The Allure of Custom

Lead Line — May 2005
By Richard Thiel

The Allure of Custom
I learned that buying a boat and building one are two different endeavors.
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Although PMY devotes significant coverage to custom boats, including a large portion of each May issue, I’ve always been mystified by the process. I’ve admired many a custom boat and driven quite a few, but always had trouble understanding why anyone would put him/herself through the trials and tribulations inherent in the process when there are so many great production boats available. Besides, building your own boat takes time—at least a year.

Since so many of you own custom boats, I figured I ought to get cozy with the process. So at a recent boat show, I pretended I was looking for a replacement for my 32-foot Jarvis Newman Downeaster, Ava T—another Downeaster about six feet longer with a few more amenities and a little more speed. And nicer woodwork. And a bigger ‘fridge. An enclosed shower, too. I knew there’d be a lot of production candidates at the show, plus custom builders, so I figured I’d compare the two and see if custom really did offer something production didn’t.

I spent a day checking out candidates at the marina, looking at everything from Morgans to Marlows, Sabres to San Juans, Hunts to Hinckleys. I fell in love and out of love more times than J Lo. I sat with salesmen, explained what I was looking for, and detailed how I’d use the boat. I looked at brochures, examined options, estimated prices. I looked at so many boats I couldn’t remember which was which. But I left the dock sure of one thing: Somewhere in that group of production builders, there had to be exactly the boat I was looking for. Considering that I just couldn’t imagine the need for going to a custom builder.

The next day I met with two custom builders. The first confirmed my innate skepticism; he clearly had better things to do than waste time talking to a guy who wanted to build a piddly 38-footer. In fact, most of the meeting involved him telling me about all the projects he’d completed, all the famous clients he’d had, and just how accomplished a builder he really was. After exactly one hour he abruptly stood and announced, “Look, you decide what you want, and I’ll build it. But I can’t say when or for how much.”

The second guy was his polar opposite. He was a real boat guy, and we began our meeting by trading yarns for an hour. He then pulled out a pad and sketched some accommodations plans, which we passed back and forth for another hour. Then we crafted a profile. Despite the fact that this was all subterfuge, I found I was really into it, and I had the distinct impression he was, too. By the time I left, I felt like I’d made a friend and embarked on a real adventure. I had discovered that this was about way more that just buying a boat. It was about creating something that was mine and mine alone, much like the process of building a home.

In the end, I learned that buying a boat and building one are two different endeavors that appeal to two different kinds of people. And me? I keep telling myself that this was only an experiment, but I have this feeling I haven’t seen the last of my new friend.

This article originally appeared in the April 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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