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Dreamboats : Pair Build Classy Craft for Blue-Sea Sailors

July 08, 1988|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

When the Coast Guard posts small-craft advisories, most 20-foot sailboats head for the safety of their home port.

Not the Flicka.

But then, the Pacific Seacraft Flicka, one of a line of boats ranked among the best in the world, is not like most 20-foot sailboats.

Most 20-foot sailboats don't have a full galley with a double-burner stove, a deep sink, an icebox and a slip-up dining table. Most 20-foot sailboats don't have almost 6 feet of headroom, berths for three, abundant storage cabinets, an enclosed head and a diesel engine. And most 20-foot sailboats don't have teak interiors, solid bronze hardware and a classic turn-of-the-century, full-keel design so distinctive in a boat its size that other sailors are constantly asking to take a peek inside.

But, above all, most 20-foot sailboats aren't built for open sea cruising, to be sailed with confidence anywhere in the world and to withstand the rigors of the oceans.

The Flicka is.

That's why, when Al Lehman and his 17-year-old son, Al Jr., hit a near gale on a cruise from Marina del Rey to Hawaii in 1982, Lehman was not too concerned.

"One thing about the Flicka is it's a very heavy boat: It weighs 2 1/2 to three times what most 20-foot boats weigh," said Lehman, 49, a manufacturer's representative from Paradise Valley, Ariz. "That does two things: For me it makes me feel comfortable about the construction of the boat, that it is solid and well-built, and additional weight sometimes makes it more stable in heavy winds and seas. It can certainly take the punishment."

Lehman and his son made landfall in Maui in just under 20 days.

"It was an adventure and it was something I had in the back of my mind to do for a number of years," Lehman said. "One of the things about the Flicka is it's a boat I felt was capable of doing that type of trip."

With the sleeves of his blue work shirt rolled up to his elbows and a tape measure clipped to his belt, Michael Howarth climbed the wooden stairs to the scaffolding overlooking the cavernous, resin-scented building in an industrial park in south Santa Ana.

From his vantage point, Howarth could observe a dozen dreams in the making.

Below, a team of 35 craftsmen were hard at work building sailboats bound for places such as Boston, Mass.; Rowayton, Conn.; Annapolis, Md.; Raleigh, N.C.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Seattle, Wash., where many of their new owners will fulfill lifelong dreams of sailing to exotic ports of call around the world.

"If you can equate boats to cars," Howarth said above the din of saws, grinders, routers and vacuums, "what we are trying to build is a Mercedes-Benz as opposed to a Chevrolet."

Indeed, since Howarth and partner Henry Mohrschladt built their first boat in Howarth's garage on Ball Road in Anaheim 12 years ago, Pacific Seacraft has become one of the most respected names in boat building.

Over the years, Howarth and Mohrschladt have grown accustomed to their line of boats being critically praised in trade magazines and nautical books such as the "The World's Best Sailboats" by the renowned sailing author Ferenc Mate, who wrote that he selected "the most beautiful and well-built boats" he could find.

But the most recent critical hosanna came unexpectedly this spring when Fortune magazine named Pacific Seacraft the maker of America's "best" sailboats 37 feet and under.

Seated behind his desk in his tidy office, company president Mohrschladt grinned boyishly when asked for his reaction at being the only boat manufacturer to be included in Fortune's March roundup of "What America Makes Best"--a list that included Steinway pianos, Steuben glass and Apple computers.

Mohrschladt, 43, said he was "ecstatic."

"I didn't believe it at first," he said. "It was the first real recognition that we had had outside the marine industry."

British-born Howarth, the company's vice president, is characteristically understated in his reaction.

"I guess it's a big compliment," said Howarth, 36. "In going to a boat show I've always known we can build a top-notch boat. I've got 100% confidence in that."

What exactly goes into building a top-notch boat or, more specifically, blue-water cruising sailboats deemed America's best?

"Quality materials and craftsmanship," said Howarth, who supervises the actual construction of the boats while Mohrschladt tends to sales, advertising and accounting.

They buy top-grade teak lumber from Burma and have all the bronze hardware on the boats--the ports, cleats and hinges--custom made. "Through the years of purchasing this stuff we've realized a lot of things can be improved on," said Howarth, adding, "We've designed a lot of the hardware."

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