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Talkin' Boats with Michael Arieta executive vice president of The Hinckley Co.

Michael Arieta is The Hinckley Co.’s executive vice president and general manager in charge of design and operations — in other words, the man who knows every nuance about Hinckley’s latest and greatest yachts.

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You might have seen Arieta standing on the new Talaria 34 or 48 at the fall boat shows, perhaps explaining the finer points of driving a Hinckley with a JetStick II — the next generation of the builder’s joystick helm control. Arieta, 44, grew up playing basketball (his father, Dick Arieta, coached his high school team) and boating on Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts and Sebago Lake in Maine. His father owned several Egg Harbors, and Arieta has owned a handful of small powerboats in the past 15 years.

An electrical engineer and business school graduate, Arieta was raised professionally in the auto industry and worked for Ford Motor Co. for a decade before coming to Hinckley. He worked his way through the ranks at Hinckley, starting 10 years ago in quality control and then taking on several management positions.

A native of Kingston, Mass., Arieta lives in his hometown with his wife, Tricia, and daughter, Kristen, 6. In this interview he talks about the JetStick, Hinckley’s patented waterjet propulsion drive, the appeal of a Down East-style yacht and memorable rough-water rides.

Q: What’s new at The Hinckley Co.?

A: We just introduced a new boat — the T34 — and the second generation of our joystick helm control, called JetStick II, and an optional feature called PalmStick, a fully functional wireless remote control for the JetStick system. You can control the boat from the cockpit or wherever you want. It’s a tremendously useful advancement to our system, which was the first joystick control system in the recreational boating industry.

Hinckley's new Talaria 34 incorporates the JetStick II helm control.

Q: What distinguishes your joystick from those by Volvo Penta, Mercury, ZF Marine and others?

A: Because it is hooked to waterjets, it’s smoother than anything else that is used with transmissions and propellers. What we have done with JetStick II is add features and technology to make it even more intuitive, such as Heading Hold, essentially a virtual autopilot running in the background. When you are in harbors or the Intracoastal, you are constantly adjusting the course with the steering wheel.

This system allows you to make minimum inputs as you are steering the boat at low speed. Wherever you twist the stick and point the vessel, the boat is going to go in that direction until you let go of the stick or introduce a new input. It minimizes the number of heading adjustments you need to make based on currents or windage. The other feature is something we call Hover Lock, which keeps the boat stationary. It’s not that dissimilar to what an IPS system does with its station keeping [Dynamic Positioning] except that ours does it without using transmissions or shifting gears.

Q: What is the new T34 all about?

A: Fun and simplicity. The strengths are speed, performance and ease of operation. It is a boat you can take out for an hour or an overnight and really not have to do anything but hop on, turn the key and go.

Q: What are the benefits of your waterjet propulsion?

A: Our waterjets are military-grade, bulletproof systems with few moving parts. So No. 1 is durability. No. 2: The waterjet provides maneuverability around the dock. It is so smooth because there is never any shifting. It has this big diverter. If you put your hand over a water hose, you can get the water to go in any direction, depending on how you adjust your hand. That is essentially what a waterjet is — a nozzle with a larger diverter that moves up and down, and the nozzles move side to side. That hydraulic actuation of that diverter enables the boat to go forward and backward and side to side. Because there is no shifting in and out of gear, there is no lunging around the dock. There is no bang, bang. The boats truly hover. So durability, smoothness of the maneuverability and the shallow draft. There are no apertures on the boats. You run them on and off the beach. We do that with a 48-foot boat.

Q: Why did Hinckley tap Michael Peters to design the T34, T37 and T48 hulls?

A: We’ve been working with Michael Peters since 2007. Why did we choose him? We had the conversation about how beauty is an ultimate requirement. But just being beautiful is never enough. In the mid-2000s, we really wanted to strive to make sure we had the best hull forms so the boats performed well in a variety of sea conditions. When you ask who is the best person for the job, the list becomes very short, and Michael Peters Yacht Design is at the top of the list. He has designed a ton of great boats, everything from sportfishing boats to offshore performance boats and boats from respected companies like Cabo and Chris-Craft. He is the modern C. Raymond Hunt.

Michael provided the naval architecture for the hulls, and we designed the boat from the waterline up. We said, “Michael, with our 34-foot boat, it has to be fun and put a smile on people’s faces, but it has to be stable and dry.” He gave us exactly what we wanted.

Q: Which Hinckley model do you like best?

A: I am looking at my favorite right now — the Hinckley 48. I’m looking at the flybridge — it is one of the prettiest flybridges I have ever seen on a boat. The reason I like this boat is I think it has an amazingly rare combination of power and refinement and grace. Again, boats are emotional. As much as we are all engineers, we are emotional, too. When I first drove this boat I could not believe how it just popped up on plane and how quiet it was, but fast and broad-shouldered.

Q: What non-Hinckley boats do you like?

A: Vikings are special boats. They are a family-owned company, and they are very detail-oriented — everything from building their own fuel tanks to the electrical. And they ride great, very strong and surefooted in a sea. With smaller boats it is the Grady-White. They do a good job of taking care of the little things for a customer. Those are the two brands that I am drawn to.

Q: Why are people so enamored with the Down East style?

A: Boats are emotional, and I think these boats conjure up the idea of going to sea. There is purposefulness, a confidence that resonates from the look of these boats — the pilothouse, lobster boat look. It harkens back to the days when men went to sea to work.

Q: How many sailboats do you have in service?

A: Almost 800. We have today five Sou’wester models and one daysailer model, with the daysailer being the latest model — the daysailer 42. That was introduced awhile ago — ’04 or ’05. We are still in the sailboat business and currently have a new sailboat in production — the Sou’wester 42. It’s for a gentleman who always wanted to have his own Sou’wester built.

Q: How has Hinckley changed since you started?

A: I have been at Hinckley for 10 years. What is remarkable is how much that has not changed. Yes, we can talk about innovative new products, but that has been going on since the company started. Their passion and their craft are still there. And I don’t see that changing. What we have is good, and we are staying with it. We have the bow on a steady course. Names and faces may change, but the core mission has been unchanged.

Although faces may change in the Hinckley family, Arieta says, the core mission of quality and customer service remains a constant.

Q: What does CEO Jim McManus bring to the company?

A: He provides an amazing amount of leadership and vision. All we ever talk about is how to make our customers happy. Jim is wired that way. He has kept us focused on the customer-comes-first philosophy — and during some tough economic times.

Q: What are today’s buyers looking for in a boat?

A: That is a tough question because there are so many different boaters looking for so many different things. I think the first thing that rises to the top is aesthetics. People stop and look at a boat, and a positive emotion needs to develop. If the boat is not appealing aesthetically, I think they are much less likely to be interested in the boat. The look of the boat sort of sets the tone. Despite today’s customer wanting everything in a boat, it still needs to look good.

Q: In addition to working in the boat business, you have a boating background.

A: I grew up boating on Sebago Lake in Maine and Cape Cod Bay in a multitude of small boats — both sailboats and powerboats. We started with the AMF Sunfish and Boston Whaler 13, the Boston Whaler 17, the Grady-White 24, and the list goes on. When I was about 12 my dad bought his first Egg Harbor, which he owned in 1976. Talk about growing up in boats — I grew up in exterior teak and interior cherry. We were one of those families that had the disease that we as a company look for so much now in the public.

Q: As an adult, what boats have you owned?

A: I have owned two Hydra-Sports, an EdgeWater, a Boston Whaler and three Grady-Whites in the past 15 years. They ranged from 18 to 28 feet. I am in a 21-foot Boston Whaler Ventura, a bowrider, right now. We are very much a boating family. Tricia grew up on the largest inland lake in Michigan. She grew up on Four Winns boats, which were big in that area. My daughter, Kristen, was born in Maine back when we lived there. We have always been on boats as a family — the three of us.

January 2013 issue