J. Frank Crane, of JFCI Composites Group, in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and his partner, Jim Gardiner, general manager of Compmillennia LLC, in Washington, N.C., made history in 2009 with the construction of one of the world’s biggest gigayachts: the Swift 141.

The two men are now moving forward with other innovative ideas. With the boat building industry floating on skinny margins, and the second Swift retrofit project — the Swift 135 — on hold for now, Crane and Gardiner are aiming to rise above the water by delving into composite-bridge manufacturing. Both are preparing to pitch municipalities, real estate developers, and even foreign governments on the benefits of low-maintenance composite bridges.

“A couple of realtors caught my ear when they said they could sell property if they could get across the ditch,” says Crane. “These bridges are light and easy to handle. You can build a composite bridge in a couple of weeks, drag it with a trailer on wheels, and use a small hydraulic crane that can lift 40x tons. They would last a hundred years.”

Although traditional bridge materials are still the norm, Crane thinks maintenance issues will tip the balance in favor of composites, particularly for small bridges. “By the fifth year, when they are doing repairs [on bridges made from traditional materials] you’re not doing repairs.” It’s also an ideal solution for bridging small streams and rivers in Central America, he says.

Crane also envisions working in architectural applications. “There are lots of old buildings all over the world — lovely things to be saved — and composites make strong, suitable materials for rebuilding and restoring structural integrity. You can build hurricane- and earthquake-proof homes with composites. Not to mention the fact that the International Building Code recently added use of composites.”

For Crane, one of his biggest accomplishments is demonstrated in the unique perspective he brought to the job of constructing one of the world’s biggest gigayachts: the Swift 141. Completed for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the retrofitting of a Royal Netherlands Navy frigate was commissioned to further the UAE’s aspirations of developing world-class yacht construction.

Together, Frank Crane and Jim Gardiner improvised technology in order to create large molds needed to retrofit a Navy frigate.

Together, Frank Crane and Jim Gardiner improvised technology in order to create large molds needed to retrofit a Navy frigate.

Before embarking on such a monumental task, Crane first viewed it in microcosm, developing a small-scale model of the project. “I’m a very methodical person, and I think things through completely. Then, I turn that concept into a schedule and the management of the program,” says Crane, who confidently took on a composite-based maritime project beyond what had ever been done before. He says his methodical nature is why “I could say ‘yes’ right away and figure out the problems later,” he says.