Boat Designer: the reward is in the ride
By Chris Landry / Senior Reporter
It was Intrepid’s first defense of the America’s Cup. Lou Codega was 12 years old, and he and his father had taken the 40-minute drive from his hometown of Barrington, R.I., to Newport to see some of the great 12 Meters.
Salary range: starting $45,000 to $55,000, mid $60,000 to $70,000, top $80,000-plus
“Intrepid was on a marine railway,” says Codega, now 52. “I still have a Kodak picture of her. They were all such beautiful things.”
That trip to Newport inspired Codega to design boats. However, it was — and remains — tough to earn a living designing sailboats because of the market’s small size. So Codega focused on powerboats, and for 20 years he has been churning out proven designs for the likes of Regulator, Carolina Classic, Hines-Farley and Mirage Manufacturing (Great Harbour trawlers).
“Lou understands the ride of a deep-vee hull,” says Joan Maxwell, co-owner and president of Regulator Marine, in Edenton, N.C. “Our boats and their ride are really all about Lou’s bottom. He designed the 26, and that boat set the standard for us.”
Codega designed that smooth-running Regulator Classic 26 center console in 1988. Just this year, he completed the drawings for the Regulator 34, due out in a few months. The Maxwells took a chance on the young designer in the late 1980s in part because they knew he was well-educated, with an undergraduate degree from the Webb Institute in Glen Cove, N.Y., and a master’s in naval architecture and marine engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Codega says he was a somewhat lazy high school student, “bright but not a particularly hard worker,” he says. That all changed at Webb. “It was extremely difficult. I had to really work to keep my head above water.”
You don’t need an engineering degree to become a boat designer, according to Dave Gerr, director of the Westlawn Institute of Marine Technology, in Mystic, Conn. In fact, you don’t need a degree of any sort. But if you want to formally learn how to design boats, the institute offers a four-year, 3,300-hour distance learning program ($2,575 annual tuition).
Codega has been on his own since 1993, after working with colleague and mentor Donald Blount. Codega was the only “associate” in Donald L. Blount and Associates in 1991, when Blount founded the company. Together, they designed the 220-foot Destriero, which went on to set the trans-Atlantic speed record (48 hours, 34 minutes at an average speed of 50 mph).
“Don took me under his wing and showed me the correct papers to read and the right people to talk to,” says Codega, who lives on a Chesapeake Bay tributary in Smithfield, Va.
The best part about being a designer is taking the first ride on a boat you’ve just created, says Codega. “You go from a blank computer screen to sitting on a boat 12 months later,” he says. “I remember every one of them.” And Codega has designed about 35 different boats.
While certainly rewarding, designing boats has its challenges. Educating builders about the trade-offs of boat design is one of them. “You can’t have everything in one boat,” says Codega. “If you push a boat too far in one direction, it hurts it in another area. I try to give them enough education in naval architecture so they can understand the pros and cons of certain decisions.”
He says running his own business also has its ups and downs. “Sometimes builders are beating down my door for my services, and other times I have too much time on my hands,” says Codega, who also is the sailing coach at the local high school. His two children — James, 16, and Linda, 17 — are the stars of the team.
Designing powerboats and teaching sailing — not a bad life.