I’ve owned only production boats. Not one has been the most interesting design in any anchorage, but each has firmly met the needs of my family. Even so, there are days when we catch sight of a really special custom boat from our cockpit. Our crew will rise from our seats to get the best view of a beautiful boat. I still remember how Aphrodite (shown above) looked when we saw her in Rhode Island’s Watch Hill Harbor a few years ago. The 74-foot commuter yacht that was built by The Purdy Company in 1937 and restored at Brooklin Boat Yard in 2003 turned every head that day.
It was a treat for me to interview the president of Brooklin Boat Yard in Maine for this issue. Steve White has been working at the yard since he was a teenager. Back then, he never intended to make boatbuilding his life’s work, but his focus changed as he matured. When he took over management of the yard from his father, Brooklin employed four full-time employees. Today, the company’s payroll has more than 60 of the top craftsmen in the state, if not the country, and this workforce produces some of the finest custom boats anywhere. When you talk to Steve, you realize how much creativity goes into a custom project. The ideas often come from a boat’s owner, but a good builder can turn that vision into reality. That takes talent.
There are varying degrees of custom work among boatbuilders. In the story “Hook, Line & Sinker”, we talk with an owner who worked closely with HCB Yachts to develop his ideal fishing machine. HCB is more of a semi-custom builder, but it does go to exceptional lengths to create one-of-a-kind boats for its customers. This particular owner, who ordered a 53-footer, wanted, among other things, a completely different layout at the bow. To meet that demand, HCB had to develop new engineering and analysis, which is a significant investment of time. But that’s what some builders will do to help an owner take possession of his dream boat.
Speaking of dream boats, designer Sam Devlin of Olympia, Washington, says he had long wanted to own a workboat. Rather than buy something that existed, he drew his own design, the TugZilla 26, which is tug and recreational cruiser. It too is proof that some of the coolest boats out there are the result of a unique vision. Look for boats like it from your own cockpit.
This article was originally published in the February 2021 issue.