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Q&A with Carl Cramer, publisher of Professional BoatBuilder and WoodenBoat magazines

Carl Cramer, publisher of Professional BoatBuilder and WoodenBoat magazines, is a lifelong boater who grew up in California, helping out at his family's marine dealership.


"It was a great environment to grow up in," he says.

He moved to Maine in 1964 to attend Bowdoin College, but left school to pursue a career in yacht design, boatbuilding and boat repair. He opened shop as a yacht designer in 1974. Following that, he worked at Down East magazine and then spent three years at a computer magazine before joining WoodenBoat in 1987. He is the founding publisher of Professional BoatBuilder, which made its debut in 1989.

Professional Boatbuilder founded the International BoatBuilders' Exposition and Conference in 1992, and began partnering with the National Marine Manufacturers Association on the event in 2003.

"I've been very fortunate that I've had vocation and avocation in sync for a very long time," he says.

A resident of Brooklin, Maine, Cramer, who is 63, says he enjoys "sailing, sailing, sailing" in his free time. Currently, he is revising Robert Stewart's Boatbuilding Manual, which International Marine first published in 1970.

Q: Are you happy with how IBEX 2009 turned out, despite the drop in attendance and exhibitors?

A: It was actually better than what I expected, given the economic climate. Certainly I always wish there were more exhibitors, and I wish there were more attendees, but in a realistic sense it ended up about where we thought it would. However, I thought the sentiments expressed by both the exhibiting and attendee segments were a nice surprise. I think the right attendees came. It was ... the engineers and purchasing staffs, and that's who our exhibitors want to see anyway.

Q: What are you expecting from the move to Louisville, Ky.? Do you think you'll see an increase in exhibitors and attendees, and do you think the addition of a MAATS component will help?

A: Yes, I definitely [think there will be an increase] in terms of qualified attendees. And exhibitors, it's too soon to say. Most of them seem very enthusiastic. There will be the hardcore South Florida-located companies that might need more convincing. I love the fact that MAATS is becoming a part of it because aftermarket used to be a part of IBEX's mission, and it's nice to have it back.


Q: What are some of the most important issues facing boatbuilders today?

A: Selling boats. Selling more boats, so they can build more boats. I would like to say, however, that I don't believe any of these preposterous stories that 75 percent of the U.S. boatbuilding people are unemployed. That's an insane comment. It's not true. It's absolutely not true. It might be true for some companies, but by and large the effect has been nowhere near that disastrous. I don't know why someone would make such an elaborate and depressing statement. I guess it's closer to 30 percent. [I'm basing that number] on our readership. Our magazine, Professional BoatBuilder, is read by builders around the world and not just the big production companies. There's a lot of smaller shops - shops that build custom boats and semicustom and, with varying degrees, they're either doing OK or holding their own, or they've had to lay off a little bit of staff. Even the big production companies, unless they've totally shut their doors, they're nowhere near 70 percent down.

Q: What effect will the new evaporative emissions rule have on builders?

A: It's a big deal, and it's not going to go away, and we have to be vigilant and learn how to cope with the changes. I'm really happy that we have John McKnight leading that charge on behalf of the NMMA.

Q: Professional BoatBuilder recently held its first design competition. How did this come about, and was it well-received?

A: The editors and I were sitting around, and it was the view of several that what was being left behind in powerboat design was any effort toward being efficient except at high-end speeds, which by definition are not efficient in terms of fuel consumption. So that was the parameter of the first one. I was not a judge. I think we had six judges from as far away as Bozeman, Mont. I think we had 75 designers from 15 different countries enter. [We are doing it again] - the parameters are for a larger boat. We announced that prior to IBEX. We keep the parameters pretty open, and it drives some people crazy. The challenge is to inspire creative thinking and come up with a boat that can meet the broad parameters we set.

Q: Professional BoatBuilder has marked its 20th anniversary. How is the boatbuilding industry different now than when you first started?

A: We were talking about this before our 20th anniversary issue. Boatbuilding technology and systems and everything are so far advanced from where they were 20 years ago. It crosses the spectrum. In terms of efficient boatbuilding, it's been an extraordinarily short amount of time in which so much has been accomplished - whether it's more efficient boatbuilding itself, or much better protection for workers because of the boatbuilding processes that are now more common. Systems, of course, are extraordinary because they are so far advanced in such a short amount of time. It's not like everybody's going to switch to installing hybrid propulsion systems overnight, but there's certainly a lot more being installed today than there was 20 years ago.

I think what's most gratifying for me is when we started the magazine, and when we started IBEX in 1992, it was really tough to get writers to write and speakers to talk about what methods they were using - whether it was boatbuilding, whether it was repair, whether it was design - almost to the point where nobody would share anything. And it was maybe a three-year process until we had writers who were talking about information you never would have heard before. And at the IBEX sessions we'd get technicians from large production companies talking about their boatbuilding methods. That was unbelievable, given where the posture was in the community three or four years earlier.

Q: What do you think builders have learned from this recession?

A: I guess whatever everybody, everywhere, has learned: You can't take anything for granted, so we have to have our own houses in order to be able to withstand something like this. Obviously this pretty much came out of nowhere. I'm sure there are economists who say they saw it coming, but for the rest of us, it was just devastating, and we weren't prepared. So for the boatbuilders that are able to weather this, they've learned a lot in the last year. What they've learned hasn't been pretty, but they're much stronger.

Q: What do you see as the future of the industry once we come out of this recession?

A: I think [the industry] is going to be fine. If anything, there will be more of an emphasis on ingenuity and efficiency, and we're all going to benefit from that, including the end user. The consumer is going to end up having better boats from which to choose.

This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue.



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