The niches and novelties of Roamer Yachts, Marinette, Concorde, Bluewater Coastal Cruisers, Boatel Houseboats, Sabre Craft, Bell Boy, & Glasspar
In my over forty years in the pleasure boat industry, there have been literally thousands of boat companies and brand names of boats in North America.
Some of these were and are strictly regional brands not known or recognized in the rest of the continent but many were national and even international brands known to most of us diehard boaters.
It is those well known and recognized brands that are no longer with us that I look forward to examining in this series.
These brand names may still be corporately held in reserve but are not known to currently be in production.
* * * * *
The first of these is Roamer Yachts. Immediately following the end of World War II, Robert Linn founded the Roamer Boat Company in Holland, Michigan. He started in 1946 with a 32-foot steel hulled express cruiser and quickly expanded his lineup to include aft-cabin and double cabin motor yachts up to 48 feet and all of them with steel hulls. Roamer also built steel-hulled commercial boats like tugs as well as military vessels.
It became so successful that the company was purchased by Chris-Craft in the mid-1950’s. At that point, Chris-Craft was the largest manufacturer of pleasure boats in the world with nearly 150 models from 10 production facilities. The new company became the Roamer Steel Boats Division and later the Roamer Yachts Division while continuing production in Holland. The Chris-Craft family, descendants of founder Christopher Columbus Smith, sold the parent company in 1960 to NAFI Corporation.
By the early 1960’s, Roamer was producing 23 models from 32 to 56 feet. After Chris-Craft switched to fiberglass production, Roamer introduced fiberglass superstructures on its steel hulls. Shortly thereafter, the Aluminum Company of Canada (Alcan), in its attempt to expand the uses for aluminum, purchased the rights to build the iconic 43-foot steel Roamer from aluminum. You will now find the much-sought-after 43-foot Roamer in both steel and aluminum.
The early 1960’s also saw Roamer introduce new aluminum models each year right up to a 56-foot motor yacht. The early 1970’s saw new models in steel and aluminum in 55, 60, 66, and 73 feet. As sales faltered in the gas shortage scare of the early 70's, by the mid-70’s Roamer added yacht fisherman and tournament fishing models in 55 and 73 feet as a way to enter another market segment.
But, it is said that the Roamer Division was cutting into sales of Chris-Craft’s fiberglass division, so in 1979 the Roamer Division was closed. In early 1981, Chris-Craft was sold to Murray Industries, then sold again later in 1981 to Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC) which itself declared bankruptcy in 2000. Chris-Craft was resurrected from that ordeal and has since blossomed into a very successful high end pleasure boat manufacturer to this day.
* * * * *
I haven’t seen many, but the few Marinette welded aluminum cruisers and yachts I have seen always seemed to catch my attention. The 32 express was the one I saw the most, and it was said to be the company’s biggest seller with over 1800 produced.
The line is said to have been started by an aircraft repair company in a hanger in the early 1950’s just outside Louisville, Kentucky. Once Marinette sales started to grow, the company Aluminum Cruisers Inc. was created for the purpose. Welded aluminum-magnesium alloy was the choice of building material.
One account reveals that initial production was of a twin-hulled houseboat, although other accounts indicate that houseboat models were built under contract for others. Most accounts reveal Marinette offered traditional style cruisers and yachts such as hard and soft-top express cruisers, flybridge express and sedans, aft-cabin motor yachts, and even dedicated fishing yachts.
Model production varied over the years from 6-10 models per year, ranging from 28 to 41 feet. Many custom models were regularly built up to 60 and 70 feet. Production ended in the early 1990’s.
* * * * *
There is much speculation about the history and production of Concorde yachts. The best I can glean is that Concorde may have been the name the Owens brothers used for certain of its models when it was getting into fiberglass production. It also may be, that once successful, these boats were branded Owens-Concorde.
What we do know is that Owens was sold to Brunswick Corporation in the early 1960’s and that sale probably included the Concorde brand. Later in the 1960’s, the Division was sold to Test Concorde, Inc. which utilized the yacht-building facilities of Owens in Baltimore. A full-page ad in Motor Boating magazine in spring of 1971 announces 14 models of Concorde Yachts from 27 to 47 feet in express, flybridge, aft-cabin, and tournament fishing models. Production apparently ended in the mid-1970’s.
* * * * *
I have a personal “thing” about Bluewater Coastal Cruisers. For years at the Miami Boat Show, Bluewater occupied a prime spot indoors in the convention centre, usually showing two yachts which dwarfed any nearby exhibits. Directions provided to friends about the location of other booths were often given in relation to the Bluewater location. One year I had some time and went aboard. I was simply flabbergasted. It was like entering a luxury apartment or condo.
It all started in the early 1950’s when Elmer Klapmeier welded together a metal boat to transport sportsmen to and from the many lodges on the huge Lake of the Woods in Ontario near the US border. He soon built overnighting facilities into the boat and his son Jim joined the company creating Northernaire Floating Lodges to rent out these welded steel 37-footers on Rainy Lake located right on the border. The company name changed to Boatel Houseboats and word spread as did the company rentals.
The 1960’s saw the rental business expand throughout North America and the boat became more sophisticated with sterndrive rather than outboard power. One of the biggest selling features of the Boatel design was its shallow draft of less than two feet, thus allowing it into otherwise impossible boating areas as well as an ability to nudge up onto a beach.
The 1970’s saw expansion of the Boatel line from 35 to 45 feet offering a voluminous level of interior space simply not available on traditional cruisers and yachts. The boats were offered for sale for the first time, and also for the first time full-size appliances were installed. Boatel was by far and away the largest houseboat rental company.
Since Boatel was constructed on a proper welded steel, or into the 70's even on a fiberglass hull, Jim Klapmeier did not want his boats categorized as houseboats which had always been relegated to calm inland small lakes and rivers. Jim felt his boats could easily handle larger bodies of water. By the end of the 1970’s, Boatel yacht sales were booming and he changed the name of his boats to Bluewater.
Meanwhile, in the early 80's, new Bluewater designs featured some of the largest one-piece fiberglass hulls ever made, along with other “firsts” such as the proprietary Guardian Power hull which reduced the draft to 22" by molding pockets into the hull bottom to not only physically protect the propellers and shafts but also to keep the shafts as horizontal as possible to maximize efficiency of power. Inboard engines were located in well sealed compartments beneath berths or dinettes.
Bluewater Coastal Cruisers of Mora, Minnesota offered models from 35 to 54 feet through the 80's. A 59-footer and possibly a 70-footer was offered in the 90's and through into the 2000’s. The 52 has been the perennial favourite. With their very low centre of gravity, the yachts were not only sea kindly in moderate seas but there are videos of the horrendous water conditions many operated in and survived unscathed. Bluewater Coastal Cruisers ceased operations in about 2009.
* * * * *
You may never have heard of American Marine Industries, and never had I until it surfaced a couple of times during research for this series. What you may have heard of though are Sabre Craft and Bell Boy boats. Both of these manufacturers became part of AMI.
Bell Boy boats may in fact be one of the first, if not the first, all-fiberglass pleasure boats in North America. Arch Talbot, owner of Bellingham Shipyards in Washington State had been fascinated with the possibilities of the new fibre reinforced plastics (FRP) products and its uses in the marine industry since before World War II. During the Korean War, he had supplied the US Navy with fiberglass lifeboats.
By1952, he created Bell Boy Boats as a division of Bellingham Shipyards with the intention of building a full line of fiberglass models. Early production in a separate facility in Bellingham ranged from an 8-foot dinghy to what is described as a 21-foot express cabin cruiser. Eventually there was even a 16-foot express cabin cruiser!
Like the automobile industry at the time, Bell Boy introduced new models and new colours every year. Sales grew exponentially until by 1957, Bell Boy factory sales reached a reported $3 million through 200 dealers nationwide and was considered one of the top manufacturers in the country. Production facilities were added in New York and later in Indiana.
Financial difficulties in parent Bellingham Shipyards forced the sale of Bell Boy Boats in the early 1960’s to Tacoma, Washington boat builder Sabre Craft Boat Company. Sabre Craft also had a facility in Niles, Michigan. Within a couple of years, Sabre Craft, which included Bell Boy, became a division of American Marine Industries, Inc.
Boats bearing both the Sabre Craft and the Bell Boy labels and often identical in appearance were continued to be produced through the 60's and into the 70’s. In 1971, Sabre Craft offered 10 models from 16 to 24 feet and by 1975, the number of models had expanded to 25. Models included hard and soft top runabouts, performance ski-style boats, offshore express and command bridge models. Both brand names seem to have disappeared in the early 1980’s.
* * * * *
Glasspar Boats is another most interesting company. Bill Tritt had interests in boats and cars, studied marine architecture in college, worked for Douglas Aircraft during the war while in his spare time fabricating small catamaran sailboats. He was asked to design a 20-foot racing sailboat in 1947 and specified fiberglass as the material of choice. Wizard Boats was contracted to do the fabricating.
The boat was successful, and so he built four of them in different lengths. The following year he started building sailing dinghies and then fabricated the first ever masts and spars from fiberglass. He incorporated the Glasspar Company in 1950 and set up production in Costa Mesa, Ca. Sales success resulted in a move to larger facilities in Santa Ana in 1951.
To perhaps scratch Bill Tritt’s interest in automobiles, Glasspar was one of the first companies to experiment with using fiberglass to build car bodies. It did just that for the Studebaker-based Ascot, the Volvo Sport, and perhaps most notably, in 1951 Tritt designed and built the Glasspar G2 sports roadster which is said to have provided the final impetus for General Motors to proceed with the fiberglass-bodied Corvette.
Tritt then designed and built a fiberglass removable hardtop for the G2 resulting in Glasspar producing similar hardtop fabrications for Porsche and MG among others. Glasspar also produced fiberglass components for the aircraft industry and cabs for construction equipment.
By the mid-50's, Glasspar was one of the largest pleasure boat producers in the United States and by the late 50's there were four additional production facilities across the country building a full range from sailing dinghies, to 10-foot car-toppers, to21-foot “express cruisers,” to a 20-foot cat-ketch rigged sailboat. By 1959, Glasspar had 1400 dealers nationwide. Bill Tritt left the company that year.
By the early 1960’s, Glasspar had six production facilities across the country, but competition was starting to close the gap forcing the closure of a couple of plants. Sadly, it was not enough as losses piled up until in 1966, Larson Industries of Little Falls, Minnesota entered into a management agreement to run the company. Then four months later Larson purchased Glasspar. The Glasspar name remained along with its own line of boats but by 1977, all of that was gone.
Don't forget to check out: