“MISSION STATEMENT: TO BUILD THE WORLD’S FINEST WOODEN BOATS.”
There’s a sign hanging out on the shop floor at Van Dam Custom Boats which reads
“Mission Statement: To Build the World’s Finest Wooden Boats.” The sign itself is a thing of beauty, mahogany finished to a high luster and hand-lettered like many of the transoms on boats that have left the shop over the years. The sign, and its quality, are reminders to all who see it that quality is not an abstract concept, but a product of details, and details of details, executed to the highest standards. That excellence is borne of diligence and care. Nothing here happens by accident. And it shows. From the long-range business plan to the weekly shop cleanup, every task is tackled mindfully, efficiently, conscientiously. It’s a philosophy that is embraced wholeheartedly by everyone on our campus of craftsmen and service providers to all things marine related.
It comes as no surprise, then, that with such a strong work ethic at its foundation, Van Dam is starting to make waves among enthusiasts and connoisseurs the world over, despite having eschewed formal marketing for much of the company’s history. Instead, Van Dam has always trusted that quality speaks for itself, and square dealing with clients buys earnest word-of-mouth advertising. A recent escalation of marketing efforts and the addition of a dedicated sales team has elevated the brand at an unprecedented pace, albeit atypical of their unpretentious culture as a whole. But with forty years of quiet diligence under their belts, Van Dam is poised to become the darling of luxury consumers looking for a beyond-top-of-range experience.
Experience? In a utilitarian steel shed, in a small town in Michigan? Yes. Although boats are the company’s product, what they uniquely offer is an ability, and an eagerness, to work with their customers to produce a boat that is not only tailored to fit, but designed from the ground up as an extension of the owner’s personality. With less than 60 Van Dams in existence, each private commission is a one in the world, custom designed creation... never duplicated. In a marketplace full of luxury goods that conflate “custom” with “available
in different colors,” Van Dam acts as curator of their clients’ most extravagant fantasies, lending their expertise to ensure that their clients’ ideas – often literally sketched on envelopes and bar napkins – coalesce into a whole that exceeds every expectation.
In addition to luminous beauty, high functionality and heirloom brand prestige, Van Dam Custom Boats offers an open-door policy during the design and build phase. Since many of their customers like to be involved to the last detail, the ongoing dialogue with Van Dam lets each boat owner get exactly what he or she wants, whether that be an interior accented with mother-of-pearl harvested from Maui or an outline reminiscent of the Batmobile as driven by Adam West. (Yes, those are real customer requests and we can confirm that they are amazing to behold.)
One of Van Dam’s most iconic builds, Alpha Z 33, is an excellent example. A collaboration between world-renowned design firm, Michael Peters Yacht Design and Van Dam, it was a two year construction period involving on the fly design changes. It represents Van Dam’s and MPYD’s technical expertise as builders and designers respectfully, but also the way in which clients can exert control over even the most miniscule detail. At thirty-three feet, every square inch of Alpha Z 33, inside and out, pushed the limit of what was at the time being achieved in the world of wooden boat building. It represents a collaboration between designer, client and builder that nurtured every idea to its fullest expression, while maintaining the over arching vision of the boat as a whole. The engine, an 825 hp V8, can propel the craft to speeds upwards of 100 mph and is attached to a laptop to monitor engine function. The stepped deep-V design put forth by Michael Peters Yacht Design reduces friction when it is screaming across the water. The design process took a year to complete and was driven by the stylings of exotic Italian sports cars and applications of racing technology. “The idea was to pretend that fiberglass didn’t exist,” Peters stated in an article for Graphis Magazine. “Given the evolution in marine technology, what could a wooden boat builder create today in comparison to the classics of the 1950’s? What would the boat look like?” While AZ appears to be carved from a single block of mahogany, it is actually many mahogany planks pulled from a single log and bookmatched from side to side. The planks were meticulously sorted for color and grain by the craftsmen at Van Dam. The floor of the cockpit is varnished mahogany and stainless steel topped by a hand carved mahogany dash. And keeping with the plan of high-tech wrapped in a fluid wooden form, Alpha Z 33 boasts push button, pneumatically controlled running lights and flush engine hatch. The interior is finished off with molded, English saddle leather seating and stainless steel controls.
Featured in Playboy and gracing the cover of the coveted Graphis Magazine, which has become a compelling record of the most significant work in Design, Advertising and Photography, Alpha Z 33 is a breakout in the world of wooden boat building. You will find AZ still making waves today, albeit on display in northern California’s Boatique Winery. The current owners, Bob and Madi Mount proudly offer guests an up close and personal meeting with AZ as well as Madeline, their own personal Van Dam commission. Resting in their collection among several rare watercraft is certainly a fitting ‘covered boathouse’ for such a memorable creation.
To own a Van Dam means literally breathing life into the questions of - Who are you? What moves you? Are you a ‘me too’ mariner or looking to set yourself apart on the water?
With the commissions currently underway, Van Dam is accepting clients that are willing to wait until at least 2020 for delivery. But discerning individuals know the score: a Van Dam boat isn’t a thing you buy, it’s a process you undertake. One worth waiting for.
Visit Van Dam Boats for more.
Article by P. Thorinton - with additional content from from Graphis Magazine and The Manual.
Photos courtesy of Jorge Alvarez