While Douglas Marine/Skater continues to produce its share of exotic, 40- to 50-foot custom high-performance catamaran, smaller models, particularly the Skater 30 and 32, are driving the Douglas, Mich., boat builder’s business. That’s something of a trend, according to Peter Hledin, the owner and founder of the company.
“The smaller inboards seem to be making a comeback—we have three or four in production,” said Hledin. “The customer for that boat generally is very easygoing and very grateful for all the extra things we do, which is an added bonus. We’re starting to get more phone calls and more inquiries, and we’re giving more quotes on the smaller boats. A smaller boat is difficult to build because the profit margins are narrower—you put the same seats in a smaller boat, for example, as you do in a larger boat. And there’s very little if any difference in the labor cost.
“Nevertheless, the smaller boats get people started in our direction,” he continued. “I look at some of the pictures on my walls, and I see Skater 24s owned by all these famous racing names that started small and moved up.”
Hledin said he believes that the continued preference toward inboard power is an unintended byproduct of the evolution of outboard power. He readily concedes that today’s outboard engines are better-performing, more reliable, more fuel-efficient and quieter than they’ve ever been. And that last quality—quiet operation throughout the power band—is what has made outboard engines less appealing to the hardcore, smaller Skater cat buyer.
“When I first got into this industry, I was building lots of boats with single, twin and triple outboards,” said Hledin. “Back in the day, you had real enthusiasts who would spend their last dime on their boats. They were reasonably priced, and it thrilled these guys that they could buy a boat with 2.4s and it would scream like a banshee. Today’s outboards are so quiet that they just don’t have that high-performance appeal to the hardcore performance guy. I think they need to bring back the high-performance song, and I think Mercury could do that and still meet EPA guidelines.
“They need to make a powerhead with a lower center of gravity—the current ones a really top-heavy and that can make handling a nightmare—and pair it with a shorty mid-section,” Hledin added. “That would help bring the market back, at least that’s my opinion.”
For the first time in its more-than-30-year history, Skater will display at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. (Read the story.) Hledin and Tommy Hofstetter of skaternation, the company’s South Florida dealer, with be there to represent the line.