7 December 2015

MARKETWATCH: Insight from Macatawa Bay Boat Works restorer

Jonathan Reus has been restoring boats since he was a teenager, starting with a shoestring-budget rebuild of a wooden 14-foot Wagemaker that belonged to his late grandfather, who purchased it new in the 1950s.

Reus, president of Macatawa Bay Boat Works in Saugatuck, Mich., has now been restoring wooden boats for 48 years, including (but not limited to) Chris-Craft, Riva, Century, Hacker Craft and Garwood. “It's no surprise the brand we see the most is Chris-Craft, due to their popularity,” Reus said. “The sheer number of boats produced, as well as Chris-Craft’s quality of construction, has provided for their longevity and a high survival rate.”

With that said, Reus has been seeing more post-war boats enter his shop, and he has witnessed a growing interest in early-1960s wooden boats like Chris-Craft Super Sports, Century Arabians and Coronados, as well as early fiberglass inboard boats of quality. “I speculate that we're going to see 1950s and ’60s boats being restored more frequently alongside steady value increases. With inboard boats becoming more popular, we’ll also see those values and sales increase as those people who remember those boats from their childhood reach retirement age and begin to spend more money on themselves.”

The Chris-Craft Customs and Special Race Boats from 1937-42 with the true barrel stern design will continue to be popular, Reus said. “I think it represents a high-water mark of Chris-Craft styling in the prewar era.” In the past 10 years, Reus has also seen an increase in value and desirability of the Italian Riva boats. “Much like the vintage Ferraris in the collector car world, I think the Riva boats represent the best investment potential in a wooden boat, but only if you can stomach the initial purchase price and the rather extensive cost of restoring these intricate boats properly.” Riva Aquarama and Ariston models are the most sought after, but any Riva will have some value and desirability,” Reus said.

He also admires the prewar Hacker Crafts for their beautiful styling and excellent hull performance. “John Hacker was a true genius and ahead of his time.”

“An old customer and friend once told me, ‘Any boat will sell at the right price,’ and there's some truth to that,” Reus said. “If the boat is in good condition, priced within market parameters and its restoration work done properly, it will sell.”

Rivas, Chris-Craft customs and Hacker Crafts of the 1930s sell quickly at Macatawa Bay Boat Works. “We’ve seen an increase in interest in mid-to-late 1950s boats, also a movement to smaller boats (17-20 feet) is becoming more obvious, likely because shorter boats are easier to store, trailer and launch — especially for a first time buyer.”

Utility boats that were once more difficult to sell have also seen an increase of interested buyers. “Utilities are more practical for general use and family enjoyment than runabouts, and either the market is finally coming to that realization or runabouts are becoming in shorter supply,” Reus explained.

On the downslope, skiff-style Lapstrake boats seem to take a long time to sell. “They are wonderful, practical boats and require less maintenance,” Reus said. “I've owned one before and loved it, but it seems like if people are going to have a wooden boat, they want to see a lot of varnished mahogany. The fact that skiff boats are mostly painted may be one factor that makes it harder to sell.”  The upside, he said, is these boats represent terrific value for someone who wants to get into a vintage boat.

Reus has a positive take on the future of the market: “In my experience, the wooden boat hobby and market is growing. Things tightened up a bit during the recession, and boat prices did fall. Although the values have not fully recovered, boats still represent a solid investment and provide a heck of a lot more fun than a mutual fund. Boat shops that survived the recession are now operating at higher efficiency than before the recession; it caused us to cut out any fat that may have existed before.

“There's nothing quite like a wooden boat and the experience that comes with it,” he continued. “It is a unique thing, different from the classic car hobby. Wooden boats were produced in much smaller numbers than most classic cars, and they require more of an intimate relationship regarding their care and preservation. The classic wooden boat is an iconic image ingrained in our culture. We are starting to see people in their 30s and 40s entering the hobby, and there are a good deal of young people showing interest in wooden boats, which is a great sign for the future of the hobby.”

For more photos and information about Macatawa Bay Boat Works, visit www.mbbw.com or find @macatawa_bay_boat_works on Instagram.

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