Invictus -Coeur d’Alene Custom Wood Boats

posted on Apr 28

As 2013 hurtled by I’d struggle to tell you exactly when the rush of air miles, immigration officials and alarm calls in a dozen different languages blurred into a scarily monotonous headlong rush.  We were chasing the next big story, the next big yacht  launch, the next big exclusive, a two month-long whirlwind tour of Europe, numerous features written 30,000 ft. above the Atlantic and the sleepless nights preceding each deadline.  The roller coaster ride of issue #5 had hardly ground to a halt before, still on shaky legs, I prepared to climb aboard the next plane, spend a few hours at yet another hotel and tour the next shipyard…the next ride was already commencing.  It was somewhere between Miami and Seattle that I realized it is impossible to spot hidden gems and discover buried treasures if constantly tearing around at 100 mph.  So, conspiring to purposely miss my connection to Spokane International Airport, Washington, I instead relaxed during a five-hour soporific drive from Seattle to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  It proved to be a masterstroke.  Arriving at the Coeur d’Alene Resort mentally refreshed and settling into the hotel’s palatial Jaeger Suite the wind-down had begun…it took only a further 15-minutes on the balcony, soaking in the entrancing panoramic views of the pristine lake embraced in the folds of the mountains, and I was ready to fully appreciate the boating wonders crafted here, so far off the beaten track.

The Coeur d’Alene Resort – complete with full service marina, the most comprehensive wine cellar in the region and wide range of impeccably staffed facilities – is one of many local businesses in an extensive portfolio created by serial entrepreneur Duane B. Hagadone.  Catching a boat in the marina we cruised gently around the wooded coastline, slow enough to catch the forest scent drifting lazily over the placid water and pulled into the golf club for lunch.  Another of the Hagadone Corporation’s properties, here the immaculately manicured greens echoed the flawlessness of the resort, in hushed tones it speaks volumes of the perfection striven for in every enterprise undertaken by its founder…another of which we were to be introduced to shortly.

Hosted by the eminently hospitable Captain David Kilmer and Craig Brosenne, General manager of Hagadone Marine Group, we sat taking lunch overlooking the 14th green, an island floating in the bay which players access by means of courtesy craft after teeing off on the shore.  David used this to illustrate his employer’s passion for golf, yachting and an inclination to create unique solutions.  While the floating putting island is original in its own right, aboard his 205’ (63m) Oceanco named Lady Lola, Hagadone has had tee boxes concealed below the decking.  Guests are invited to play a round of “closest to the flag” on the worlds’ most exceptional and exclusive golf course, teeing off from different positions around the yacht and aiming at a number of floating flags positioned at various distance.  “The crew spots the landings,” Duane Hagadone explains over lunch the next day, before adding with a conspiratorial wink, “which means I usually win.”

Spending the afternoon at leisure exploring the resort’s facilities, we met for a delectable dinner at Beverly’s on the Resort’s 7th Floor. Fine dining more than worthy of Beverly’s Four Diamond AAA rating was enjoyed, as was the company we were introduced to, including Jerry and Donna Gilbreath.  Jerry is a legend in the highest echelons of powerboat racing.  After four decades of racing, designing and building championship winning off shores race boats, he still regularly acts as a consultant for leading teams and, despite having “retired gracefully” to Coeur d’Alene, it was here he found the team to build what is a near a perfect motor boat as we’ve ever seen.  But, in jerry’s words as we ambled down the dock for a sunset sail, “more about that in the morning…”

Sy Sizzler

Hagadone Marine Group is the backbone of the boating world in the quadrant where Idaho, Montana, Washington State and British Columbia butt up against each other.  Along with their three marinas – offering over 1,200 boat and watercraft slips – boat rental, service facilities, chandlery, brokerage and representation of new boat brands (Marquis, Carver, Cobalt, Malibu, Regal, Axis and Harris), they also operate their own shipyard:  Coeur d’Alene Custom Wooden Boats.  Arriving at the dock for our sunset cruise I had the first opportunity to see one of their craft…and on first impressions I don’t mind admitting to being completely blown away.

Glimmering in the light of the early evening sun was a 60’ sliver of perfection; sailing yacht Sizzler.  Sheathed in two dozen layers of clear epoxy, tinted clear coat, sealing coats and wax, the grain of the outer layer of mahogany used in her construction is glimpsed as if through a sapphire.  With a hydraulic rig, cordage concealed beneath the flush decks, she sports no anchor, windlass, guardrails or even a transom to break the purity of her sheer line.  Above the lissome blue hull the custom carbon fiber rigging from Southern Spars stands like a contemporary sculpture: fishbone-like spreaders intersect the 90’ mast and a wishbone vang melts down out of the furling boom.  From the tip of her plumb bow to overhang of her open reverse transom there is not one iota of superfluity in her design.

Hidden in the transom is also a custom passerelle that articulates through 90-degrees and, once the party had boarded, it subtly slipped away with a barely perceptible hum.  Inside the cockpit the minimalist outfitting allows one to appreciate the teak decking that wraps up the gunnels in a single continuous curve.  Broken only by inboard facing deep leather banquettes and two helm pedestals, the cockpit’s simplicity is achingly beautiful.  To appreciate Sizzler’s style is to tell but part of the story however, she possesses considerable substance too, and the best way to explain that is to commence with her conception.

“Mr. Hagadone truly believes in pushing boundaries,” smiles Craig Brosenne catching us gazing around in wonderment.  “Inspired by the sporty yachts he’d seen while cruising in Europe, we were on the Gulfstream heading home from the Fort Lauderdale show one year when he mused on whether it would be feasible to build a voice-activated yacht?  A team was put together and after some investigation we returned with a project that proved to be the next best thing.”  That project team included Tony Castro, the internationally renowned yacht designer with a penchant for incorporating cutting–edge technology in his yachts, who was introduced to Hagadone by Richard Hein, the founder of Oceanco.  The designer, owner and representatives defined a brief of how the yacht would be used: solely within the confines of Coeur d’Alene Lake for exhilarating day sailing with minimal input.  Anything superfluous to this requirement was stripped away and a design distilled to achieve maximum performance within a limited sailing environment.  A lifting keel (7’10” to 11’2” draft) with large bulb was specified to allow for the seasonal fluctuation of the lake’s depth, while below decks a day head and galley were all that was required.  The result – and we mean no slight by this – was the world’s most sophisticated and luxurious dinghy.

The decision was taken to put together a team of local artisans for the build, supplemented by expertise from the international sailboat building fraternity.    So Coeur d’Alene Custom Boats was created.  A Team of craftsmen with 150-years combined experience was assembled and they set about shaping the cold-molded mahogany and cedar hull.  They executed this work with the precision of Chippendale cabinetmakers, as is immediately evident when one drops inside down the companionway.  Left bear to be appreciated in its full glory, a golden glow emanates from the high gloss cold-molded laminate and steam formed frames.  Contrasting with the traditional joinery skills is the first-class contemporary carbon fiber work, which makes up the other primary element of her construction.  “We brought in an Italian composites expert.”  Brosenne explained, “He has worked on America’s Cup campaigns as well as for the Victory Class I team.”  Raising a curious eyebrow, I venture a long shot; “it wasn’t Giorgio Cecchinato was it?” a long-time sailing and carousing buddy I’d said farewell to only months earlier in Dubai.  Brosenne confirmed it was.  Shaking my head in disbelief and listening to accounts of Giorgio’s secret adventure in far-flung Idaho.  I set about inspecting his work.  He’d done himself proud.  From structural components to the head, from counter tops to conduits through which cordage runs, his trademark precision in matching the silver and black grain was everywhere.

While Bauhua-esque in its minimalism and adherence to the philosophy that the architecture forms part of the overall artistic experience, Sizzler incorporates subtle nods to ensure luxury is also appreciated:  leather lined handrails, an ice chest serving the cockpit and hydraulic cocktail tables that rise from the cockpit sole are just some of the touches onboard.  The level of detailing is also extraordinary – polished aluminum tanks and hydraulic fittings, curved doors to match the mast atrium and stainless steel “caulking” between the teak of the interior sole (requiring painstaking attention during the sanding process as the metal heats up at a different rate to the surrounding wood) – so each element of the yacht is there to be appreciated, not hidden away.  Having tantalized with an overview, we must admit to having saved the juiciest detail of this yacht until last.  The eponymous “sizzle” – as Duane Hagadone describes the unique and exciting feature each of his project must possess – is the manner in which Sizzler is sailed…with the tip of one’s finger!  Below decks the hydraulic infrastructure for operating yacht is open to see.  The Italian hydraulic specialists Cariboni worked with the yard on the complex system and providing the rams that handle the sheeting of the main sail and the jib, all of which is powered by a Volvo Penta auxiliary.

Back in the cockpit Cpt. David Kilmer grins as he proffers me the helm; “My friends jest with me for no longer having calluses on my palms from grinding,” he laughs, “just a blister on my thumb.”  Arranged on a carbon fiber fascia is a dual row of buttons – port and starboard jib, mainsheet, backstay, outhaul and vang.  “Upper row for out, lower row for in,” Cpt Kilmer points out, “that’s it.”  Grasping the wheel (carbon fiber of course) I check our course and position amongst the traffic.  Spotting a patch of water being scoured by the cool evening air funneled down off the mountains, I adjust course…As soon as we hit the pressure Sizzler bounds forward like a startled pony.  Heeling over as water surges by the rail necessitates bracing oneself against the gunwale – where the curved sole demonstrates its practical application.  The SOG reading on the central repeater climbs as quickly as my grin widens and with every slight input from the wheel Sizzler responds to the direction from her high aspect ratio rudders.  Each puff of pressure allows one to point higher, the feedback through the helm is progressive (it is the only non-hydraulic system onboard) and she optimizes her apparent wind with consummate ease.  So quickly does Sizzler reward positive input, chasing the highest speed of the evening’s sail becomes a highly addictive game…though I must concede defeat to Mrs. Brosenne on that score.  As darkness eventually closed in and the blue LEDs – a leitmotif of Mr. Hagadone – lit Sizzle’s deck and sails, we reflected on our experience.  Prior to sailing Sizzler one could have justifiably questioned the rationale behind building a high performance 60’ yachts.  Having all, the next Volvo Ocen Race will be contested in 65’ yachts.  Having had the express pleasure of helming Sizzler however, one understands why.  She’s undoubtedly an indulgence, but she’s also exhilarating, sophisticated, elegant and must be a consummate pleasure to own…even if she doesn’t yet respond solely to voice commands.  It is quite remarkable that a yacht as progressive as Sizzler is concealed away on lake in the corner of Idaho.  The quality of design and completion makes here worthy of true “heirloom status” and, no doubt, future generations of Hagadones will continue to enjoy sailing her.  I am however convinced that in decades to come this yacht will be “rediscovered” and become a high value collectors classic.  She has all the hallmarks: Commissioned as an indulgence by a wealthy owner, designed and built by true artisans drawn from around the world, an entirely custom “one-off”, produces high performance and features the very latest technology of her day.  If she was a car and bore the Cavallino Rampante of Ferrari, well, see our feature on p. 176.  But this was just a a first showing for Coeur d’Alene Custom Boats, the next morning we met Jefe…

Jerry Gilbreath’s  “Jefe”

If our sail aboard Sizzler had inspired us the previous evening, it was on meeting Jefe the next morning that we truly fell in love.  The ultimate expression of the retro-modern genre, she combines the allure and charm of a gentleman’s cruiser from the “Dolce Vita’ era with contemporary engineering.  Her flared foredeck tapers off to a finely drawn bow and the gloss of the 29-coats of epoxy and clear coat has the depth of molten glass, creating an irresistible urge to stroke her.  Beneath the finish her mahogany top deck glows and again Coeur d’Alene have invested considerable man-hours in dividing the planks with polished stainless steel inserts.  The tight lines of Jefe’s hull flow from the flared forward section to a gentle tumblehome, with the aft third of the boat exhibiting a gently curved barrel-back topside.  Modestly proud of his creation, Jerry stands back quietly, giving us a few moments to take in every graceful curve.  From the concave transom that incorporates two steps down to the water, her silhouette prescribes the gentlest of unadulterated arches forward to the bow, where once again an anchor is notable by its absence.  Stainless steel pop-up cleats, fuel filler caps and the wraparound bi-pane windshield all subtly fuse into the deck.  The central cockpit is semi-partitioned, with the helm and navigator’s seats separated from the aft banquette by two pedestals, in which custom glassware and embroidered hand-towels are stowed.  The vanilla soft hide of the upholstery compliments the iridescent grain of the West African mahogany and Western Cedar, once one sinks into is welcome embrace a cocktail table and be dropped to accommodate the essential sundowner.  There’s no doubting Coeur d’Alene Custom Boats have produced another masterpiece.  You don’t just have to take my word on how impressive Jefe is.  In September the judges at the ACBS International Wooden Boat Show voted her not only winner of the Modern Classic Class, but also Most Beautiful Boat in Show award, amongst 170 other craft, for the second year in succession.  “I heard she scored 100 out of 100,” grins jerry, “but one retired judge told me there was no such thing as a perfect boat.  I invited him to take as close an inspection as he desired.  After an hour of trying to find a flaw he magnanimously conceded defeat.”  Jangling the keys, jerry glances out over the silky waters of the lake and nods his head, eager to show us Jefe in her full glory.

While Coeur d’Alene Custom may have produced the boat, she represents jerry’s 40-years of racing, designing, tuning, naval architectural and engineering knowledge, distilled into one 34’ package.  Having drawn and engineered his idea of a perfect boat, Jerry was then acutely involved in the construction and fit-out process, using Coeur d’Alene’s skills in to realize his life-long dream.  “I’m more than happy to lend my services for megayacht tender design and project management,” he says almost reading our mind as he turns the key.  Beneath the aft deck the twin custom electronic 400 hp Mercury Racing engines burble into life and nudging the billet aluminum throttles forwards, the Mercruiser Bravo One sterndrives engage as smoothly as a well-buttered racing snake.  With the stainless steel exhausts vented through the props the engine tone is low and absence of smoke most welcome in the fresh morning air.

Having already discussed Jerry’s philosophy of engine-bay design over dinner the previous evening, as we exit the marina we persuade him to actuate the hydraulic covers to take a peek.  What was revealed was the womb in which the lovechild of Carlo Riva and Cigarette Racing Team would e conceived.  The concourse standard engineering is set against a backdrop of the glossy timber plank-on-frame construction.  Jerry points out how the position of the tanks and each system has been calculated according to weight and its affect on the boat’s balance.  The wiring and plumbing is later straight and carefully routed, not a flabby inch to be seen anywhere.

Putting the engines to good use we push the throttles forward and urge Jefe up onto the plane.  The transition from displacement to planning is surreal.  Through an ingenious combination of hull design, lifting strakes, balance and trim, bow rise has been eliminated.  We throttle back down and start again, only to discover that Jefe actually planes at just 10mph! “Energy expended in bow rise is wasted forward momentum,” Jerry explains from the navigator’s seat.  “Getting the holeshot in racing is all about fast acceleration on the start line, so turning every ounce of energy into forward momentum is crucial.”  Gliding along we check the Livorsi gauges again, they still read 10mph the instantaneous response to our turning of the helm confirms we’re planing.  Another testament to the efficiency of Jefe’s hull design is the flat wake she creates when on the plane, another “holy grail” sought by naval architects as large wakes indicate a loss of energy used in displacing lots of water.

Suitably impressed by the slow speed characteristics we add pour more gas in the fireboxes and Jefe surges forward with well mannered control.  The speedometer climbs and a fuel-efficient sweet spot is found around the 40mph mark.  Spinning the wheel at this speed is a real delight, with the gentlest of heels Jefe glides through turns with the grace of Olympic ice skater.  I honestly don’t believe I’ve ever driven a better-balanced boat.  The sensation of being led through a turn, rather than being pushed around by a spongy sensation from the aft, is quite alien but also feels so natural.  Not satisfied at 40mph however we straighten up and push onwards to the needle climbs close to her 70mph top speed, “So what do you think?” asks Jerry – markedly at normal conversation volume due to the lack of wind in the cockpit.  The twinkle in my eyes requires no explanation.  As we head back to the marina for breakfast, Jerry explains that this one-off custom boat is currently for sale.  “For the man-hours I have in it the asking price of $575,000 makes her a great deal.  Craig Brosenne calculates it would cost anywhere between $550k and $750k to recreate her now.”  Having seen her and experienced driving her, we’d say Jefe is worth her weight (7,000 lbs incidentally) in gold and she’d make a fantastically unique megayacht tender, or day launch for a waterfront property.  The attention she attracts and conversation piece she makes is invaluable, but having the opportunity to experience the thrill of driving her and discovering a new benchmark against other boats will be measured…for me that was priceless.

For more information visit http://cdacustomwoodboats.com.com or call (866)525-3232.