|North Pacific Yachts - 38' Sedan|
"Wow, that's a nice Grand Banks."
That's what my friend remarked as we drove into Hamburg Cove one late spring afternoon.
After coming closer, we realized that the vessel wasn't a Grand Banks at all. After speaking with Trevor Brice, owner of North Pacific Yachts, I realized that the owner of the aforementioned vessel had not only a keen eye for style, but also a sharp nose for value.
Right from the start, let's get one thing straight: North Pacific Yachts and Grand Banks aren't two brands that you could, or should, compare to one another. The point of any comparison would have to be deeply profound, reminding one that there are two types of people in the world: those who crave luxury branding, and those who seek incomparable value. To steal from Trevor's own rhetoric, there are those who only wear Rolex watches, and there are those who buy North Pacific (NP) Yachts.
I use 'Trevor' and not 'Mr. Brice' because that's exactly how he (and his company) conduct a culture - extremely personal, amiable, and oozing with a boy-next-door trust factor that simply can't be fabricated. At the ripe old age of 32 years old, Trevor demonstrated to me an uncanny medical ability to diagnose and treat the epidemic of CRS (Cashless Retirement Syndrome) among today's cruising retirees. This is no small feat - and no small story - but the birth of NP Yachts was no small dream either.
As is usually the case with all of us lemmings who so blindly flee to the water, Trevor was introduced to boating by his family at a young age (count 'em, six weeks old) in - you guessed it - the pacific northwest. Despite owning many builds, the family had a hard time finding just the right boat. With weather considerations, space constraints, hard-to-reach maintenance areas and overall layout faux pas, dad and son finally took it upon themselves to build a boat that made solid sense for their cruising family.
Luckily, Trevor's father worked frequently with Chinese factories, and he used his relationships to connect with a Chinese boat yard that NP Yachts still uses today. From here, the entrepreneurial story is typical; people saw the boat and liked it. Son Trevor thought he could sell a few, so he started taking orders. 1 turned into 10 turned into 100 turned into a web presence and international sales.
So where does NP Yachts fit into the incomprehensible number of trawler options out there? "We've always tried to offer excellent value for money," says Trevor. "That doesn't mean a cheap boat; it means a well-made boat for the money." Anyone who has seen a NP Yachts' ad lately can attest to what he means; prices start at a bargain-basement $199,500, well equipped, while the line tops out at 49' for under $700,000. For those of you who are currently boat shopping in the 28'-49' range, please close your mouths; you're drooling on your keyboards.
These are new boats we're talking about here, at prices that even hard-pressed cruising retirees can wrap their wallets around. And that's just where NP Yachts fits in: you're retiring from a 3-bedroom condo and you want the same cruising experience that your 10-bedroom 8.5-bath neighbors can have. Rest assured - I'm not talking about a 'you might get here in that cheapo imitation boat' kind of experience...I'm talking about sea-keeping hulls, intelligent designs, and decadent interiors that will leave you scratching your head in confusion.
|Confused as to what kind of boat this is? I'm not - it's an awesome kind.|
Bad for dealers and brokers, good for boaters! "It's amazing the cost you can cut by not having a dealer network and paying commissions to brokers," Trevor admitted, "we give our own customers a commission to show their boats." That's not a joke - he actually pays NP owners who help him sell a boat.
"A lot of our owners start looking at a '90-'95 Krogen or Grand Banks [and realize] I can have a brand new boat for the same money," Trevor explained, "if you compare us to, say, Nordic Tug, I think our boat is just as well-made." It's also well engineered; the range on one of his vessels is a reported 1,500 miles thanks to a hot-tea-sipping 1.2 GPH consumption at hull-speed.
Speaking of engineering, let's talk about the boat. In building the first few NP's Trevor explained his wish-list: "We wanted a pilothouse, a full beam salon, two staterooms, and easily accessed equipment...our boats have a tremendous amount of volume in them for their size." For instance, in the very popular 43' Pilothouse, bunks are a full 7' long to accommodate your NBA buddies, and the salon is so roomy that the pilothouse itself ends up as a bonus space. All throughout the line, and throughout glowing editorials on the boats, the surprising amount of space is a hot topic. In addition, quality of joinery, cabinets, and other interior considerations are always surprisingly top-notch, especially for the price. Trevor notes, "people who go look at a used Grand Banks and then our boat will see the same quality." If that's half-true, he's in for a mighty wave of prospective buyers. Having looked through all of the specifications and photos, I think he's in for a flood.
Being a discerning boater, I asked what must be on the minds of many would-be buyers: is there any risk in buying a boat made in China? Here's what Trevor explained:
"One of the owners of the [current] factory started in 1967 in Taiwan. He freely admits that he learned a lot when he first started building boats. When he partnered up with the current factory, he brought a lot of knowledge with him. So we use a lot of the same modern practices: hand-laid fiberglass hull with no coring anywhere in the hull. It's a strong hull and you don't need to worry about water getting into the layers. We use vinylester resin. on the superstructure it's Nida-Core, synthetic honeycomb - it won't rot even with water intrusion. We use stainless steel window frames because aluminum eventually has problem with paint coming off and corrosion. The wiring is all tinned-wire, the equipment is almost entirely bought in the US and shipped to China. The resin is American, the gelcoat is German, the engine, transmission, inverter, generator and steering systems are all brand name...even the sinks are German brands."
In addition to the equipment being top-of-the-line brand names, the yard itself also has a commitment to quality. "We had a guy there for five years to oversee construction and help bring the standard of the yard up to par," Trevor explained, "the mentality of the yard there is that they want to improve the boat because it's important for their future." Trevor admitted that not all yards are so interested in quality, and that he is lucky to have a proud and loyal factory to serve his customers.
And serve, he does. "Really, there's very little corporate structure at all - it's me," he admitted. "I work with contractors on everything." That means he has the freedom to choose the best people to work for the brand, and it also means you - as a buyer - deal directly with the owner. "We rely on our owners to help sell our boats," Trevor said logically, "so it's absolutely critical that they're happy with them...a lot of [owners] I consider my friends now. When someone emails me, they expect a response and I want to give them a response within 24 hours. That doesn't stop when they get on the boat either."
Case in point: his response to me was within one hour and seven minutes. No need for a calculator - communication gets an 'Exceeds Expectations' from me. I had contacted another brand of boat (that will remain unnamed) on the same day in early June. I'll let you know when I hear back.
Click here to see an impressive NP 39' Pilothouse in gale force winds.
Lest you think everything is all rainbows and puppy dogs up there in Vancouver BC, I asked Trevor to describe a difficult time during his 10 year tenure as yacht purveyor. He recounted:
"The most stressful time for me was the fall of 2008, of course. Going into that time we had a 2.5 year lead time, with 30 boats on order. But I started losing a lot of them...we weren't asking for big deposits at the time, so we were giving back their money but we had already ordered the boats. Somehow, it all worked out...we just managed to keep the owners on board that we could, which was a good portion of them, and we managed to get the boats sold - the ones we were stuck with. I think only one arrived from China unsold, the rest we were able to sell on the production line. It was a really stressful time. What helps is we're a cash business, with no bank financing. Not having a bank breathing down our neck was really a blessing. We've actually been profitable every single year except the year we started."
If you want a NP Yacht now, lead time is about a year - delivered to your favorite cruising spot and commissioned for you in the US.
So where's the future of NP Yachts? Trevor reinforced to me that "we're focusing on the value side, but we're also going to be focused on new design, more fancy interiors - because we know that say 10 years from now it might cost just as much to make a boat in China as it does to make it here...so we want people to walk on board and just say 'wow.'" However, there was one concern Trevor had, and it's one I share with him completely: "It's a long term concern," Trevor admitted, "that the next generation of boaters won't be interested in trawler-style cruising...I just hope enough people are getting into it to support a good boat market in the future."
For now, Trevor has found a perfect niche for the Warren Buffett in all of us. When you think of NP Yachts, think value, value, value. "Just because of the price," Trevor warned, "it doesn't mean it's a quality boat or not. We believe we're offering a boat that's as well made as any other." Proud of his accomplishments thus far, Trevor mused on his future in boating: "This is what I want to do now, and I love it, and I want to continue to expand this business and be around for the next twenty to thirty years."
If any of us were smart enough to be in his place, I expect we would do the same.