Since 1816, Maine-based Hodgdon Yachts has produced more than 400 vessels of various types. They range from coastal commercial vessels in the early days, to the arctic explorer Bowdoin in 1921, to sub chasers for the United States Navy during World War I and II, to a number of the famous Alden Malabars, plus a number of yacht and megayacht designs by Sparkman & Stephens, Hereshoff, and Bruce King. The fully custom megayachts, like Scheherazade, are well known, and Hodgdon Yachts has more recently been gaining fame for its fully custom megayacht tenders. The diversity alone is impressive, but also consider that Hodgdon Yachts is the oldest continuously operating shipyard in the United States. Add to the mix fully custom yacht interiors, plus an ongoing focus on the newest construction techniques, and it’s all the more noteworthy. In typical Maine fashion, though, Hodgdon Yachts and its president, Tim Hodgdon, remain low key. In this Megayacht News Leadership Series, Hodgdon talks about growing the family business, the pressure of living up to his ancestors, and reaching far beyond American shores for clients.
Q: With Hodgdon Yachts being a family business, do you ever feel the “shadow” of your family and history?
A: I’m fifth generation, and we’re about to celebrate our 200th anniversary here soon. We’re currently working on hulls number 418 and 419. It’s an insightful question. When I joined this company in 1971, my father was building a 54-foot offshore lobster boat for Bobby Brown from The Perfect Storm. In those days, we were building traditional plank-on-frame, commercial vessels and small boats—we were a company of about four or five. As I became involved in the business, I didn’t envision a lengthy future in traditional plank-on-frame construction, and I wanted to take the company to a different place. I bought the company in 1983, and we were working on an 83-foot motoryacht at the time. I established a relationship with Bruce King and the cold-molded process, which is where we took the company. It is complicated, running a company with that type of lineage. I’m very proud of the history of the company, but really, my focus is on the present and the future. I’m certainly aware of the history, but I’m trying to evolve the innovation of the company and trying to take us to a different level in terms of world-class capabilities.
Q: How would you describe the typical clients who come to you—are they pretty knowledgeable and decisive, or do they rely more heavily on your input and experience with the construction process?
A: The spectrum is broad. Typically someone who would come to us would be very dedicated and committed to a quality project. We’re currently building boats with some advanced composite construction, while other divisions of the company are dealing with very high-end woodworking. The people who come to us are typically not a first-time boat owner. They’re knowledgeable; they may want to push the envelope with technology.
Q: Would you say that holds true whether they’re a yacht client or a tender client?
A: It does all sort of tie together. Our tenders are very high quality; they’re not very big, but they’re targeted to the high-end megayacht industry, where it’s all about quality. There’s also an interesting blend with our division Hodgdon Defense Composites, which deals with the United States Navy and various divisions of the defense industry. The diversification is really healthy for our company. Also, one supports the other—some of the innovation that comes out of the defense side of what we’re doing is targeted to the yacht industry, and some of the advancements that we’ve been able to come up with in the private sector have tied back to the defense industry. In some ways, it’s easier to develop things and push the technology in the private sector and then expand on it in the defense world. It more or less goes back and forth. One side of the company helps develop products and processes for the other side.
Q: In terms of the tenders, did you create them as a way to further diversify, or did you see an opportunity in the market that you thought was really not being addressed?
A: The whole diversification strategy started around 2003. One of the segments we identified was the high-end tender market. It was further explored when a yacht client who was building a large motoryacht came to us and was interested in a high-end limousine tender to transport his guests. The yachts in the world are getting larger and larger, and it’s driving the need for a high-quality yacht tender to carry within the tender bay. The client couldn’t find anything of that caliber and quality among those that were available. We contacted Michael Peters’ office and developed a nice-looking limousine tender and felt it would be something that would work very nicely in the industry, as the yachts continued to get larger.
Q: Why did you approach Michael Peters?
A: His designs are fantastic, really beautiful. He’s designed some pretty innovative and creative boats. We got together with Michael, and he developed the aesthetics of the underbody and the running capabilities of the vessel, and we took up the engineering and production side of it and came up with what I think is a really nice combination. We started with a 10.5-meter limousine and have evolved it both up and down in size. We recently delivered a couple of custom tenders which are 8.5-meter Andrew Winch designs, and we’re also working on a 10-meter Michael Peters design.
Q: When clients come to you for a tender, are they talking mostly about the looks of the boat, or do some of them talk more so about the speed and performance of the boat?
A: We do deal with all the various requirements. Many times they go in pairs on a big motoryacht. We’ve delivered those as an open-type sport boat and a limousine tender. As people become familiar with what we’ve done, we’re approached by owners who say, “I want something else.” The Andrew Winch tenders were fully custom, they have their own performance and criteria in terms of the accommodation aspect of it, plus the size constraints and weight constraints. We’re trying to promote a standard line, if you will, which is the Michael Peters design, but there’s also another segment of that business, which is completely custom. We’ll take anybody’s design and build a very-high-end, high-quality tender for them.
Q: With the tender projects and yacht projects, are you finding the buyers are coming from farther afield?
A: I don’t want to talk about any of the owners, but in general terms, years ago primarily our clients were Americans, while in this point in time, our clients come from around the world, whether it’s for the limousines or the yachts. We’ve been able to develop a good niche for lightweight, innovative, custom composite, state-of-the-art vessels. The yard has a strong design and engineering background, along with our interiors, which in some cases are very traditional, while in other cases are very contemporary, but nonetheless are very high end. We do have a broad spectrum and a blend of owners from around the world.
Q: Do you think these aspects of your company, the fact that you have design and engineering in house and the interior department in house, are major attractive factors for these clients?
A: I think certainly these kinds of capabilities in house really add a lot to a company. We have the capability to engineer everything from the composite design to the systems to the interior. With the interior, if it needs to be extremely lightweight yet still traditional-looking, those capabilities are really important. Plus, our ability to work with the defense industry—there’s a level of credibility to that.
Q: Yacht clients are accustomed to getting their way, so they want to build a custom yacht that reflects their ideas. But, how do you balance the need to do that yet tell them “no” when needed?
A: That’s a challenge. You don’t have to go far afield before finding expectations that just boggle the mind. We built a 124-foot Bruce King sailboat that had a pipe organ in it, and a cherry bathtub, and a fireplace. It’s just unbelievable, some of the design elements and the expectations of these very creative yacht designers and interior designers. We can pretty much accomplish most any desire that anyone would have. It becomes hugely complicated and very expensive to do some of the things, but the capabilities exist.