard with his two sons.
“I had been looking for two years and Corrie was the only person in the industry who showed interest,” Guenat says.
Working with yacht designer Dr Albert Nazarov, who founded Albatross Marine Design in Pattaya in 2006, it took 18 months to develop the solar technology. To put the theory into practice, Guenat built the first Heliotrope 65, which used solar power for all on board systems but not propulsion.
Interior of the Heliotrope 65
“The boat was a total success and the electrical power produced was outstanding,” Guenat says of the model’s first build, launched in 2013. “We never had a problem with the solar panels or electrical setup, only a problem with a toilet pump!”
Having moved to live full-time in Thailand and become an investor in Bakri Cono, Guenat’s belief in the Heliotrope led to a determination to find a larger site for the shipyard. He eventually found PMG’s current location in Rayong, which had been a boatbuilding facility since 1976 but was then abandoned.
Heliotrope 48s in Hong Kong (above) and Sydney (below)
Guenat spent several months and even hired a private detective to track down the owner, eventually securing the site and beginning a seven-month renovation. In 2016, Bakri Cono officially began operations in the new site where they continued building the Heliotrope 48, a model bought by buyers from Hong Kong to Australia.
The shipyard’s role in building the Silent 60 evolved in 2019, a year in which Guenat fully bought over the company and renamed it PMG.
Bart Kimman, an experienced Hong Kong-based broker then working for Camper & Nicholsons, saw a Silent 55 at a boat show in Phuket and connected Guenat to Michael Köhler, founder and CEO of Silent-Yachts, who was looking for a facility to build the company’s new generation of solar-electric cats.
Another Silent cat in build at PMG Shipyard
Without having even met Köhler in person, Guenat had recommended Nazarov to assist on the new designs and then committed to building the first units of the Silent 60, a model announced at the Cannes Yachting Festival in September 2019.
“Michael then started getting so many orders for the Silent 60. I said I can build them, but the last one will come out in 2025,” Guenat laughs. “They needed to find another shipyard to keep up with demand and found one in Italy.”
PMG Shipyard is also building a Heliotrope 70
Soon after PMG started on the first hulls of the Silent 60, Covid spread across the globe in early 2020, causing delays in shipping parts and forcing restrictions on workers, especially manual labourers. However, Guenat and his team have ploughed through, with five hulls being built simultaneously at one stage. The second Silent 60 had sea trials in August ahead of its delivery to the US.
“It has been a difficult two years,” Guenat says. “We have 100 people in the shipyard, and we’ve had to be so careful. Our builders have to wear masks the whole day in the heat of Thailand, so they’ve done really well.”
Around the same time PMG started producing the Silent 60, it also looked set to begin building the Waka 80, an 80ft sailing cat designed by Berrett-Racoupeau. The model was also promoted at the 2019 Cannes Yachting Festival, generating strong interest.
The Waka 80 designed by Berrett-Racoupeau
“The Waka 80 is very appealing because we can build it at the same quality but at a much lower cost than in Europe. After Cannes, we had three appointments, two became extremely serious and finally we were arranging a work schedule for construction with a very famous entrepreneur,” Guenat says.
“We agreed to resume planning and reconvene in January or February, but as Covid became widespread, he had to prioritise his company and staff salaries. It’s an amazing design and we’re ready to build it.”
Design of the Heliotrope 70
With its expanded production capacity, well trained workforce, specialist hardware like its testing pool, Magicart travel lift and catamaran trailer, as well as immediate seafront access, PMG Shipyard is better equipped than ever, with repeat business from Silent-Yachts balanced by private orders.
Guenat, though, is happiest about the fact that solar boats have soared in popularity, to the extent that Silent-Yachts announced well over 20 orders for its new-generation models from 60-80ft before the first Silent 60 was even delivered.
Compare that to the past five years, when the brand built a total of 11 units of the Silent 64 and 55 in Turkey and China. Guenat believes the success of electric cars is the main driver behind the growing appeal of solar boats.
A Heliotrope 48 leaving PMG Shipyard
“Environmental awareness has made a big impact, so now there are more people talking about solar, but the person we should thank most is Elon Musk. Tesla created a trend, so once we had a car moving with batteries, people started to believe a boat could move with batteries and Silent-Yachts became more popular,” Guenat says.
“Michael Köhler is like Elon Musk as they both have a special character, are passionate about their job and don’t take no for an answer. And Tesla owners are now the most likely to buy solar boats. Yet just a decade or so ago, when I was talking about solar boats, nobody took me seriously. Now, people understand.”
PMG Shipyard in Thailand is preparing to start construction on the Waka 80 sailing catamaran designed by Berret-Racoupeau, the renowned French studio based in La Rochelle.