Breaking out of their custom-sail mold

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Maine builder’s design studio changes names and goes independent to extend reach to production boats

The middle of a deep recession hardly seems the ideal time to target production boatbuilders as a potential new market for a yacht design business.

Designers Steve White, Paul Waring and Robert Stephens (left to right) will bring their Maine pedigree to designs of production builders as well as custom builders.

But a studio in Maine, known for its custom, traditionally styled sailboats, is doing just that — and is meeting with some success.

Last fall the key players behind Brooklin Boat Yard Design Associates, a division of Brooklin Boat Yard, changed the studio name to Stephens, Waring & White Yacht Design. The division will retain its offices at Brooklin Boat Yard in Brooklin, Maine, with Bob Stephens and Paul Waring as the lead designers. Steve White, president of Brooklin Boat Yard, will direct the marketing effort to expand the scope of the studio’s work to builders of production boats — power and sail — in addition to custom projects.

“The division has been reorganized to function more independently from the yard,” Stephens says. “We will continue to provide construction work support for the yard, but we will also have autonomy to work with other clients and builders. The name change is intended to make this relationship more evident.”

A sailboat for Rivolta

As the name change and expanded focus were being discussed, Rivolta Yachts — the Sarasota, Fla.-based production builder with a focus on fast, stylish power boats — approached Stephens and Waring to design a traditionally styled 43-foot sailboat. The boat is a departure from Rivolta’s typical product, Stephens acknowledges, and the design is specifically targeted to appeal to the New England market, a niche the Maine designers know well. They have earned a reputation for quality custom sailboats, graced with elegance and tradition.

“The company’s interest was purely coincidental and perfectly timed,” Stephens says. “They began talking with us a couple of weeks after we began talking seriously about this new arrangement, and the interest confirmed that we were heading in the right direction.”

The Rivolta 43 is a light-duty cruising boat designed for single-handed sailing. All sail-handling functions are push-button with electric winches and furlers providing the muscle. The boat displaces slightly more than 16,000 pounds, and it has a hydraulically operated lifting keel that extends the draft from 3 feet, 5 inches in the up position to 6 feet when fully deployed. A 75-hp Yanmar 4JH3TCE diesel powers a saildrive.

The sloop carries 927 square feet of sail, and features a square-top mainsail that allows for more sail area than a traditional Marconi rig. The squared-off top of the mainsail is held up by a diagonal batten positioned a couple feet down the luff to the corner. “The performance gains are one reason we chose a square-top mainsail,” Stephens says.

Even with all the bells and whistles, the boat is designed for “an audience that likes some traditional styling,” a key component in Rivolta’s plan to target the New England market, says Waring. The project with Rivolta began late last summer and tooling at the factory was expected to begin by early January. Waring says it probably will be late 2009 before Rivolta has a completed boat to show.

‘Elegant simplicity’

The roots of Stephens, Waring & White Yacht Design date to 1960 when Joel White founded Brooklin Boat Yard. The operation gradually expanded to 10 or 12 employees by the mid-1980s, and included yacht-design services. Joel White, who died in 1997, was the lead designer for custom cruising and racing yachts, and large daysailers with classic sheerlines and long overhangs.

The philosophy behind White’s designs was “elegant simplicity” and classic styling, Stephens says, adding that the studio still adheres to White’s vision while integrating modern materials construction, such as cold-molded wood builds, as opposed to traditional planking. “Our designs have been largely shaped by Joel’s original philosophy of elegant simplicity, but we live in a different world now, and we’re striving to integrate modern amenities and equipment into that philosophy,” Stephens says.

The Morris 36, the Friendship 40 and the Hinckley DS42 are all examples of large daysailers blending the traditional with the modern, essentially carrying White’s philosophy over into production boatbuilding. “We feel that these boats have been inspired by the work we did in the 1990s on a custom basis, and that it has contributed to the rise of classically inspired large daysailers in the production market,” Stephens says. He points to the studio’s Center Harbor 31 and the 47-foot daysailer Lena as examples of designs originated at Brooklin Boat Yard that predate similar production boats.  

Stephens, 46, worked under Joel White as a junior designer. He went from boatbuilding and project management to full-time yacht design at the yard in 1995.

Waring, 38, also comes from a boatbuilding background. He attended The Landing School in Arundel, Maine, in 1994 to study boatbuilding and yacht design. He began working at Brooklin Boat Yard in 1996.

Steve White, 55, worked with his father, Joel White, at the yard as a teenager and went full time in the early 1980s. He took over the management of the yard in 1986, leaving Joel White free to focus on yacht design.

Stephens and Waring acknowledge that the current expansion will be challenging in today’s climate, but they say the economic storm clouds may have a silver lining.

“We feel it may be a good time for a production boatbuilding company to start up with a new product,” Waring says. “The economy being as slow as it is may allow for time at the factory to work on tooling and building molds for a new product while keeping the labor force busy. The downside is that money may be tight for funding this kind of work.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue.