By Mike Smith
Ten years ago the boating press was preparing Egg Harbor Yachts' obituary. From one of Americas most esteemed boatbuilders in the 1950s and 60s, by the mid-90s Egg was nearly poached by repeated buy-outs and ownership changes, high interest rates, the luxury tax and 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 thirty years younger. Dr. Trocki invested $10 million in capital improvements, modernizing and doubling the size of the factory and hiring 200 skilled craftspeople. In 2006, at 60 years old, Egg Harbor Yachts is healthy again.
Dave Martin thinks he saw Egg Harbor being born. Today Martin, one of Americas most respected yacht designers, lives in Brigantine, N.J., but in 1946 he was still in high school, living two doors down from Russell Post in Egg Harbor, N.J. "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-foot rowboats in a rented building on Boston Avenue; Haggas was a yacht designer, and one of the men who originated the Jersey Sea Skiff. Not long after, the Egg Harbor Boat Company launched its first boat, a 28- foot skiff designed by Haggas. "It was a nice running boat," said Martin, round-bilged and fast: It would do more than 20 mph 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 them 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 Leeks two-a-day coffee breaks; Leek sold his half of the company to Phil Boyd, Sr., "for $8,500," according to Martin, and, with his brother as his 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 his own company, Post Yachts. Care performed at Atlantic City, recalled Martin, as a trick water skier, but also owned the yard ("the old Ventnor Boat Works") where Egg Harbor used to launch its boats. "He sold that 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, but the fee he offered was too low; he asked the same of Phil Bolger, who apparently worked cheaper. Today, Bolger is better known as the designer of innovative sailboats, but early in his career he worked with both Lindsay Lord and John Hacker. Bolgers design became the Egg Harbor 31; the first one, with a black hull, cream house tops and bright coamings, was launched in May, 1957. In the Spring, 1983, issue of Nautical Quarterly, Joseph Gribbins quoted Bolger on the 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 Bolgers 31-footers.
Some people thought the Egg Harbor 31 less than ideal, though. "The boat had a very fine entrance, and a wide stern," said Martin, not a good design for the obstreperous New Jersey inlets. When the time came for a bigger boat, the company turned not to Bolger, but to an old-timer who created a classic. George Stadel, Jr., designed lots of boats in the 1930s, 40s and 50s- commercial boats, sailboats, all kinds of boats, according to his sons Bill and George III. In the late 1950s he was designing for Norwalk Boat Works, near his home in Stamford, Conn.; they were also an Egg Harbor dealer. Peewee Care, still a partner in Egg, met Stadel and asked him to design a 36-footer; after a year of production, the 36 became the now-famous Egg Harbor 37 shown on this cover. "My father designed lots of lobsterboats" said Bill Stadel. "The Egg Harbor 37 is essentially a beamy lobsterboat. It was my fathers most successful powerboat." George III remembers his father designing the 37 in four long days, modifying the 36 to make it a bit finer in the bow and take the tumblehome out of the sides, which added beam at the deck line. "Its the only boat my father designed that he didnt keep the plans," he said.
There was a sedan and a sportfisherman, with a longer cockpit; both were popular. Standard power was twin 210 Chrysler gas engines, with 250 Crusader gas and Perkins or GM diesels optional. Egg Harbor started building 50 37s per year, then increased to 100 per year; the final production was somewhere between 800 and 850 hulls over 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 in the same style. The boat debuted at the New York Boat Show, where six or seven were sold. But Egg Harbor bean counters set the price way too low, and they lost money on each one they delivered. The 47 hull developed a chine in the aft sections, a difficult transition in the days of plank-on-frame wooden boatbuilding. "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." "My father worked out the costs of the 37 himself," added Bill Stadel, but Egg Harbor insisted on doing it themselves for the 47. "It put them out of business."
"They built a new building [for producing the 47]," said Martin, "which put them in financial trouble" when they couldnt sell many, and lost money on those they did sell. That opened the door for Jack Leek 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, created in an all night session by cutting four feet off the stern of Martins Pacemaker 47, changing the window styling and the shape of the stem. The Pacemaker 47 came as both a motor yacht and sportfisherman, and was very efficient. "The motor yacht 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 to the Pacemaker and made a 48 Egg Harbor. The next morning we had Egg Harbor 43 and 48 Motor Yachts 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 whod been there when we were apprentices."
Heres where the story loses some of its personality. In the late 1960s and early 70s, boating was booming. Fiberglass caused an explosion in the number of boats built, and at reasonable prices. (Pacemaker and Egg Harbor built their first all-fiberglass boats in the very early 70s, and during the decade the two companies shared many glass hulls.) Enter big business: Many independent boatbuilders were bought out by conglomerates at this time, companies that knew zilch about boats, but thought there was money to be made. Fuqua bought Pacemaker/Egg Harbor, then sold them to Mission Marine & Associates in the mid-1970s. Mission had lots of debt and sank under the load of high interest rates in 1979, taking Pacemaker down with the ship.
But Egg Harbor escaped: The company was bought by a group that included Phil Boyd, Jr., Donald Leek (sons of two of the earlier owners), Pete and Walt Johnson, Jr., owners of Johnson & Towers Marine Diesel, and Robert Traenkle, a 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, hand in hand with the 10 percent luxury tax. In 1990, Egg Harbor filed for bankruptcy, came out briefly in ‘92, then shut down completely in 1997. Two years later, Dr. Ira Trocki arrived to resurrect Egg Harbor.
Dr.Trocki grew up two miles from the old Egg Harbor plant, on the same street.When he was 18, for a summer job his family put him in charge of one of its factories. "I hired folks who had worked at Egg Harbor," he said. "They spoke of the place like it was Rolls-Royce." After medical school, Dr. Trocki owned many boats, including an Egg Harbor 58. "I fell in love with the lines and shape," he said. "I hired an engineer, Bob Seidelman, to rebuild and improve the boat. He suggested I buy the company. I did; I bought it over the phone." The American convertible is a beautiful boat, he said, a good combination of function, art and practicability. "I wanted to build not only a great boat, but a beautiful boat in American style, built in America by Americans. We built all new molds and brought out new boats." (The newest Egg Harbor, a 50 Sport Yacht, will be reviewed in the next issue.)
Today, Egg Harbor Yachts is only one of several marine-related companies Dr. Trocki operates under the aegis of E.H. Yachts; he also owns "lots of businesses" outside the marine field. In the past five years, hes bought Predator, Revenge and Buddy Davis Yachts, moving all the tooling to the Egg Harbor facility. In October, 2005, he added Topaz to his holdings, which also include Murray Brothers towers and fishing accessories. So far hes making it work: Egg Harbor has a nice lineup of boats that have been well-received by both the boating press and the folks who really matter, boat buyers. If the past six years of Dr. Trockis regime indicate anything, it's that Egg Harbor will be around for a long time-maybe even another 60 years.