Yacht designer Ward Setzer, who worked at Hatteras Yachts in the mid-1980s before launching his own firm in 1991, returned to the North Carolina builder as chief product officer in January. Setzer plans to revamp existing Hatteras models and create new ones.
Following are edited excerpts of Setzer’s conversation with Yachting.
Returning to Hatteras is a real homecoming for you. I started with Jack Hargrave right out of school and did big boats with him, and I was there less than two years when I went to Hatteras around 1985 or 1986. Jack was designing the 92 to 130 series for Hatteras, so I ran that program on the production line.
What made you want to give up your own business at age 58 and go back? I was semiretiring in April of this year. I was going to go off and be artsy and live in the North Carolina mountains — I was all ready to do it and continue as a consultant on my terms, which is a nice way to end a custom career — but then I got a call.
That must have been one heck of a call. There’s nothing better than a challenge, especially to help your alma mater. I was here in the glory days when Hatteras had 1,500 employees. It’s almost 500 now. They’re well known for their sportfish, but they don’t sell nearly as many boats as a company like Viking does, and there’s also all these companies like Jarrett Bay digging into the custom market. Hatteras needs a top-to-bottom, long-term vision. Because of my 800 vessels on the water built all over the world, I think it’s going to be fun to give a little bit of what I’ve learned back.
How will you create that vision? I’m on the shop floor problem-solving. I’m here to look at the product, improve the product line through the motoryachts and the sportfish, expand the product line at a much faster frequency than in the past, and rally the team.
Does this mean the end of your firm? Setzer Design is still open for a while, to finish obligations. My one-off and two-off projects, as unique and fun as they are, most of them for the past five or six years, I haven’t been able to show anybody what I’m doing. I have nondisclosure clauses.
What can we expect from Hatteras going forward? We have the motoryacht line and the sportfish line. We’re going to build out those lines, fill in the holes in the strategies to meet each market segment properly. I need to massage every product across the board in different ways so that they all become a family. And then there will be new development from the ground up.
You’ve designed some big yachts. Is there a 250-foot Hatteras in the future? The key is to stay within your boundaries and work within your realm of influence. I’m also going to make sure we look at the history: where this company came from, how it started and where they had the most success with what types of products.
What do you think is most important for boaters to know about the history of Hatteras Yachts? It was on the backs of companies like Hatteras in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s that so many other companies got their start.
Since you can’t divulge upcoming changes in Hatteras models, can you say when we might see them? You’ll start to see things by the Fort Lauderdale show this year.
That’s in November — you mean new features by then, right? Not new models? Noooo — why would I want to do new features when I can do a whole new model? We’re going to be coming with surprises in motoryachts and sportfishers. Our sport-fishing line is going to get even stronger, and with the motoryachts, we are going back to our heritage.