North-American shipyard Palmer Johnson, originally located in Great Lakes region of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, once belonged amongst major US builders. The company started as wooden yachts builder, now boasting a 100-year-long history. They launched such famous vessels, as Fortuna for the King of Spain, unrivalled in the terms of speed for 10 consequent years, and explorer Turmoil, sailing around the globe three times. Yacht Harbour takes a closer look at the company’s long history and where they arrived at today.

Palmer Johnson was founded by Hans Johnson and Herman Gmack in 1918, originally named Johnson and Gmack. During the 1920s, the boatyard made its specialty repairing rowing skiffs and commercial fishing vessels, with its first wooden yacht launched later in 1928.

The company went through hard and prosperous periods through its history, under different owners. Sometimes its activity was affected by international events, as well. For instance, when the United States entered the WWII, most American industries rallied around the war effort. During the war years, Palmer Johnson built over forty 45-foot air-sea rescue boats and four 65-foot “T” class freighters. 

King Juan Carlos' Fortuna

In 1956 the company was sold and renamed after the founder’s son, Palmer Johnson. Starting from the 1960s, Palmer Johnson becomes one of the pioneers in the field of aluminium yachts building, with the first unit Isanti built in 1962 for an American banker.

Within five years, the company delivered the world’s largest aluminium sailing yacht of that time, a 25,6-metre ketch Firebird. Firebird was surpassed by Fortuna, a 30.5-metre yacht for King Juan Carlos of Spain, setting the record in 1979. She was capable of reaching an incredible speed of 46 knots, remaining the fastest yacht in the world for over a decade. 

During 1989-1992, the company was extending its facilities; inaugurating new 7,000-square-metre facility at Jefferson Street and First Avenue and expanding to the East Coast.

La Baronessa

In 1998, the same year Palmer Johnson celebrated its 80th anniversary, the company launched the largest all-aluminum yacht built in the USA, La Baronessa (59,5-metre LOA).

In 2003, following several unproductive years the company was sold to her current owner, English businessman Timur Mohamed, after he had purchased a 120-foot yacht christened Cover Drive.

Under his direction, Palmer Johnson introduced its SportYacht series in 2004, featured with contemporary exterior styling and interior design by Nuvolari Lenard.  Launched during a peak of prosperity for yachting in general, the series becomes one of the most popular in the midsize superyacht segment.

In 2012, the shipyard announced its new carbon-fibre SuperSport performance superyacht series as a follow-up to its SportYacht series. Despite several deliveries, it couldn't quite replicate the initial success of the previous series partly due to a different economic climate.

However, in 2015 it was announced that the Sturgeon Bay shipyard would be closed and sold after delivery of its last boat. Since 2017, production was moved to the Netherlands, although it is for now unclear under what form that currently exists.

The company reported  that the relocation had a strategic purpose to increase production of the new carbon SuperSport series. It was though rumoured that the move was inevitable as sales had diminished against escalating foreign competitive pressures. Some sources reported that the closures resulted in the loss of about 100 jobs.

One of the most recent yacht launched by Palmer Johnson, was 2016 sport yacht Sanam with LOA of 52,4 metres, the last one built within US facility. Following this, Palmer Johnson announced collaborations with Bugatti on a 66ft day boat and a day boat called the PJ63 Sport, clients for the projects, however, remain to be found so far.

Nonetheless, the company still announces ambitious projects. The largest one has been revealed recently, jointly with Korean designer Chulhun Park. The companies have presented new 229-meter superyacht concept Valkyrie. Time will tell if the concept is a sign of big things to come from an iconic brand.

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