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A new builder, a new boat

In 2005 a trio of former Sea Ray executives decided to strike out on their own and start a boatbuilding company. Two years later, Savannah Yachts has introduced a 54-foot express cruiser, with more high-end models on the way.

In 2005 a trio of former Sea Ray executives decided to strike out on their own and start a boatbuilding company. Two years later, Savannah Yachts has introduced a 54-foot express cruiser, with more high-end models on the way.

“We just felt that we — myself and my partners — we had a vision about the kind of product that we wanted to offer that wasn’t on the market,” says Bill Barrington, CEO of Savannah Yachts of Rincon, Ga.

They explored a number of alternatives before deciding to build their own boat, including buying or building for an existing brand. Talk of founding a boatbuilding company started innocently enough, when Barrington, Gary Stoecker and Scott Noble were having a relaxed chat by the pool at one of their homes.

“Somehow we got on the discussion of, ‘Instead of buying another company what if we start a new one?’ ” says Barrington.

With roots in Knoxville, Tenn. — home of Sea Ray — Barrington and his partners assembled a group of investors from that area. The group comprises eight southeast Tennessee businessmen who are in it for the long haul, says Barrington. “We raised all the capital ourselves,” he says. “I didn’t go outside with any third-party equity groups or investment bankers.”

While Barrington serves as CEO, Stoecker takes the position of vice president of operations, and Noble is vice president of sales and marketing. The partners learned of the Rincon facility, owned by the Effingham County Industrial Development Authority, while researching a potential deal to build boats for an international builder. “We were off and running,” says Barrington. “We had some ideas of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to offer.”

After selecting designer Luiz DeBasto, plans were drawn for the first boat, the Savannah 54. Savannah Yachts then modified its new boatbuilding facility and had a Brazilian contractor build the tooling for the 54. “It all came together around the beginning of 2006,” says Barrington, “and that’s when things really started rolling for us.”

The prototype has been launched and made its introduction at the Miami International Boat Show in February. Barrington says the second 54 was to be completed at the end of May.

Although built in Georgia, the Savannah 54 has markedly European topside styling. It owes much of that to the design of its enclosed pilothouse. The swept-back windshield and power moonroof, which comprises the hardtop, meet and create an arc, and there are two curved windows on both sides of the pilothouse. In addition, there’s a movable glass partition aft, and the boat has a 72,000-BTU chilled-water air conditioning system.

Like most express cruisers, the Savannah 54 is laid out for entertaining, though it’s equipped for long-term cruising, too. It has a large swim platform and plenty of cockpit seating; an L-shaped settee, swiveling helm and companion seats, and a flat-screen television in the pilothouse; a curved settee with table to starboard and galley to port in the lower saloon, which is open to the pilothouse; and two staterooms and two heads.

“More than anything, it’s really designed to maximize the space and openness of the yacht, to spend time with friends and family,” says Barrington. “The crux of what we’re offering the customer is, in fact, this open interior design, which we call the Atrium. [It’s] essentially two decks — upper deck and lower deck — that are joined by free space.” Full-length windows molded into the hull sides let more light into the lower saloon area, and a 16-foot, 6-inch beam adds to the roominess.

Barrington says many prospective customers are planning to downsize from 80- or 90-foot megayachts, and the Savannah 54’s construction and on-board equipment, by design, borrows from those big yachts. From the heating and air conditioning system and electric marine heads to robust running gear, including 3-inch shafts, Barrington says the boat has a lot of equipment you’d find on a megayacht. For example, the galley comes equipped with full-size appliances, such as a Sub-Zero refrigerator/freezer, oven, four-burner stove, dishwasher and trash compactor.

Hull construction includes a hand-laid bottom and foam-cored hull sides, with molded fiberglass stringers. Vinylester resin is used in construction of the hull and deck, and the boat has honeycomb floorboards and cored bulkheads.

The philosophy behind it all is pretty simple. “You’re spending a lot of money … you should get the best,” says Barrington.

Plans for a second, slightly smaller model are being drawn up.


LOA: 54 feet

BEAM: 16 feet, 6 inches

DRAFT: 2 feet, 8 inches

DISPLACEMENT: 44,000 pounds

HULL TYPE: planing

TRANSOM DEADRISE: 14.5 degrees

TANKAGE: 825 gallons fuel, 200 gallons water, 75 gallons waste

POWER: twin diesels

SPEED: 38 mph top, 35 mph cruise (with twin 80-hp MANs)

PRICE: $1.4 million to $1.5 million

CONTACT: Savannah Yachts, Rincon, Ga.

Phone: (877) 748-0333.