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Yachting - August 2006 - Biggest Ever

Written by Dudley Dawson

Yachting Magazine

In the early morning hours, as most of Seattle struggled to shrug off the effects of the previous night's miser – the Seahawk's disheartening Super Bowl loss and the depressed drinking that went with it – I headed to the airport for a short flight across Puget Sound. After nearly a month of uninterrupted rain, the day dawned clear and cool with a magnificent sunrise that backlit the peaks of the soaring Cascade Mountains to the east and reflected off the snow-capped Olympic Mountains to the southwest. This was a good omen for the day's main event, the Port Angeles launching of Westport's largest yacht ever, the stylish 164-foot Vango, a tri-deck masterpiece that is the first of the builder's new 50-meter series.

The story that culminates with Vango's launch, though, begins much, much earlier. In Mike Nichols' well-known film The Graduate, the title character, recently graduated Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman, received some unsolicited advice for his future from Mr. McGuire, a West-Coast business associate of his father. "I just want to say one word to you - just one word…'plastics.' There's a great future in plastics. Think about it." Repugnant though the words were to young Ben, the advice has proven to be incredibly prophetic, and perhaps nowhere more so than yachtbuilding.

At the time of the film's release in 1967, the use of fiberglass reinforced plastic, a.k.a. FRP or simply fiberglass, was fairly common in small boats, but was just starting to come into its own for the 40- and 50- footers that were considered large yachts in those days. One of the pioneer boat builders who heeded McGuire's advice was a young man named Orin Edison, who built Bayliners, literally by the truckload. There were large Bayliner models, but the company's hallmark was entry-level runabouts, 16-footers that came complete with trailer and outboard engine for less than $8,000, including delivery from the Pacific Northwest to lakes, rivers and coastal areas throughout America. Profit margins were low, but Edson made it up in volumes that were unprecedented. Bayliner was a production powerhouse, and the company put thousands and thousands of suburbanites onto the water for the first time. Like Henry Ford before him, Edson revolutionized the operation and made a fortune in the process.

When he finally sold Bayliner, Edson invested part of the money into Eviva, a custom superyacht build for him of fiberglass, by the neighboring Admiral Marine. Edson was happy with the yacht and the team that designed and built her, but the yard fell on hard times and eventually closed up. A big part of the problem, Edson reasoned, was the lack of any production efficiencies and the resultant high costs that raised prices and ate into profits.

Edson's retirement was to be short-lived. Not long afterward, he bought a substantial stake in Westport, Washington. Westport was already producing yachts under its own and other names, delivering various types of commercial vessels including fishing boats and ferries and supplying large fiberglass parts, including hulls and superstructures to other builders.

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