By Mike Smith
Many successful boatbuilders of the postwar years foundered when wood construction gave way to fiberglass. (Does anybody reading this remember names such as Pembroke, Bristol , Owens?) The new technology spawned new companies that tooled up for rolling resin and cutting cloth rather than steam-bending oak and spiling mahogany or cedar planking. A few traditional builders managed to make the transition and prosper, at least for a while. One was Egg Harbor . The first Egg was hatched in 1946; by the 1950s and '60s, Egg Harbor 's yachts were something special-objects of lust and envy among the boating illuminati. During the 1970s, the company switched from plank-on-frame to fabric-in-resin. In the '80s, a variety of factors caused Egg Harbor 's luck to run out, although the company was too stubborn to go down without a fight.
Ten years ago the boating press was finally preparing Egg Harbor Yachts' obituary. Egg had been nearly fried by repeated buyouts and ownership changes, high interest rates, the luxury tax, and an economic recession. In 1997 the company almost went down for the third time. Then the doctor arrived-plastic surgeon Ira M. Trocki-and now Egg Harbor looks 30 years younger Trocki invested $10 million in capital improvements, modernizing and doubling the size of the facility and hiring 200 skilled workers. In 2006, at age 60, Egg Harbor Yachts seems healthy again.
Dave Martin thinks he saw Egg Harbor being born. Today, Martin, one of America 's most respected yacht designers, resides in Brigantine, New Jersey , but in 1946 he was still in high school, living two doors down from Russell Post in Egg Harbor , New Jersey . "We knew something was up when we saw Russell, John Leek, and Ted Haggas walking together on the sidewalk in front of our house," said Martin. At the time, Leek and Post were building 14' (4.3m) rowboats in a rented building on Boston Avenue ; Haggas, a noted yacht designer, was one of the men credited with originating the so-called Jersey sea skiff. Not long afterward, the Egg Harbor Boat Company launched its first boat, a 28' (8.5m) sea skiff designed by Haggas. "It was a nice running boat," said Martin. Round-bilged and fast, that skiff could do more than 20 mph (32 kmh) with modest power.
Soon Egg Harbor was hiring more and more men. Recalled Martin, "Most of the early employees came from my neighborhood. In 1948 I went to work for Egg Harbor at 60 cents an hour." But the partnership between Leek and Post would last only a couple of years.
In 1948 Post and Leek quarreled over Leek's two-a-day coffee breaks. Leek decided to sell his half of the company to Phil Boyd Sr.-"for $8,500", according to Martin-and, with his brother as the new partner, started Pacemaker. Russell Post stayed with Egg Harbor until the mid-'50s, when he sold his shares to Harold "Peewee" Care and left to start a boat company of his own, Post Yachts. Care, a trick water-skier, performed before crowds at Atlantic City . But he also owned the yard where Egg Harbor had launched its boats. "That was the old Ventnor Boat Works," recalled Martin. "He sold it and bought into Egg Harbor ."
From the late 1950s through the '60s, Egg Harbor was at the top of its game. In 1957 Boyd asked Martin to design a 30-footer C9.1m), but the fee Boyd offered was too low. So Boyd turned to Phil Bolger, who took the commission. Today, Bolger is better known for his innovative sailboats; early in his career, though, he worked with powerboat design legends Lindsay Lord and John Hacker. Bolger's design for Boyd became the Egg Harbor 31 (9.4m); the first of these - with a black hull, cream-colored house, and coamings finished bright - was launched in May 1957. In the spring 1983 issue of Nautical Quarterly magazine, editor Joseph Gribbins quoted Bolger on the Egg 31: "My boast is that it was about two years before any of them came on the used-boat market, and then they sold for more than they had originally." Egg Harbor eventually built more than 100 of Bolger's 31-footers.
Some people thought the Egg Harbor 31 less than ideal, though. "That boat had a very fine entrance, and a wide stern," said Martin-not the best design for the obstreperous New Jersey inlets. When the time came for a bigger boat, the company turned to a different designer, who created a classic. George Stadel Jr. was a prolific designer throughout the 1930s, '40s, and '50s-commercial boats, sailboats, all kinds of boats, according to his sons Bill and George III. In the late 1950s Stadel was designing for Norwalk Boat Works, near his home in Stamford , Connecticut . That firm also happened to be an Egg Harbor dealer.
Peewee Care, still a partner in Egg, met with Stadel and asked him to design a 36-footer (11m); after a year of production, the 36 became the now-famous Egg Harbor 37 (11.3m). "My father designed lot of lobster boats," said Bill Stadel. The Egg Harbor 37 is essentially a beamy lobster boat. It was my successful powerboat." He remembers his father designing the 37 in four long days, modifying the 36 to make it a bit finer in the bow, and removing the tumblehome back aft, thereby adding beam at the sheerline. It's the only boat my father designed that he didn't keep the plans for," George III said. The most popular of the three versions were a sedan and a sport fisherman with a longer cockpit. Standard power was twin 210 gas engines, with 250 Crusader gas and Perkins or GM diesels optional. Egg Harbor started building 50 of the 37s per year, then increased production to 100 per year. The final count was somewhere between 800 and 850 hulls over a period of about 10 years. "That was a real good boat," agreed Dave Martin.
It also, in a roundabout way, caused the end of Egg Harbor as an independent company. Because the 37 was so popular, the company asked Stadel to design a 47 C14.3m) in the same style. That boat debuted at the New York Boat Show, where six or seven were sold. But Egg Harbor 's bean counters set the price way too low, and the company lost money on each one delivered. The 47 hull bottom transitioned to a hard chine in the aft sections-a difficult transition to make in the days of plank-onframe construction. "My father worked at Sparkman & Stephens during World War II, designing subchasers with the same kind of hull," said George Stadel III. "It was very expensive to build." "He worked out the costs of the 37 himself," added Bill Stadel, though the company's front office insisted on doing it for the 47. "That put them out of business."
" Egg Harbor built a new building to produce the 47," said Martin. "It caused financial trouble" when Egg couldn't sell many, and then lost money on each of those that did sell: the door opened for Jack Leek, son of John, to buy Egg Harbor and merge it with Pacemaker "in 1966 or '67," according to Martin. The first Egg Harbor under the new ownership would be a Dave Martin-designed 43 (13m), created in an all-night session by cutting 4' (1.2m) off the stern of Martin's Pacemaker 47, modifying the window styling, and altering the shape of the stem. The Pacemaker 47, offered as a motoryacht or sportfisherman, was very efficient. "The motoryacht did 30 mph with twin 370 Cummins," recalled Martin. "We changed some cosmetics, but the
Egg Harbor 43 was really the same boat. We also added a foot [0.3m] to the Pacemaker and made a 48 [14.6m] Egg Harbor. The next morning we had Egg Harbor 43 and 48 Motoryachts and Sportfishermen all ready. It knocked Phil Boyd off his feet." The merger took place the same day. "A few days later, Jack Leek and I walked through the Egg Harbor plant and found some of the same people who'd been there when we were apprentices.”
Here's where the story loses some of its personality. In the late 1960s and early '70s, boating was booming. Fiberglass seemed to generate an exponential number of boats, and at reasonable prices. (Pacemaker and Egg Harbor built their first all-fiberglass boats in the early '70s, and during the course of that decade, the two companies shared many glass hulls.) Enter big business: many independent boatbuilders were bought out by conglomerates at this time - huge corporations that knew zilch about boats, but thought there was money to be made. Fuqua bought Pacemaker / Egg Harbor , and then sold the boat company to Mission Marine & Associates, in the mid-1970s. Mission was carrying too much debt and sank under the load of high interest rates, in 1979, taking Pacemaker down with it.
But Egg Harbor escaped. The Egg was bought by a group that included Phil Boyd Jr. and Donald Leek (sons of two of the early owners), Pete and Walt Johnson Jr. (owners of Johnson & Towers Marine Diesel), and Robert Traenkle (a local businessman and boating enthusiast). Boyd sold out to Rudy Lehnert, an aeronautical engineer, in 1983. During the early 1980s, Egg Harbor built boats and earned money. Then came the economic recession of the late 1980s, followed by the 10% luxury tax on boats. In 1990, Egg Harbor filed for bankruptcy, emerged briefly in '92, then shut down completely in 1997. Two years later, Trocki arrived.
Trocki grew up two miles from the old Egg Harbor plant, on the same street. At the precocious age of 18, Trocki-for a summer job - ran a family-owned factory manufacturing kitchen cabinets. "1 hired folks who'd worked at Egg Harbor ," he said. "They spoke of the place like it was Rolls-Royce." After medical school, Trocki owned many boats, including an Egg Harbor 58 (17.7 m). "1 fell in love with the lines and shape," he said. "1 hired an engineer, Bob Seidelman, to rebuild and improve the boat. He suggested 1 buy the company. 1 did; 1 bought it over the phone."
The American convertible is a beautiful boat, Trocki said, a good combination of function, art, and practicability. "1 wanted to build not only a great boat, but a beautiful boat in American style-built in America by Americans. We made all new molds and brought out new boats."
Today, Egg Harbor is only one of several marine-related companies Trocki manages under the aegis of E.H. Yachts; he also owns, in his words, "lots of businesses" outside the marine field. In the past five years, he's brought other boat companies into his stable, moving their tooling to the Egg Harbor facility. Predator and Davis Yachts are now part of EHY; the deal for Predator also included the molds for Revenge sportfishermen. In October 2005, Trocki added Topaz to his holdings; along with that acquisition came Murray Brothers towers and fishing accessories. At press time, Egg Harbor announced the purchase of yet another boatbuilder: Avanti Powerboats, of Palmyra , New Jersey . Avanti builds go-fast boats for the consumer, commercial, and military markets.
So far, Trocki is making it all work: Egg Harbor has a nice lineup of boats that have been well received by the boating press and the folks who really matter-buyers. If the past six years of the Trocki regime indicate anything, it's that Egg Harbor will be around for a long time. Maybe even another 60 years.
Contact: Egg Harbor Yachts, (609) 965-2300