No matter the type of yacht you may purchase, it's important to tour the builder's factory. Sure, you will discover the obvious construction and design components, but you can interpret the company's ethos through the less-obvious components. Are you greeted with enthusiasm, or are you just another slot on the weekly tour docket? How is the work force's attitude? Hey, grinding fiberglass is no fun, but a plant with no buzz is likely dying a slow death.
I'm no behavioral scientist, but the atmosphere was captivating this spring at the Carver plant in Pulaski, Wisconsin. Contagious pride bubbled over from the employees on the factory floor, where the new 444 Cockpit Motor Yacht was among the models being built.
"There is a sense of purpose," said Mike Murawski, vice president of sales and marketing.
He's right. Fathers and sons work side by side on the production lines. The average tenure of each worker is seven years. The restaurant across the street serves a Carver Club. In the builder's new fabric plant, workers explained with childlike enthusiasm how a computer-aided machine saves time and maximizes the cutting of material. In the fiberglass shop, a 24-year veteran reviewed in intricate detail how Carver uses injection molding on a variety of parts, ensuring a better bond while reducing toxins.
That there is a 24-year veteran-in the glass shop, of all places-speaks volumes about the dedication and pride Carver's workers take in their craft.
That pride was evident as we put the 444 through her paces off West Palm Beach, Florida. The 370 hp Cummins diesels pushed us effortlessly onto a plane, providing a respectable cruising speed in the low 20-knot range. At the helm, the sound never surpassed 78 decibels. The 444 topped out at 25.9 knots, an impressive speed considering the full tanks and condo-like amenities.
Access to the engineroom is through the saloon sole. Most systems are easy to service, although the Racor filters are outboard and forward of the engines. Items that require routine checks under way, such as fuel filters, are more accessible. The area is well finished, with coded copper-tinned wiring that is beautifully harnessed and easy to trace.
The 444's soft entry into the chop is partly due to her tough, solid fiberglass bottom. The absence of core eliminates the risk of underwater penetration around the through-hulls and lowers the center of gravity, giving the 444 her teeth in bumpy seas. The deck and hull sides are cored, reducing weight above the waterline and dampening roll. An all-fiberglass stringer system, hand-laminated into the hull, is a big plus. Multi-directional cloth prevents resin pockets and provides strength, even if it is bent.
The helm has enough room to install a typical electronics inventory and includes a tilt wheel and drink holders. The console is finished in an attractive bronze fiberglass finish that reduces glare. The pedestal-mounted seat is comfortable and swings around so the captain can join guests at the six-person L-shape settee. A kickback portion would be a good feature, giving the captain a place to lean while standing at the wheel-a natural position when piloting in tight quarters. A wet bar with optional ice maker is to starboard.
Even in southern latitudes, the aluminum radar arch should look good as new for some time. Each arch is assembled and, more important, painted under controlled conditions with a seven-step process. Before an arch is painted, it is dipped in an acid bath to remove impurities. Awlcraft 2000, a product of Awlgrip, produces the mirror-like finish.
While weaving around the chop stirred up by the other traffic, I walked the 444's decks. The high gunwales and full-beam saloon are not original to Carver, but the company's version is one of the breed's better-looking. To make your way forward, you need to take only a few steps down from the flying bridge to the afterdeck, then around to the side decks. The stainless-steel side rail is high, and grabrails are within easy reach. It is nice to have five cleats lining each side deck, especially cleats for forward and after spring lines. I can't recall how many times I've reached the dock, then had to stand in a daze looking for an appropriate spot (other than the stanchion base) to tie a spring. Another plus is that each cleat and stanchion base is secured to an aluminum backing plate, glassed in before the hull and deck are joined. Some builders encapsulate marine ply, but aluminum is more durable and affords less risk of water penetration into the wood, should any damage occur.
A lot of thought went into the 444's cockpit and swim platform. The area includes a telescoping ladder, an optional shower, courtesy lights, stowage, tender cleats and an accessible shorepower hookup. A sliding door allows access from the after stateroom to the cockpit. Cruising on a similar yacht with another couple, I came to rely on the separate after entrance, a convenience that let us sneak out in the morning for an early swim.
The 444's layout also creates privacy. "This is a very popular layout for our owners looking to live aboard for a while or just pack the boat up for a weekend," said Tim Schmitt, marketing manager for Carver Yachts. The saloon and galley separate the master and guest stateroom. The frameless opening side windows provide for a nice view, even for guests seated in the two settees. The corner entertainment center allows viewing from either settee. If the afterdeck is enclosed and equipped with a table and chairs, it will rival most shoreside sun rooms.
Every nook in the galley is utilized. The Nova-Kool refrigerator is at eye level, and the freezer is below. A three-burner stove and convection microwave are standard. A double sink would be nice, although it would reduce counter space. Recessing the stove and providing a cover could help in this regard.
The two staterooms are almost equally sumptuous. The forward guest stateroom has a queen-size island berth, a cedar-lined hanging locker, an overhead hatch and two opening ports. The head is split, with the shower stall to port and the head compartment to starboard. The master also has a queen-size berth with an innerspring mattress, his and her hanging lockers, nightstands, drawers and ample light and ventilation (thanks to the rear-opening door and two opening ports). The head has two opening ports, a separate shower stall with handy grabrail, good stowage and a solid surface counter.
The entire interior is tastefully finished in high-gloss cherry complemented by designer décor.
With the 444, Carver hopes to appeal to folks looking for a mid-size yacht for weekend, and some extended, cruising.
More important, the company hopes the yacht shows why everyone at the Wisconsin factory is beaming with pride.
Carver Yachts, (920) 822-1600; www.carveryachts.com.