Shipyard: Aquila soars like an eagle
A collaboration between Sino Eagle and MarineMax, Aquila has become the world’s largest powercat builder in its first decade, with all its 28-70ft models produced at its ultra-modern, purpose-built facility in Hangzhou.
Words: Barry Thompson; Photos: Aquila
The 11-hectare Aquila facility includes four construction buildings, an indoor test pool, riverside launching and a modern office block
It has been over a decade since the Aquila 48 premiered at the Miami International Boat Show in February 2013 before being put into the MarineMax Vacations charter fleet.
US-based MarineMax, the world’s largest yacht dealership, had announced the model at the previous year’s show, having established a collaboration with Chinese manufacturer Sino Eagle, which had already produced the Aquila 38, a model that sold about a dozen units.
Lex Raas initiated the cooperation by connecting MarineMax co-founder Bill McGill, then CEO, with Frank Xiong and the Xiong family, owners of Sino Eagle, a leader in high-tech composite manufacturing. Other key early players included J&J Design Group and Seaway.
Frank Xiong, Bill McGill, John Xiong (Frank’s father) and Lex Raas
Sino Eagle established a dedicated Aquila factory in the attractive inland city of Hangzhou, southwest of Shanghai, which provided the brand with full in-house manufacturing capabilities. Latin for eagle, Aquila has since soared to become the global leader in power catamaran production, today producing models from 28-70ft across the offshore (Molokai), Sport and Yacht ranges.
CLEAN & GREEN
The site has since been expanded and today the 11-hectare (110,000sqm) facility comprises four massive construction buildings, an indoor test pool, riverside launching facilities and an ultra-modern
Hangzhou is often revered as one of China’s most beautiful cities and is paired with another lakeside city in the Chinese proverb: “In heaven there is paradise, on earth there are Hangzhou and Suzhou.”
In Hangzhou, Aquila has over 500 employees in the office and its modern production facility owned by Sino Eagle
The Aquila factory reinforces that sentiment and is genuinely impressive. ‘State-of-the-art’ is an often-misused description of a modern, technologically advanced production facility, but in Aquila’s case, it’s absolutely warranted.
While the factory has not gone to full robotics – Aquila employs over 500 factory and office workers – the construction methods, quality control and overall management of every aspect is exceptional. Their aim is for perfection in every aspect of the build process.
It’s also a ‘green’ factory, with significant effort made to reduce emissions. Sino Eagle has invested heavily in environmental protection to look after the environment and their employees. There are expansive solar panels on top of the factory roof, designated cutting rooms with strong evacuation fans to prevent dust collection inside the factory, and a filtration system for grey water.
Aquila has a 288m-long assembly factory
Tommy Qian, Aquila’s Sales Manager, explains: “We believe that the cleaner the environment in the factory, the better the quality of the parts and ultimately the better the finish of the boats.”
Since launching its 100th catamaran in 2017, Aquila’s production levels rose to almost 60 boats a year in 2018 and 2019. Output rose again in the Covid era, with annual production soaring to 110 units in 2021 and about 150 in 2022.
“This growth is largely due to having a strong professional, passionate team, the highest quality construction, a strong dealer network and the world’s best catamaran designers drawing up our boats,” Qian says.
There were about 50 boats in various stages of construction when the author toured
The US is by far Aquila’s largest market, accounting for 75 per cent of the company’s production, while sales in Europe, Australia and other markets continue to grow. Two of Raas’s sons work for the brand. Jean Raas is running all of Aquila’s new projects, while Alain Raas is the Aquila Brand Manager at MarineMax.
This year, the company has set a production target of close to 200. Qian says that target could be challenged by supply-chain issues, especially with larger components such as engines, generators and air-con systems. Composite materials and timbers are easier to control due to being available locally.
CNC cutting room
Qian feels that another reason for the success of Aquila is all the boats are built using high-tech composites, high-density PVC foam, with vinylester and resin infusion. Construction also includes high-density PVC/fibre, resin-infused/foam composite bulkheads rather than ply.
“Every component in an Aquila power catamaran is as good as we can source, either locally or from overseas suppliers, and we never compromise on quality,” Qian says.
A computer system tracks work progress on the production line, with the ability to pull up drawings for the workers. As part of the quality control, every component has a barcode and every worker an ID. Each product is allocated a time to complete the task and employees receive a bonus if they can pass the required quality checks in less time than is allocated.
The shipyard is truly state-of-the-art
“We work closely with our staff. If they can see a way to make our processes more efficient, we listen and, if necessary, implement the changes,” Qian says. “That way, we’re all working towards producing the best products we can in the most efficient time frame.”
Slovenia-based J&J is the anchor designer for Aquila and has pencilled the 44 Yacht, 54 Yacht and flagship 70 Luxury, as well as the original 48, while it’s currently working on three new models in the Sport, Yacht and Luxury segments.
In recent years, Aquila has worked with other renowned designers including French studio VPLP Design, founded by Marc Van Peteghem and Vincent Lauriot Prévost, which pencilled the 42 Yacht that debuted this year and is working on another model. Kirk Clarke from Hawaii designed the 28 Molokai in conjunction with Jure Zule, Aquila’s Chief Designer.
Aquila’s designers are working on new models with the likes of J&J Design, VPLP and Chris Peart
South African Chris Peart of Peart Yacht Design was responsible for the new 47 Molokai from the Offshore series and is working on another Molokai model and a Sport model with a patented foiling system.
Lex Raas says: “This will be a breakthrough design and incorporate a lot of the latest foil technology in the world. This is a super exciting boat.”
Morrelli & Melvin Design & Engineering was behind the brand’s 4.2m and 5.3m RIB powercats, which owners often choose as the tender for their Aquila catamaran, while the US studio is also responsible for the Aquila Hydro Glide Foil System option.
All upholstery is done in-house
Introduced on the 36 Sport, the system consists of a main hydrofoil slightly aft of midships that spans each hull, so bridging the tunnel and helping lift about 40 per cent of the hull’s weight out of the water at cruising speeds. Further aft, twin fins act like an aeroplane’s horizontal stabilisers to prevent porpoising at higher speeds.
TESTING & REFINING
Apart from the 28 Molokai, all Aquila model designs are CFD and FEA (Finite Element Analysis) tested for structure stresses to identify the high-load areas.
Raas says this is extremely important in the bulkheads of higher-speed powercats. It’s also why the fore and aft bulkheads on boats like the 70 Luxury and 47 Molokai are made of 100 per cent epoxy infused carbon, to be strong enough to accept the torsional loads and not get too heavy.
Aquila catamarans are built using vinylester and resin infusion, high-tech composites and high-density PVC foam
“Whenever we’re moving into new areas, we’ll also do a full test programme as soon as we can get a splash out of the hull,” Raas says. “We place a basic deck on and then ballast up to expected weights and then will rigorously test. This was done on the 36 Sport and 28 Molokai, and we’ll be doing the same with the next Sport model.”
Production of composites at the Aquila shipyard is based on emission-free closed moulding technologies used for all GRP components, from the smallest to the largest. The results are clear, lighter and stiffer boats. In addition, this technology is environmentally friendly by eliminating styrene emissions, which also protects workers.
Vinyl ester resins are infused and vacuum bagged. Resin Transfer Moulded (RTM) is used for hatches, which are frequently opened providing a gelcoat finish on both sides. Technical fibres, like biax, triax or quadriax rovings, are applied on specific high-stressed areas, and UDs (uni-directional fibres) and carbon fibres are also installed.
Woodwork is also done in-house
All structural panels, even small flat wing bulkheads or bracings, are made from PVC-cored composites, and high-density foams are used instead of plywood, which is only used to produce furniture.
Special care is taken to keep the workshops clean, well-lit and dust free. All areas where infusion is made are temperature and humidity controlled, with monitoring systems showing all figures on displays.
Qian says: “We run full pre-delivery checks on every boat, either on the river or the smaller boats in our indoor test tank, before shipping them to our dealers. Once the boats are finished, depending on size, they are either trucked or barged to the Port of Shanghai for worldwide distribution.”
The build process is digitally monitored
Aquila also spends significant time on is propeller optimisation. Every boat the company launches undergoes an extensive in-house testing programme for props and engine heights. When managers are satisfied they’ve got the best results, the boats go to market.
Raas explains: “The recommended props are quite different to the final ones. The fact there are so many variances shows this is clearly not only a science but also requires a vigorous testing process. Adding in foils to the equation presents a whole new set of opportunities for optimisation.”
Aquila offers a five-year structural hull warranty, and all other equipment is under the manufacturer’s warranty.
Aquila currently offers eight powercat models: the 28 Molokai and 47 Molokai high-speed fishing boats, the 32 Sport and 36 Sport cruisers, and the 42 Yacht, 44 Yacht, 54 Yacht and 70 Luxury flybridge models.
Smaller models undergo pre-delivery in an indoor test tank, before shipping to dealers and clients around the world
The 36 Sport is now Aquila’s most popular model, overtaking the long-standing 44 Yacht, with each model selling over 200 units.
The remarkable 54 Yacht has also been a hot item, with about 90 sales across the world and production booked through to late 2025. Depending on the model, delivery times are between 12-24 months.
The most recent addition to Aquila’s portfolio is the 47 Molokai, which features the company’s first double-stepped hull along with four outboards and can reach over 60 knots.
A world premiere at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show (October 25-29), the 47 Molokai combines fishing capabilities with luxury appointments and is the big sister of the well-established 28 Molokai.
The four-engine 47 Molokai is tested near the Aquila shipyard ahead of its world premiere
“We see the high-performance, centre-console outboard powercat market as one of the fastest expanding segments in the US,” Qian says. “The 28 Molokai has been extremely successful for us, so I’m confident the 47 Molokai will be a big seller.”
As illustrated by all the models in development with various designers, Aquila is continually developing new catamarans as market influences dictate, so expect much more from the shipyard over the coming years as it seeks to consolidate its leadership position in the powercat sector.
“We’re always open to suggestions,” Qian concludes. “We love feedback from our owners and dealers on how we can make what we already consider great boats even greater.”