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Yacht Maker is Finding Its Way Through Rough Economic Seas

Yacht Maker is Finding Its Way Through Rough Economic Seas

Tue, 05 May 2009 10:29:42

PORTSMOUTH, RI — Hunt Yachts is riding a good wave, despite a $40 billion decline in the U.S. marine industry.

Judith Funderburk and Bob Price of Queenstown, Md., christen Godspeed, their new Hunt 52 luxury yacht, on Friday at Melville Marina in Portsmouth. Hunt Yachts in Portsmouth has grown from less than $1 million in sales in 2000 to more than $11 million in 2007, according to Peter Van Lancker, the company's president. (Jacqueline Marque/Daily News staff)

The boat building firm in Melville launched its newest yacht Friday, a luxury 52-footer that comes complete with a 1,000-horsepower engine that can power the yacht up to 35 knots, cherry woodwork and trim, a bamboo interior deck, interior air conditioning and many extras sought by the buyer.
A unique feature of the yacht, called the Hunt 52, is a small garage at the aft boarding deck that houses a 20-horsepower Hunt dinghy.

Peter Van Lancker, president of Hunt Yachts, said the Hunt 52 features three things: high performance, maneuverability and lots of comfort. No two yachts are the same and each is built for a particular person or family.

“That’s what we specialize in,” he said earlier week. “We like it, the customers like it and that’s what’s important.

“We offer choices according to how you want to do your boating. Nobody else does that in the industry.”

The inside and outside deck of the Hunt 52 are on one level so that people are not separated during a party. The aft deck has a couch and table. The doors to the inside cabin are glass.

“It looks like you are going into Macy’s,” Van Lancker said.

Like all Hunt yachts, the new one features the deep-V hull designed about 60 years ago by C. Raymond Hunt Associates. The deep-V hull changed the industry when it was introduced, Van Lancker said.

“You can go faster and point the boat where you want to go, and there isn’t a wall of water in front of you,” he said of the hull. “What we do is put a recreational deck on a Hunt hull and make it look cool and fun to be on it.”

The yacht launched Friday — christened the Godspeed — is one of three Hunt 52s under contract. They were all built in Taiwan.

Van Lancker said the company was fortunate to find three individuals who were willing to help finance the boats before construction started and had faith in the company’s ability to build them.

“We essentially made a partnership with three customers,” he said. “They were involved in the development of their yacht from the beginning. It was a very personal experience for them and they had a lot of fun.”

The firm sent diagrams to the customers, answered their questions and helped them decide what to include in their yacht, he said.

“I was the production manager so I got to know all these people personally and became friends with them,” Van Lancker said. “I traveled to Taiwan with some of them.”

The personalized features aboard the Godspeed include an upgraded washer and dryer in the galley and a massive Niles stereo system. The headboard in the owner’s stateroom is situated so that the foot of the bed faces the bow.

Van Lancker said the boats were built in Taiwan because of the lower labor costs there.

“I can’t change reality, but the cost of labor in Taiwan is significantly less than it is here,” he said. “When you get something with this many man hours in it, there is a value to going over there.”

The second Hunt 52 has been completed and is expected to arrive at Melville within a week or two. A 68-footer also is being built.

Despite the sale of the three yachts, Van Lancker said the firm is feeling the effects of the tough economy.

“A lot of it is managing yourself through this downturn,” he said. “You can’t just accelerate through it. The strategy is to be here on the other side of all of this. It doesn’t mean that you have to go out of business, but it doesn’t let you grow.”

Hunt Yachts was founded in 1998. Van Lancker joined the company in 2000, after being involved with the J24, the J30, the Freedom 40 and the Southern Cross. He is now involved with both Hunt Design Inc. in New Bedford, Mass., and Hunt Yachts in Melville.

“We are engineers and designers by trade,” Van Lancker said. “That’s our passion. And then we are smart enough to run a business as well. That’s mostly my job.”

The company is debt free, he said.

Hunt Yachts grew from less than a million dollars in sales in 2000 to more than $11 million in 2007, he said.

“We built it off our smarts and good will and connections and just good hard work, and never making a really significant mistake,” Van Lancker said. “You can’t afford to when you are trying to be entrepreneurial.”

Newport should be to boating what Switzerland is to skiing, he said.

“We should be that place where everyone comes to boat or to learn to boat,” he said.

The firm moved to Melville in 2006 and that has given it more room to perform its service work. Boat owners need their boats maintained, which provides the firm with work in a slow economy.

“You can come out of this ahead of where you are, if you play it right,” Van Lancker said. “We’re still ticking and have a smile on our face. And we have a lot of customers.”

Send reporter James A. Johnson e-mail at Johnson@NewportRI.com

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