About Phil Friedman and For Yacht Builders, Buyers, and Owners

For nearly four decades, I’ve traveled the environs of the recreational marine industry, carrying a “portable boatyard” around in my head — as a yacht designer, boatbuilder, shipyard superintendent, and marine operations and business manager.

Admittedly, I’ve not exactly followed a great circle course. And to be sure, I’ve experienced a few groundings along the way. But — and this is the essential point —never once during a span of more than thirty years have I ever regretted making the decision to pursue a career “messing about with boats.”

I began during my teenage years in the 1960s when two friends and I converted a World War II surplus life raft to a small outboard-powered boat with a canvas cuddy and attempted a west-to-east crossing of Lake Michigan. The voyage, if you can call it that, was frustrated by high winds and seas and ended with us blundering into the offshore firing range of the Great Lakes Naval Training Center during one of its shelling sessions and being towed unceremoniously to the base by the Coast Guard. Not exactly an auspicious beginning for a nautical career, but it did lay the seeds of an ongoing fascination with boats and boating.

After a hiatus that included college at Roosevelt University in Chicago and graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, as well as a few years of teaching philosophy at the University of Southern Illinois at Edwardsville and the University of Western Ontario at London, my earlier fascination with boats and boating returned with a vengeance.

I did a six-week cruise in a 14-foot Star Craft fiberglass center-console model that I had custom-rigged for boat camping on the then newly-formed Lake Powell in Utah. At that time, the lake which had back up behind Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona, was only about 25% of its eventual total depth. The canyon walls were three times as high (above the water) as they are now. And I spent six weeks exploring the those canyons all the way from Wahweap, AZ to Bullfrog, UT (95 miles north by water), and eventually to Hite, UT (which is at the top of the lake).

When I returned to the world of academic philosophy, I began reading and studying everything I could get my hands on concerning the elements of yacht design and the practices and procedures of boatbuilding, later completed a program of study in yacht design, and even went so far as to study basic structural engineering and strength of materials. The sum total was the beginning of the “portable boatyard” that I’ve carried around in my head right up to this day.

My marine industry career started in earnest on the Lake Erie shore, where for a couple of years in the early 1970s I managed a small full-service marina and boatyard, hauling and blocking boats for winter storage with some of the most rudimentary (read “crudest”) equipment known to man. That was when and where I developed a real-world grounding in maintenance and repair, and where I became one of the first people in the industry to utilize linear polyurethanes by contracting for yacht painting with Imron before DuPont officially acknowledged boat painting as a possible application for that particular coatings product.

Friedman designed this Kodiak Cruiser 41 in 1982 for a private client. Hartmut Geisenhause built the boat in western Ontario.

Then, there followed a four-year stint as a teaching master at Humber College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto, where I wrote the curriculum for and coordinated a two-year post-secondary program in boatbuilding and recreational marine industry management training. At the same time, I designed and built boats and produced, for more than eight years, a monthly column on boatbuilding, repair, and maintenance, for the two major Canadian yachting publications of the day.

In the early 1980s, I sailed down to Florida, where I eventually became VP-Operations and CFO for a multi-location Hatteras/Bertram dealership and chain of three boatyards on the Gulf Coast. And after several years of live-aboard sailing and cruising, I settled in Fort Lauderdale, where I became the Senior Editor of Power & Motoryacht magazine and concurrently established a yacht industry consulting and project management practice.

Eventually one of my clients, for whom I was supervising the design and construction of a fast 120-footer, acquired Palmer Johnson Yachts in Sturgeon Bay, WI and Savannah, GA, and recruited me to run the company. Which I did, as president and CEO from 2000 until 2004, gaining the opportunity to supervise the construction of more than a dozen luxury yachts in the 30- to 50-meter range.

Unity is a 125-foot yacht that Palmer Johnson built in 2002-03 while Friedman was the company’s president and CEO.

Eventually, I returned to consulting and writing, and I worked through a series of projects that included the prototype construction for a line of high-performance air-cushion catamaran motor yachts; the ship fitting of a high-performance 50-meter composite military patrol vessel (in which I planned and managed the first-ever installation in an FRP hull of Hamilton’s HM1000 water-jet drives, at more than 26,000 pounds each); and the design and fabrication of ultra-lightweight cabinetry and furniture for a series of weight-sensitive military Hovercraft.

More recently, I’ve completed consulting gigs for the reorganization and expansion of service operations for a Midwestern full-service boatyard, spent time in Taiwan building a semi-custom 80-footer for a client, and directed manufacturing operations during a turnaround effort at a well-known builder of performance cruising sailboats.

My work history in the marine industry has been eclectic — a fact for which I am certainly not apologetic, but rather grateful. As I am for the “portable boatyard” I built and still carry around. Last but certainly not least, I’m pleased these days to have the opportunity to share some of the experience I’ve gained and pass on some of what I’ve learned along the way. I hope you will join me on this latest leg of my personal voyage.

Phil Friedman, Editor and Publisher


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Phil Friedman, Editor and Publisher

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Sailor | Boatbuilder | Writer