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A Week In New England: Visiting 6 Marine Companies

My editorial responsibilities routinely take me on the road, on my way to and from a boat story. It occurs with such regularity that I'm never altogether unpacked, and my time in Annapolis is a real treat when it extends for more than a week. I am one traveling guy.

I recently was in Rhode Island and decided to drop in to visit some of the companies that support our cruising under power niche. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of these builders, manufacturers and distributors in Rhode Island and Connecticut, two popular boating areas enjoyed by generations of sailors and boaters. Much of our country's maritime history involves these states.

You may or may not know these companies and faces, but I thought it would be interesting to introduce you to the people behind the products and boats. When you attend the fall shows, you might even now put a face to a name. This is certainly not an all-encompassing directory of these areas, but it does represent the highlights of a week on the road.

Myabca USA

My first stop was in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, home of Hinckley Yachts, Little Harbour, Portsmouth Marine, PAE's New England office and a number of other marine businesses. It is also where a new company is coming together after an interesting beginning. It is the story of a young couple with a plan, working against the odds.

Myabca USA is the name of the new company, which represents a line of double-ended, semidisplacement, fiberglass yachts inspired by the llaüts of Mallorca, in Spain's Balearic Islands. We did a story on the llaüt-inspired Menorquin yachts from neighboring Menorca (PMM, Dec. '02), which introduced the unusual hull shape to the American audience.

Myabca is an acronym for Mallorca Yachts And Boats Constructors, Associated. That is the name of the boatbuilder in Mallorca that is owned by Spaniard Manuel Gomez, a man who has long hoped to sell his shapely cruisers in North America. A frequent visitor to our country, he loved the idea of selling his beloved llaüts on these shores. And he is not alone. His daughter Vanessa also loves boating and has been going on boats since before she was born.

So Manuel Gomez was, naturally, thrilled when Vanessa fell in love with an American soldier, a Green Beret officer from Rhode Island. The two were married, and Jason Dean hoped that he and his new wife could set up distribution of the line of cruising boats in this country, establishing a dealer network to handle sales of the 34-, 40- and 45-foot yachts. A45-footer was delivered in early 2001, and plans were made to debut the boat at fall boat shows.

Unfortunately, life has its own agenda, and Jason was attending Special Forces training at Ft. Bragg when the events of 9/11 unfolded. All plans for bringing boats into this country evaporated for the newly married couple, as Jason was sent directly into harm's way, first to Kuwait, then to Kosovo. His deployments tested the couple's resolve, but when he returned last January, re-entering American life after three years of combat overseas, Jason and Vanessa took up the Myabca Yachts torch once again. The 2001 45-foot Myabca was now in need of some TLC to begin its show debut, and the couple arranged to add a new 34-footer to their inventory in Rhode Island as well.

And this is where I met the young couple, fueling the bigger boat, which was still masked in green tape while coats of varnish were applied to return the teak brightwork to yacht standards. The couple wanted to show me their newer, smaller boat, a real cutie moored nearby on the Sakonnet River.

The Myabca is a twin-engine boat, and cruising speeds are in the realm of 14/16 knots, depending on engines. Both Volvo and Yanmar diesels are available in the semi-custom yachts, with a long list of standard and optional layouts, features and accessories. A flybridge is optional.

The 34-foot Myabca is priced at $320,000 and represents a good value for a cozy cruising boat. The iroko-and-teak interior should work well for a couple looking to do some coastal cruising. Jason and Vanessa will refine the models as American interest grows, as the European layout and equipment can be changed to better fit the American cruising lifestyle. Boarding access, for example, is rarely done by way of a passerelle with a Med moor in this country, while it is SOP in Europe.

The Myabca line comes standard with bow thruster, in addition to the close-quarters control offered by twin engines. Teak decks are optional, as are many other features. For now, delivery of a new Myabca takes place in Portsmouth, although Jason is working to establish a dealer network in the coming months. And of course we discussed the wonderful idea of buying the boat, but taking delivery in Mallorca. A season or two of Mediterranean cruising would be nice before shipping the boat home. Jason and Vanessa are very open to accommodating such ideas, as Italy, Spain, France and Croatia represent some of the best cruising anywhere.

I wish Jason and Vanessa Dean good luck in making their dream come true, bringing traditional, llaüt-style cruising boats to the American market.


Not far from Portsmouth is the sleepy town of Middletown, Rhode Island, just north of Newport, once the home of the legendary America's Cup. Middletown has been home for Freedom Yachts for the past dozen years, and the semi-custom yard has built over 1,200 Freedom sailboats and Legacy cruisers.

I paid a visit to Roe O'Brien, VP of marketing and sales and one of the driving forces behind the popular and flexible Legacy line of sedan and express motorboats. Roe is an energetic woman often at the hub of the Legacy docks at boat shows, and she is very knowledgeable and passionate about the Freedom Yachts operation. The company is not a production builder, but a well established yard with a crew of 65 boatbuilders and a total staff of 90.

Almost all construction is done in house at the Middletown facility: hull lamination, carpentry, engine and machinery installations, even custom stainless steel work. Four company engineers help pull together the variations and changes to each boat, which is a custom project built for each owner. Roe told me Legacy owners don't follow a fixed profile, as the boats have proven popular across all powerboat markets, from go-fast express machines to capable cruising boats. And each one is tailored to fit the unique needs of its owners.

It is this diversity and flexibility that are the cornerstones of the Legacy business. In my mind, Freedom Yachts is the midpoint in the boatbuilding spectrum, between the small, personalized customyacht builder and the manufacturers who refer to their multimillion-dollar boat lines as "product." Roe was insistent that the company cares about close relationships between the boat buyer and the yard. And the company works hard to maintain that relationship, which explains why so many Freedom and Legacy owners are repeat customers.

Even with its custom work, the Legacy is a good value, as its smallest boat, the popular Legacy 28, is about $175,000, fully equipped and ready to rock. It is a good boat built right.

The builder offers several Legacy models, including the 28, 34, 40 and 52/54. But my visit was well timed, as Roe was excited to show me the new Legacy 42, a new model that the company feels is aimed squarely at the cruising under power market, the realm of PMM. As she walked me through the boat under construction, which will make its debut at Newport in September, I could see that the additional space really translates into suitable living space for cruising on a grander scale than is available on most fast motorboats.

As a custom yacht, the 42-footer is available in single or twin configuration, for cruising speeds from the midteens to over 30 knots, depending on one's agenda and time schedule. The new Legacy 42 will find a ready audience among those of us not yet retired, but still interested in a serious cruising machine built to our needs. Fully found, the 42 will cost between $680,000 and $750,000. And built just for you and yours.

As we walked through the yard floor, where 10 boats were under construction, I met several of the craftsmen who build boats year round at the facility. Roe introduced me to Herman Cordeiro, lead carpenter and 21-year veteran of the company. Cordeiro, like so many men who build boats in Rhode Island, is Portuguese, having come to America from the Azores years ago. And his enthusiasm, skill and experience are typical of the workforce I saw during my Rhode Island road trip.

Freedom Yachts builds about 30 yachts a year, and because of the company's attentiveness to its relationships with owners, it sells direct. There are no dealers. Knowing how the boat will be used-how many nights will be spent aboard, where the owners plan to go and for how long-ensures the boat really fits the needs of its owners. The customer base extends from Maine to Florida. And the connection is very real.

"All of our customers know my dogs' names," Roe told me. "And you can't get that relationship if there are middlemen in the customer-builder relationship."

It is these relationships that define what Legacy is all about: custom boats, custom service, custom customer care.

The Legacy 42 comes in many variations: flybridge or not, galley up or down, exterior brightwork or not, single or twin, fast or faster.

These are good folks who build a good boat. Visit them at the fall shows. And this is another good reason why West Coast readers should consider coming back east this fall for one of the shows.

Pearson Yachts

A few miles north of Newport, in the heart of Warren, Rhode Island, is the huge facility of TPI Composites, a 250,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that encompasses a wide range of products and applications. In addition to transportation, wind turbine and military divisions, the company has a marine division that is the home of Pearson Yachts, builders of the True North 33 and 38. Another effort in the marine division is J-Boats, well known racing and fast-cruising sailboats that define one-design racing.

The True North boat owners I know insist the boats are great cruisers because they embody the less-is-more philosophy. So I wanted to see it firsthand, and I hoped to catch busy Mark Pearson in his office. Mark is the son of founder Everett Pearson, a true pioneer in fiberglass boat building. Today, Mark runs the company, which builds 180/200 boats a year, with 12/25 of each model spread across that annual figure.

The marine division of TPI Composites builds production boats with some degree of customization, but its production process is tailored to building boats that are strong, lightweight and fast. Sail or power, these boats are strong through technology.

Patrick DeSocio, TPI project coordinator, gave me the initial tour (my first-ever tour of a boatyard where the guide wore Breton-red shorts and a Ralph Lauren button-down shirt!). I learned that about 220 people, again mostly Portuguese craftsmen with decades of experience, build the various boats, and there is tremendous emphasis on lean manufacturing techniques that maximize productivity and efficiency.

"A rookie around here has only about 10 years experience," Patrick laughed. "Most of the workers have 20/25 years with the company."

It takes 3 weeks to build a True North 38, using 55 molded parts that fit together like a puzzle. The J-boats are all production oriented, all made identical to each other. Walking around the floor and sectioned substations, I was surrounded by technology. In one room, a CNC cutter meticulously cut precise panels out of fiberglass cloth-thousands of pieces-each pre-engineered to minimize waste and to fit exactly together. They are stacked by part number on racks that will be used to stock the shelves near each boat in the line.

Hose and tubing are also pre-cut in bulk, as are wiring harnesses, so workers already have the right pieces they need to fit a hose without any measuring or cutting inside a boat. Every wiring harness is tagged and numbered so the electrical system comes together as a plug-and-play assembly.

The True North is not a cruiser meant to be lived on for months on end, but a fine cruiser for one- or two-week trips, and it is very easy to use. Owners love the simplicity of the True North concept.

Mark Pearson and his Labrador joined me as we walked by the assembly line, where each boat moves from station to station for specific construction and assembly activities. It was here that we found we needed to back up and return to the beginning, as the key to the success of the TPI operation is all about the advantageous fiberglass building process known as SCRIMP.

SCRIMP stands for Seemann Composite Resin Infusion Molding Process, an approach to fiberglass construction developed and patented by William Seemann in the early 1990s. The technology used in fiberglass boat construction before 1992 involved hand layup of fiberglass, with resin applied using rollers and squeegees. It is tedious work that creates serious emission levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC). At one time, the company was one of the state's worst polluters of VOC, and the EPA was looking very closely at the boatbuilder to reduce these health risks.

But SCRIMP removes the threat and makes for a decidedly clean boatbuilding environment, while also producing superior products. Precut, dry panels of fiberglass are laid in the mold, in as many layers and overlapping panels as necessary in the overall design. A polypropylene fabric is placed on top of the dry fiberglass, and then the area is covered by a vacuum bag. As air is drawn out of the bag, compressing the fiberglass into a tight fit, resin is slowly drawn into the bag using flow tubes, thoroughly saturating the fiberglass laminate. Resin replaces the air as it is removed, ensuring complete coverage, and no more.

The vacuum environment also traps the volatile emissions such as styrene, eliminating the pollutant from the workplace.

A traditional handlaid fiberglass part usually results in a 60-percent resin to 40-percent fiberglass proportion. SCRIMP allows much tighter control, and the resulting structure is 30 percent resin to 70 percent fiberglass. The fiberglass part is lighter and stronger, with no voids or rough edges. It is the pinnacle of fiberglass boat construction, and it allows the building of structures that simply were not possible before. The technique allows engineering to move to a higher level. TPI uses the SCRIMP technique to construct wind turbine blades and Humvee hoods for the military.

"We're working with engineered fabrics to build a better boat that will stand up for many years," Mark told me. And he should know what it takes to stay the course, as his father's first fiberglass sailboats, built from 1959/1968, were the Carl Alberg-designed 28- foot Pearson Triton. They are all still out there sailing.

Without question, SCRIMP has revolutionized fiberglass boat construction, and TPI Composites takes full advantage of its enormous utility to build boats that are light, strong and rugged.

Mark pointed out several other areas where SCRIMP streamlines construction, such as adding blocks of Extreme 2000 in the initial layup. These plastic- and fiberglassreinforced plates mean hardware can be bolted directly through the fiberglass into these plates, eliminating the time-consuming need to fashion metal backing plates and fit them later in the process. It is leaner manufacturing at its most productive.

TPI Composites has a great future, and its marine division is healthy. Recent government contracts help ensure this technology will not stand still.

The enthusiasm and vision of Mark Pearson, coupled with the skill and experience of the TPI seating for inland waterways and a low-maintenance exterior with minimal brightwork.

Peter has remained integral to the boat's evolution, and Hull No. 7 has some additional features not found on earlier boats. The boats are built with either twin 440hp Yanmar diesels or a single 500hp Yanmar. Single-engine boats come standard with bow and stern thrusters.

As there are few 45-foot pilothouse trawler yachts out there that cruise at 12 knots, the Symbol should find a willing audience. And it is less than $600,000 for a complete boat ready to go cruising.

Peter knows most women want to cruise in slippers, preferring comfort and carefree cruising over extreme adventures. But the Symbol fits both roles, as it is both luxurious and capable, with fiberglass fuel tanks, bilge keels, and high-quality hardware and equipment.

Trevor Kurzbach, who handles most of the commissioning of these boats, and Peter spend enough time on each new Symbol to continue the refinement process. Peter hopes to introduce a 50-foot model with a Portuguese bridge and other features of a larger cruising yacht.

Hope to spend time aboard the new Symbol 45 soon and do a proper boat tour! See it at the fall shows.

Soft Shoe To Essex

It was time to head south on my way home to Annapolis. But first, I wanted to drop in on the annual Nordic Tugs Rendezvous, hosted by Wilde Yacht Sales in Essex, Connecticut. The drive to Essex was a lazy morning affair from my previous night's stay in historic Mystic, Connecticut, home of museums and old ships, and a great cruising destination. I love this area: full of history, great seafood...and boats.

Arriving in Essex ahead of schedule, I stopped by Maritime Trading Company to visit Alex Foster, the guy who saved my feet last year at the Newport Boat Show. Alex imports Dubarry boat shoes from Ireland, and the shoes have been on my feet all year as I have traveled around the globe chasing stories. Unfortunately, I stepped on a piece of uncured resin at the Pearson facility and was having trouble getting the sole clean of the sticky mess under my right foot. Perhaps it was time to get a new pair of shoes from Alex!

My luck held out, as Alex was in his office, the calm before the storm of boat-show season in the United States. Boxes and boxes of shoes line the shelves of the loading area, surrounding the staff, accompanied by the other products imported by Maritime Trading Company. These include Oceanair blinds and Spinlock marine products. Alex showed me the new flush-mounted Oceanair blinds he'll be showing off at the shows. I've had experience with Oceanair blinds on several boats, and they work great.

Alex was most accommodating, and soon I had a new pair of Dubarry traditional deck shoes, made with very soft leather that look to minimize break-in time. Excellent.

See you at the shows, Alex!

Bell Power

Literally only a couple of buildings away from Maritime Trading Company is Bell Power Systems, the eastern distributor for John Deere engines, generators and parts. It was Bell Power that shipped the 8.1-liter Deere engine for Growler, and I couldn't believe I accidentally stumbled onto the company's headquarters. Bell Power services customers and example of early America. Long a center for maritime industry, Essex today is a beautiful and classy place to begin a rendezvous, which is precisely what Nordic Tugs had in mind.

I saw 25 boats, as well as theWashington builder, at this year's event, which was sponsored by Wilde Yacht Sales, the local Nordic Tugs dealer. Nordic Tugs' founder, Jerry Husted, was on hand, as was Nordic's Tracy Prescott, who came from the Burlington, Washington, yard to attend this year's rendezvous. Bill Boyer and Ben Wilde of the dealership did a great job keeping things on schedule and focused on a worthwhile and fun rendezvous. And Essex was the perfect location for it, as the anchorage is full of beautiful and traditional sailing yachts and Downeast cruisers.

After a kickoff of seminars and dinner at the nearby Essex Yacht Club, the tug owners would head off for a raft-up in Hamburg Cove, then cruise downriver to Long Island Sound. It is the kind of carefree cruising we all dream of, in the company of like-minded boat owners.

During the EYC dinner, I was reminded how much the social aspects of our lifestyle make for long-term memories. In many ways, the boats are secondary to the relationships we form as boat owners. And that is the charm of this lifestyle.

After a restful sleep at the Griswold Inn, it was time for me to drive back down to Annapolis, following the Long Island shoreline as I threaded the New York City route that leads south.

I had completed a week on the road, visiting some of the many people who have an impact on our cruising community, and whom we should thank for making a difference. And I look forward to doing this again, in another direction perhaps, where there are more faces to meet and personalities to enjoy.

It's a wonderful life.