This month Nauticraft Corp. will install its first rotational molding machine to begin converting a fiberglass pedal boat to rotomolded polyethylene. The Muskegon, Mich., company's name reflects owner Curtis Chambers' interest in building boats: not your high-powered, motorized variety, but boats propelled by pedals, paddles, wind and sails.
Chambers is no neophyte to plastics. He is launching Nauti-craft, which he calls his ``semiretirement business,'' after selling a Muskegon injection molding outfit he headed for 28 years, Pliant Plastics Corp. That sale was final late last year.
Unlike Pliant, Nauticraft is strictly a proprietary operation, said Chambers, who claims to have quit custom molding for good. He also hopes to run this ``semiretirement business'' like no other, by manufacturing his boats from fall through spring and taking summers off; and by employing other semiretired people, ages 55-70, to work part time in his shop, making as many as 500 boats a year.
``I'm hoping to hire ... people who have done their stint in industry and have bailed out early, for whatever reason,'' he said.
To start, Chambers and Tom Parker, a Muskegon product development consultant, plan to produce six to 12 rotomolded PE prototypes of the Escapade, a pedal boat whose sailboat-type hull is roughly 13 feet long and 4 feet wide. This summer they will test the rotomolded boats on Lake Michigan and other, smaller lakes.
John Schreiner, owner of New Wave Kayak of Middletown, Pa., built the rock 'n' roll machine for Nauticraft, Chambers said April 26, several days before the machine's May 1 delivery date. ``My nose is pressed to the window to see if my machine is coming,'' he said.
The machine can produce parts 16 feet long and 6 feet in diameter. Lakeland Mold Co. of Brainerd, Minn., is supplying the rotational molds to make the hull, rudder, seat and windshield arch, he said, noting that eventually he wants to rotomold the two-blade propeller as well.
Machine and molds represent a $250,000 investment, Chambers said.
In Muskegon, Nauticraft shares a new, 20,000-square-foot plant with Dynamic Conveyor Corp., owned by members of the Chambers family. That company, which supplies belt conyeyors to injection molders, uses three-quarters of the space.
Until now Nauticraft has not done its own manufacturing. In fact the company has no workers, and Chambers does not expect to need any until rotomolding production begins this fall. Thus far Jack DeWilde of West Olive, Mich., has been constructing fiberglass hulls for Nauticraft; he is under contract to supply 30 more hulls, which Nauticraft will mothball and turn into boats at a later date, Chambers said. De-Wilde also made the mold patterns for the hull, rudder and arch.
The Escapade is an updated version of the Mallard, a boat created by yacht designer Garry Hoyt of Newport, R.I., in the early 1980s and once manufactured by Vanguard Inc., the former boatmaking division of Harken Inc. of Pewaukee, Wis. When Harken sold Vanguard, the Mallard became a ``manufacturing or-phan,'' Chambers said. Two years ago he bought the molds for the Mallard and another, smaller pedal boat he called the Mallard's ``little brother,'' the Waterbug, and a license to make them both, from Harken. His decision to convert the pedal boat from fiberglass to rotomolded PE was based partly on production costs.
``I cannot make this boat in fiberglass [in] the way that it's designed and make any money,'' he said.
Chambers has decided to forgo conventional marketing channels, such as marinas and boat shops, and sell the Escapade directly to customers, for $2,500-$3,000. Ultimately he wants to develop new, nonmotorized boats, including a small sailboat and a side-by-side pedal boat, he said. But, he has no intention of getting back into custom molding.
``I'd be more than happy to help somebody get their product started. But I do not want to run somebody else's production,'' he said.