BUILDER: Hunter Marine, Alachua, Fla. Phone: (386) 462-3077. www.huntermarine.com
LINE: daysailers from 15 to 21 feet and cruising sailboats from 25 to 49 feet (The Florida facility builds 400 to 500 cruising boats a year, ranging from $27,000 to $450,000.)
OWNER: Luhrs Marine Group/John and Warren Luhrs, who started the business in 1972
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 300
BEST KNOWN FOR: production sailboats that feature a trademark stainless-steel arch that helps keep the cockpit uncluttered and serves as an attachment point for the Bimini and B&R (Bergstrom & Ridder) rigs, with large mainsails and small jibs for simple short-handed sailing
WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT BUILDING BOATS IN FLORIDA: “Lots of water, friendly climate, qualified labor, and very good infrastructure around Alachua, with desirable schools, [relatively] affordable housing and fast access to interstate freeways,” says general manager Mike Williams.
THE FLIP SIDE: “The advantages we enjoy might not be there for others, especially smaller builders in the metro areas, who are under pressure by rising real estate costs and a shortage of qualified labor.”
In every business, someone has to be the biggest, and Hunter Marine is generally considered the biggest builder of recreational sailboats in North America. It operates other manufacturing facilities outside Florida, including one in East Lyme, Conn., which builds the smaller trailerable boats, and another in the United Kingdom, which builds cruising boats for the European market. Yet even the biggest companies often start small.
“I worked construction before I started as a laminator,” recalls general manager Mike Williams. “I built a fiberglass room for the Hunter factory back in the 1970s but was more interested in boatbuilding. So I asked the lamination manager, and he hired me — that’s how I got started at Hunter.” Williams notes that, like him, many of today’s managers worked their way up through the company.
Looking at Hunter’s more recent designs, it is obvious that simple operation, ease of maintenance, and a high level of passenger comfort are important considerations for chief designer Glenn Henderson. Clean and uncluttered decks, mainsail-driven B&R rigs, the customary stainless-steel arch across the cockpit, rail seats, and cockpit surfaces covered with Flexiteek catch the eye at the dock. But once out on the water, the boats often surprise with their agility, derived from Henderson’s ability to combine comfort with efficient and slippery hulls.
Being a large company has other advantages, like purchasing power for materials and components and efficient manufacturing and assembly lines for building the interior outside the boat, which further reduces labor costs. The company stands behind its products and offers a transferable five-year warranty on hull structure and blisters that covers the true cost of repairs. It also offers extended warranty coverage on refrigeration, electronics, air conditioning and key engine components.
Williams isn’t sure that Hunter’s Florida location has had a lot of influence on its designs. “We are not building classic-looking boats, like several New England yards,” he says. “I think the trends in the recreational sailboat market are more important to how we design and build our products.”