Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Harbor Report: My meeting with two boat-making legends


While walking the docks this week, I learned that quality produces quantity.
As I was showing a boat, I was introduced to one of my prospect's friends, Mike Howarth. As our conversion progressed, I quickly learned that Mike knew a whole lot more about boats than I did.
So, rather than proceed with my introduction, I got quiet and listened. Mike had been building boats in California since the early 1970s, and has owned Pacific Seacraft and Cabo Yachts.
Two days later, I called Mike and asked him for an interview.
"OK. Sure, Len," he replied. "I should call my partner Henry Morschladt. We have worked together from the beginning, and he has a shop across the street from me."
When I met Mike, Henry was pulling into the parking lot. Mike started to talk about his boat-building career. Mike's passion for working with wood brought him to Harbor Yachts, where he became the foreman in the woodshop.
His next job was with Islander Yachts, where he moved over to the fiberglass tooling department, which relocated from Costa Mesa to Santa Ana. One day a number of boat molds showed up next door where Pacific Trawler started building boats.
Mike then moved to Pacific Trawler and was doing woodwork and engine installation. That's when he meet Henry Morschladt, who was its engineer, purchasing agent and part-time sales guy. Henry showed Mike one of his designs of a 25 cruising sailboat. It later became the Pacific Seacraft 25, and the two of them started building it.
As they came to the completion of that first boat, they needed to sell it and have it ready for the upcoming boat show in Newport Beach in the spring of 1976.
"I remember Duncan McIntosh really getting upset with us because he had never seen anyone bring a bandsaw down to the docks, before the show, in order to complete the boat in time," Henry said. "We had called in every favor and had all our relatives down on the docks, sanding and helping us finish the boat before the show started."

Henry sold the boat at the show, and the team went on to build 275, 25-foot boats. They had opened shop at an old Dr Pepper bottling company building in Fullerton and started Pacific Seacraft. One day, without telling them, Fortune Magazine wrote that they were building one of the top 100 products in the world.
This led to the team building thousands of boats from 20 to 37 feet, and becoming one of our country's top boat manufacturers. In 1988, they completed the sale of the company to a group out of Singapore.

By 1990 both Henry and Mike started talking about building another boat again and focused in on a 35-foot sports fisher.
"If we had been smarter, or shown any form of intelligence, we would have thought it to be crazy to go out to the High Desert and start a boat company," Mike explained.
But that's what the two of them did. And, under a small shed, they worked their magic again and completed their first boat just before the Long Beach boat show in the fall of 1991.
"On a Friday, I was calling the five or six people we had working with us, and told them that we would have to stop working until we sold the first boat," Mike recalled. "That weekend we sold the boat, and on Sunday I was calling everyone to come back to work on Monday."
Within five years the guys had started Cabo Yachts, in Adelanto, and were producing more than 120 boats a year, from 31-footers to 47-footers, with 400 employees. Again, the duo raised the bar and produced the highest quality sportfishing boat in the world, following it up with a "hassle-free warranty" that kept their customers coming back. In 2006, the guys sold the business to Brunswick.

Will Henry and Mike return to the boat-building business?
"I always am looking around," Mike said.
These guys are very smart. They were not going to tell me anything about what they were up to. I am just glad they did what they did and hope for the future that they return.
If any of my readers would like to meet me, at 1:30 p.m. on April 25 I will be at the OASIS Senior Center, 801 Narcissus Ave., Corona del Mar, speaking about our harbor's beer can races. Hope to see you there.
Sea ya!
LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist.


Anonymous said...

The boat in the uppermost picture is THE first Pacific Seacraft 25, the one supposedly built in Howarth's garage before their first boat show. I owned her in Maryland before being contacted by a friend of Howarth's, who bought her as a birthday present and had her shipped back to Califonia.

Anonymous said...

These guys have the magic. The PS 34 is my dream boat but right now I'm about to consider a PS 25 in person to replace my loyal Catalina 25 swing keel. What price special? If the low cabin top is not a real problem I would love to buy my first Pacific Seacraft and take it out in the stink of Haro Strait and laugh instead of cringe.