The giant white shrink-wrapped yachts in Palma’s two shipyards, STP and Astilleros, have become part of the landscape over the past decade and many of the yachts of all sizes have been covered by Undercover Solutions.
The Spanish company’s two British owners and partners, Jamie Smith and Danny Boreham, have been with the outfit right from the start eleven years ago, when the businesses consisted of three partners and one employee. On the eve of the pandemic, there were two partners and 34 employees, which at time rose to over 50 depending on the workload. Over the past eleven years, the company has earned an international reputation for raising the bar on the quality of the scaffolding and containment covers, giving a level of service that many other companies simply cannot provide.
Undercover Solutions is an independent marine scaffold and containment cover company. They are specialists with a wealth of experience in marine scaffolding and shrink-wrapping.
By combining two types of scaffolding, they can create custom-built containment covers with plenty of working space in mind for the contractors, and they have now raised the bar again and set an example to the nautical industry across Spain.
James, who is in charge of operations at Astilleros, and Danny, who is responsible for STP, have decided to put an end to the hundreds of tonnes of industrial plastic that is used to cover the yachts when they come to Palma for refits and repairs.
The pair have spent a while trying to find an alternative solution and earlier this year they did. They are now the only nautical company in Spain using a German-manufactured alternative to plastic. “After a lot of research we were extremely shocked by the potential damage all the plastic the industry is using is doing to the environment. We were well aware of the movement to ditch single-use plastic, such as shopping bags and all that, but there is so much more to the argument. We suddenly realised that we were throwing away hundreds of tonnes of this stuff after every job and it cannot be recycled. This is because it is of an industrial strength and it is also covered in chemicals, paint, and all sorts of materials. It just gets bundled up and packed away somewhere.
“To give you an example, the plastic is something like 200 times thicker than a plastic bag. Let that slip into the sea and it will be there for millions of years causing untold damage.
“So, having seen what the big shipyards in Germany have been doing, as well as the construction industry, we decided to adapt to a new model and start working towards ditching plastic as much as possible.
“Obviously, due to the fact that every vessel is designed differently, plastic still has to be used to a certain and limited extent. But now, we are using a product called Protect-System, which is manufactured by Layher in Germany,” James explains.
“It is a comprehensive weather, cladding and hazard protection solution. The system’s fully enveloping design creates a protective skin around the structure, protecting workers and the public from hazards and providing an effective means to control noise, dust and other environmental contaminants. Apart from the fact that it is eco-friendly and can be used time and time again, it is also faster to erect; the plaques simply click together onto the scaffolding. So, while the initial outlay is more expensive than plastic, we’re looking at the long-term benefits not only as a business but also for the environment. For example, they can become permanent structures for certain types of jobs such as repairing or restoring masts, etc. and that is what we’re currently doing in Palma. It is for this that the leading nautical publication Gaceta Nautica recently presented us with an award for our innovative approach to covering yachts in an eco-friendly way.
“We are now working with the Balearic Ports Authority, because we are going to present ourselves to the board of the Ports 4.0 competition. It is held at a national level and there are some 12 million euros at stake in funding for the winners. If we can secure some of that, then we can accelerate our programme and purchase much more of the plaques from Germany and speed up the process.
“The problem is that they have to be paid for upfront and they are delivered in six weeks, so you have to be 100 per cent on how much you need and when. But like we’ve stressed, it doesn't matter how much we purchase because none of it goes to waste.
“Using plastic, despite the eventual total wastage after a job, just during the process of shrink-wrapping yachts involves around 25% being tossed away because pieces need to be cut or they get damaged by the weather.
“This new system we are using can withstand all elements, which means we can work all year round, plus we can accommodate the interior to create a much more comfortable and secure working environment.
“They can even be soundproofed to reduce noise pollution in residential areas. We know of a one-off job which has been carried out using the Protect-System in Tarragona, for example, but we are the only company using it on a daily basis and we are planning two full-scale jobs early next year here in Palma when we will start covering yachts with the new system. That is when we hope the shipyards and other companies take note. We’ve already had a great response from the industry here as a whole and that is very encouraging because the two shipyards in Palma are unquestionably some of the best in the world. The level of professionalism is second to none and that is why we are all back to 2018 workloads and are already taking bookings for next season.
“If Palma can boost its first-class reputation even more as being an eco-friendly refit and repair destination, then the city’s shipyards will be setting newer and even higher standards. It will not happen overnight, but we as a company are planning for the long term of the business and the environment.”