In Marine Industry, Multihull Boats Are A Rare Success Story

October 09, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

Good news in the boating industry is hard to come by these days. If you want to find it, you have to look for it.

In this county, you have to drive down to a boatyard in Mayo and talk to Tony Smith, the Englishman who works in one corner of the business that seems to be weathering the storm. Smith and his wife, Susan, own Performance Cruising, which for 10 years has been making fiberglass catamarans in South County.

"1991 has been one of my best years," said Smith. "This will match 1986."

Smith said he'll sell 30 boats this year from a yard thatemploys 12 people, a yard that can probably produce up to 45 boats ayear. And Smith said he's been getting about five times as many inquiries from prospective customers this year as he did last year.

"Right now, southern California is our hottest market," Smith said. "We've just shipped 10 boats there."

Boat show spokesman Jeffrey Holland said multihull boats -- double-hulled catamarans and triple-hulled trimarans -- are one hot spot in a cold industry. There are fewer used multihull boats around, he said, so there's more demand for new boats.

Smith says multihulls are doing well chiefly for one reason:price. He says they represent the best value for the money. The 32-foot catamaran that Smith's been building since 1981 has about as muchroom on board as a 40-foot single-hulled sailboat. Smith's 32-foot boat, the Gemini, sells for $75,000. The average 40-foot single-hull boat goes for about $100,000.

Smith and his wife have little competition in their field. Multi-hulls magazine, based in South Quincy, Mass., says there are only five companies in North America making multihull boats on a production line, including Performance Cruising.

The magazine is sponsoring a special 16-boat multihull exhibit at the sailboat show. It features a 54-foot craft that looks like something out of a science fiction movie. The trimaran, called Planesail 54, ispowered by a system of two fixed vertical wings that look a bit likeairplane wings. The boat sailed to Annapolis from England, the firstfixed-wing boat to cross the Atlantic.

"I'd almost saturated my market in England," said Smith. He left there during the recession of 1980. Now, he and his wife seem positioned to ride out the boating depression of the 1990s.

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