HOT RODS ON THE WATER
A gutted boat, stripped of its exterior planks, dominates the workshop of Rockport-based company Yachting Solutions. The 48-foot-long structure bears little evidence of its former glory, save for its size and its graceful lines. With rotting wood and flaking paint, the decrepit Huckins Fairform Flyer looks like the skeleton of a beached whale, washed up on shore and destroyed by the elements.
In a matter of months, this boat will be seaworthy. The Avocet III isn’t just going to be restored to her prior beauty. Her shape will be modified and her hull straightened. The interior mechanics will be brought up to 2016 standards. The graceful wooden exterior—now destroyed by time and stripped naked by the hands of workers—will house a powerful 800 HP engine and luxurious amenities.
This process is called “resto-mod.”
William Morong, owner of Yachting Solutions, says that the process of rebuild ing and renovating is an up-and-coming sector of the boat-building world. “The term resto-mod comes from the custom car business,” explains Morong. “It’s where someone takes a ’68 Mustang, old Chevelle, or a similar classic car, and adds current components, like new brakes, new suspension, new engine, subtle changes in sheet metal, grill or bumper details, trick door handles, current electronic components, and customized interiors. They turn the shell of the car into something that is updated and drives like brand-new.”
Chris Lawton, Morong’s business partner, chimes in. “In this marketplace, a resto-mod boat will appeal to a certain type of customer. The same guy that wants a ’68 Mustang might want a boat from the ’50s or ’70s.”
“There are old boat people and old car people and old bike people,” says Morong. “They’re the ones who appreciate style.” And like a vintage LeSabre with its distinctive fins and space-age look, these old boats have style in spades. “They’ve got soul,” says Morong as he pats the chipped green paint of the Avocet III.
Yachting Solutions does more than just resto-mod work. Currently, the company offers customers aid with new yacht sales, brokerage, crew services, yacht management, storage, repair, and dockage. One of its services, Yacht Response, offers 24-hour, 365-day on-board customer support. It’s an all-encompassing service, and in the past Morong and Lawton have accommodated rather outrageous requests, like the time they were asked to bring “a church pew and black baby chickens” to a private island. “By one o’clock we had his pew and his chickens to his island seven miles off shore,” says Lawton with a laugh. Although Morong and Lawton never found out exactly what the customer was using black birds and church benches for, they knew it was for his children. Perhaps they needed it for a play, Morong speculates, and I imagine a scene straight from a Wes Anderson film, complete with costumes and feathers and whimsy. “Like any dad, he wanted to make his kids happy,” says Morong.
This, he explains, is a good example of the level of customer service that Yachting Solutions can offer. Both Morong and Lawton have crewed on private yachts—boats much larger than the ones in their midcoast facility—an experience that taught them valuable lessons about customer service. “What we found when we started Yachting Solutions was that many of our customers appreciated a level of hospitality and service they may have experienced in a fine hotel, or on board a private jet or yacht charter. We found that many yards weren’t focused on that level of service. People had become accustomed to standing in line or being treated as though the service provider was doing them a favor,” explains Morong. “We recognized that developing a culture of hospitality, concierge level services, and attention to detail was being extremely well received by our customers that recognized a superior level of service when they experienced it.” Being able to do it with a smile is a point of pride for Yachting Solutions.
That said, there’s something that happens to Morong’s face when he talks about boats. He clearly respects and likes his customers, but he loves their yachts and the potential they embody. Morong has spent his life pursuing beautiful boats.
“The most fun I’ve had in a long time happened when this guy came in and said, ‘I saw one of your resto-mod projects and I want you to do one for me,’” Morong says. The client brought him a “beautiful old thing, just the shell of a boat” that had sentimental value for his family. “He wanted me to turn it into a hot rod. He didn’t even want to see pictures of the design process. He just said, ‘Surprise me.’ And we did.” Behind his carefully trimmed beard, his face lights up in a grin.
According to Morong, there are three different types of vintage-style boats on the market. First, there are the restored boats, where every single part has been matched, number for number, to the original model. Then you have the “spirit of tradition” boats, which are typically new boat construction inspired by older designs. Finally, you get the resto-mods, which combine old shells with new technology.
In many ways, boat shopping is similar to house hunting. For buyers with plenty of time and knowhow, it can be appealing to buy a restored boat—or a yacht to restore. But for buyers who want a boat with a vintage feel and minimal upkeep, “spirit of tradition” or resto-mods are probably a more sensible bet.
As I climb on deck of a project from 2015, a 58-foot Trumpy Cruiser from 1971 called the Somerset, I’m blown away by the craftsmanship on display. From bow to stern, this landlocked boat is an impressive sight. Morong opens the hatch and takes me inside the gleaming wood interior. I want to run my hands across the surfaces and feel the carved wood, but instead I sink into a plush chair. “She’s a beauty,” I tell Morong of his recently completed boat. Priced at $975,000, she’s out of my reach, but there’s a dreamy quality to sitting inside this ship. I could belong here. I could live here.
A few minutes later, Morong pushes a button and reveals a perfect encapsulation of the resto-mod ideal: a flat screen television that rises from the gleaming wooden floor. “This cabinet was part of the original boat,” Morong explains as the television pops up with a gentle, mechanical whine. “They didn’t have flat screen TVs in 1971—hell, they barely even had TV. What we did here was take something original, a piece of furniture that came with the boat, and repurpose it as a home for a flat-screen.” Even in its upright position, the TV looks completely in-line with the rest of the boat—not an easy feat.
The television also provides a good idea of how people are spending time onboard their boats, as does the comfortable lounge furniture, and the welcoming interior design. They’re not made to maximize sleeping space, but rather to accommodate small groups on short jaunts. “We’re noticing a shift in how people use yachts in this size range,” says Morong. “In the big-boy leagues, everything is 50-plus meters. There are a lot more billionaires out there who want big, massive boats. On the other hand, the boats we work on—in the 30- to 50-foot range—are being used more as commuter boats.”
In what Morong calls a “throwback to yesteryear,” these mid-sized yachts are being used for days out on the water, picnics, and overnights or as luxurious vessels to transport New Yorkers from Long Island to Connecticut and back again. “Back in the day,” Lawton adds, “these boats were being used as entertainment centers or as a way to travel from one home to another.” They weren’t long-term cruisers, intended for weeklong vacations or month-long jaunts to the Caribbean. They were staffed by full-time crews, complete with captain and on-board chef. Originally owned by Fred Voges, the Avocet III spent the 1930s off the shore of New York City, hosting parties for Hollywood and Broadway moguls and stars. Morong pulls a few pictures up on a nearby computer screen. In faded sepia tones, women in midcentury bathing costumes laugh with their heads thrown back as men sit shirtless nearby, sipping drinks and basking in the sun. I can practically smell the cigar smoke through the 80 years that separate us. During Prohibition, Morong explains, boats like this one were used as floating bars, places for the wealthy to party where police couldn’t find them. “The boat was built for entertaining, and that’s what she did best,” says Lawton.
Soon, she’ll be back on the water, doing it again. But this time, no space will be wasted in separating the staff from the owners. The entire ship will be repurposed for modern usage, which means no crew’s quarters, no roped-off galley. Just plenty of space for family, friends, and fun on the water.