Working on the quiet for years, builders of the iconic brand now are ready to pursue a broader clientele
A familiar moniker stood out among the new center console brands at the Palm Beach International Boat Show: Blackfin. Is this the same builder that carved out a niche in fishing boat lore as one of the best-riding offshore boats?
Yes it is. Fans of Blackfin may have been unaware that the boats never really went away. And now the brand is being “reintroduced” with the promise of an entire fleet using the original designs. At the March 21-24 show, brokerage firm Dwight Tracy & Friends and boatbuilder Blackfin Boats Inc. launched a partnership for the marketing, sales and exclusive worldwide distribution of a new, expanded line of modernized Blackfin sportfishing boats.
Blackfin Boats, which currently consists of Miami boatbuilders Jose Suarez and Gustavo Cardona and various contractors, has been quietly turning out about a dozen boats a year since 2001. Cardona and Suarez have built roughly 100 Blackfins — a 27-foot center console, a 34 Open and a 34 Fisharound. The 34s are lengthened outboard-powered versions of the Blackfin 32 (originally designed by Charles Jannace as the Blackfin 31 in the mid-’70s). The company displayed a center console version of the 34 with triple Yamaha F300s at the Palm Beach show.
“It’s a great product, and it is time to get it out there with the competition,” says Suarez, 42, who builds the boats with Cardona, 43, in their 16,000-square-foot facility in Opa Locka, Fla. “We have been relying on word of mouth and our customers. The boats have been built to order for the last 11 years and shown only at local boat shows.
That’s about to change, says Phil Friedman, the former CEO and president of Palmer Johnson Yachts, whose current company is assisting Dwight Tracy & Friends in the relaunch. “The bottom line is these guys love to build boats but have not developed into a force in the market as they had hoped,” says Friedman, managing director of Port Royal Group LLC in Pompano Beach, Fla., a marine technical and business consultant company. “Almost every day, in one capacity or another, Gus and Jose are down on the shop floor with their work force laminating or sanding a plug or a mold, or laying out some prototype part or other part. These are really hardworking, good guys who invest themselves personally in every boat.”
Blackfin built a reputation as a standout fishing boat in the 1980s and ’90s. Friedman tested several Blackfins back then as an editor at Power & Motoryacht magazine, so he can attest to the ride quality. “You would be crazy to change the design of the bottom,” he says. “The seas have not changed in 20 years, and the hull form that was successful back then is just as successful now.”
Blackfin, which was owned by Carl Herndon, who later founded Jupiter Boats, fell on hard times in the late ’90s. Detroit Diesel bought out the company and sold the assets to investor Alvin Wright, who initially tried to subcontract the construction of the boats. His own company later built them with the supervision of Cardona, a Cuba-born American boatbuilder.
In the early 2000s, Wright turned over the tooling and the rights to the brand to Cardona. He eventually partnered with Suarez, and for the past decade they have been building about a dozen Blackfins a year, selling them mainly in South Florida. Blackfin Boats has the molds for the 25 and 27 center consoles, the 33 Combi and the 38, 40 and 42 Express, Suarez says. The short-term plan is to first build a modern version of the 42 Express, Friedman says. That boat is expected to be finished in just under two years, he says.
The partnership between Blackfin and DT&F promises to build sales and production into annual numbers of 50 to 60 units during the next two to three years, with DT&F leading the way, Friedman says. Dwight Tracy is the former president and CEO of Allied Marine Group. “We were the largest dealership of Tiara in the world at one time, and the same holds true for Hatteras and Ferretti,” Tracy says. “We’ll go out in the marketplace and do everything possible to put this brand, which we think is a spectacular one, in front of the boating public and use whatever means necessary to do it. Once people know what is going on here, they will want to be a part of it. We will do print advertising; we will, of course, go to the boat shows and participate in Internet marketing.”
In addition, DT&F’s marketing arsenal will include fishing events that showcase the boats in action. “We have lofty goals but reasonable goals,” Tracy says.
Suarez is excited about the marketing campaign. “We picked the best people in the market to do this kind of work,” he says. “We know they’ll do a great job.”
Suarez and Cardona work out of a 16,000-square-foot building (with about another 6,000 square feet available under temporary shelter) in a fully secured courtyard, Friedman says. Negotiations are under way to expand into the adjacent part of the building, which would add about 18,000 square feet, he says.
The company employs 20 to 25 workers, including contractors, but Suarez says he and Cardona carry out much of the boatbuilding. Says Suarez: “We can honestly say to customers that the owners of the company will be building your boat.”
With the anticipated growth, the pair may have to curb some of their hands-on work, Friedman says. “We have a labor pool in South Florida that is replete with skilled people who have worked at places like Bertram,” says Friedman, who expects the work force to double during the next two years.
This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue.