I received a call the other day from a guy who said he was interested in building a boat. He mentioned that he had always admired our boats and considered them among the best afloat. I thanked him for the kind words and asked him what he had in mind. He said that he wanted a boat exactly like the 78 we just finished, if we would agree to build it. He’d had a chance to chase tuna on the boat last summer and was impressed with the way she rode and handled and thought the craftsmanship was impeccable. There were only a few things he would do differently. I said, “That’s what custom is all about. Stop by the yard when you have time, and we’ll get with Dusty and take a few notes.”
“Great,” he said. “May I bring my captain?”
“Absolutely,” I replied. We set up a meeting for the following week and sat down to discuss a new build. We always look forward to these meetings because it gives us a chance to share information, promote our product and learn from our customers. Lately, things seem to follow a pattern. This one was no exception.
Our meeting began on a good foot. We talked about speed, range, accommodations and equipment required. We discussed how and where they would be using the boat, draft, time on the hook, etc. Near the end of the numbers discussion, we drifted into aesthetics. That’s when things got weird. The customer reiterated that he was impressed with the performance of the 78 on which he had fished, but he and the captain had one request: “Could you make your boat look more modern?”
We replied, “We have an open mind. Define modern.”
The captain said: “You guys build a beautiful boat. We just want something more up to date.”
I contemplated this for a moment and said, “You want Sophia Loren, but with piercings and tattoos.”
“Well, no, not quite,” the owner said.
I reassessed and said: “You want a 911S with a lift kit and spinner rims.”
“You’re getting warmer,” the captain said, clearing his throat. “We’re thinking more like a Merritt sheer line, a Bayliss window line, a Spencer transom, an F&S mezzanine, Carolina flare and Willis automation.”
“Oh ... I get it,” I said. “You want Bo Derek with a J-Lo stern, a Mariah Carey bow, Beyoncé chines, Angelina Jolie flare and Condoleezza Rice’s intellect.”
“Hey,” he said, “you nailed it.”
I thought about this absurdity for a minute and replied, “But then our boat would look like every other sportfisherman.”
“Exactly,” they both cheered.
“But how will folks distinguish our boat from any of the three million other custom builders out there today?” I questioned.
“You could put an imitation carbon-fiber graphic on the deckhouse side at eye level that reads: RYBOVICH EURO TURBO TOURNAMENT 78 GT. Then, everyone will know it’s one of yours,” the captain responded.
“Brilliant!” we applauded and stared at them in disbelief. I could feel the ground in Hillcrest cemetery churning under, 10 miles away.
Not long ago, when trolling offshore, I could tell you who built all of the boats in the fleet around us. Today, I don’t even try. I have to call up to Capt. Adams on the bridge for a positive I.D., and even he is beginning to have trouble differentiating one from another. There are just too many of us, and unfortunately, our similarities already far outweigh our differences in external aesthetics. When someone suggests that we try to look like everyone else, it pushes my pride button. I feel we’re being asked to adopt the auto industry’s banal marketing strategy of making everything look like some generic SUV with a western American name. “That new Tucumcari looks just like the Moab and the Rushmore and for less money!” For me, that’s a no go.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “When you adopt the standards and values of someone else, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.” I ask people when they suggest we plagiarize another builder, “Have you visited other builders, and did you ask them to adopt any of our design elements?” The standard reply is, “Yeah, and it was a big no. That’s why we came to you.” Good Lord, this stuff is stranger than fiction.
Most people follow the crowd. Someone comes up with a riff, everyone jumps on it, and soon, one can’t escape it. Everyone wants to play the same tune as the guy next to them. Boating is no exception. “That new Johnson 72 has a flexible mezzanine which can mimic any builder out there. It’s all controlled through the measure app on the captain’s iPhone and interfaced with the A/V system and the underwater lights. With the touch of the display, he can go from Kid Rock to Jay-Z, cool blue to pink strobe, and change the look of the entire cockpit from one builder to another. All this and never leave the comfort of his helm seat. I want you to incorporate that into your design.” Or: “They severely raked the lines on the new Epstein 82, so the foredeck melts into the deckhouse and bridge and exaggerated the transom beam. The station-wagon effect is so intense that the cockpit stays wet all day, so you never have to pull out the wash-down hose. Make that a priority when you start to draw the outboard profile.” Or: “That new Williams 65 has a jet-ski garage under that big, stupid window in the side of the hull and underwater speakers mounted in the sea-chests. The captain says it raises triple header blue marlin bites when he plays the Finding Nemo soundtrack. They wire the fish with the jet skis to keep them away from the transom. We gotta have that.”
Why on earth would any of us in this business want to copy someone else’s riffs, note for note, like some Grateful Dead tribute band? I want folks to walk down the dock, stop behind one of our boats and respectfully acknowledge: “That’s definitely a Rybovich.” I’m sure my brothers-in-arms in this industry feel the same way. What reward is there for conformity? Beautiful gals come in all shapes and sizes. What a drag it would be if they all looked the same. People are not created aesthetically equal, and our artistry should reflect that. There is pride in the unique and surrender in the mundane. A G7 is easily distinguishable from a Citation 10. A Ferrari has a different look than a McLaren. And honestly, I’m extremely gratified that Roy, Mark, Randy, Ricky, John, Paul, George and Ringo all have their own look. We do as well. Vive la différence!