How the other half sails; LUXURY YACHTS BY HENRY R. HINCKLEY & CO.
Southwest Harbor, Maine
It had been a misty, clammy three days, even by coastal Maine standards. But by late Monday morning the fog had melted and the clouds were beginning to lift, exposing the first shafts of returning summer sun. In the damp boatyard, the briny smell of a Maine morning mingled with the faint tang of resin.Skip to next paragraph
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Overhead, seagulls wheeled and screamed, landing on a sagging, green-shingled garage. Beneath an innocuous sign, "Henry R. Hinckley & Co.," two peeling gray doors swung wide to the warming sun.
Hirschell Norwood, in dark khaki work clothes, paused from his carpentry work to glance toward the sky. "Warm isn't it?" he drawled to no one in particular, rubbing sawdust from his hands. After a moment, he turned back to his cabinets. Hirschell Norwood has worked as a joiner in the Hinckley boatyard for 32 years and this day was to be no different.
Henry R. Hinckley & Co. -- yacth builders for millionaires and other well-to-do sailing aficionados -- prides itself on the kind of consistency and craftsmanship symbolized by Hirschell Norwood. Indeed, in yachting circles Hinckleys are known as the Rolls-Royces of sailing vessels.
And they aim to keep the reputation.
A price tag that starts at $148,000 (sails extra) keeps all but the most affluent sailors off their gleaming teak decks. Buyers of the boats have included such well-known millionaires-cum-sailors as Nelson and David Rockefeller and C. Peter McColough, chairman and chief executive of Xerox.
Admirers have been known to sail miles out of their way just for a glimpse of one of Hinckley's sloops, ketches, or yawls, identifiable by a good-leaf rolling wave on the bow.
Mustachioed William Moyer, Hinckley's president since Henry's death last year , puts the company's attitute succinctly: "Other yachtmakers may claim they build the best boats. We don't make the claim -- we do it."
In most cases this might be considered self-interested cheerleading. But in Hinckley's case, according to industry observers, it's true. One sailboat designer says, "Hinckley's the absolute finest [fiberglass boat builder] in the country."
Visitors to the 15-acre boatyard, however, may be deceived by the derelict appearance of sagging shingle sheds and gargantuan aluminum sheds. But then, Henry R. Hinkley & Co. has been building boats of distinction in that same boatyard for nearly half a century.
According to Top-Sider shod Bob Hinckley, Henry Hinckley's oldest son and company sales manager, it was actually somewhat of an accident that father Henry even founded the company back in the early 1930s. A Cornell graduate with an aeronautical engineering degree, Henry came home to sleepy Southwest Harbor with the intention of tearing down the existing boatyard. He complaint it was an eyesore on the family property. As it turned out, however, henry found the boatyard "more interesting than anything else." And, as they say, the rest is history.
At first, the fledging company turned out only wooden motorboats. The first squat vessel doubled as a lobster boat in winter and a yacht in summer. During World War II, a government contract in hand, Hinckley & Co. produced some 600 military boats. That experience proved valuable. The company bought enough specialized machinery to build its boats from the ground up -- a tradition that still sets it apart from most boatmakers today. Says president Moyers, "We're not unique because we build the boat by hand, but because we build so many of the boat's components [ourselves]."
In the mid-1950s Henry R. Hinckley & Co. was one of the largest builders of wooden yachts in the country. But in the 1960s the sailing boom hit and mass production of fiberglass came into its own. Even so, Henry clung to the old-fashioned handiwork and by choice scaled down production. Today the company , now owned by Canadian Richard Tucker, is still the second-largest employer on Maine's rock-ribbed Mount Desert Island, but remains one of the smallest builders in the business.
Of course, that type of old-fashioned craftsmanship takes time -- and money. Hinckley only turns out 12 to 18 boats a year, on order only. By comparison, Pearson Yachts, one of the world's largest yacht builders, builds as many as one boat every two days.
At present, the Hinckley company produces only five different boats, all "high performance" or fast cruisers. They are designated by length -- the popular Bermuda 40, the Hinckley 43, Hinckley 49, Sou'wester 50, and the Hinckley 64. Henry, the inveterate tinkerer, designed the 49 and the 64 styles himself. His son Bob says, "Dad was an inventor, designer, and engineer."