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Talkin' boats - with Constantinos K. Constantinou CEO of Greenline North America

When Constantinos K. Constantinou was a young teenager, most of his friends were saving to buy motor scooters, but he was saving money for a boat.

Constantinos K. Constantinou

“I was born on an island and have been a boater all my life,” says Constantinou, 51, a native of Cyprus who came to the United States in 1995 to work for Sea Ray. “I have the water gene.”

For 10 years, Constantinou helped push the Sea Ray brand into international markets as a senior executive. Now CEO of Greenline North America, he is establishing Slovenia-based Greenline Yachts — high-tech trawlers from 33 to 48 feet with hybrid diesel-electric propulsion — in the United States and Canada.

Constantinou has built a dealer network of nine in North America as the Greenline fleet has expanded. The company builds a 40 and a 33, and a 48 makes its U.S. debut this summer. (The 40 won the Green Award in the 2012 Active Interest Media Marine Group Editor’s Choice Awards.)

Constantinou has a son, Valentino, 22, and a daughter, Alexandra, 21. He and his wife, Morena, live in Knoxville, Tenn.

Q: How would you describe the Greenline brand?

A: It is a new way of boating — a more relaxed, more pleasant and environmentally friendlier way of boating. What we have done with Greenline is introduce a new genre of boat. We are neither a planing nor a displacement hull. We can do both equally well — something we call a super-displacement hull. In addition to a good hull, you need a nicely designed boat in terms of its layout. So we are looking at a smart, functional layout. We believe in open spaces and a lot of natural light. We like to blend the interior and exterior of the boat — and even with nature, the water. From the saloon, you can see the transom doors. We merge the interior space with the cockpit to create an inviting and open arrangement. All of that blends with our new technology that allows you to travel in silence with the electric motors without emitting fumes.

Q: Efficiency is a consideration with many boat buyers today. How do Greenline models measure up?

A: To get good range under electric power, our naval architects had to come up with an efficient and slippery hull form. That design pays dividends when running the boat under diesel power. The boats are economical and burn little fuel, but, of course, the owner can buy the hybrid version. It can be a diesel boat or diesel-electric hybrid. If someone goes for the latter, the transition between diesel and hybrid is as simple as flipping a switch at the helm.

Q: How far can the boat travel under electric power alone?

A: Plus or minus 20 nautical miles, depending on conditions. And if the owner wants to go faster, just switch over to diesel and pick up some speed. When the boat is running on diesel power it is recharging the batteries, which takes about three hours.

Q: What can you tell us about the new Greenline 48 you introduced recently in Europe?

The Greenline 48 makes its U.S. debut this summer.

A: It’s a brand-new model for us. It’s a three-stateroom, three-head configuration, and we use the same kind of open spaces. It’s a flybridge boat. The first 48 will be arriving in the U.S. at the end of July. It was received at the Düsseldorf Boat Show with incredible enthusiasm. We already have 10 orders. It has surpassed our expectations. The 48 has a similar range of 20 nautical miles [under electric power], which is the case for all our boats, and the speed under electric power is about 6 or 7 knots.

Q: You must be eager to get this boat to the United States.

A: We would love to get the boat here now. We have been asked often for a boat like this by buyers with larger families looking for more space, staterooms, heads and showers. And now we have the answer for them.

Q: What are the propulsion options?

A: The twin electric motors produce 14 kW of power each. As a reference point, the 33 and 40 are equipped with 7-kW electric motors. So we are talking about twice the electric power. The boat has four different power configurations; three of them are Volvo Penta: the D3 in 110, and 220 hp; and the D4 at 300 hp. The fourth is the Cummins 6.7-liter at 380 hp. The hybrid is offered in combination with both Volvo D3s. These same electric motors turn into generators when the boat is running on diesel, and they charge the batteries at the rate of 10 kW per hour each.

Q: What is the-best selling model?

A: The 33. We’ve sold 338 33s — 16 in North America.

Q: What percentage of the buyers opt for hybrid power?

A: Initially about 65 percent worldwide. Now almost 80 percent worldwide are going with the hybrid, but that ratio is even higher among our U.S. buyers. In the last 12 months, all boats arriving in North America with the exception of one boat have been hybrid. We expect soon to be selling close to 100 percent hybrid.

Q: What do people like most about the Greenline yachts?

A: I think the hybrid technology is a big draw, but when people come on board, they find out how appealing the boats are irrespective of the propulsion system, which is exactly where we want to be. At the end of the day, you are not buying a boat because it runs on electric; you are buying the boat to spend time on the water, so you want a nicely designed, comfortable boat. We get a high “feel good” rating from our customers, which is difficult to quantify, but the natural light, the big windows, the open layout, the color and the decor — they all contribute to the “feel good” factor. We are clearly not relying solely on the hybrid technology to sell boats.

Q: How important is innovation for boaters today?

A: We have the more traditional boater who prefers to stick with what is known, but I would say the majority do want innovation and at multiple levels. And they want solutions on board. What are they willing to pay? We are not demanding the premium dollar you would think for high-tech. Boaters want technology but are unwilling to pay a huge premium for it. They are used to high-tech in their daily life and expect a lot of the things on their boat that they have around their house and office.

Q: That must be a tough task for designers and builders.

Volkswagen Marine partnered with Greenline to produce a hybrid diesel-electric system that operates in conjunction with solar power.

A: It is a challenge. I give a lot of kudos to our designers. The auto industry is not always a good parallel, but I will pull in for comparison the Tesla S — the four-door S with electric power. Tesla, a low-volume manufacturer, has managed to build a car at a competitive price for the premium buyers. But it is not overpriced. Compare it to a Mercedes or BMW in the same class, and you are not paying a huge premium. It’s not out of reach. And this typifies what boaters want: They want to see high-tech and environmentally friendly, priced right.

Q: How much do Greenline yachts cost?

A: With a single 150-hp Volkswagen diesel and 7-kW electric motor/generator, the 33 Hybrid costs about $318,000. The 40 Hybrid, with twin 150-hp Volkswagen diesels and electric motors/generators, is $563,000. The 48 Hybrid is $860,200 with Volvo Penta D3 220-hp engines.

Q: Is environmentally friendly technology gaining traction among boaters?

A: There are going to be boats out there with other features that will be more important, but the environmental aspect is not only there — it will be a growing factor with people’s involvement in boating. There is no question about that. I don’t see many 20-something-year-olds buying a Greenline, so what are they going to buy? A runabout, a center console, a smaller boat. So I expect to see electric technology in the runabout segment. In fact, Nautique has been developing that technology. The problem with most of the smaller boats is affordability. If it is high-tech, the price needs to be reasonable.

Q: When did you come to the United States, and how did you end up working for Sea Ray?

A: I arrived in the United States in 1995. I was a Sea Ray and Azimut dealer for Cyprus, Greece and Lebanon. I had a close relationship with Sea Ray. I started with Sea Ray in 1995. I intended to spend a couple of years in the U.S. but ended up staying. I started at the company as vice president of international sales and left as senior vice president of international operations and strategic planning. With my great team, we developed a sales network outside the U.S.

Q: How did you become a boater?

Constantinou's son, Valentino, and daughter, Alexandra, take the family project boat, a Seaswirl P14, for a spin.

A: When I was growing up, pleasure boating was in its infancy in my country. I got my first boat when I was 14. Back then, there were very few people who had boats. It was a brand out of the U.K. called Fletcher, a small runabout with a 40-hp pull-start Mercury. It was 14 feet. I had it for a number of years and was tinkering with the boat and changed the seating and modified the electrical system and added stuff. Eventually I swapped the engine for a 50-hp Mercury with electric start and trim. I moved to a Correct Craft and was a passionate skier, and I went on to found the water ski federation of my country. To saltwater ski, you have to find sheltered coves, and setting up a slalom ski course in the ocean is a chore. You have to go really early or later in the day. I convinced the government of my country to set up a slalom course on a dam. Eventually we managed to do that, and there is now a water ski training center on one of the dams.

Q: Which boat that you’ve owned is your favorite?

A: The first boat is like your first love — there are always fond memories — but I have to say the Correct Craft was my favorite. It was a V-8 big block and 24 feet.

Q: Do you have a boat now?

A: My boat is the 300th hull of the Greenline 33. When we reached hull No. 300, Greenline introduced a commemorative package. It is a fairly unique package.

Q: What are your hobbies? What do you do to relax?

A: I like to ride a bicycle and work on projects, and I love getting my hands dirty. I work a lot in the garage fixing cars and boats. I like working with wood. My son and I bought an old [Seaswirl] P14. It looks like an old Chris-Craft, but it’s a fiberglass boat, a 1957. My son saw it at the side of the road in a sad state. It was just a hull and deck and nothing more. We stripped it down — it has been a great father-and-son project. We built an electrical harness from scratch, started putting together the gauges. We installed a fuel tank and found an old Mariner outboard for it. We also worked on the upholstery. We are going to work on the cosmetics of the hull next.

June 2014 issue