What would the world of offshore fishing convertibles be without Ocean Yachts? For one thing, all sportfishermen might be slower than they are today. Ocean was the first company to insist all its boats break the 30-knot speed limit. And that’s 30 knots, or 34.5 mph: Back in 1977, when Ocean launched its 40 Super Sport, that was darn fast for a production convertible that size. But it made it possible to run from the New Jersey inlets out to the Gulf Stream and back in daylight, with plenty of time for fishing. Ocean Yachts is also the builder that turned convertible yacht interiors from being a floating fish camp into plush digs that even women could embrace. Third, there is the subject of price. Ocean Yachts has always been the lowest-priced brand of the big four American convertible builders. How much Ocean Yachts slowed the other builders’ price escalations we’ll never know, but there was a time when Bertram, Hatteras and Viking lost sales to aggressively-priced Ocean Yachts. Today, those three competitors have all caught up with Ocean Yachts on speed and interiors, but it still has the uncontested edge on price. But what about the “Flexible Flyer” rumors?
|Length Overall||57' 11'' / 17.65 m|
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The Back Story
There have been Leeks building boats on the Mullica River in southern New Jersey since 1721; the first Leek to arrive in these parts, Stephen, settled only 35 miles from what is today the Ocean Yachts factory. Fourteen generations later, John Leek IV and his sister, Lauren, both work at Ocean: He is the general manager, she is part of the Customer Service team, and the first Leek woman to work in the family business. (All sorts of things are changing at Ocean Yachts!)
For a couple of hundred years, Leeks built commercial boats, patrol boats, sub chasers and at least a few rumrunners. In 1920, Charles Platt Leek started building yachts, too, mostly custom motorboats for well-heeled Philadelphians. By World War II C.P. Leek & Sons was renowned as one of the premier yacht builders on the East Coast.
Origin of Egg Harbor
After the war, C.P.’s son, John Sr., started Egg Harbor Yachts, then, with his brother Cecil, took over C.P. Leek & Sons when his father retired two years later. They called the boats they built Pacemakers; if you grew up boat-crazy in the 1950s and ‘60s you might have lusted after a Pacemaker motoryacht. They were huge, made of wood, needed a lot of maintenance, and cost plenty, in Eisenhower-era dollars. But they were the best.
CEOs and Bumpkins
In the late 1960s the U.S. economy was booming and so was the boating industry. Where there’s boom, there are CEOs who think all the cash rolling in is because of their brilliance – and, wouldn’t it be nice to tap into the glory, prestige and status of yachting? Unsaid is that these conglomerate CEOs secretly thought that if the bumpkins running boat companies could make money, then they could certainly make a fortune. Like several boat brands in this era of conglomerates buying boat companies, Pacemaker was purchased, in 1968, by Fuqua Industries.
The boats were never the same again. Fuqua suits struggled for a decade to take the boating industry by storm, and each year sold fewer and fewer boats. It turned out to be pretty tough competing with the bumpkins, after all. You see, although the boat builders might not have been Wharton graduates, they knew boat building and the miniscule size of the yacht-buying market. That’s why they were happy to sell out to people who knew more about the business than they did.
Ocean Yachts is Born
But you can’t keep a Leek far from the water or far from boat building, and 10 years later John Sr.’s son, Jack, started Ocean Yachts. He enlisted his lifelong friend, David P. Martin, to design the boats. And a whole new era started.
Martin – Ocean Yacht’s Secret Weapon
“Boat nut” doesn’t go far enough in describing Dave Martin. After working at Pacemaker building boats (alongside Jack Leek) in the late 1940s, Martin quit to study full-time to become a yacht designer, via the Westlawn course – what used to be called a “correspondence course,” but is now “distance learning.” Lots of successful yacht designers are Westlawn graduates, including Jack Hargrave of Hatteras fame, and most other recreational marine naval architects. But of all of them, Dave Martin is perhaps the most innovative, and most unsung. Since he drew his first boat in 1956, a 24’ Hubert Johnson skiff, Martin has created some of the most efficient powerboat hulls ever to splash into the ocean.
Martin was a perfect fit for Ocean: His low-drag hulls let Oceans reach the magical 30-knot mark despite the heavy diesels available at the time. Today, builders just tuck more horses under the hood – diesels are compact and produce lots of power per pound – but 30 years ago those engines were just a dream, and/or prohibitively expensive. You needed to squeeze all the knots you could out of the diesel engine blocks at hand – such as the 2-stroke Detroit Diesels that were designed before WW II.
Martin tank-tested his boats – well, river-tested, really. He built models of two hulls, ballasted them to mimic real-life, then tied them to a yoke and towed them in the river. Leverage would move the lower-drag hull ahead of the higher-drag one. Doing this over and over, tweaking the models each time, led to very efficient hulls that were easy to push. Sure it sounds crude, and it is, but it worked. Martin’s designs and Jack Leek’s boatbuilding acumen made Ocean Yachts an overnight success in the early 1980s.
One of Martin’s tricks – and he won’t tell you many of them – is to jog the hull sides inwards below the waterline in the aft sections, making the boat much less beamy at the waterline than it is at the gunwales. This creates a narrower, lower-drag transom; the 58SS uses this design, matched with propeller pockets to optimize shaft angle and reduce both draft and drag. Many other Martin nuances you won’t see unless you climb under the hull with a long straight-edge. We’ll leave it up to you to discover them.
No Deep-Vs Here!
You won’t find a deep-V hull in the entire Ocean Yacht line. For example, the 58 has a 14-degree deadrise at the transom. Boats with flatter aft sections are easier to push and faster with any given horsepower, and more stable at rest. As long as the hull stays in the water, there’s no need for high deadrise aft – and if you start wave-jumping with a big convertible, you’re going way too fast. (If you’ve ever been below on any yacht crashing through 6-footers you know what it sounds like!) The easy ride on an Ocean comes from high deadrise, sharp entry forward, where the hull meets the water. You’ll find similar underbodies on many traditional Jersey boats, as well as those developed along the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Ocean Yachts Takes Off
Ocean Yacht was started in 1977 just before the U.S. saw its highest interest rates in the 20th century. In 1979 banks were loaning money at from 18% to 22%. (Some U.S. bonds were paying 15%!) It was one of those bad periods for the boat business but Ocean Yachts survived it, then rode the pent-up demand of the early and mid-‘80s like a rocket ship. Leek had a fresh approach to building offshore convertibles in more way than just speed.
His boats also had the most luxurious interiors and the best use of interior space of any brand in the fishing convertible category. When the president of one of Ocean Yachts' higher-priced competitors was asked when his brand was going to improve its interiors (which could be washed down with a garden hose), he said with disdain “when people stop buying our boats.” Within 10 years that brand’s sales had fallen so far the company was sold. (Arrogance is usually a fatal disease in the boat business.)
Interiors R Us
Leek and company revolutionized convertible yacht interiors in America. Ocean Yachts’ sales soared, to the detriment of other brands. Women liked nice interiors. And women were the key green light to a man’s floating dream, and that was more important than brand to many buyers.
Ocean realized that women prefered and island berth to twins, so it put them in its boats at shows. If you have ever wondered who popularized the island berths in the forward cabin – which make no sense on a sportfishing boat full of fat, smelly men who usually don’t like sleeping with each other– now you know. And you know exactly why. The other builders didn’t have to lose too many sales to Ocean Yachts to start doing the same thing.
The Value of Money
Ocean Yachts had another thing going for it in the early years, and that was price. Its line of boats were all priced substantially below the big three builders of convertibles. Its boats used the same engines and equipment as the other builders, yet its price was lower, and this largely still holds true today.
In the 1980s the triple whammy of high speed, terrific interiors, and lower price proved irresistible. As a result, at one time the company actually built more convertible units than any of its more famous competitors in its size range.
Not everybody was happy with Ocean Yacht’s success. Back in the late 80s rumors, allegedly started by a competitor, spread about bulkheads coming loose and worse. In the micro community of offshore convertible boat buying there is probably nothing more devastating to a company than dockside rumors about its boats’ defects. (It has also been a typical way of guerrilla marketing in the marine industry for the four decades we’ve been in it.)
In the 1980s there were fewer than 1,000 fishing convertibles of all sizes sold in the U.S. each year, so any sort of rumor traveled fast even before the Internet. Over two decades ago “Flexible Flyer” entered the lexicon of marine lore, and was applied to Ocean Yachts. The company has yet to shake this unflattering appellation.
There will always be problems caused by manufacturing failures, or raw-material failures, or owner abuse; every builder has them sooner or later – it even happens to the gold-plated brands. Many years ago this writer spoke with company-founder Jack Leek about the situation. He said – and this is based on memory – that there had been only one instance of an Ocean Yacht sinking for a reason for which he felt responsible. And, he said, “We gave the guy a new boat.”
Unfortunately, Ocean Yachts never got to tell its side of the story to combat the persistent rumors. Boating magazines of the day that were covering the sport and its products shied away from the issue and didn’t bring up the embarrassing subject – and the company made a mistake by not asking them to. This is the insidious thing about rumors, they are nearly impossible to put to rest, but head-on confrontation is the best way.
General Manager John Leek IV (Jack Leek’s grandson) told us that Ocean Yachts filed suit against the boat-building slanderer, but shortly afterwards the other company filed for bankruptcy and the suit could not be pursued. In reaction to the rumors Ocean Yachts subsequently instituted a 5-year limited structural warranty on its hulls, something that now many boat builders do also.
A New Generation of Management
Over the past five years Ocean Yachts has implemented a strict quality-control program, explained Leek, one that starts in the molding shop and carries right through production. “We ensure quality at every stage,” said Leek. And the new system is paying off he said. “Today our boats are the best-finished Oceans ever…We deliver a high-quality boat at a price that’s better than the competition.”
BoatTEST.com has not tested the 58 SS seen on this page, so we can not pass along information about performance, handling, or our opinions about sea-keeping, functionality, ergonomics, riding comfort and all of the other details we usually cover on boats of this size. You can compare this boat’s accommodations layout, features and equipment as well as we can and judge for yourself. But, if you are in the market for a convertible in this size range, we think you would be making a mistake by not giving the Ocean Yachts 58 SS a good once over. After all, the list of companies building boats of this size and type is a very short one, indeed.