SEATTLE — Devout Husky football fan Jack Sarin was watching a game at the stadium one weekend when his attention was diverted from the action on the field.
What caught his eye was one of the sleek yachts he had designed idling through Montlake Cut.
"I see them and they bring back a lot of memories," Sarin reflected.
From the Pacific Northwest to the yacht-filled marinas of South Florida, Sarin-designed yachts have been turning heads--and not just for the sleek lines outside and luxurious appointments inside.
Sarin's power yachts--there are nearly 50 of the 100-foot models--have helped establish the Pacific Northwest as one of the world's centers of yacht design and construction, particularly in the use of fiberglass for hulls.
That "region of the world has really become the preeminent yacht-building region of the world, something that wasn't true 10 years ago," said Jim Gilbert, editor in chief of Showboats International, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., publication that covers the world of superyachts. His magazine's latest numbers indicate that the Pacific Northwest--Washington, Oregon and British Columbia--built 27% of the 90-foot-and-larger yachts in the world.
"That's something Jack significantly contributed to," Gilbert said.
Sarin (it rhymes with marine) does his work in a five-designer firm operating out of a converted house not far from the Winslow ferry terminal on Bainbridge Island. Though the yachts are the showiest of his portfolio, he also does working boats--fishing vessels, patrol boats, fire and rescue craft and oil-recovery boats. Nineteen fast passenger ferries have been built on Sarin designs.
"It's my conservative nature," Sarin said. "I try to be a little versatile when yacht work is down. It's nice to fill in with other types of boats. But the glitz and glitter is in the yachts."
So are a lot of skills beyond just knowing how to draw a boat that will float.
"A boat design is not just a piece of paper," Sarin said. "It's a relationship with a client. You have to get into their psyche and what they like and don't like. . . . A lot of these clients, they don't buy tract houses. They're not used to buying something someone else has.
"Cooperation between the client, the architect and the builder is paramount; if any of the three wanders off the track, you're asking for trouble."
One such builder who has worked with Sarin on yachts and passenger ferries is Randy Rust, who runs Westport Shipyard Inc. in Grays Harbor County.
"Most [boat] architects or designers, they either come from an engineering background, so they're strong as an engineer, but they're not as strong on aesthetics, or they're good at design but not as good at the number crunching," he said.
Sarin, he said, possesses a good balance of the two. "A [marine] architect is kind of like a doctor," Rust said. "You're pretty dependent on their skill to keep something bad from happening."
Sarin grew up on Bainbridge, the grandson of a boat builder; his father was "always building a small boat in the back yard." Sarin himself dabbled in boat engineering at an early age, ordering a hydroplane kit from Popular Mechanics magazine.
He went to the University of Washington without a defined career objective other than a notion that it should involve engineering. ("The aptitude tests in high school said all the boys would be engineers and all the girls would be nurses," he remembers.) That changed when a fellow student came back raving about what was going on at the school's design department. One look at the cars and planes and Sarin knew industrial design was his calling.
After graduation and the military, Sarin migrated to California, where his father-in-law saw an ad for a yacht company looking for a designer. "I walked into the yard and was hooked," Sarin said. "I thought I had died and gone to heaven."
He spent three years there, making drawings, then walking out into the shop and asking the builders if what he had drawn could actually be constructed.
Tired of the climate and flat land, Sarin moved his family to Washington and joined the firm of renowned yacht designer Ed Monk, for whom he worked 12 years. After the elder Monk's death, his son carried on the business, concentrating on yachts while Sarin did work-boat designs.
In 1980, Sarin struck out on his own, starting with a fishing boat and moving into yachts. "I could see the whole industry slowing down; in 1980, I could tell you 20 different builders doing fish boats that I worked with. Maybe two or three still exist."
But it was that expertise in fishing vessels that provided the foundation for the Pacific Northwest's preeminent position in fiberglass-hulled yachts. "As people grew comfortable with fiberglass as a material for large yachts," Gilbert said, "the Pacific Northwest has the greatest body of knowledge of building in that material in the world."