BUILDER: Mirage Manufacturing, Gainesville, Fla. Phone: (352) 377-4146.
LINE: four versions of 37- and 47-foot displacement pilothouse trawlers ranging from around $380,000 to more than $1 million (depending on options)
PRESIDENT: Ken Fickett, who has been with the company since it started building sailboats in 1971
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 80
BEST KNOWN FOR: stable, unsinkable hulls, twin screws, shallow draft and an outspoken company president
WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT BUILDING BOATS IN FLORIDA: “There are miles and miles of coastline within easy driving distance from the yard. The weather is a factor for continuous and cost-efficient building of fiberglass boats. The state government is still sympathetic to the boatbuilding industry, and from the perspective of regulatory requirements, Florida is still a good place to build boats.”
THE FLIP SIDE: “Low unemployment in the state and the demographic trend toward a population of retirees pose a challenge to recruiting new workers.”
Ken Fickett calls himself an old-fashioned homeboy because he was born and raised in Florida. He has no intention of saddling his horse and moving to where the pastures appear to be greener. He is as outspoken as the marketing campaign that hammers home his trawler philosophy by explaining why certain things on a trawler should be considered unacceptable: Single screw? Unacceptable. Deep draft? Crazy. Ballasted sailboat-like hulls that can sink? Get out.
“The U.S. Navy has no single-screw ships. What’s good enough for them is good enough for my customers,” Fickett says.
He likes the redundancy that can get you home if one engine calls it quits, the shallow draft, and being able to spin around on a dime in tight quarters. “It’s a fairy tale to say that running gear on twin-engine trawlers isn’t protected,” he says. “Look under our boats and notice the skegs forward of the props. Shallow draft, by the way, is not just a convenience on the silting stretches of the ICW but also a safety feature. It allows our owners to sneak into protected coves in the islands when the weather gets nasty.”
Fickett estimates that around 80 percent of Mirage customers are baby boomers who want to move on to a trawler so they can enjoy the cruising lifestyle in their retirement, and watch others grunt and grind on sailboats. “We have evolved with our customers’ tastes,” Fickett says. “First we built racing sailboats, then sportfishing boats, and now we are doubling building capacity to meet demand for our trawlers.” Fickett plans to roll out 12 boats in 2007, including the new Great Harbour N47 Deckhouse.
How has he managed to stay afloat for three decades? “Simply by being a flexible niche player,” he says. “We can make performance aircraft; we can build center console fishing boats; and we are working on a 21-foot yacht tender right now. And we take care of people who migrate from sailing to trawlers, which is about half of our clientele.”
To make that transition easier, Mirage offers CruisePro training programs that teach handling and maintenance of a Mirage trawler. If he had to, would Fickett start all over again right here in Gainesville? That’s not a question to ask a Florida homeboy.