The Back Story: The Cruisers Yachts 48 Cantius Sports Coupe - 10/06/2010

The Back Story

Cruisers Yachts was founded in 1970 and for decades had been run by some of the finest, most conscientious people in the marine industry at the time. Over the years they continually up-graded their boats in terms of both size and quality and were on the cusp of becoming the most highly regarded builder of express cruisers in America when the triple whammy of the 10% Luxury Tax, a recession, and the first Gulf War brought the big-boat segment of the boating industry to its knees in the early 1990s.

In 1993 the company closed its doors, laying off hundreds of skilled workers in Oconto, Wisconsin (population: 4,708), and was put up for sale. It wasn't long until buyers emerged who planned to move the molds and factory out of Oconto, which would have devastated the small town. Local banks which held notes on the company called K.C. Stock, a life-long resident of Oconto, who owned a large lumber wholesale and retail operation which over the years had spread from a single local business to having lumber yards in 13 locations across Wisconsin and Minnesota. K.C. had been a casual recreational boater all of his life and at one time had even owned a Cruisers Yacht. The bankers wanted to know: Would he mind buying the company and saving the jobs of hundreds of Oconto residents?

It was an offer that K.C. Stock didn't refuse. After the doors of the factory had been closed just three months, K.C. open them once again under the umbrella of KCS International, and he has never looked back. Over the next few years Cruisers Yachts would drop its small sportboats, and concentrate just on express cruisers and sedans over 30 feet. Along the way KCS International also bought Rampage and a few years ago brought the Rampage operation from Wilmington, N.C. to its factory in Oconto.

A World-Wide Brand

Now Cruisers builds 11 models from 30' to 56' (9.23 m to 17.23 m) which it sells world-wide. During the last 15 years Cruisers Yachts has become popular in Europe and in the go-go years of boat sales six years ago it was selling half of its production internationally. The builder's styling, quality and unique characteristics set the brand apart in Europe where it has earned a loyal following.

Since being owned by KCS the company has aggressively introduced new models that almost always gave consumers and alternative to the me-too express cruisers on the market. KCS management has always been sensitive to the competitive nature of the segment of business it is in and has constantly innovated, often being the first company to introduce a new idea, only to see it copied by the next boat show by bigger companies.

Relatively Low Production

Because Cruisers Yachts only builds boats over 30', it does not build huge numbers of yachts. Back in the good old days of just five years ago when boat sales were robust, Cruisers Yachts was building about 345 boats a year, much less than the mass boat builders which had smaller boats in their lines. For example that same year Regal built 1,843 units and Formula built 946 boats. But Cruisers did build more boats than several brands that also concentrated in the larger sizes of express cruisers or sedans such as Carver which built 317 boats and Meridian which built 295 boats in the same period.

The 48 Hardtop Concept is Born

Then, in 2007 management decided to build a 47-footer to fill in its line under the 52' and 56' express cruisers. The following year as tooling was about halfway completed the financial meltdown of 2008 occurred, and the 47 project was delayed.

Like virtually all companies in the marine industry, in late 2008 and in much of 2009 Cruisers Yachts was forced to lay off workers and idle production or produce at a snail's pace. Progress on the 47 was in fits and starts. Then in the fall of 2009 business for the company began to come back, staff was rehired and the 47 project was put on the front burner.

In the meantime Cruisers Yachts engineers and designers had a lot of time to carefully look over their plans, interview their owners, survey the competition, and divine the future course of the 47-something market in hardtop express cruisers. During the process the 47 evolved into a 48 and one good idea gave way to a better one and some ideas that weren't so good at all were discarded.

Back to the Drawing Board

By the time of this year's Miami Boat Show the tooling for the superstructure was done, but new ideas kept cropping up on the builder's drawing boards and a debate was ranging within management as to exactly how the profile of this new 48 should look. To settle the matter, the sales manager posted two alternative drawings at the show, and asked Cruisers Yachts' owners and potential customers which design they favored.

The answer was the new design on paper, not the one that had already been tooled. After the show the original hardtop tooling was discarded and new molds were made. Then, the company put a special crew on the new 48 project and the result was the boat we tested just a couple of weeks ago in Green Bay.

The Honor of a Name

Probably no new model that Cruisers Yachts ever built had so much time and money go into its development. For that reason alone KCS management decided the name of the boat would have to be something special. After several months of consideration, the yards decided the name of the boat should honor the memory of the man who made the whole enterprise possible. That person was K.C. Stock's father, Cantius, the self-made entrepreneur who not only created a small fortune in the lumberyard business allowing K.C. to buy the company, but also the man who had introduced K.C. to boating in the first place.

We have digressed into the "back story" of Cruisers Yachts and the gestation of the 48 because we feel that it is important that potential boat buyers know a little about the people and the events behind the brand names that they are buying. We happen to think that the "back story" of each company plays an important role in not only the quality of the boats being built but also in the quality and alacrity of customer service that is given. Corporate culture is probably more important to ultimate customer satisfaction than anything else.