One-time marina rat’s startup builds two 24-footers with an emphasis on simplicity and value
Why would anyone start a boatbuilding company in these shaky economic times? Morgan Huntley has an answer.
“Boatbuilding is what I do and what I love. I don’t know how to do anything else, and I’m not going to stop even if persistently high unemployment tells me to,” Huntley says.
A self-described former marina rat from New York with a passion for boats, the confident 31-year-old believes he will find success with his Vanquish Boats, which builds a 24-footer (25 feet, 8 inches LOA) in two versions. “One of the biggest advantages of starting a boat company now is that the quality and quantity of talent available to an expanding company is huge,” Huntley says.
Vanquish Boats (www.vanquishboats.com) began as Vanguard Powerboats in 2003 on the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York, launched by a builder inspired by classic Northeast lake runabouts. The builder closed shop in 2008. With private backing, Huntley bought the tooling in March 2010. He set up Vanquish’s office in the Newport (R.I.) Shipyard and production in a marine complex he calls “Fiberglass Alley” on Broadcommon Road in neighboring Bristol, R.I.
“I thought the design had potential and a good designer behind it,” Huntley says. “I felt that Doug Zurn’s [modified-vee hull with lifting strakes] was tried and true and a good jumping-off point.”
Zurn says the boat was a departure of sorts for his design firm and became his modern interpretation of the Lyman runabouts he grew up with on Lake Erie. “We designed the bottom and chine with more thought given to how to make a boat run dry and not pound,” he says, adding that the finished hull he test-drove handled beyond his expectations. “I like her proportions — the amount of rake in the bow, the sweep of the sheer, the subtle tumblehome. My favorite feature is her ability to jump out of the hole and onto a plane.”
Genesis of a boat line
Huntley also grew up with runabouts, though on Long Island Sound. “My parents were avid water skiers and they would drop me in the boat after work before I was able to walk,” he says.
That affinity for boats has stuck. “Eight out of the last 10 years I have lived aboard,” he says — now with wife, Jen, on his 1985 43 Pearson trawler named Madison.
He cut his teeth as a youth at Long Island, N.Y., boatyards, followed by a year at The Landing School in Arundel, Maine, and two years at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, where he graduated from the marine systems course. He then worked at The Hinckley Co. and go-fast builder Outer Limits.
“What I learned at Hinckley was the importance they put on service and paying attention to the most minute details,” Huntley says. “They ran their company less like a boat company and more like the companies their customers run — doctor’s offices and law firms — and that struck me.”
At Outer Limits, he learned the value of creating a brand and the importance of nurturing that brand in a target market. He also saw firsthand how a well-run shop could efficiently turn out quality semicustom boats. “They were very different experiences but very rewarding experiences,” Huntley says.
Now helming his own boatbuilding company, Huntley is confident his products will resonate with family boaters as well as megayacht owners looking for a stylish tender. He also sees them as entry-level boats for owners who will eventually move up to a 30- to 50-footer in the $300,000-plus range.
The Vanquish boats are available in runabout and center console configurations. The forward location of the helm on the runabout results in a large cockpit, and the stainless-trimmed windshield adds to its vintage appeal. Prices start at $120,000. “I think I have a great product here. Nobody is building anything like this at this price point,” he says.
Vanquish has built six boats in its first year of operation — yellow runabouts and blue center consoles — and had sold two by the end of the summer. “It’s a production build with custom options,” Huntley says, noting the optional teak decks, mahogany trim, dodger (center console), Bimini (runabout), bow thruster, and various propulsion and electronics choices.
The 3/4-inch-thick hulls are built by International Marine Repair of hand-laid fiberglass with vinylester resins and a vacuum-bagged closed-cell foam core. Standard power is a Crusader 5.7 HO MPI 330-hp gas inboard, with options for a 375-hp Crusader, a Yanmar diesel and a Hamilton jetdrive. The boats cruise at 32 mph, topping out at 38 mph, and draw 19 inches with the standard power.
Strategy for success
“Morgan is young and full of energy,” says Zurn, who continues his working relationship with Vanquish, developing ideas with Huntley to fine-tune the boats. “He’s approaching his business plan with an open mind, and he’s very determined to sell product.”
Part of that plan entails taking the boats on the road, attending boat shows in Newport, Norwalk, Conn., Annapolis, Md., Chicago, Minneapolis, and Miami and Palm Beach, Fla. Huntley believes the boats will have appeal from the Maine lakes to the canals of Fort Lauderdale. The Midwest, he says, is “uncharted territory.”
“We’re still feeling out what our market is, but we’re going to hit the lake scene,” Huntley says. “In New England it’s easy to forget that the vast majority of pleasure boats sold in the U.S. are operated in fresh water. I have a vision in my head of a 24 Runabout tied up at the dock of some lakeside summer cabin, and I’m pushing to make that a reality.”
Huntley recently signed Chris Lufkin, 48, of the consulting group Marine Industry Advisors (and formerly of such boat brands as Albemarle, Triton and Sailfish), as vice president of sales. Lufkin will handle factory-direct orders and build a dealer network, initially focusing on the New York/New England and Great Lakes regions. “We have created a dealer model with a healthy MSRP margin structure so that every new dealer that partners with us will have a chance to grow the Vanquish brand at their own pace and still make money,” says Lufkin, the former sales director at Albemarle Boats, director of dealer development and regional vice president at Seminole Marine Group, and regional sales manager at Triton Boats during a 15-year career.
Teaming with the right dealers is critical to building the brand, Huntley says. “A Vanquish boat is not just about style and performance; it is also about a certain lifestyle, and we want a dealer that can provide the kind of service that correlates with the quality of the product,” he says.
“We are definitely a niche boat, he says. “A Vanquish is not for everyone.”
The boatbuilding venture is an offshoot of Huntley’s first business, the refit and repair company Morgan Marine Service in Bristol, where he also offers a factory service plan for Vanquish buyers. “We operate the refit/repair business as a co-op,” he says. “We have a small crew of general boat techs and work with other colleagues in Newport on various projects. We’re a small shop.”
The proximity to more than a dozen marine companies and the experienced craftsmen behind them has its advantages. “My canvas guy is across the parking lot,” Huntley says. “Being right in the heart of things is key [to finding] the smartest, most efficient way to build the boat.”
And Huntley is convinced he’s building a boat for the times. “Consumers today want simplicity and value,” he says. “Our lives are so technical now with Facebook, iPods, texting and the like. Time with the ones you love should be away from all that — a day enjoyed on the water. A Vanquish is a simple boat. There are not a ton of bells and whistles and gadgets on them. We still build them in a traditional fashion, but by using modern time-saving methods of construction.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue.