From Ipswich to the Caribbean: the story of our grandest bespoke project to date

It's funny how business has a habit of throwing curveballs at you. There we were in the office last year, contemplating the unfolding coronavirus crisis when an inquiry pinged randomly on the website. We get leads online all of the time, of course, but nothing that has turned out quite like this.

The message was from a gentleman claiming to be in the Caribbean, wondering if we could design, build, ship and help erect a huge sign for a luxurious new superyacht marina. This would be no ordinary sign: the logo alone should be 11 metres high, with lettering up to 3.6 metres. The sign should be designed and built from scratch, shipped to St Vincent and the Grenadines and erected safely. It needed to withstand all weathers, including the occasional hurricane.

Oh, and could it be done in about three months?

At first, we thought it was a practical joke. The Hudson Group metal-fabrication facility has made big outdoor signs many times before, but nothing on this incredible scale. This display for the new Sandy Lane Yacht Club and Marina on the tiny island of Canouan would look majestic from miles out in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

And it would be one of the first things visitors would see when coming into land at the verdant island's tiny airstrip.

Still surprised to be contacted out of the blue from 4,250 miles away, we got on the phone to our contact. He sent us a drawing showing the scale of the lettering and the logo, featuring a pair of giant seahorses and an anchor. But there was little in the way of construction or fixing requirements. That was for us to conceive and go back with ideas.

We knew the support structure that the Sandy Lane team wanted to use, so we set about designing the huge logo, letters, and brackets to attach everything. We worked out there would need to be 80 brackets on the logo alone. After some back and forth, we landed the contract and got the go-ahead to start building.

Metal fabrication and painting

Our brilliant team went from worrying about what was going to happen to the business during the pandemic, to launching themselves into one of our largest ever projects.

The factory became a hub of activity, as aluminium sheets were fashioned skilfully into lettering to piece together the words and logo for the Sandy Lane Yacht Club - Marina, Restaurants & Retail. Each bracket was designed to incorporate a tiny bit of wiggle room, allowing for any eventuality.

Metal fabrication and painting

As the pieces to the jigsaw began to come together, we prepared them for the next stage, getting them powder coated in a pink, marine-grade paint finish that is guaranteed for ten years in the face of the local wind, sun and all that salty sea air. We realised, too, that the logo needed extra structural support internally.

As the paint-finished items were ready, we began to see just how vibrant – and large – everything was. As time was pressing on, we needed to begin planning how to package and ship our creation.

From Southampton to Canouan

Working out how to ship our enormous signage was no easy matter. At first, we assumed one container would do the job. But soon it became clear we would need two. We commissioned three bespoke individual boxes with five layers in each for one container so that the lettering pieces could be placed carefully and securely, protected from each other.

From Southampton to Canouan

The shipping agent joined us, suggesting ways to strengthen the boxes to ensure nothing was damaged on the back of a lorry or on the high seas. We used three forklifts to load the boxes into the containers and had only millimetres to spare on either side. It was a precision job, and we were here until 11pm, making sure we got it just right.

The larger logo pieces were strapped securely to wooden beams in a second container and were shipped off to Southampton to sail a week after the letters. At last, both our prized containers were on their way to the Caribbean.

A special work trip

The client asked us to assist on-site to unload our pieces and then help with building the sign. You can imagine a week or two in the Caribbean was a treasured gig, and in the end, it was Ian Forsdike, one of our most experienced fitters who got the trip.

All this happened at the height of the pandemic, and COVID played havoc with travel plans, delaying Ian's departure so that it coincided with the team being ready to go in Canouan. To get him there, we needed to fly him to Barbados, and then charter a hair-raising, island-hopping flight to Canouan.

Ian then needed to quarantine at the resort for a week when he got there – a tough job, but someone had to do it. But then the install got underway. There were some minor tweaks on the ground as we needed to adjust some of the logo's bracket positions. But aside from that, everything went smoothly, and we were pleased with how quickly it all went up. The Sandy Lane people were certainly happy.

Ian was out there for about a month and managed to get back home just in time for Christmas.

Majestic result rewards our efforts

The final sign looks fantastic in place. At night, it is imperious with downlighting added by the client. With the new Sandy Lane resort opening soon, it's incredible to think our team's work back in the unit in Ipswich will be seen and enjoyed by the world's rich and famous as they cruise around the Caribbean

It was a magnificent team effort on what was by far our biggest job overseas to date. It shows the Hudson Group can scale up and work with clients anywhere in the world. With this job now complete, we are confident it will inspire more clients to find their way to our corner of Suffolk.

We look back now and think, 'That was remarkable.' From the beginning of COVID, being worried about how things were going to work out, taking on one of our biggest-ever jobs for a client thousands of miles away. What a year, and one we will never forget.

From an interview with Owen Grisby, Hudson Group, Project Designer

Photography: Simply C Photography

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