Luxury from bow to stern available for sea of green

Sailing: U.S. Sailboat Show's wares shine like gold - and some have an equivalent cost.


October 07, 2001|By Jonathan Pitts | Jonathan Pitts,SUN STAFF

Technically, says Rick Franke, an official of the 32nd United States Sailboat Show, most people get it wrong. A yacht is any vessel used for pleasure. So it depends on your point of view - one man's dinghy is another man's pleasure craft.

But as Franke leads a guest along the docks that moor scads of the world's state-of-the-art cruisers and racers - bright boats bobbing in the hot October sun - at this weekend's extravaganza in Annapolis, there's little doubt about the nomenclature.

That's especially true when he's asked flat-out to show what a million dollars can buy. In that price range, he says, you'll be getting certain amenities. And money buys idiosyncrasies.

He stops at Joe Cool, a 56-foot vessel built in Taiwan eight years ago, removes his shoes and climbs aboard.

Richard Kahn, the yacht broker with the local firm SailYard Inc., sold the boat just the day before and is in a cheerful mood. He sits in the salon - sailor talk for living room - with his elbows on the stout, hand-crafted Burmese-teak table that anchors the largest room on the vessel. Sure, he'll answer the queries of a landlubber.

This Taswell model is a "cutter" (two sails before the mast, one behind). Yes, sailboats have engines - for powering the boat out to sea, among other things, where windpower can take over and sweep it 1,500 miles with nary a pit stop. The tall sails are not manipulated solely by hand; there are also hydraulic systems or electric winches, all part of the "rig."

The key in crossing the ocean safely? "A good skipper," Kahn replies with a laugh.

Kahn, who represents Taswell sailboats and Nordhaven powerboats - both made by TaShing in Taiwan - goes further and offers a sense of what the hypothetical million will buy.

The boat must be at least 50 feet long to accommodate the amenities you'd want, he says. The ability to customize the boat at a quality level "separates that realm from less-expensive models." Serious sailors are exacting about design, from overall displacement (weight) and sail leverage right down to the woods and paints, to the valves and seacocks.

On Joe Cool, the interior alone emanates excellence. From the carefully matched grain in the woods - blond holly strips accentuating honey teak - to doors and drawers that open and close perfectly, its level of quality would be unthinkable without hand-crafting, the strength of the top boats made in the Orient, where economies favor labor over machinery.

Rees Rowe, an Australian engineer and the original owner of Joe Cool, spent four months in Taiwan personally overseeing the boat's creation. (So labor-intensive are Taswell boats that only about seven are made a year.) The work paid off: The Rowes spent eight years sailing around the world, and by their accounts, the vessel did beautifully. They sold it in order to embark on a horse-breeding life on their native continent.

One of the brand-new owners, Beth Newbold, is on deck greeting guests. She and her husband, Todd Winkler, owners of a construction business in Pittsburgh, had searched the globe for the right craft for more than a year, but so unusual were their specifications that they had all but accepted they'd have to custom-design their boat. When Kahn showed them Joe Cool in July, though, the fit was hand-in-glove.

"It was amazing," she says. "It suits all our long-term needs," which include sailing to Europe and around the world one day, all the while operating their business from beneath the deck. "We'll only be doing minor tweaking."

The list price was $767,000, or right about a million after adding canvas and electronics.

Newbold shows off her purchase with the vigor of a gale on the Irish sea. On deck, the "dodger" - the cockpit cover - is hard fiberglass, not the standard canvas or plastic, to fend off icy weather and oversized waves. The sails have electric winches, allowing one person to operate the boat safely from the cockpit. The deck has a clean, clutter-free layout, allowing easy movement in rough seas. And the 10-foot-high radar array, mounted to the aft, pivots, allowing for accurate, horizontal readings even when the boat is leaning.

The little things count, too: "We liked the transom layout," she says of the craft's rear end. "It's got steps. It's easy to get on and off. Some boats have that, but not many."

The clinching element, though, might have been the navigation station below. That's the directional command center of ocean-going yachts, where radar data flicker across screens and satellite-gathered weather information spews out on faxes several times a day.

These are, needless to say, essential monitors, and, on most 56-foot boats, says Newbold, you're lucky if that area is two feet wide. "But we wanted a `nav' station big enough" that it could also serve as an office from which to run their business.

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