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Talkin' Boats with Dirk Boehmer - Vicem Yachts

Dirk Boehmer is president of Vicem Yachts’ U.S. operations. The Turkish company builds yachts to 151 feet, and classic, graceful Down East-style boats with impeccable interior woodwork comprise the Vintage fleet. The 52-footer is the smallest model in the Vintage line, but there are plans for 33- and 45-foot boats in the new Vanguard line.

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Although Boehmer, 40, leads a company that builds large high-end yachts (, on weekends he retreats to his 13-foot 1971 Boston Whaler, often using it to fish with his 5-year-old daughter, Ella. The boating bug bit Boehmer during his youth messing about on a 14-foot runabout on Lake Wallenpaupack in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania. He joined the Coast Guard out of high school, serving two years, and broke into the marine industry with Sea Ray as international sales manager. He went on to hold positions at Walker Bay Boats and Bertram Yacht before joining Vicem in 2009.
Despite his busy career, Boehmer has found time to earn a Coast Guard captain’s license, and he spent several months as a charter captain on a 52-foot Irwin in Miami. Here Boehmer talks about the cold-molded construction of Vicem’s Vintage line, the public’s desire for smaller boats, memorable on-the-water experiences and boats that make his head turn. He and his wife, Bobbi, and their daughter live in Englewood, Fla.

Q: Why does Vicem, a Turkish company, build Down East-style boats?

A: Down East boats have a style that lends itself very well to the way we build boats, using the cold-molded method. They are not fiberglass in the traditional sense. Most boats today have foam cores with fiberglass on both sides. We build boats with four different layers of mahogany completely encased in epoxy with fiberglass all the way around. Rather than a core of foam, we have a core of mahogany. It is a way to build boats that is extremely labor-intensive, but we feel it allows us to have a better product, and it gives us flexibility if the customer wants to customize their boat.

Q: Describe the type of boater who might buy a Vicem.

A: We attract experienced boaters, and when they buy a Vicem it is usually not their first, fifth or even 10th yacht. We attract sailors as they get older and don’t want to be hoisting sails and having the boat heeled over as much as they used to. They are looking for a powerboat that has a sailboat feel. Also, they are not looking per se for the latest thing but a design that is here to stay. The Down East style of boats is a timeless design that doesn’t change over the years very much. We attract the more traditional yachtsman clientele. Customers tend to be extremely knowledgeable about boating and how to use their boats.

Q: Vicems are good-looking, but they’re also said to be rugged and seaworthy. What makes them good offshore boats?

A: It all goes back to the cold-molded construction. It enables the boats to handle rough seas very well. The mahogany absorbs impact of waves and the sound. It delivers a quieter ride than fiberglass boats. At boat shows I always have video next to me on my computer showing what our boats can do in big water. There is a great video on YouTube of a 72 Vicem Flybridge running down from Annapolis to Fort Lauderdale in 8-foot waves and going 22 knots and not missing a beat.

Q: What are some other advantages of cold-molded construction?

Vicem's Vintage line starts at 52 feet, but the cold-molding process allows the company to build custom yachts in the 30-foot range.

A: If someone came to me and said, “I want a 32 Vintage,” we can do it. That is one of the great things about the cold-molded method. You don’t have pre-existing molds to deal with. You can start with a blank sheet of paper and make it happen. We have built about 10 yachts under 52 feet. The challenge because of the way the boats are built is competing from a price standpoint. There is going to be a sizable price difference between a cold-molded 40-footer and a fiberglass 40-footer due to the construction techniques and materials. So it does get more difficult to compete. But we’ll build it. We have built smaller boats in the past — a 34 and a 44.

Q: In what areas does the company shine?

A: Our boats have a certain “wow” factor. Our craftsmanship, and the woodworking team we have in Turkey does an outstanding job of making two pieces of wood look like one. We do that better than anyone. That is definitely our forte — superior wood craftsmanship.

Q: Is the company working on anything special these days?

A: We are introducing our Vulcan line with a 46-meter. It will be introduced mid to the latter half of 2012. That is a totally different division of Vicem. It is a 151-foot yacht built with Core-Cell with epoxy resin and vacuum-infused. We are looking for 25 knots top speed.

Q: Is the company working on any other new boats?

A Vicem carftsman fastens one of four biaxial layers of epoxy-saturated wood to the previous hull layer with staples through a removable strip.

A: We are coming out with another series of boats, the Vanguard series. It is going to be completely different from what we’ve built in the past. They’ll be yachts that are a little more sleek and contemporary. It is a niche — more expensive than a Chris-Craft, but not as expensive as a Riva. There is a lot of space between those two brands and we feel we have a product that will do well in that space. These new boats will have a lot of features that allow the customer to run the boat more easily, obviously pod drives. We want to attract new people into boating, and pod drives do that. The first Vanguard will be a 45, followed by a boat in the mid-30s.

Q: What do you think about pod drives and joystick helm control?

A: The pods definitely attract new boaters. There are always going to be your old salts out there who prefer to have their straight-shaft inboards. They won’t touch the bow thruster even if they have one. I have a lot of respect for the guys who can put a boat in a slip without ever touching the bow or stern thruster, but that is not everybody.

Q: Has Vicem built any pod boats?

A: Yes, in our Bahama Bay Series within the Vintage line. We have a 54 and a 56. Both of them are already built and sold. They both have Volvo Penta IPS.

Q: How were you introduced to boating?

Boehmer joined the Coast Guard out of high school and served two years of active duty.

A: I grew up in the Poconos, using a 14-foot motorboat. I spent my first years on the water on Lake Wallenpaupack. When it came time to graduate high school, I decided I wasn’t ready to go to college and I wanted to do something different, so I joined the Coast Guard. I was on active duty for two years. I was stationed in East Tawas, Mich., and after that I went to Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I was a member of the CG reserves all the way through college.

Q: What was your Coast Guard experience like?

A: After boot camp I was selected to go to a search-and-rescue station in Michigan. In the summer it was fantastic. There was a lot going on and I got some excellent experience in some heavy weather. The Great Lakes can be ocean-rough. It was a great experience for me to get on the water — and grow up as well. Also, with the Coast Guard it is very much a peacetime mission, as opposed to preparing for conflicts. I was intrigued with the Coast Guard because there was real work to be done, whether it was search-and-rescue, aids to navigation or other duties.

Q: What are some of your favorite boats from the companies you have worked for?

A: At Sea Ray, I would say the 340 Sundancer because everything it offered for the size and the price point made a lot of sense. There is a reason Sea Ray dominates the sport cruiser range; they offer a fantastic boat. At Walker Bay, it was the 310 Genesis Deluxe by far. At Bertram, the 57. On one particular sea trial, I was running the boat and the dealer was instructing me how to run the boat so he could show the customer what it could do. It was pretty rough that day. The dealer told me to put it right smack into the waves and bring it up to 20 knots and run right into those suckers. We went through this one wave and the boat pushed aside the waves so impressively before charging on to the next one that the customer looked at me and said, “I’ll take it.”

Q: What did you learn while at Sea Ray?

A: Sea Ray does many things well, but what they do extremely well is their process control and implementing real business practices in the marine industry. What I learned was invaluable for the rest of my career. I was also fortunate enough to get my M.B.A. from the University of Tennessee while I was working there.

Q: What impressed you about Vicem?

A: The boats they are building are extremely attractive for my personal taste. I wasn’t that aware of Vicem, but as I dug deeper into the company and the product they were building I was more and more impressed, not only with what they were building at the time, but their plans for the future.

Q: What boats do you like outside of the companies you worked for?

A: There is one model I just saw at a boat show, the Scout 262 Abaco. They did a fantastic job on that boat. Scout Boats has definitely caught my eye. They do a nice job with the design and quality.

Q: What are people looking for in a new boat — simplicity, efficiency, quality?

Downtime includes fishing with his daughter Ella.

A: All of the above, and they’re trying to find that efficiency and quality and bang for the buck in any package that suits their needs. We definitely see a trend of people going smaller. People who were in the 70-foot market are now in the 50-foot market, and those in the 50-foot market are now into the 40-foot market. They still want the quality they are accustomed to, but they’re looking for something that fits in a smaller slip.

Q: What areas do you think the marine industry needs improvement?

A: There are opportunities to improve in all areas. I think some companies are better in customer service than others. It is very important to know your customer and communicate with them to make sure things are going well. If the customer calls and leaves a message, he should be the very next call you make. As long as customers are happy, everything will take care of itself. I try to pay close attention to my customers. If you can afford a Vicem, you are probably really successful. Successful people have a lot of great ideas. They help me implement things within this industry that have been useful in other industries.

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue.