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Labor intensive and proud of it

There was a time when boats were built by hand — lots of hands. Hands and eyes — by line-of-sight, by touch and by feel, by the rule-of-thumb, or “that’s just how it’s done.”

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So it was in 1946 at Ventnor Boat Corp., of Atlantic City, N.J. Founded in 1902 as a small builder of very fast boats, Ventnor went on to compile an enviable string of success in both Gold Cup powerboat racing — the standard for U.S. competition in pre-World War II days — and in international regattas. In fact, the brochure from which this page was taken points out that British racer Sir Malcolm Campbell had set his latest world record for speed over the water in a Ventnor-designed hull.

During the war, Ventnor had shifted to military production, greatly increasing its work force and production capability. A small speedboat builder no more, Ventnor, now with hundreds of employees, was turning out 83- and 104-foot aircraft crash boats and a 110-foot submarine chaser. The company came out of the war with a big factory, lots of workers and new technology, billing itself as “one of the first American boatbuilders to accept and use the advantages of plywood construction” using “waterproof resins.”

To retain its work force, Ventnor went for the recreational market, building a series of pleasure boats led by a 19-foot twin-cockpit runabout with a distinctive “dorsal fin” that won boat-of-the-year accolades from a leading national boating publication. It even built the Comet sailboat and the “sturdy little” Ventnor Moth, bred for Atlantic City inlets.

There was no outsourcing in those days and little mechanization in boatbuilding — no rotomolding, thermaforming, chopper guns, etc. Ventnor took great pride in the way its boats were built and who built them. The company touts its builders throughout the brochure as “highly skilled” and with “traditions of expert craftsmanship” following “rigid rules of construction … passed down from generation to generation” resulting in a “ruggedness … in all Ventnor boats that is bred from builders who live by the sea.”

They were glad to have ’em.

This story originally appeared in the February 2009 issue.