The holidays are upon us and it’s a time of giving, sharing and enjoying time with family and friends. My nearly three decades of working at Island Packet Yachts -- alongside the creative inspiration and focused determination of Bob Johnson, and together with a team of dedicated craftspeople and wonderful support staff that made our workplace an enjoyable, mostly harmonious Santa’s Workshop for grown-up toys -- was a treat in so many ways. My kids used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and my answer was simple, “I don’t want to grow up!” Every day spent at the office was time with my work family, and attending shows and rendezvous’ all over the world was time spent with friends. Bob and I used to joke about business relationships deteriorating into friendships, and that was the case for so many of the talented group of dealers and marine industry colleagues I worked and played with for more than 30 years. And as I gathered materials for this first Island Packet Ancestry Newsletter, I was struck by the many faces peering back at me from old photos, some of them long gone, and realized what a gift I had been given. My encyclopedic ability to recall owner’s names from their hull number, or vice versa, is long gone, but memories of names, faces and places all tumble forth in a torrent of consciousness as I look at these treasured images from the past. I hope you’ll enjoy my glimpses into the Island Packet history folders as I share and recount events, travels and people from my many years working with America’s Cruising Yacht Leader. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a very Happy New Year to you all.
I started at Island Packet in March 1987, a few days past my 31st birthday, and the company had been producing their own sailboats for just over four years. Although Traditional Watercraft, Inc. (the corporate name for IPY) had been created in the summer of 1979, the early boats were built by Marine Innovators, a Clearwater, FL company owned, in part, by Pete Pastor (who later would come to work with us, first as head of the tooling department, then plant manager and ultimately as our VP of Production). It wasn’t until 1983 that Bob purchased a small manufacturing building in Largo, hired his first employees and began producing Island Packet Yachts of his own doing. But more on these early days in another Newsletter.
By 1987 Bob and company had produced almost 400 sailboats, from the first 26, followed by the 26 Mark II, the 31, the 27 and introduced the prior year, the 38. The three most recent models were all in production at the time of my hiring and thus I was directly involved with every model from there on out, only missing the two versions of the Island Packet 26 from my repertoire. But the first model that I was involved in, from concept to creation, was the venerable Island Packet 35, and it remains a favorite of mine to this day.
Realizing we had a large gap between the 31 and 38, the 35 was the first “Next Generation” model that included a tweaked and refined “Full Foil Keel”, promising to deliver better speed, pointing ability and all-around handling than previous models. The drawings showed a spritely sheer line, still preferred by IP owners of this generation, and accommodations to easily accommodate a cruising couple and their occasional guests aboard. With the highest ballast-to-displacement ratio of any IP model to date, the yacht promised great sail-carrying capacity and delivered a beautiful, sea-kindly motion that equated to less fatigue and greater safety for passages. The yacht quickly proved to be successful and I still distinctly remember the look of incredulity on the faces of the sales staff at the 1988 US Sailboat Show (Annapolis, MD) as deposit checks sprouted from every pocket and clipboard!
Part of the early success of the model was the aggressive introductory price: $89,950, with a 10% discount from that number for the first ten retail buyers. Bob had worked for a couple of other boat builders before starting Island Packet, and did some consulting with another builder as they struggled to stay afloat. Each of them had been pricing their boats, not on what it cost to build, but what they felt the market would bear. In the case of the latter, the selling price didn’t even cover the cost of materials and labor to build the yacht, let alone cover overheads like facilities costs, marketing, customer service, and warranty. Bob’s careful analysis of the new IP35’s “BOM” (Bill of Materials), cost of labor and overheads went into a carefully executed pricing equation, and we came back from Annapolis with a stack of new orders and a dilemma on how to build enough boats to satiate the demand. It was at our weekly staff meeting some weeks later that our Purchasing Manager, a young, vivacious but efficient mother of two, sheepishly admitted she had forgotten to include the cost of the Yanmar diesel into the BOM. At several thousand dollars each the impact was felt in whole single-digit percentage points, but in this case, we did make it up with volume. A second set of molds was constructed and, while it still took over eight weeks to construct one IP35 from start to finish, the production lines were soon able -- in addition to shipping one IP27 and one IP31 every week, and a one IP38 every ten days -- to ship two IP35’s a week. We built 165 total hulls that next year (1989), a record, and the 100th IP35 shipped just 18 months after shipping hull number one.
The Island Packet 35 remains to this day a benchmark of Island Packet Yacht’s ability to compete in the marketplace by delivering high-quality materials, outstanding workmanship and unmatched safety and seakeeping to the cruising sailor.
It was after the Saturday night dinner festivities and our SAIL magazine sales rep and his wife had invited Bob Johnson, his wife Jeri, Ellen -- my six-months-pregnant wife – and yours truly up to the “club” for a nightcap. We were all feeling quite good about the weekend’s festivities and were looking forward to a farewell breakfast with everyone in the morning before heading home. It was our very first Island Packet Rendezvous at the exclusive Useppa Island Club and, it turned out, it would be our last.
The private island, just off the west coast of Florida, near Pine Island and the infamous Cabbage Key, was filled with million dollar plus, all-white homes and condos, none more than two stories tall. A small marina catered to homeowners and guests, but only by invitation did you get to step foot on the island. We had almost 50 IP owners and guests in attendance, aboard 20 some yachts safely tied up at the marina, and a small contingent of factory personnel and some owners without their boats staying in various rental homes around the island.
The “club”, however, turned out to have a dress code that none of us boat people could meet. Fortunately, a back patio with a serve-thru window was available and it wasn’t long before we all had an adult beverage in front of us (save Ellen who sipped on a club soda and lime). The warm breeze off the water, the smell of blooming jasmine, the tinkling of ice in the glasses along with the growing laughter from ever more raucous story-telling led us deeper into the night. SAIL magazine was buying us refills as fast as we could empty our glasses and with all the fun being had that one nightcap had quickly turned into two, or three (four?!).
The only means of transportation on the island were golf carts and many of them were parked near the back patio. Bob suggested that these were “communal” carts and were there for the taking by anyone who needed a ride somewhere. He further suggested that I should climb aboard with him for a quick trip around the island. Despite the protests of all at the table, and my repeated refrain that this was not a good idea, I was lured to go with the boss and we were soon bouncing down a trail through the palmetto bushes and flowering vines, away from the club.
Moments later an indignant shout arose from the patio and Bob circled the golf cart back in a homeward direction. Through the vines and shrubbery, I spotted a tall, distinguished looking gentleman standing with a cane and gesticulating wildly at our table of friends. Before Bob and I could clear the tree line I opted for an “exit stage right” and leaped from the cart into the shrubs. Cowering behind a large palm tree, I watched the drama unfold.
Bob pulled up to the gentleman and listened politely to the man’s complaints. We had clearly “borrowed” this man’s mobility and he was ready to go home. Nodding agreement, Bob sheepishly ducked out of the cart, only to have it roll back a foot or two as the brake had not been set. A howl let out and the gentleman tugged at his foot to free it from underneath the tire. The cart had come to rest against his insole! Waving wildly as before he clambered onto his cart and hurried away, brandishing his cane above his head like a sword, and promising recourse in the morning.
The last event of the weekend rendezvous was the farewell breakfast in the club’s meeting room. Standing at the entrance was the golf cart owner, leaning against his cane and carefully inspecting everyone who entered. He had clearly identified last night’s culprit as a visitor to the island and he was out for his pound of flesh. Fortunately for Bob, his massive headache prevented him from attending the breakfast and, fortunately for me, the golf cart owner had never seen my leap into the bushes! I nonchalantly said good morning to him as I entered the breakfast, spoke some inspirational farewell remarks to the gathered owners, and bid them all adieu.
While not exactly proud of my taking leave from the boss’s side the prior evening, in retrospect we were both happy the golf cart owner had never seen me. We left the island quietly and knew we would need a new location for the following year’s event. And thanks to Tom Casey, our SAIL magazine rep, author, and cartoonist, for buying all those drinks and capturing the night’s events for all to remember. Hopefully, the statue of limitations has run out!