The Need for Speed

Photography courtesy Sandy Ritson
Super Sport
The hand-built 25-foot Super Sport seats eight and goes 50 miles per hour. It’s high-performance hull makes for smooth handling.

It took eight months to build and a big pile of mahogany, but the craftsmen at Grand-Craft in Holland managed to complete a new prototype, the 25 Super Sport, just in time for its Florida debut at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show last November.

The $279,000 mahogany powerboat, with its triple-planked bottom and 430-horsepower Ilmor V8 engine, is Grand-Craft’s newest offering. The West Michigan company specializes in fine, hand-built mahogany boats.

“There’s no rushing it, not the way we build them” explained Jeff Cavanaugh, Grand-Craft’s owner. “I got it done the day before I left (for Florida).”

Super Sport flagGrand-Craft is renowned for retro wood runabouts, boats built by cold-molding quarter-inch mahogany planks that are laminated with epoxy for strength. It is a process that saves weight compared with traditional wood or fiberglass construction. Once the molded hull is sanded smooth and stained, it is sealed with 17-20 coats of varnish, resulting in a deep luster that turns heads in every port.

“It will go 50 miles per hour out of the box,” Cavanaugh said. “Our customers come from all over the board. They want something new and reliable, turn-key fun and something with a warranty. People will them to their heirs.

The 25 Super Sport was designed to fill a “performance” niche in the Grand-Craft lineup, according to Cavanaugh. It is a faster and heavier-built runabout that will accommodate eight passengers. It comes trimmed with bronze and stainless steel hardware, embellishments that don’t appear on the company’s less expensive 20-foot and 22-foot Grand Sport boats. A Grand-Craft can cost from $140,000-$1.6 million.

“It has all the really good stuff,” Cavanaugh said. “I like the U-shaped lounge. People can sit across from each other and converse. It’s very large, bigger than it looks, has a plusher feel and comes with an integrated swim platform and a bow thruster.”

Grand-Craft was founded in 1979 by Steve Northhuis and Chris Smith, the grandson of Christopher Columbus Smith, founder of Chris-Craft, the iconic wood boat company that was founded in Algonac on the St. Clair River. It built mahogany boats until 1971 and then switched to fiberglass.

“We hand-build the boats. They are not mass produced with machines. Over 3,000 hours goes into a boat. That’s why they cost so much.”
— Jeff Cavanaugh

Cavanaugh, the owner of Anchorage Marina in Holland, acquired Grand-Craft in 2010. In 2015, he bought a building at the old Holland Chris-Craft manufacturing site. Grand-Craft will move its small boat production there in 2017.

“… Back in the 1950s when Chris-Crafts were put together, they were hacking and sawing and put them together fast. They mass produced them,” Cavanaugh said. “They were a disposable boat. Now, the process is much slower, and they last forever.”

Cavanaugh’s fascination with wood boats began as a young man while working for Bay Haven Marina on Lake Macatawa. It was a Chris-Craft dealer, and the Chris-Craft plant was just up the street.

“We had a lot of new fiberglass boats and old wood boats at the marina,” Cavanaugh said. “I worked around them and over time, there was a need for people to restore large wooden boats.”

Anchorage Marine, which he bought in 1994, soon became more than a service and storage facility. Cavanaugh launched a Chris-Craft restoration business there, too. Wood boat restoration remains a part of its operation; making old boats look like new is something he enjoys.

Super Sport interior

“The opportunity came up to buy Grand-Craft … and we moved on to building new wood boats (too),” Cavanaugh said.

Grand-Craft boats are not Chris-Craft replicas, Cavanaugh explained. Only one replica was ever built — a 1929 Chris-Craft 24 Triple Cockpit. Grand-Craft hired Chris-Craft carpenters when the company closed its manufacturing facility. But their day-to-day work is building new designs that may draw on iconic Michigan power boats from the past.

“We incorporate the best features of the retro designs, of boats made in Michigan, primarily Chris-Craft and Century,” Cavanaugh said. “The (25 Super Sport) is all Grand Craft, a modern hull with all the things that make it a good performer. It handles extremely well.

“Every three to four years, we’ll build a boat on spec and take it to a show. There aren’t many people who do what we do — build new mahogany boats. We hand-build the boats. They are not mass produced with machines. Over 3,000 hours goes into a boat. That’s why they cost so much.”

Howard Meyerson is the managing editor of Michigan BLUE Magazine.

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