In the world of superyachts, the number of builders specializing in full-custom fiberglass construction, and doing it in significant volume, can be counted on one hand, with several fingers left over. Hargrave Custom Yachts is a clear leader in this challenging niche, currently offering yachts up to 115 feet in length, with designs for much larger ones on the boards and production capability to match. Other builders offer semi-production and semi-custom composite yachts, but few, if any, match the versatility available from Hargrave.
Custom is literally Hargrave's middle name, and the company takes the distinction seriously. This was never more evident than during my recent visit to two Hargrave yachts, Dream and Freedom, docked alongside each other in Miami. They differ in overall length by only 2 feet 4 inches, but the similarities end there.
Dream is a 105-foot flush-deck motoryacht with sporty lines inspired by the company's Capri series. Her interior is equally contemporary, offering her owner-a second-time Hargrave owner-a decidedly casual yachting experience. The interior is light and airy, and keeping the spaces open to each other only adds to the effect. The saloon and dining area, along with a corner bar, occupy a single room that can, in turn, be opened to the spacious afterdeck.
Forward, the L-shaped galley with an island counter is open and shares space with the helm, creating another wide-open area for guests to gather and relax. In fact, Dream is one of the few yachts of this length I've seen in recent years where the helmsman has a direct view aft over the stern. As with other forward-helm yachts, the view ahead is superb.
Topside, Dream's flying bridge helm is tucked to starboard, leaving room for a bar to port. Much of the rest of the deck space is seating for guests, all protected from the sun by a hardtop that extends forward from the radar arch. There's a whirlpool spa, as well.
Dream is designed to accommodate large parties, in both senses of the word. While her spacious main and bridge decks can easily handle crowds for day or evening events, the belowdecks quarters provide sleeping for up to 10 overnight guests and eight crew. There are four guest staterooms, all en suite. Two of them are twin-berth cabins with Pullmans, and the third is a VIP stateroom with a queen berth. The master stateroom spans the yacht's full beam amidships, and includes a king berth. Two crew cabins are forward of the guest accommodations and one cabin abaft the engineroom.
Freedom is a 108-foot raised-pilothouse motoryacht with a more traditional profile and an interior that is completely different in style, arrangement and function. The yacht's name is a clue to the liberties the owner took in specifying one of Hargrave's most detailed and luxurious yachts to date. Her interior features rosewood cabinetry, with sapelli bulkheads. Soft goods include red leather on the saloon sofas and light Ultrasuede on the overheads.
In contrast to Dream, Freedom is more formal, although the entertaining seems more intimate. While still part of the saloon, the dining area is more defined, lending separateness. The galley includes a country kitchen dinette, but is closed off from the saloon and dining areas. Owing to Freedom's raised pilothouse, the flying bridge deck is shorter than Dream's and is configured for smaller groups. She has a full helm forward, with seating and bar amidships. Personal watercraft stow here as well, with sun lounges aft, clear of the hardtop. Freedom's tender stows in a transom garage a feature not so on Dream.
Guests aboard Freedom have three staterooms, the forward two identical queen-berth cabins with en suite baths. Freedom's master stateroom, as on Dream, spans the full beam, but is completely different-his-and-hers bath aft, dual hanging lockers forward-while Dream has a shared bath and one larger locker.
While a totally custom fiberglass yacht at an attractive price is one of Hargrave's strong selling points, the company's excellent reputation for customer satisfaction is equally important. I've had a chance to visit with many Hargrave owners, and the outpouring of unabashed affection between the company and its yacht owners is amazing. In fact, while visiting Dream and Freedom, a third owner pulled me aside to show off the sparkling and spotless engineroom of his new Hargrave yacht and-unsolicited-to offer his comments on the buying experience. Introduced to the Hargrave brand by his captain, he was at first reluctant. "After talking to some Hargrave owners, I got a little scared," he shared in a cordial Southern drawl. "Honestly, I almost felt like I'd be joining some kind of cult!"
To get some insight on what inspires such devotion, we spoke with Michael Joyce, who built Hargrave Custom Yachts on the foundation of the design firm founded in 1959 by the late renowned designer Jack Hargrave. "I would say it is a testament to three things: our attitude, our service department, our commitment to their well-being," says Joyce. "We believe that the customer is always right, and that even when he is wrong, somehow our job is to make things go his way." A dedicated service operation is justified by quoting Andy Warhol: "'Instant gratification takes too long.' Back then it was a joke but has in fact become today's standard of performance."
Of course, a big part of customer satisfaction is delivering a successful product that the buyer views as a good value. Joyce and his staff-many of whom have been with him since the beginning-first meet with a prospective owner and ask for "the file." Says Joyce, "Almost every buyer has one. It's the file full of clippings from boating magazines that they have been saving for years with various rooms, design details that caught their eye, technology articles. This data file immediately gives us a sense of what is important to the buyer."
Following a meeting with the design staff, which includes access to hundreds of prior Hargrave designs, old and new, the buyers then have a chance to walk through a number of Hargrave yachts and express their thoughts and ideas. They might like a stateroom from one, a saloon from another and a galley from yet another. "As they look through these options and ask why one layout would be better than another, the education process begins and their personal preferences begin to take shape," says Joyce.
Coupled with this decision process is an extensive line-item price list of popular options that enables buyers to make informed choices. The owners, not the broker or builder, decide whether adding or upgrading a particular item is worth it to them. "We don't have any lotto winners in our owners group," says Joyce. "These people all worked hard for thirty or forty years before finally buying their dream boat. We try hard to remember that in every aspect of our relationship with our owners."
Another part of Hargrave's formula for customer satisfaction is avoiding surprises-on both sides -through education, information and full disclosure. That starts right up front before the contract is signed and continues to delivery and beyond. "The line-item pricing format we use actually matches up to the full set of construction specifications. [It] gives us a chance to discuss every key component with the client so he begins to understand why we selected a particular make and model [of equipment], what other options we considered and how we arrived at the price."
Once everyone is in agreement, the contract is signed and construction begins at Kai Shing, Hargrave's dedicated yard in the Far East, with which they've just signed a second 10-year contract. During the construction, the owner is provided periodic progress reports by Hargrave's on-site production supervisor and a financial accounting for progress payments. Owners and their captains or representatives are also welcome to visit the yard as well.
The Kai Shing facility has hundreds of existing molds, but Joyce says almost every fiberglass part is custom built to new drawings. The exception is the hulls, and there's a reason for that. "Most of our clients are looking for the same thing," explains Joyce, "the best midrange speed performance they can get from our Cat engine program and the shallowest draft they can get for the Bahamas. You plug in those two requirements and there are not a lot of choices in hull shapes." That doesn't mean they are identical, though, as illustrated by Dream and Freedom. Pulled from the same 23-foot beam mold, the hulls differ in length and stern details. According to Joyce, no two Hargrave custom yachts have ever been built with identical transoms. Further, it is only the bare shell moldings that are similar. From that early point forward, the construction of each yacht is all custom.
One line-item on the pricing sheets shared by Joyce puzzled me, but it's a clever and innovative concept that illustrates the company's commitment to delivering value to its customers while growing its business. Referred to as a "factory partnership agreement," it amounts to a discount of over $600,000 on yachts such as Dream and Freedom, which would otherwise sell for well over $8,000,000. As Joyce explained, "We used to stock boats for sale, display and demonstration, and the holding cost for interest, insurance, dockage and maintenance was substantial. Since the factory normally provides some financial assistance for this expense and in my program at Hargrave, we decided to give that money to the customer [in exchange for using] his boat for boat shows and demonstration purposes. It's been a real win-win situation."
Win-win is often given lip service, but at Hargrave Custom Yachts it's an action plan. If you don't believe it, talk to one of the growing cult of Hargrave owners. n
Contact: Hargrave Custom Yachts; www.hargrave-usa.com