Custom Builds

Chicken guano, stuffed kielbasa and other important considerations.

October 4, 2007

I ran into an old design client of mine recently who reminded me of what custom boatbuilding is all about. I designed a boat for him more than 10 years ago and was surprised to hear he was still banging about in her.

“Bob, I guess we did too good a job,” I joked, explaining that his level of customer satisfaction was bad for business.

At the same time, I began to wonder seriously what I had done right. Then it occurred to me that it was Bob who had done something right-gotten the most out of a process that has left more than one yachtsman addicted to Rolaids. He never rushed, he expected to spend time and money, and he stayed involved with every aspect of construction.


To understand why this approach gleans the most pleasure and benefit from the custom yacht building experience, one must understand the definition of a custom yacht. Considering the perversion of the term in modern marine vernacular, I find it easier to explain what a custom yacht is not.

A custom yacht is not a standard hull with a cockpit screwed on, or a “so-and-so” beam series chopped to length and stuffed like a kielbasa with a decorator’s wish list. No offense intended; production and semi-custom yachts are a wonderful choice, however, they are not custom yachts in the traditional sense. Custom yachts are born in a design office, not on a salesman’s Xerox machine.

A custom yacht is not a sure thing. Once conceived, its DNA prescribes its nature despite the best intentions of those involved. A custom yacht is often born with contempt for implied or written guarantees. As one builder friend of mine likes to say, “Ya can’t make chicken salad out of chicken guano.”


A custom yacht is not a guaranteed annuity for those who design and build her. No matter how glorious and grand building custom yachts may seem, such endeavors do not make yacht designers and yacht builders fabulously rich. While profit is always anticipated, those who must risk the most in a custom yacht project typically stand to gain the least. If you can control the rest of the folks you write checks to, you’re likely to get a good value.

A custom yacht is not a pair of designer jeans. The guy or gal who pens the checks (not those who cash them) calls the shots. The list of credits is long these days: designer, naval architect, builder, captain, stylist, interior designer, project manager, consultants and, of course, an agency or two to suggest standards. Certainly all these folks can pour passion into a project, however, a successful custom yacht is a reflection of her happy owner.

Bob (I’ve changed his name to protect his innocence) has expressed interest in doing it again, and he won’t be satisfied by simply approving a rehashed arrangement plan and picking wall coverings and door hardware. His level of involvement is not for everyone and may not be suited to every project, but he will benefit from the effort. The experience is the most satisfying and rewarding that yachting has to offer.


Folks such as Bob are good for business-regardless of how long they hang onto their yachts-because they have tolerated, enjoyed and mastered the process of building a custom yacht. Their boats and their enthusiasm for the process are an incentive for others to do the same.


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