BATH — A Maine-based boat-building family that’s best known for its high-end yachts has collaborated with a designer of surfing rescue boats to produce vessels that could soon be used for search-and-rescue or special forces missions in even the roughest conditions.

Hodgdon Defense Composites, the Bath-based affiliate of Hodgdon Yachts, has received several military contracts to produce rescue boats small enough to be air-dropped from a C-130 cargo plane but sturdy enough to stay upright in the most challenging surf.

“In breaking surf, it can do things that no other vessel can do,” said the boat’s designer, Peter Maguire, whose North Carolina-based company, Rapid Rescue Technology, is partnering with Hodgdon Defense Composites on the project.

Known as the Greenough Advanced Rescue Craft, or GARC, the vessel is an example of the Maine boat-building industry’s embrace of new technologies and the diversity in the state’s defense contracting sector.

Resembling a conventional Jet Ski or personal watercraft, the GARC measures roughly 12 feet long and comes with a 143-horsepower, water jet-driven engine. The military-grade craft features a larger, deeper hull made of composite technology developed, in part, with assistance from researchers at University of Maine and other companies.

On Tuesday, Maguire and Hodgdon employees gathered at a boat ramp in Bath to christen and formally launch a GARC that is being delivered to U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command.

Hodgdon Defense Composites has several more under construction, and recently received an order for 16 more from the Air National Guard.

“This company proves that even in tough times, there is always a market for superior craftsmanship,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said just before christening the first boat. “Whenever I advocate for federal funding for Maine, I do so fully confident that Maine will deliver.”

After smashing a bottle of champagne across the bow, Collins donned a life vest and climbed on board the GARC behind Maguire for a demonstration. Maguire later handed the controls to Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“That was so cool,” Collins said as the two pulled into the dock, later adding that she wants one for her camp.

The GARC is not the first military project handled by Hodgdon Defense Composites. In 2008, the company produced for the Navy an 83-foot-long patrol boat known as the MAKO.

The boat, which has yet to go into production, is made with high-performance composites that absorb the shock waves by bouncing across the water at more than 50 knots.

Tim Hodgdon, president of Hodgdon Yachts, noted that his family’s company has a long history of military contracts, including building mine sweepers, troop transports and patrol boats during World War II and the Korean War.

Hodgdon founded Hodgdon Defense Composites in 2004 to diversify the company, which was already using composite materials in high-end yachts.

“So there is a history of defense (contracting) in the company,” Hodgdon said.

Hodgdon Defense Composites has received more than $3 million in defense contracts since 2008, according to several websites that track federal contracting. Exact figures for the GARC project were not available Tuesday.

While it was not mentioned during Tuesday’s ceremony, defense contractors in Maine and across the country are nervously watching Congress as time runs out for lawmakers to find alternatives to massive defense spending cuts that are set to take effect next year.

Unless Congress acts this year, $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts will be made to federal programs. Defense programs would have to absorb roughly $500 billion of that, a prospect that top defense officials in the Obama administration have said could be “devastating.”

Asked about the “sequestration” cuts after Tuesday’s event, Collins said she adamantly opposes across-the-board cuts.

Collins said she recently asked Republican leaders to work aggressively on finding alternatives to sequestration before Congress leaves for its August break.

Waiting until after the election, Collins said, would just increase uncertainty and force many defense contractors to send notices to employees warning them of potential layoffs. Maine’s defense contracting industry employs 8,500 workers with an average annual salary in excess of $64,000.

Collins said she believe most members of Congress oppose the across-the-board cuts.

“But whether or not we can come together to draft an alternative is not clear,” she said.

 

Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: [email protected]