Allied Boat Company

By Dan Smith

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 2, Number 1, January/February 1999.

Builder of the Seawind and other legends

The
seed for the Allied Boat Company was planted in February of 1960 when
Annapolis naval architect Thomas Gillmer designed a 30-foot
ketch-rigged sailboat for Rex Kaiser, an attorney from Wilmington, Del.
This boat would become the famous Seawind 30, the first fiberglass boat
to sail around the world with a voyage beginning in 1964. Alan Eddy spent
four and a half years circumnavigating the globe with Apogee, hull #1.

Lunn Laminates of Port Washington on Long Island Sound created the molds
for this boat and built five of them. It’s not clear how Lunn Laminates
and the original group that was to form the Allied Boat Company were introduced.
Perhaps Lunn Laminates sought sales help from the New York City firm Northrop
& Johnson, due to their reputation as the most successful yacht brokerage
firm on the East Coast.

Northrop & Johnson enlisted the aid of Thor Ramsing of Greenwich, Conn.
Ramsing, in addition to being a well-known racing sailor, also had the
financial resources necessary to initiate a new boat production company.

Allied’s treasurer, Serge McKhann, filed papers with the states of Delaware
and New York on Feb. 9, 1962, officially establishing the new company
as Allied Boat Company, Inc.

Allied Boat Company

The Allied Boat Company established its building site on Catskill Creek in Catskill, N.Y., 100 miles north of New York City. Just off the Hudson River, it was an ideal place from which to build and launch boats. For the company’s entire time in business, from 1962 to 1981, it remained at this location.

The company was formed with $70,000 in cash contributed by
Ramsing, $31,000 worth of molds contributed by Lunn Laminates, and
$31,000 worth of designs and specifications contributed by Northrop &
Johnson. The company ownership was based on 96 shares of stock with
Ramsing holding 83 of these. The remaining 13 shares were divided
evenly among James Northrup, George Johnson, and Howard Foster.

Foster, a marine consultant and representative for Northrop &
Johnson, was named president. They agreed to establish the building
site in Catskill, N.Y., in what was originally a brick plant. Located
on the Catskill Creek just off the Hudson River about 100 miles north
of New York City, it was an ideal place from which to build and
launch their boats.

Ramsing did well racing his Seawind, winning prizes in the
Southern Ocean Racing Circuit. The Allied reputation grew
accordingly, but he was not complacent enough to produce just one
type of sailboat. From the beginning, Allied needed other models from
notable architects in order to please larger families and deeper
pocketbooks.

Ramsing also had been very successful racing his 46-foot
Solution designed by Sparkman & Stephens. He reasoned that a smaller
version of the same boat might be readily accepted. He asked Frank
MacLear and Bob Harris to design the smaller boat. They created the
35-foot Seabreeze, a centerboard boat which could be rigged as a
sloop or yawl. The company built 135 of these over a nine-year period
beginning in 1963.

A short while later another well-known naval architect, Bill
Luders, introduced the Luders 33, the third exceptional yacht to
grace the Allied yard. Next, Allied added the Britton Chance-designed
Chance 30. With its fin keel and spade rudder, it was a bit ahead of
its time and not received as well as the other “sturdier hull” models.

In 1964, only a year after forming the company, Ramsing sold
his share of the partnership to Northam Warren, another well-known
racing sailor. Warren also purchased the stock held by Lunn,
Northrup, and Johnson, making him the primary owner of the Allied
Boat Company. During the remainder of the ’60s, Warren and Foster
aggressively marketed the four models in the Allied line of sailboats.

Foster maintained control of production and sales at the
factory while Warren went “on the road” attending boat shows and
entering races with his Seawind 30. The company sold their products
directly to customers; there were no distributors.

Northam Warren

Northam Warren had a great perception and zeal for life. He was
raised on Long Island, where his father, an avid sailor, saw to it
that his children, including two daughters, each had a sailboat. The
senior Warren raced centerboard boats when he wasn’t attending to the
family cosmetic business. Northam attended Princeton University and
won major sailboat races three out of his four years there.

After service in the field artillery in World War II, Warren
owned several boats and traveled extensively to race them. Some of
the races included the Annapolis to Newport Race, the Bermuda Race
three times, the Chicago-to-Mackinac Race, and two Transpacs to
Hawaii.

During my interview with Northam Warren, I learned that
Allied became the first company to supply fiberglass hulls in colors
other than white. This was an exclusive option, which actually
started with the Seawind 30, but was also available with their other
models. The company’s aggressive marketing strategies often gave it a
jump on competition. “She’ll cross an ocean if you will” was the
oft-repeated motto associated with the Seawind 30.

Warren noted that another clever promotion was the annual
Pinkletink, named after a frog which lives in a tree on Martha’s
Vineyard. Each year he had the factory do a special fitting job using
all the latest and heaviest hardware. These boats were exceptional,
sporting the latest in sails and the most sophisticated equipment on
the market. Every part of the boat was “ultra-finished.”

At the beginning of each season, Warren went racing with the
Pinkletink. Well-known in the circuit and a crafty racing skipper,
Warren, with this highly prized Seawind became a familiar figure from
New England to the Caribbean. Anxious admirers knew this special boat
would be for sale at the end of the season. After three years, many
people were waiting to purchase these special Allied boats.

Glen Neal

While Warren was promoting Allied products north and south via boat
shows and racing circuits, Howard Foster and the factory had the
responsibility of building boats to fill the orders he was creating.
A primary member of the factory team was foreman Glen Neal, who was
born and raised in Catskill. He was looking for work in 1966 to fill
in the winter months that usually crippled his carpentry business.
His timing was good. The Allied Boat Company, going strong at that
time, had plenty of orders gathered from summer and fall boat shows
and racing events.

Neal went to work for $1.50 an hour. He planned to stay there
through the winter, then start building houses again in the spring.
He didn’t know or particularly care about boats, but it was a warm
indoor job during the winter.

He immediately recognized the inefficiency of having too few
pieces of equipment for use by too many employees. His department had
only one electric hand drill and one sabre saw, for example. In order
to retrieve these small power tools, workers made numerous trips to
other parts of the shop, which wasted time and frustrated workers.
After six months Neal presented Foster with his ideas for production
improvements and was rewarded with a promotion to foreman of the
carpentry and finishing department. He stayed with Allied from 1966
to 1972, during what appear to have been their most productive years.

According to Neal, Allied was recognized as a high-quality
boatbuilder – possibly the third best in the world. I was unable to
learn what companies the two other leaders were, but the integrity of
Neal’s interview lends credibility to this statement. Readers may
speculate about the other two.

Neal ultimately led a crew of 35 who did carpentry work
inside and outside: deckwork, handrails, bowsprit, and bulkheads
along with some minor fiberglassing. A separate department did hull
and deck fiberglass work. A third department did the wiring and
electrical installations. The building process was synchronized,
using a progress board and a card system to track projects as work
moved each boat along the assembly line. Neal and his team added the
finishing touches as the boats moved out the door.

Thanks to the efficiency in the plant, few boats were
returned for rework. Allied could afford to give the owner a strong
warranty. Neal occasionally went out on calls to deal with minor
problems, like a blister on a wood bulkhead.

Neal said he prided himself on doing things right and that the
Allied Boat Company was a good place to work. Peak employment reached
about 130, and orders were plentiful during the late ’60s and early
’70s.

Neal suggested that quality workers should receive top wages.
He recommended to management that they offer a pension plan or an
incentive program to help inspire employee output. He kept records of
the trimming crew’s performance and introduced competition to improve
the quality of work. He was obviously a strong catalyst in the
development of the Allied workforce and in the solid reputation which
the company earned as a result.

Times change

Over time, other models were introduced. The Greenwich 24, by George
Stadel, was the smallest boat offered by Allied. Not as popular as
the other heavier models, the molds were eventually sold off to Cape
Dory and ultimately became the Cape Dory 25. The fleet was expanded
to a 39-footer and the ultimate XL-2, a 42-foot sailboat designed by
Sparkman & Stephens. Orders were plentiful, giving the appearance
that all was going smoothly.

Early 1969 brought changes which would eventually make Allied
flinch and ultimately cause it to falter. Oil prices would soon
escalate from $5 to $20 per barrel. Because it is a principal
ingredient in fiberglass, the steep price increase in petroleum
caused a substantial rise in production costs.

In addition there were some leadership problems and
personality conflicts in the front office, which introduced chaos in
the company and caused many to leave. Assistant plant manager Bob
Jones departed in 1969, closely followed by plant manager Walter
Laskowski. The loss of these key managers in the production area
negatively affected employee morale.

The unsettled mood reached throughout the administrative,
engineering, and labor departments. Together with negative national
and international economic influences, the strains on Allied were
taking a toll. Eventually, officers filed a mortgage foreclosure at
the Greene County Courthouse on March 18, 1969. This notice signaled
trouble in the front office at a time when the cash flow from orders
should have been adequate to keep the company afloat. During this
time increasing numbers of suppliers began to file judgments against
the company. Some information suggests that Warren bought Foster’s
interest in 1971, thus making him the sole owner of Allied.

The period from 1969 to 1974 must have seen some very
traumatic moments. Employees who were experienced and capable were
leaving for other employment. Recognizing this downward spiral,
Warren placed an ad in The Wall Street Journal in 1973 to sell the
company, 11 years after it was formed.

Saved?

At this point, a shining star appeared for the company. Robert
Wright, a cruising sailor from Little Falls, N.Y., put together a
partnership with two others and negotiated with banks and creditors
to allow him to start building again. Wright was an electrical
engineer, had obtained a law degree from Cornell University, and was
experienced as a practicing attorney.

He and his partners put up $200,000. That infusion of cash,
together with the backlog of orders equal to six months’ production
and deposits of $177,000, made the future look brighter for the new
company, now called The Wright Yacht Company. Wright’s wife, Jean,
was secretary, and their son, Paul, was plant manager. These three
knew the meaning of work and the importance of customer satisfaction.

During this time, Wright commissioned Thomas Gillmer to
create another legendary Seawind, slightly larger than the original.
This became the Seawind II. A ketch-rigged 32-footer, it had the same
hull as the previous Seawind. The Seawind II served as the flagship
of the new company. Other new boats included the Princess 36,
Mistress 39, and the Mistress Mark III. This nucleus of quality
yachts promised to put Allied back on course as a front-runner in
American boatbuilding. The promise, unfortunately, was unfulfilled.

Anxiety, possibly induced by stock market fluctuations and an
unsettled economy, caused Wright’s partners to retreat, taking their
financial support with them. This left the firm in severe financial
distress. Bills began to mount and liens against the company started
appearing. Operations must have been fairly normal until the third
year of their lease, since the first lien was not filed until July
1978.

The Wright Yacht Company was closed and the Job Development
Authority (JDA) became holder and full owner of all Allied equipment,
fixtures, molds, and real estate. The future appeared to offer little
promise of salvaging what was once a successful boatbuilding
enterprise.

Fortunately, the JDA located Stuart Miller, an attorney from
New York City, who owned an Allied Princess. He was familiar with the
company’s reputation and apparently convinced the JDA he could save
jobs for Greene County and make the business profitable once more. He
also planned, coincidentally, to build a 50-foot sailboat for himself.

With Miller as the new CEO, another name change was
introduced: CFG/Allied. I was unable to locate the meaning of these
initials until Ed Hodgens, a faithful 15-year Allied employee,
explained that they had stood for Conception for Financial Growth.

Miller assumed control of the company in early 1979. A report
in a Seawind II newsletter claimed the 100th Seawind II was completed
and delivered to Florida around the same time.

Articles in boating magazines tracked mistakes of CFG/Allied
and reported attempts to rescue the company. One magazine was candid,
placing blame on the company leaders for “not being familiar with
special problems of building and marketing boats.” The doors of this
third generation of the Allied Boat Company were closed in April 1980.

Closing chapter

Once again, the JDA was on the hunt for a buyer. They found a man
with a working knowledge of marketing sailboats. Brax Freeman, a
former yacht dealer, boasted of entrepreneurial skills. He promised
to move the “new” firm, now to be named International Cruising
Yachts, into a place of prominence in the boating world.

Freeman, according to employees, had a flair for
entertainment and gave prospective buyers dinner and show tickets for
evenings in New York City. These enticements were meant to lead to
the purchase of one of ICY’s sailboats. Freeman’s tenure with ICY
lasted until late 1981, when he collapsed under the financial
pressures brought to bear by angry creditors and unpaid tax
collectors. The closing chapter of this fine old boatbuilding company
was being written.

Various letters from JDA seeking buyers for the land (5.05
acres) and equipment indicate their persistent efforts to recoup
money lost during their many attempts to save jobs for Greene County.

Ultimately, the land was sold for approximately $200,000,
buildings were torn down, and an overcrowded complex of condos, each
with a boat slip included, was constructed on the water’s edge. (This
venture, too, has since met with a number of obstacles.) An auction
took place June 20, 1984, at which time all remaining equipment and
molds were sold for $40,000.

Thus, it was done – the Allied Boat Company was no more.

Dan Smith boarded a coal freighter as deckhand in Toledo four days
after graduation from high school. His sailboats have included a
Snipe, a Flying Scot, a Morgan 22, a Dickerson 35, and an Allied
Seawind 30. Hurricane Andrew destroyed Kohinoor, the Seawind, in
1992. Dan bought a Marshall catboat and enjoys winters gunkholing in
the Florida Keys.

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