When you take your boat for a sail, everything it does has at one time required the presence, attention, and craftsmanship of hundreds of people. When something goes wrong, you need to know how to fix it yourself, or who to call for the right part or expertise. You may be a great sailor and a combination mechanic/rigger/electrician with McGyver capabilities; it’s still the work product of those hundreds of people that keeps you sailing.
Just prior to a planned six-week cruise, The Admiral and I discovered that our 2009 Hunter 36 sailboat had mysteriously developed a bent strut, the metal piece attached to the hull that holds the propeller shaft at a constant angle.
Fortunately, we were on the hard in Port Townsend Boat Haven, a veritable treasure trove of excellent boat craftspeople. We went to Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-Op and
found Dean Bozak, a propulsion expert and experienced worker in bronze, to straighten it. A day later, Dean delivered the bad news: our strut was just too cracked to adjust. We would need to replace it. There was no replacement in Port Townsend. He suggested calling Hunter’s Florida headquarters. I knew that was not the answer; Hunter had changed.
The recession of 2008 hit Hunter hard. The company struggled to stay afloat, re-organized itself, and eventually was purchased by David Marlow, a well-known builder of custom powerboats who also loved to sail, and had great respect for Hunter sailboats. Marlow re-branded the company as Marlow-Hunter, and changed its philosophy and methodology, reflecting his own interest in building higher quality boats, using Hunter designs as a departure point. Hunter Marine’s founder Warren Luhrs, by contrast, had created a company that built affordable cruising boats for the US middle class. At its peak, Hunter was producing 800 sailboats a year, and distributing them to 37 dealers to show and sell. Marlow-Hunter, by contrast, is happy to build 200 boats a year. These are now created from production models for specific customers by order through one of 17 dealers.
This change in the market should not come as a shock to anyone who currently cruises on their own boat, or who is in the market for one: For someone who is buying their first sailboat or seeking to upgrade on a middle-class budget, the best price-point values are found in well-maintained older boats. And a well-maintained boat implies access to parts, service, and the hundreds of craftspeople who provide them.
This is not a new problem: plenty of boats that have had a large production base are no longer being made. But it is an increasing one, since the 20-odd year production base dating from the 1980’s to the 2000’s is huge. More and more sailors are facing the question: Now that your boat model is no longer being produced, where are the support systems that will help you to keep your boat sailing?
Our splashdown in Port Townsend was scheduled in two days. If we did not make it, I was told, the schedule was crowded. We would go on a waiting list. Dean told me that if we wanted to make our splashdown time, the new strut had to come in the next day. Fortunately, I knew of someone who had been preparing for just this kind of moment for over 30 years. I called Phil Herring, at Sailboat Owners.com. He’s on my list of people who keep me sailing.