An essay by Jeff Halpern

It’s funny that you ask me about Seafarer. The very first boat I put a deposit on was a brand new Seafarer dinghy that tried to buy at the 1964 (I think) New York City boat show. It was a charming little 8-foot sailing dinghy that was designed by Phillip Rhodes. As things would have it this was about the time that Seafarer was relocating to Huntington, N.Y. and retooling. I am not completely sure how accurate this is since I was a teenager at the time and so may have not gotten the whole story. Here’s what I recall about Seafarer and Brian Ackworth.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Holland was a major hub or yacht building and were pioneers in fiberglass yacht building. Before globally standardized hardware became common Holland was known for producing good quality custom hardware (mostly stainless steel and chromed bronze) at very reasonable prices. They were also known for reasonably inexpensive prices for very nicely finished boats. Holland in the 1960’s was like Taiwan in the 1980’s. There were a lot of American based companies importing Dutch boats to the United States. Some of the companies that come to mind are Henry Walton of Annapolis (who later imported a lot of Canadian Boats), Van Breems who imported the Contest Line, Dolf LeCompte who imported the LeCompte Line, Sailmaster, Tripp-Lensch and quite a few others.

The story that I heard was that Brian Ackworth was a transatlantic airline pilot. He routinely flew into the state and into various European countries. Since he was routinely crossing the Atlantic he was able to receive and service orders American boat orders while on lay over in Europe. Brian was European and had a bit of an English accent. I have always assumed that Brian was English but a lot of Europeans during that era learned English from British teachers and so had Englis accents.

While the boats were being built in Holland, Seafarer had a very nice line. The three boats that I remember best were the 8 foot Rhodes Dinghy, 25 (or so) foot Rhodes Meridian and the 33 foot Rhodes Swiftsure. The Swiftsure was a really neat boat for its day. These were nicely proportioned keel center board boats in the pattern of the "Finnesterre" type pioneered by Sparkman and Stephens. The were never competitive race boats, even back then, but they sailed well and were beautifully finished when compared to similar priced American boats like the Pearson Vanguard.

I have always heard that the reason that Seafarer (and others) stopped importing boats from Holland had to do with Holland joining the Common Market. At some point in the early 1960’s Holland joined the European Common Market. Somehow this caused a dramatic increase in prices for boats taken out of the EC to the States. It also caused a dramatic increase in cost to bring tooling over. So much so,that I understood that it was cheaper for Seafarer to retool with a new line than to bring the old molds and Plugs over.

We went to the Huntington factory quite a few times. My family owned a 25 foot Contest (Nicely finished, poorly built, mediocre sailing little Dutch boat) and Dad and Mom had chartered a Swiftsure in the Virgin Islands. My family was starting to look for a bigger boat, so we had some interest in Seafarer. Seafarer had a very complete line of boats from the 8-foot dinghy to a wonderfully beautiful 45 foot center cockpit yawl. (The tooling for the yawl was sold to Hughes in Canada and was in production for nearly two decades. Hughes added the Seafarer reflected boat under sail logo to their cove stripe logo as a result.) The plant was really very small for the wide range of boats that Seafarer was building at the time. Compared to Pearson, whose plant we also visited, Seafarer was absolutely tiny and impossibly packed cheek to jowl with boat building operations.

The American built boats were not highly regarded for either their build quality or level of finish. Some of the Seafarers were frankly very strange designs. The factory had a lot of trouble delivering boats on time as well.

As to my dinghy, it was ordered at the NY Boat show which I think was held in October or November (I could be wrong). It was supposed to be delivered in 8 weeks. The eight weeks came and went with no calls from the factory. My dad, motivated by my youthful impatience was in frequent contact after that. Brian Ackworth kept telling my father that they were making progress but that there was one delay after another. In May or June we finally drove out to the factory. As it turned out we arrived as another customer was chewing out Brian for the late delivery of his (bigger) boat. We asked Brian if we could see how my dinghy was coming. We were given a tour of the plant and in the end we were told that Seafarer had not even made the molds yet. Apparently the dinghy that had been at the show was a left over Dutch built boat.

Brian gave us our deposit back and a few weeks later I bought a 10 foot Oday Sprite. It was one of the best a stranger ever did for me. The last time I saw Brian was at an Annapolis Boat Show some time in the 1980’s. He was peddling a thirty something footer. The boat had a distinctly unfinished feel to it. Brian was still as dapper as ever. I chatted with Brian, who only vaguely remembered the incident, and dismissing it by saying they had a few delivery problems "in those days".