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.
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."
Two more new boats -- a 42-foot and 59-foot -- have just come off the drawing boards and will be ready for production by next summer. All boats are a keel-centerboard construction which enables the sailor to pilot deep and shoal waters with equal aplomb.
In addition, Hinckley & Co. services and stores some 60 to 80 boats each winter -- most of them bearing the golden wave logo.
No two Hinckleys are ever alike because so much of finishing of the vessel is tailored to the customer's whims. Owners have saddled their boats with everything from bathtubs to fireplaces to microwave ovens.
No matter what the yacht's ultimate peculiarities, every boat begins as rolls of mat fiberglass and tubs of hot, red resin. "Laying up the hull" is the job of bearded Arnie Clow. Arnie, muscles bulging under his sleeveless yellow T-shirt, moves back and forth between the two halves of the mold split like the belly of a whale, spreading sheets of fiberglass and swabbing on resin. Five double layers will be laid at the boats edge; the keel will be about 1 1/4, inches thick at completion.
After the necessary three to four weeks of curing, sanding, and buffing, the hull is peeled from its red mold and moved "onto the line." From here, until its final delivery date some six to 12 months later, the boat will remain in a state similar to dry docking and receive the rest of its fittings. Some six to eight boats may be on the line at any one time with up to 90 employees scrambling up and down their sides hammering down floors, screwing on winches, bolting down 10 ,000-pound keels, and raising the 62-foot masts.
After the rudder mounts, copper bonding (to protect against lightning), fuel and water tanks are screwed into the hull, a one-piece combination deck, deckhouse and cockpit is fastened onto the hull. From here, the different shops -- machine, electrical, carpenter, sewing -- supply their handmade components according to the customer's specifications, which are mimeographed and taped to the hull of each boat.
Nothing is left to chance. Operations manager Rusty Bradford, a pencil shoved behind his ear, intones, "It's not unusual to tear something out if it's not right the first time." Even the diesel engines, one of the few parts that Hinckley does not make, are tested on the company's own dynamometer.
One observer described the Hinckley process this way: "First they build a fiberglass boat and then build a wooden one inside it." On a completed Hinckley, no exposed fiberglass offends the eye below decks. All walls are paneled in varnishe mahogany or ash and the floor is polished teak with inlaid holly. All fittings are either brass, bronze, or stainless steel.
On this breezy Monday, "Dalliance," a newly launched gold and navy Hinckley 64, rode majestically in the harbor. Estimated cost? "In the neighborhood" of
Above decks she is an impressive sight of neatly furled sails, gleaming steel , spotless white fiberglass, and burnished teak. But below decks, the Dalliance comes into her own.
The spacious main cabin below, decorated with bleached oak paneling and apricot Ultra-Suede chairs, resembles more a luxury apartment than a ship's galley. The striated teak and holly floor conceals the two diesel engines, while sliding panel cupboards reveal a color television complete with a video recorder, and a stereo system.
On one side is a navigation station done in black Formica with matching black chair. Satellite navigation reveals the ship's location to within plus or minus 500 feet anywhere in the world.
In another corner is the galley, complete with refrigerator, freezer, and trash compactor. Inside the cupboards china and crystal stemware are held secure from the ocean's ornery thrusts by oak pegs.
Through the galley, and into the master stateroom, one sees a double berth covered in the apricot Ultra-Suede. In the closet is another color television and the air-conditioning controls, as well as a water desalinator. Small night lights at ankle level are sprinkled throughout the boat. Nearby is a full-size bathtub.
There are three other bedrooms and two more bathrooms in the forward part of the boat.
After a tour of the queenly yacht, one cannot help wondering who can afford such a luxury. "Surprisingly," says president Moyers, "our current market is a lot of young people who have made it early."
Back on shore, dockmaster Charlie Rich, who had never been on a sailboat until coming to work for Hinckley four years ago, pauses in rigging a Sou'wester 50. Squinting into the early afternoon sun, he grins, "Well, I don't know. What I do know is that they don't pay the help enough to buy 'em."