There’s a story that’s been repeated around our office for years. It seems the late Power & Motoryacht Editor-in-Chief Richard Thiel was responsible for helping a little company called Seakeeper get its start. The details of the story vary, as they should in a proper legend. I believed it was possible that Richard saw the value in the company’s gyroscopic, anti-roll technology before it went mainstream. But then again, it was equally plausible that the magazine’s role in the company’s start has been stretched over the years. We are, after all, professional storytellers.
I recently connected with Seakeeper Cofounder Shep McKenney and I couldn’t help but ask about the rumor.
“Oh, yes. That’s why I always make time for a call with you guys,” said McKenney, who, as the former president of Hinckley, gave the world the Picnic Boat and joystick maneuvering before he went on to launch Seakeeper. “When we had our first prototype I was working hard to try and get publicity. [Richard] kept putting me off. I think he thought we were just a gimmick. Finally, I offered to charter a jet to get him on a demo boat. He relented and flew down. He went out on the boat, saw the Seakeeper in action and understood immediately this was no gimmick.”
McKenney pressed Richard for advice on how to crack the European market. Richard dialed up—on what must have been a ridiculously large mobile phone—Azimut Founder Paolo Vitelli, vouched for the new system and connected the two entrepreneurs, McKenney recalls.
“Ten days later I was in Viareggio [at the Azimut yard]. Another month later we signed a contract to sell them six hundred gyros. That was in 2006. They ended up being our largest customer and got us through the early years,” says McKenney.
Seakeeper has come a long way since Richard boarded that jet. It currently builds more than 250 units a month and, with the launch of its smallest unit yet, the Seakeeper 2, the company is now smoothing seas for center console boats 27 feet and up.
I’ve had the opportunity to run Seakeepers on boats ranging from 20-foot day cruisers to 90-foot battlewagons. That feeling of being aboard a boat that plants itself in a rolling sea at the push of a button still elicits a head shake and a wow.
I admit that even after all those tests, I struggled to explain how the system worked. “There’s a gyro inside a vacuum that spins, and uhh, fights the roll,” was about all I could muster. Enough was enough: I hit the road to see firsthand how these products are built. (Check out “Inside Seakeeper” for my report). I left the factory just outside Amish country in Pennsylvania with a new respect for the company that wants to put a gyro aboard every boat.
Another company that continues to change the way we go boating is Volvo Penta. Capt. Bill Pike was among the first to test and endorse its revolutionary IPS. Today, Volvo Penta continues to be an industry leader. Capt. Pike recently returned from their headquarters in Sweden, where he gained insight into the manufacturer’s plans for hybrid propulsion systems and self-docking yachts. You read that right. Volvo Penta demonstrated how its new system allows an Azimut to dock, sans helmsman. Is it the technology of the future? We investigate here.
Also in this issue you’ll find a report from Jeff Moser on the current state and future use of carbon fiber in boatbuilding (“The End of Fiberglass?”), and Managing Editor Simon Murray tests a Bluetooth-activated kill switch that shuts your engines down should anyone fall overboard (“Life-Saving Kill Switch”).
I understand why Richard may have been skeptical when he first heard about Seakeeper. My inbox is regularly filled with press releases for products promising to revolutionize boating. Technology for the sake of technology never appeals much to me. But technology that makes boating easier and, more importantly, safer? That’s a trend we can all get behind.