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Islomania | Damariscotta River Cape | Morris Yachts Turns 35

MAINE &

BOATS, HOMES

HARBORS AUTUMN 2007

ISSUE 96

The Evolution of Morris Yachts An Excerpt from the Autumn 2007 Issue of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors

The Magazine of the Coast


TheEvolution of Famous for building yachts that emphasize solid performance alongside understated elegance, Morris Yachts celebrates its 35th anniversary. BY JOHN SNYDER

T

OM MORRIS is a quiet man. A visionary entrepreneur, he—like the boats he builds—is understated, confident, strong, and purposeful. For the last 35 years he has been building boats that have become classics and that have set the bar for custom and semi-custom coastal and offshore sailing yachts. Morris was born in Philadelphia in 1940, but his family has had strong ties to Maine and Mount Desert Island since 1886. His great-grandfather had a cottage in Northeast Harbor not far from the Asticou Inn. As a boy Tom spent summers rowing and sailing, and was never far from the water. He sailed the family’s A-Class sloop, a Manchester 17 built by George Lawley & Sons that

Cuyler Morris at the helm of an M42 off Bass Harbor Light. Photograph by John Snyder.


MorrisYachts The Morris 45 looks like a performance cruiser, and it is.

courtesy Morris Yachts(7)

his grandfather acquired in 1911. Five generations sailed the A-Class No. 7, a boat that Tom describes as the J-24 of its time, before the family donated it to the Mystic Seaport Museum in 1975. According to curators at the seaport, at the time the boat was in the finest condition of

any boat that had been donated. It was sailed from Maine to Mystic, bearing true testimony to the fact that a boat’s longevity is a function of good design, quality construction, and meticulous maintenance. “We were always into boats,” Morris told me on a sail

The M42: classified as a daysailer, but with all the comforts of a weekend cruising boat. www.maineboats.com

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The Evolution of Morris Yachts

The double-ended Frances was the first collaboration between designer Chuck Paine and builder Tom Morris. between Baltimore, Maryland, and Bass Harbor aboard a recently built Morris 46. He zoomed in on the chart and pointed toward Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where he told me he had found his first boat up a shallow creek. “I went to school at Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania, and when I suggested to one of my teachers that I wanted to attend the Webb Institute of Naval Architecture, he told me that I’d never be make it or even be accepted.” He laughed. “I wasn’t a great student. Later I worked in business in Philadelphia running a commercial marine terminal, and every weekend I’d drive down to the Eastern Shore to work on the boat.” Tom Morris and his wife Tina moved to Southwest Harbor in 1972. He began his boatbuilding career in a 30' x 52' boat shop behind their home on High Road. Initially the work was finishing Friendship sloops built by renowned Maine boatbuilder Jarvis Newman, whose timeless downeast hulls have become legendary. In the late 1970s, the company, until then named Thomas D.C. Morris Yachtbuilder (D.C. stood for “Direct Current,” 64

according to Morris), incorporated as Morris Yachts. While he was attending a boat show with a 25' Pemaquid-type Friendship sloop, Morris was introduced to another icon of Maine yacht design, Chuck Paine of Camden. The two hit it off at once. In 1974 Paine drew plans for a design he called Frances, a 26' doubleender. He and Morris quickly struck a deal to build the boat, and a hull mold was made. After that, the shop went on

to a 30-footer, a double-ender named Leigh. In 1976 the boat shop was moved from behind Morris’s home—much to the delight of his neighbor, according to Tom—and the company became established on the Southwest Harbor waterfront. Since then Morris Yachts has launched a new design about every three years. The company’s longstanding collaboration with C.W. Paine & Associates

Daysailing in comfort aboard the M42. MAINE BOATS, HOMES & HARBORS

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has lead to more than 175 boats built to Chuck Paine’s designs. The company grew steadily. In 1996 Morris’s son Cuyler came to work as company service manager. “Cuyler,” Tom said, beaming, “never looked back. This was a challenging time as I struggled to let go and let Cuyler assert his presence. The result: the company has never been in better shape.” Trained as an environmental engineer, Cuyler Morris has a solid background as a racing sailor; he was involved in the 1995 America’s Cup challenge with team Young America. He also competed in the 1996 and 2000 Star Class Olympic trials. Between 1999 and 2000 Morris Yachts purchased Bass Harbor Marine and moved its service facility and sales and administrative offices from Southwest Harbor to a waterfront location not far from the Bass Harbor Light. The location proved perfect for launching and servicing boats, especially those transiting yachts that were not bound for Southwest Harbor. Today the Bass

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Harbor yard, home to Morris’s service department, is equipped with a 50-ton Travelift, two state-of-the-art Awlgrip paint bays, and indoor storage space; it can handle as many as 100 boats up to 65 feet in length. In the spring of 2001 Morris made yet another move and purchased the

assets of Able Marine in Trenton, Maine. Able had been in financial difficulty for some time; Morris was able to acquire it through the bankruptcy courts. After 27 years in Southwest Harbor Morris moved its primary manufacturing facility, along with its design and engineering operations, to the Trenton location.

Spaciousness and visibility characterize the Morris 52.

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The Evolution of Morris Yachts According to Tom, “Cuyler was key in pulling things together and integrating the Morris crew with the Able crew.” The transition, however, was not easy. Business was very slow at the time of the acquisition, and Morris said that he questioned his decision to purchase the company. Business was even slower in the fall of 2001. The terrorist attacks of September 11, followed by the Iraq war and the presidential election made for a gloomy start to the expansion of the company. “But we weathered it well,” Morris said, even though they were in the middle of a million-dollar expansion in Trenton to meet their growing need for production space. In 2003 Morris began working with the legendary New York yacht design firm of Sparkman & Stephens. The idea was to build a classic daysailer that would not only be beautiful, but also would be a solid performer that would be easy to sail. The decision was something of a response to a trend away from bluewater cruising boats to powerboats by some sailors. With limited free time and the

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need for a crew, sailing had become a chore for many owners, despite their love for sailing and beautiful boats. The new S&S design—the M36—was just what the market ordered. Here was a boat that was handsome and able, and an

The M36 was just what the market ordered. Here was a boat that was handsome and able, and an absolute joy to sail. absolute joy to sail. It was as appealing to first-time owners as it was to experienced sailors, and with its self-tacking jib and lines that led to the cockpit, it was easy to singlehand. Getting under way was, if you’ll you pardon the pun, a breeze. The new 36-footer was introduced at the 2003

Annapolis Sailboat Show and proved to be an instant success; 44 boats have been built to date, with several now on order. Now there is a larger boat in the M series, a 42-footer. Also designed by Sparkman & Stephens, the M42 has greater interior volume than the M36 and features 6'3" of standing headroom (Tom is a big guy). The cockpit is huge for a boat this size. Morris has targeted the M42 toward sailors who would like to combine a bit of luxurious coastal cruising with their daysailing. Like the M36, it sports classic American lines, is a great upwind performer, and is effortless to get under way and sail. Also, like the M36, it is perfect for sailing shorthanded or alone. I had occasion to sail the M42 with Cuyler Morris one morning in a pleasant breeze off Bass Harbor. The boat’s self-tending jib made tacking effortless; I felt as though I were sailing a boat half the size. The helm was startlingly responsive and amazingly light to the touch. All I could do was grin; I wanted to tack again, and again.

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From a sales perspective Morris Yachts has hit their mark; they have sold more than a dozen M42s to buyers around the world. Through their collaboration with S&S, Morris has managed to build a boat that truly puts the joy back into sailing. It is no wonder that Cruising World magazine named the M42 as the Best Special Purpose Cruiser for 2007. The award follows the magazine’s choice of Morris’s Ocean Series, the Morris 42, as the 2006 Domestic Boat of the Year. Plans for a 52-foot daysailer, the M52, are now in the design stage. Like its siblings, the newest in the lineup is sure to become a modern classic, with similar graceful lines, luxurious features, and outstanding performance. While continuing to grow through the addition of new boat designs, such as the M Series, Morris Yachts has also taken another bold step by expanding its operations to Northeast Harbor, coming full circle to Tom’s childhood summer stomping grounds. The company has leased the John Butler boatyard and established it

MAINE BOATS, HOMES & HARBORS SHOW Exhibitor

Tom and Cuyler Morris.

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Morris Yachts as a premier yacht service facility. “It was the right spot,” Tom Morris said. So what is so special about Morris Yachts? It true that the boats in their Ocean Series have proven themselves as able bluewater performers around the world. I was fortunate to sail one of their Painedesigned 48-footers from Bermuda to the Azores and saw for myself what the boats are made of; I never felt more secure at sea. On the M Series side Morris has proved through the M36 and M42 that sailing can be fun, safe, and easy, even if bluewater passagemaking is not your cup of tea. But be it an ocean cruiser or a daysailer, it seems that a Morris yacht’s classic American looks, modern hull and keel design, engineering, and uncompromising craftsmanship have made it a highly coveted and solid investments for its owner. All of the company’s boats with the exception of one are still sailing and have retained their value very well. Used Morris yachts are hard to come by, since original owners tend not to part with them, preferring instead to have them refit by Morris.

Cuyler Morris at the helm of a Star during the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta. But state-of-the-art design work and the finest materials are only part of what makes Morris Yachts so special. The most important component in crafting these magnificent yachts is the people who make up the company. This is very much a family business. “Early on my wife Tina designed the Morris logo,” Tom said, “and today Cuyler has taken over as president of the company.” 68

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Tom has stepped down and is now serving as ambassador-at-large, or as everyone jokes, glorified delivery captain. What better salesman could they have? And then there’s the highly skilled and dedicated staff, including long-time employee Will Ratcliff, general manager; Dayton Arey, service manager; Steve Mullane, production manager; Peter Smith, head engineer; project manager; Eric Roos, sales and brokerage; Jim Couto, purchasing manager, and Tuesdi Woodworth, controller. After 35 years of hard work and some difficult times, Tom Morris is finally finding the time to sail the boats he so loves to build. As “delivery captain” he is constantly sailing and meeting with owners, and as always incorporating their feedback into the company’s products. On July 20-22 this summer the company will sponsor the second annual Morris Boat Show in Northeast Harbor, and on August 17-19 will host a 35th-anniversary rendezvous in Bass Harbor. Sixty Morris yachts and some 300 owners are expected to attend the latter event. When asked what he thought was in store for the sailboat market in the future, Morris was positive. “I see a trend toward people coming back to sail,” he said. “Baby boomers who spent their careers in fast-paced, stress-filled businesses are looking for something slower as they get older. It used to be that people wanted powerboats, because they had limited time. That’s changing. Someone once said that powerboats were about ‘being there’ and sailboats were about ‘getting there,’ and I guess that’s the appeal.” After 35 years Tom Morris is still looking toward the future. “I had always hoped to spend more time sailing,” he said, and with Cuyler on watch now he certainly can. “I’m a very lucky man to be where I am today, and I look forward to more and more good times.” John Snyder is a freelance writer who lives in Fryeburg, Maine.

For More Information Morris Yachts, Inc., Grandville Road, P.O. Box 395, Bass Harbor, ME 04653. 207-244-5509; www.morrisyachts.com MAINE BOATS, HOMES & HARBORS SHOW Exhibitor

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Profile for Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors

Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors - Morris Yachts article  

Famous for building yachts that emphasize solid performance alongside understated elegance, Morris Yachts celebrates its 35th anniversary. B...

Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors - Morris Yachts article  

Famous for building yachts that emphasize solid performance alongside understated elegance, Morris Yachts celebrates its 35th anniversary. B...

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