Time Travels Reflections on Reconnecting with an Old Friend
In 2001 I began work on a new design for the Great Harbour line. At the time, the GH37 was enjoying great success in the market, and with good reason. These boats delivered good handling, great stability, excellent utility and had a ton of space aboard. To my mind, the only drawback was cost. It was a complex and labor-intensive boat to build. We wanted to reduce that complexity and create a new model that could be manufactured much less expensively, while still retaining all the qualities that we had grown to love in the GH37. That was the beginning of our N series.
We started with the same sold-fiberglass hull. Engines, fuel tanks, running gear and almost all systems were kept the same, and the interior featured the same master stateroom, bath, and the “A” version of the galley. What changed was the deck. By creating the now-familiar flush foredeck and pilothouse configuration of the N37, we were able to form the topsides from a single molded piece plus a roof. This eliminated numerous separate molded parts, and greatly simplified assembly. As a result, we were able to reduce the time needed to build the boat by more than 1,500 man-hours, as compared to a GH37, and bring the price down by a third.
The motivation for this cost reduction wasn't just a marketing exercise. I wanted a boat for personal use. And even though folks may think boat builders get rich, the truth was that the GH37 had always remained a bit out of my personal reach. So that first N37 was actually built for my family, and with an eye towards keeping the bottom line slim. Hull number one, soon to be known as Semper Fi, was a relatively bare-bones boat, without many of the options many people would consider mandatory. It was fitted with mechanical controls, no flybridge, bow thruster, radar or davit, and just basic electronics that included the least expensive autopilot of the day. On the other hand, because I was doing much of the work myself, we added a number of extra touches to the interior that were labor-intensive but inexpensive from a materials standpoint. We admittedly got a little carried away on some interior woodworking, but it was fun and did not drive up the cost much.
Semper Fi is readied for launch and a maiden voyage to the Annapolis Boat Show
The goal was to have Semper Fi ready to show at the Annapolis boat show, and we just made it. It hit the water on the St. Johns River with zero shakedown time, and immediately headed north, making most of the passage offshore, and performing flawlessly. Soon after completing the rounds of the fall boat shows, we set our sites on a true adventure. Semper Fi headed across the Gulf Stream to became the first US recreational boat invited into Havana harbor since the revolution of 1959. That event was commemorated on the cover of Passage Maker Magazine in July of 2002. That same year, I loaned the boat to a crew of well-known boating personalities for yet another milestone voyage. George Sass Jr., the former editor of Yachting magazine, Peter Swanson, former editor of Passagemaker Magazine, and Reuben Trane, builder of the Island Pilot series, took Semper Fi from Florida to Bermuda, then on to Newport, Rhode Island, thus establishing the boat's bluewater cred. For the next three years, my family and I cruised extensively in the Bahamas, and Semper Fi even did a stint as our first charter boat. I sold Semper Fi in 2004, and over the next 12 years it had three different owners, one of whom parted with it only to trade up to a new model N37 with a flybridge. This past fall, Semper Fi came on the market once more. I was called on to act as a buyer's representative for an individual who ultimately purchased the boat for about $40,000 dollars more than I had originally sold it for. As part of this arrangement, I traveled to Virginia to provide training on the boat's systems and handling. When I stepped aboard. I was very impressed with how well the boat had stood the test of time, The mahogany interior had taken on a dark, rich tone with age. It was interesting to note the absence of some features that have evolved on newer N37s, such as the front-mounted entertainment center and the starboard-side couch/bunk. The pocket doors installed on Semper Fi were really cool, but I remembered how tricky they were to get right, which is why there were not added to any subsequent build. And though the helm now sported a collection of newer electronics, the original VHF radio and autopilot were still aboard and functioning just fine.
My son Travis was with me, and we reminisced about some of the trips we had made on this boat. He was barely a teenager at the time. In the years since he has earned a degree in industrial systems engineering from the University of Florida, and now runs our manufacturing facility. Near the end of the training session, Travis and I had a quiet moment aboard. I was a proud parent to hear him say: “Dad I would buy this boat in a heartbeat, and I'd take it to the Bahamas tomorrow.”