Strangers on the Docks Page 2

Spectator — March 2001

Spectator — March 2001

By Tom Fexas

Strangers on the Docks
Part 2: Handshake Designs, A New Midnight Lace
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• Part 1: Strangers
• Part 2: Strangers continued
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Genoa, Brignole Train Station, late 1980s (here, a train platform replaces a dock, but what the hell). Amongst all the boisterous Italians waiting for the train, speaking loudly, and gesticulating energetically, stood two couples speaking quietly in English. We were all returning to our hotels from the Genoa Boat Show. We started talking pleasantries, boats, "where are you from?", and all that good stuff, then parted ways. Two ships passing in the night. But a few years later, I got a call from one of the couples about a custom motoryacht to replace their production boat. The result was a 53-foot motoryacht launched in 1997. (Presently a second 70-foot custom motoryacht is under construction for the same owners.) Then a few years later, the other couple called concerning an unusual custom day boat (which was launched last year). These two couples turned out to be four of the nicest clients we have ever worked with. Two out of the three boats were designed on a handshake, no contracts. Contracts are only as good as the bums (or gentlemen) who sign them, anyhow.

Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, 2000. Jack Chen is an ace Taiwanese boatbuilder with whom I have worked for 20 years. Over that time his company, Bluewater Yachts, has built Mikelsons in 42-, 48-, 50-, 56-, 58-, 64-, and 70-foot lengths. I made arrangements to meet Chen on the first day of the show just to say hello and catch up on things. When we parted ways Thursday afternoon, I did not plan on seeing him again even though he was staying at the show for a few days (at boat shows, unless one makes plans to meet at a specific time and place, the chances are slim to none you will meet).

By Friday afternoon I was ready to go home. I was bushed after walking about 500 miles in bad boat shoes. By the end of the day, my damn socks had stretched such that every step I took pushed them down into my shoes, so I was walking funny on cotton/poly sock balls under my heels. It was a warm, sweaty day and my Right Guard had let me down. The line for the taxis was at least a half-hour long, forcing a long hike to my car. I was saying my good-byes at the Cheoy Lee display when Chen happened by. The first words out of his mouth were, "So what project should we do a joint venture on?" (We had never discussed this before.) As it turned out I was saving the best of the show for last.

The southeast quadrant of the boat show is where the classic cruisers were assembled: Hinckleys, Freedoms, Huckinses, San Juans, and Eastbays, among others. These simple cruising boats (which I wrote about last month) were one of the show's highlights for me (180-footers not withstanding), so I told Chen to follow me as we stepped into the crowd heading in the general direction we wanted to go (nobody walks from point to point at boat shows, you are swept along by the people like a chip of wood in a stream).

We looked at all the boats, and I told Chen, "This is the kind of boat we should do together." Chen offered that he could do something like we were looking at but less expensively and better. There and then it was decided that we would do a new Midnight Lace express cruiser about 50 feet long. Everything--monetary considerations, specs, accommodations --was nailed down in a couple of hours. About a month later we sent Chen the final hull lines, and construction started (hey, it's easy when the "client" is the architect and builder). If I had not bumped into Chen that Friday afternoon, this boat would never have happened.

Chance encounters on docks (or train platforms). While advertising, careful planning, and stalking of potential clients help, kismet usually plays the biggest part in hooking up with clients.

Tom Fexas is a marine engineer and designer of powerboats. His offices are located in Stuart, Florida. His Web site is

Next page > Strangers, Part 1 > Page 1, 2

This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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