Billy Joel's Latest Hit
By Dallas Murphy
Singer-songwriter Billy Joel often draws boats in the idle hours between concerts. Recently, he came up with a real winner.
She was Bill Joel's idea from the outset. Without him, there would be no Shelter Island Runabout. This 38-footer has gotten her share of press attention, and Joel, if he's in town, makes it a point to show up to talk about her. Sure, there's a marketing component to this, but one senses that he'd come anyway. He likes his boat, and he enjoys being in the boat business, though neither he nor the Shelter Island Runabout is typical of the business. I visited Coecles Harbor Marina and Boatyard, Shelter Island, New York to check out a Runabout with a friend who was in the market for a new boat. Two were in the building shed when we arrived. One was the shell of a hull, which had recently arrived from North End Composites in Maine where the decks and hulls are molded. People were wiring that boat and positioning her balsa-cored bulkheads. Its neighbor was already decked, engines installed, and the finishing work had begun.
Lady Carol, one of the first Runabouts sold, sat in a cradle outside. Her owner had sent her back to Coecles Harbor - from Florida - for routine maintenance and brightwork touch-up. We stood an artistic distance off in the company of Joel and boatbuilder Peter Needham and stared at her. She is stunningly beautiful. She looks like a thing whose sole reason for being is to delight the eye. When he's on tour, Joel spends idle hours drawing boats on hotel stationery. In the winter of 1995, he was somewhere - he doesn't remember precisely - drawing a long, lean powerboat with classic lines and real speed.
"I had three fast hulls in mind," he says. "The PT boat, the thirties commuter boat, and the rumrunner." The more he thought about and worked on the boat, the more, Joel says, he wanted it to have a life beyond hotel stationery - but not merely as a one-off for his own use. He believed he'd spotted a niche in the powerboat market, and he wanted to produce a boat to fill it. Joel's been around boats all his life, more than long enough to notice that when fantasy boats evolve into business ventures, fiscal suicide often follows. So, when he returned home from his tour, he ran the idea by his friend Peter Needham, who owns Coecles Harbor Marina and Boatyard, which is just a 20-minute boat ride from Joel's place near Sag Harbor.
Forty Knots - Or Bust
The specific question was this: "Could a boat with a traditional work-boat hull cruise at 40 knots?" Cruise, he stressed, at 40 knots. Peter Needham and his brother John have run Coecles Harbor for the last 25 years. Although it's mainly a repair yard specializing in classic boats - a slew of Hinckley yawls and Bermuda 40s call it home - Needham also has some boatbuilding experience. In 1992, he built Alexa, a salty, work-boat-inspired 36-footer for Joel, and both parties are still happy with her. Needham thought that, yes, a traditional hull could cruise at 40 knots, but he wondered if anyone would buy it.
That was a different question. If 40 knots was feasible, then Joel was ready to invest seed money in the project. "But," recalls Needham, "he said to me: ‘Remember, if it doesn't cruise - cruise - at 40 knots, you own it." That was never an arbitrary figure. It was the crux of a business decision. Joel believed, and Needham agreed, that speed would set their boat apart from her established competition at Hinckley, Hood, Able, Sabre, and all the others building "picnic boats" at the high end of the market. Needham thinks they're all fine specimens of the new genre, but not a one will cruise at 40 knots. "You take your dividers," says Needham, "open them to 40 (nautical) miles, lay that out on the chart - you can be there in one hour. I still can't get used to that." Needham is a Bermuda 40 sailor. But as a boatbuilder he understood that expanded cruising range would attract customers for whom time was a bigger factor than money - if she were comfortable and quiet at speed.
He approached a variety of designers with the idea. Some said it wasn't for them, others responded halfheartedly, "Or else," in Needham's words, "they didn't quite get it." Marblehead, Massachusetts yacht designer Doug Zurn, however, submitted a bound booklet containing precise drawings, velocity predictions, materials lists, and a host of other ideas. Zurn, who'd worked for Tartan, Chuck Paine, Able, and Dieter Empacher before striking out on his own four years ago, had only one boat in the water, a pretty daysailer called the Monomoy 21. Needham and Joel didn't care about his relative inexperience. Zurn had talent, enthusiasm, and "got it," says Needham.
Early in 1996, the three of them decided on gasoline engines over diesels to save weight. Twin Mercruisers, at 300 horsepower apiece, could easily sustain 40 knots, and deliver a top-end of 48. The team considered jet drives, but decided against them because of their relatively low efficiency and "squirrely" feel. They chose outdrives over shafts because outdrives cause less drag, while they help stabilize the ride at speed, and they can be used to trim the boat fore and aft. The Runabout's outdrives come equipped with twin counter-rotating props. Needham, Joel and company settled on the scrimp method of construction - high-tech but not the highest - using Vinylester resin-infused Kevlar and E-glass. That the boat be light and easily driven was basic to her concept, but a hull meant to go 40 knots better be stiff as well.
To demonstrate the boat's strength, Needham stands on a scaffold beside the deckless hull and places his foot against the side at its thinnest point, up where it meets the deck. He pushes hard. The hull barely flexes. "Fiberglass would flex four to six inches," he says. The boat weighs less than 12,000 pounds with half loads of water and fuel and two
The Runabout's lobsterboat ancestry is apparent in her profile, which is low and flat at the stern, and sheers up to a high bow. But that sea-kindly hull has been lengthened, narrowed, and manipulated to reflect the traits of those three boats Joel had used as models.
Together, Joel and Zurn lifted the sheer higher than utility requires, while they kept the coach roof low. In fact, they kept everything above the topsides spare and low. A radar dome, for instance, and a mast to mount it on somewhat mar the cleanliness of her lines. "The less you put on this boat, the better she looks," says Needham. The angle at the front of the cabin trunk parallels that of the windscreen, one nicety among many, but it contributes to her sleek, fast feel even when she's sitting in a cradle. There's a touch of tumblehome at the transom, just enough to soften the angles, without seeming precious. Those elements, and others in subtle concert, make this boat special. Speed is vital, but what sells her is her looks, right?
"Yes and no." Needham tells us about a guy from East Hampton who bought one of the first boats, which he keeps in Three Mile Harbor, about seven miles from Coecles Harbor. He loved her looks, but he told Needham he really didn't think he wanted to go fast. "Now he pulls into my marina, throws his lines over - and looks at his watch. "Nine minutes from dock to dock. A new record."
Reveling in the Ride
"Watch this!" From a standstill, Needham shoves the power on. Dead level, the Run-about steps up onto a plane without hesitation. A lot of powerboats bury their sterns when you apply hard, sudden power; the bow skies, and the boat sits for a while at an ugly attitude before clawing up onto a plane. "Frankly, we were pleasantly surprised when she didn't do that," Needham says. Zurn doesn't say he was surprised, but he admits he was glad to see how she climbed the "resistance hump" without fuss. He says that's because of the location of her center of gravity and her relatively deep section - sixteen degrees of deadrise - aft. "But mainly it's because she's a light boat," he explains.
The boat we are riding in was commissioned just two days earlier, and since the engines aren't broken in yet, Needham needs to limit the revs to 3,200. So, alas, we can't do 40 knots, only a mere 32. At that speed, she's dead stable, yet you can feel her light-ness. She leaves a minuscule wake at all speeds. At high speed, you could ride her all day and be no worse for the wear. This is cruising, not brute speed. At 32 knots, you can conduct a normal-voiced conversation on the bench seat, which is just inches forward of the engines, yet Needham is still thinking about sound-dampening techniques. It's tricky, he says, because any flat surface with space beneath it, the cabin sole, for instance, will reverberate engine noise.
To show her handling ease, Needham throws her into a series of fast, figure-eight turns. (Her steering is power-assisted.) Lateral resistance from the vee bottom and hard chine helps her bank confidently and comfortably into the turns. We instinctively reach for the handholds, but recognizing her predictable motion, we soon give them up. She's so smooth and nimble up on a plane - her natural attitude - that you forget she's going fast until you stick your face into the apparent wind. By all reports, she's similarly docile at 40 knots. The day is flat clam, but Needham, who's had her out in Block Island Sound when the wind was blowing 20, says she's happy in a stiff chop.
A man from Palm Beach bought a Runabout as a fishing boat. Though one cringes at the image of bloody bonito flapping around in that cockpit, the owner is delighted with her performance in square Gulf Stream seas.
Skilled Hands and an Artist's Eye
Coecles Harbor employs 35 people, including office staff; 11 are devoting full time to the Runabout. Needham tells us that some of his most skilled people are ex-owners of repair and building yards, refugees from the administrative and managerial realities that have nothing to do with boats. Over the years, he has nurtured a culture of craftsmanship - you only have to look around the yard to see it - and that, naturally, has attracted new craftsmen. Had skilled labor not been in place, Coecles Harbor could never have undertaken Runabout construction. Needham is soft-spoken and modest, yet he has an artist's eye for detail, and he is clearly pleased with his accomplishment. But then it must be intrinsically satisfying to build a boat to the highest possible standards when doing so makes sound economic sense to boot.
He hasn't missed a trick. For example, he was unimpressed with the chocks on the market, so he fashioned one he liked out of wood and contracted Lewmar to custom build them. The Lewmar port lights, with better latches then one finds on high-end sailboats, are semi-custom. Naturally, this is not a cheap vessel. With about everything you'd want except a dodger and GPS, she goes for $303,000. At this writing, the yard has sold eleven. "That's far more than I ever imagined," Needham says. Zurn is also surprised. But both are adjusting quickly to the "irrational exuberance" around them. If you ordered one today, you could take delivery about tax time, 1999. Needham is talking about building a new shed and hiring more people to cut that lead time.
Boatbuilders all tell you that their profit margins are slim because overhead is so high. Needham's marketing budget, however, is not pumping up the overhead. He's attended a couple of boat shows, but that's about it for advertising. The boat is selling herself. Needham tells a story about a man, a stranger, who walked onto the yard unannounced, pointed to a Runabout at the dock, and said, "I'll take it. How much?" We don't have one now," Needham replied. "We can have one for you in a year." "What do you mean you don't have one? What's that?" "That boat belongs to Billy Joel." The determined customer glanced around the yard, then back at Needham, and said, "I don't understand. Are you guys in the boat business or not?" Billy Joel no longer owns the boat. He is having a new one built, and under the circumstances, he can live with her absence.
Too Good to Be True?
Beginning to feel like a booster from the home office, I start looking for flaws. There must be some, at lease one, a corner cut here or there to save costs, a questionable decision as to layout or engine access (its cover, by the way, opens hydraulically), even something nit-picky like instrument placement, I come up empty. But wait, we haven't been below. Maybe there is some imperfection down there. The low sleek cabin trunk, however, doesn't suggest that over-zealous accommodations have been shoe-horned into her. But maybe they are cramped or skimpy. The head is twice the size of the head in a 50-foot cruising sailboat.
Since this is a day boat, the target customer is unlikely to spend many nights below. "Underway, the main reason for going below would be to use the head, so we devoted a lot of space to it," Needham explains. The rest of the layout seems perfectly suited to her concept, not too much or too little, a rare thing these days. There's a vee-berth for two people who like each other, a small galley with a microwave as standard equipment, plenty of drawer space, and standing headroom. Below deck, the Runabout is smartly conceived, built and finished with Needham's characteristic attention to detail. This reporter - our photographer, too - left Coecles Harbor and the Shelter Island Runabout bemoaning our occupational choices, which forever preclude owning one. However, my friend, that dear friend who came along as a prospective customer - a man in a sensible occupation - he has decided to buy one. So for me, I trust, this is au revoir, and not good-bye.
Motorboating & Sailing
By Louisa Rudeen
Billy Joel builds “a go fast but look good” 38 foot commuter at Long Island’s Coecles Harbor Boatyard: the 55 mph Shelter Island Runabout.
Rock star Billy Joel wanted a boat with classic lines, but contemporary performance. “After I blow by them, I want people to get on the radio and ask, “What is that?” he says. Inspired by the long, narrow commuter yachts of the ‘30s and ‘40s, Joel commissioned what he calls “a go-fast but look-good” 38-footer from naval architect Douglas Zurn of Marblehead, Mass., and builder Peter J. Needham of Coecles Harbor Boatyard on Shelter Island, N.Y. The sensational result is the Shelter Island Runabout, a Kevlar-hulled, sterndrive commuter that cruises at 46 mph and tops out at 55.
The boat, which Joel named Nomad, is the third one he’s had built up at Coecles Harbor, a small Long Island yard with a big reputation for restoring and finishing classic yachts. “I feel good about people who work well with their hands.” he says, “It’s a kind of composition.” His first Coecles project was an Ellis 28 lobsterboat. Then came Alexa, A 36-FOOT BHM/Flyepoint sportfisherman which Joel still owns. Alexa’s 600-hp MANs give her a 25-knot (28.75-mph) cruising speed. “Not bad for a real working fishing boat,” he admits, “but I got the itch to try something with more speed in it.” He was not about to buy a production-built muscle boat, however, “I don’t like the image, or the noise,” he says.
He decided to build a commuter---an idea that may have spawned some years ago when he commuted daily from Long Island to New York City in a 20-foot Shamrock. But now he wanted a boat with the speed, size, and range to take him from his home near the east end of Long Island to the Northeast boating meccas, including Nantucket and the Vineyard. “This is my Newport-for-lunch boat,” he says. Seaworthiness was crucial. “I saw fast boats pounding, coming back from Block Island in the afternoon, when the southwest wind picks up,” he recalls. So he set strict parameters for the commuter. It would have a 40-knot (46-mph) cruising speed in good conditions, and a “get-home” speed in the mid 20-knot range (around 28 mph) when the wind whipped the seas up over four feet.
Joel went to Needham and they began kicking around ideas for the boat. “This is the typical ‘the design started on a napkin’ kind of thing.” Needham says. They ultimately sent a list of specifications to a dozen naval architects. Doug Zurn, whose yacht designs include the Harbor Island 37 powerboat, got the job. As Needham puts it, “We felt Doug had hit the concept on the nose.”
During the design phase, faxed sketches flew back and forth between Zurn, Needham and Joel. “I actually took some mechanical drawing courses in college. I guess it’s come in handy,” the singer says. Despite his go-fast mandate, he insisted that the boat have a traditional profile with tumble-home sides and a plumb stem. “I wanted it to look like a boat, not an aerodynamic hotel room,” he says. “A boat that looks good usually rides well,” Zurn says, “but having a boat like that go 40 knots—that’s a bit of a challenge.” He designed the hull to be long and narrow like those on the fast commuters of yesteryear, with a deadrise of 16 degrees at the transom. He drew a hard chine, six inches aft tapering to nothing forward, and two lifting strakes. The hull needed to be stiff and strong but relatively lightweight, so it would be built out of a Kevlar and E-glass hybrid using vinylester resin, with stringers of E-glass over high-density foam core. Power for Joel’s boat would be provided by twin 415-hp Mer- Cruiser 502’s with Bravo Three counter-rotating drives—hidden by a gorgeous teak swim platform. Concerns about safety prompted Joel to ask for a collision bulkhead with a watertight door and compartment forward, creating what he calls a “breakaway bow.” He also ordered tall, high-tech helm and passenger chairs with secure arm- and footrests, made by Stidd of Greenport, N.Y.
The interior was designed last, after the hull and topsides. When Joel used to cruise on board his old Lee Wilbur, the elegant Alexa Ray, he found he rarely slept aboard. “The only thing I use below-decks is the head,” he says. So the new boat was given a functional but spare cabin, with a full V-berth, storage space, a small galley—and an extra-large, airy head compartment.
When the design was complete, the mold and the first hull were constructed at North End Composites in Rockland, Maine, using the innovative SCRIMP resin-infusion process. The boat was then built up at Coecles Harbor by Needham and his team—which includes four carpenters. Joel came to the yard often, commuting there on Alexa, to help with the details.
He christened Nomad himself, at the Newport, R.I., boat show in September, bashing a bottle of champagne against its bow in front of a crowd far smaller than he would have drawn to one of his concerts—but just as enthusiastic. He seemed to delight in showing off the boat. “I’m very happy with it,” he says.
In fact, the 38-footer’s performance on the water just blew everyone away. “It’s hard to believe—it seems so light and fast,” Zurn says. The boat sits right up on plane with no bow rise, and accelerates like a spaceship hitting “warp speed.” It effortlessly reaches it’s 40-knot cruising mark and flies on up to nearly 48 knots (55 mph). The ride is both supremely dry and quiet.
Joel found the boat’s handling to be smooth and easy, even at speed. “It’s like my father’s ‘56 Buick. They used to say those GM cars from the ‘40s and ‘50s ‘drove like a boat.’ Now I know what they meant,” he says. He and Needham have decided to offer the Shelter Island Runabout for sale, on a limited-production basis at first. Standard power will be twin 300-hp MerCruiser 350s with Bravo Three drives, the Merc 502s will be offered as options. Joel is excited about building the boats at Coecles Harbor . “Long Island has a history of boat-building,” he says. “I’d like to see that come back. And if I could be a part of it, I’d feel good.”
A Touch Of Class
Motorboating & Sailing
By Dan Fales
Coceles Harbor Boatyard is one of the East Coast's most important centers for wooden boat repairs and Hinckley restorations.
Take the three "H"s--Hinckley, Herreshoff and Hacker. Add Nielsen, Newman and Needham and you have a mix that makes a small, nondescript facility a boatyard with an attitude. Coecles Harbor Marina and Boatyard, located on Shelter Island's east coast, is the place with a reputation among boating's elite that far exceeds the physical size of its plant. It's strange that such an isolated facility, flanked by the north and south forks of New York's Long Island, should command such loyalty.
One answer can be found in the motto mounted in every shed and barn: "It's the details." Another rests in the strong "we-can-fix-anything" attitude that prevails.
But it wasn't always so. The old marina at Coecles Harbor was hardly that -- a tiny bunch of docks and shacks that came on the market in 1972 when spacecraft engineer Peter H. Needham decided on a career change. With wife and two sons, Peter J. and John, Needham moved to Shelter Island. "I believe the reputation of the yard started when my father announced that we could fix anything," reports Peter J., who, with his brother, has run the yard since his father's death eight years ago. "In fact, our service manager complained that should a 747 crash in the bay, my father would certainly have rowed out in a dinghy and offered to 'fix it.' "
As word of the yard's abilities spread, times in the sailboat business were not as rosy. In 1983, Peter H. Needham talked Bob Hinckley into a first (and last) for the Hinckley organization. "We got a raw, unfinished Bermuda 40 hull," says Peter J. Launched three years later, Genesis was truly the start of Coecles' reputation for working on Hinckley sailing yachts.
In the meantime, Steve Corkery came aboard and brought with him a wealth of sailing experience and contacts. Restoration work from Mystic Seaport soon followed. Even now, two beautiful Herreshoff ketches--Araminta and Quiet Tune--ride gently on their lines, ready to return to the Seaport.
Through the restoration of Hinckleys (and some Aage Nielsens) has become a major occupation for Coecles, work on powerboats is also part of the mix. In 1992, the yard built a mahogany-and-oak sportboat from Hacker plans. Following Min came Alexa--a 36-foot BHM that Coecles built up for famed sports fisherman Billy Joel--who, by the way, sings as well.
Service, too, is part of Coecles' motto. But arguably the best story about Coecles' service involves a 36-foot Newman lobster-style yacht. It seems the owner past away and "left a trust fund to maintain the boat," says Corkery. "Every year, we haul her in the fall, paint her during the winter and launch her in the spring."
This type of trusted, custom work is exactly what the Needhams and Corkery want. "Our next step, "reports Peter Needham, "is to expand our custom boat building operations." And expand they will.
Billy Joel's Latest Hit
By Mark Masciarotte
If your 're talking to "Davy who's still in the Navy", chances are , this is the boat he'd want to be sailing for life.
In just 18 months, buyers on both coasts, and in the Midwest have helped the Shelter Island Runabout make her mark in a highly competitive market. There's a real reason: she has the refined look of a new England bass boat , and the heart-stopping performance of a classic American street rod.
Designed by Zurn Yacht Design, the hull form is a moderate V with a fine entry that runs out to a 15 degree dead rise in the transom. With the stock 300-horsepower Mercruiser Magnum MPI engines, the Shelter Island Runabout is able to cruise around 34 knots. However, every boat built to date has been equipped with the optional Mercruiser 502s is that produce 415 horsepower, increasing cruise speed to 40 knots and top speed to just over 48 knots. Three other engine packages, gas and diesel are available as options. All powerplant configurations are coupled to the Mercruiser Bravo Three stern drives, each turning a pair of highly efficient contra-rotating propellers.
Arranged primarily as a dayboat, the Shelter Island Runabout is available with or without a hardtop. Both configurations are equally handsome, and each has a spacious cockpit, made all the more uncluttered by the aft engine installation. An athwartship settee and a pair of comfortable Stidd helm chairs comprise the fixed seating, but there is plenty of room for folding chairs and the table to form a grouping forward of the settee. All trim, including the toerails, handrails, browa and console, is teak and is beautifully detailed and varnished.
Because of the Runabout's extra length (38 ' 4.5"), the cabin is equally spacious as well is being nicely appointed. The arrangement is typical of this type of boat. There is a compact galley to port, opposite which is a roomy head. Forward are two settees that serve as berths. A hanging locker is accessed through the forward bulkhead. Ceilings, soles and cabinetry are executed in varnished teak (other woods are available). Other surfaces, including cabinet faces and the overhead, are white, giving the cabin a bright, clean look.
The hulls for the Shelter Island Runabout are fabricated by North End Composites using a sandwich lay-up of Kevlar/E-glass fabric, balsa core and vinylester resin, Kevlar is not used in the decks. The patented SCRIMP resin-infusion process optimizes laminate integrity and strength. The parts are then sent to the Coecles Harbor facility for assembly and outfitting.
Cockles Harbor boat yard is a 25-year-old business that, at present, employs just under 40 persons. In addition to their boatbuilding activities, they are known throughout New England for their high-end refit and restoration work on wood and fiberglass boats. Quick, agile and sexy, the Shelter Island Runabout is a niche boat design to please the most critical aficionado. The Piano Man says it's a cool boat. He's right.
Shelter Island 38
Built for more than a river of dreams, Billy Joel's Runabout was meant to take on big water.
Singer Billy Joel may have been Nantucket-bound on the Downeaster Alexa, but his Runabout, the Shelter Island Runabout 38 would work well on the Great Lakes. "This is a boat design for Western Long Island waters -- long and skinny and made to cut through the chop", said yacht designer Doug Zurn. "The 38 would be fantastic for Lakes Huron and Michigan and perform just flawlessly on Lake Erie."
In 1996, Joel turned his lifelong passion for boats into a moneymaking venture, teaming up with Peter Needham of Coecles Harbor Marina and Boatyard on Shelter Island, New York. Together they formed the Long Island Boat Company and hired Zurn to design this classic runabout.
The 38 shows off a high waterline-to-beam ratio, Downeast lines and a proud bow that gives the appearance of a classic lobster yacht. A moderate V-hull with a 15 degree deadrise at the transom provides stability. And Joel wanted speed, so the company offers an optional set of Twin 415 HP Merc Magnum MPI's, which top the craft out at 48 knots.
"There are a lot of fun things to do on this boat," Zurn said. "The Twin gas engines are efficient. Its long-range and quiet."
Every 38 Shelter Island Runabout is customized, with the aft cockpit left open for a variety of positions for fighting chairs, lounging chairs and athwartship benches. A canvas top comes standard, while a hardtop, tuna tower and radar post are optional.
Below deck features a teak or mahogany joiner-work interior, panel doors and bulkheads in a variety of woods. Four ports and an overhead hatch open to allow breezes and natural lighting. Assorted lockers hold supplies, and 5-inch-thick cushions provide comfort for sleeping. According to Joel, however , this might not matter: there are giants out there in the canyons and a good captain can't fall asleep.
A New Boat State Of Mind
By Douglas McDaniel
Songwriter Billy Joel's affinity for the sea comes to life and a new hot rod runabout.
It looks like old New England. Poetry in wood and engineering. With smooth lines made by someone with an epic sense of what the sea is all about. Musical, really. Sentimental, even, in the way it's proud high bow lifts the craft from its low-profile coming from the stern. Yet sentimental is an inexact word. "Classic" is a better one for the builder who grew up the Woodstock generation and watched all of the old forms falling away. At the dawning of the age of the electrified singer/songwriter he tended toward the old ivories and wood,too, old in old piano bars as the song goes. So man, what is he doing here?
Billy Joel, 48, is wearing a green baseball cap, a black T-shirt , showing off a short and stocky port side from a lot of good years of getting bred in the jar, a red bandanna in the pocket of his blue jeans. He is in fine spirits, joking with just about everyone he sees and, in general, displaying the rascally charm of the never quite worn out youthfulness of a street punk from Long Island. It's hair is cropped short, and he is wearing a Vandyke; his face is red from hours out on the boat in the sun, and yes, those are seafaring lines in the wrinkles beneath his eyes.
He is telling sees stories -- or listening to one about himself, a longtime friend narrating the grisly details. Apparently, a few years back, and a friend were caught in a nor'easter in a 42 ft. boat near Gay Head on the western tip of Martha's Vineyard. The sea was so rough, screws are coming loose in the cabin, and boat swayred and buckled in the water. They found a safe place to put the boat in at Menemsha, but in old codger running the dock failed to greet the refugees with the proper respect that a member of record of record biz royalty might expect, choosing instead to cast them back into the turbulent Atlantic to spend more hours of seasick uncertainty.
"The sonofabitch", chimes in Joel now. "That's when you learn about the sea, when it is juse you and God", he pauses, letting a sense of the infinite sink in, then adds with a laugh, "When you feel the need to pray, you know you been boating."
Today, the marina and boatyard on Shelter Island, on Long Island, New York, has a small army of record company assistants, writers, photographers, cable cameraman, friends, and gentle well-wishers camped beneath a small tent. People are drinking beer, eating sandwiches, enjoying a summer day beside the water in the Hamptons. It is a boat-launching party for Joel's latest design, The Shelter Island Runabout. His Massachusetts-based designer for the 38 for craft is on hand, as is the Shelter Island boatyard operator who put together the tooling for this particular project. The 38 The Shelter Island Runabout started out as a few notes and some sketches, and his team has delivered this line of new boats with the glitzy Hamptoneque heritage.
"Billy had two pages of ideas for what he wanted in terms of boat aesthetics, performance, how it handles" says Peter Needham, who along with his brother, John, runs the Coecles Harbor Marina and Boatyard, which is capable of producing as many as six of these boats per year. "The key parameter was that it have to do at least 40 knots, but be able to get through bad weather at good speed."
The 38 ft. day boat is a result of one of Joel many daydreams about boats. He's already dreamed up and built boats of 38 ft., 46 ft., and, more recently, a 36 for craft built on a Flye Point Hull. This downeaster, reminiscent of a 1950s swordfish boat, is called Alexa -- named after his daughter from his former marriage with Christie Brinkley. It was launched in 1992 and features a huge cabin and a large amount of space on the bowel for supermodel sunbathing.
In appearance, it offers a classic look of a lobster boat headed out to the shoals. Indeed, a great deal of Billy Joel's private life is invested in being on the water. His lavish East Hampton spread is decorated with several old wooden boats that have been his retired friends for years.
Joel latest inspiration fits his personality as a fast-laneer by trade , who gives a lot points for style, but in many ways and abhors being defined or pigeon holed. He prefers to be known as a composer, a songwriter, as opposed to being a rock-and-roll or or a pop star. Distinction being hey don't fence me in -- no doubt the product of many years of weathering the ever-changing fronts of the music scene. His classic Shelter Island Runabout also is wearing an elusive sort of disguise. It's an old boatyard relic; no, it's a speedboat. It looks slow, kind of quiet, but likes to go fast, like a rocker. A lobster bay hot ride. Because as much is Billy Joel likes the water in all, he's got places to go. "I built about a half-dozen boats now, or a had a hand in the design of them. I admire work boats, the New England lobster boat tradition. Fishermen have to work under ridiculous conditions. Their lives are inconceivable."
So I always felt ..geez, those must be safe seaworthy boats if they're going to risk their lives on them. I started from there and grew to appreciate the lines of those boats, the reason for those boats looking the way they did. I think I have in my mind's eye , what a boat is supposed to look like.
It's just like cars now. I don't know what each car looks like now. I don't know a Chevy, afford, IQ wick. I can tell the all look like these gloves, these Clorox bottles.
I see the same thing happening with boats. Why can't you have a boat that looks like a boat? Part of fun of boating is to like you're actually on a boat, feeling ... boaty.
So, feeling boaty , we stepped onto the deck of one of The Shelter Island Runabout desgined by Doug Zurn, a Marblehead, Massachusetts designer who managed to fit the bill for what Joel was looking for. Working with the Coecles Harbor Marina and Boatyard on Shelter Island -- not far from Joel's luxurious estate in East Hampton -- the songwriter sent out proposals to 10 naval architects. He was looking for something fast and for the most part, stripped down.
"He wanted to classic boat that had a nice performance and was smooth," says Needham. "All he required from the cabin with a decent sized head."
Indeed, the accommodations are spartan by Yacht standards. Below decks, there's a lot of polished wood, but only a small V-berth, enough room to take a nap or have a conversation with one or two people. There's a sink and a microwave oven, but this is a day boat, and Joel has envisioned a style of boating where breakfast, lunch, or dinner should be at a fabulous restaurant on shore.
The Shelter Island Runabout is fast, with its set of fuel injected 415 HP Merc cruiser 502 Magnum MPI -- multiport injection engines - making capable of bursts of speed of 55 mph or more. But it is relatively quiet by powerboat standards. Taking a quick run in the bay at Coecles, one is impressed by the way it glides through the water, and the wakes of other boats are barely noticed. The Merccruiser three Bravo Three uses twin encounter rotating propellers for improved acceleration and handling. Big water lift mufflers keep the exhaust noise to a minimum.
I wanted a quiet boat, Joel says. I didn't want something that made a lot of noise. There's nothing worse than hearing a high pitch scream all day long and coming back to shore with your teeth rattling on edge. Will the hell wants that?
What Joel really was thinking about when he made this boat with the vintage commuter car. You can see it in the analog gauges that look like automobile relics from the 1940s. I didn't want to have a nostalgic, cutie pie, Popeye looking boat, he says. I wanted a boat was a muscle to it that was somehow familiar.
As a boatman, Joel is certain about what he wants and doesn't want. As a youth in Levittown, Joel says he was never too far from the water. When Long Island was still covered with potato farms, and its ports were full of fishing boats. He didn't grow to love boats, because his father owned a yacht either, I didn't have two nickles to rub together. Me and my friends used to, shall we say, borrow boats. We given them back, though, and that's how we learned. We took out someone's decent rowboat, we got somebody's powerboat. And then Billy, the Pirates says, we got into big trouble, but we learned what we need to know about boating.
Long Island in later years became overdeveloped, and a lot of the fishing boat tradition in the area was lost. Joel says. The East End of Long Island, however, is still the Long Island I remember. We're always looking for the land of our youth. It's here. It's right here. It'll cost you an arm and leg, but there is still some left.
He often records near his home on East Hampton, where he has lived at year-round with a great deal of fanfare for the past decade. His last album of new material, River of Dreams, was recorded in the lobster shack on Shelter Island. Joel fills a strong connection to the history of the area and likes the fact is current project in Coecles Harbor is an attempt at reviving an industry that over the years has fallen by the wayside.
"There were a lot of boat builders on Long Island, up until the postwar boom, Joel says. There were many, many companies building boats on Long Island and, little by little, they disappeared. They kind of gave way to the big production companies. We have revived the tradition of the small boat building company. "I like that; it sort of offsets the Joey Buttafuoco and Amy Fisher image of Long Island. This is a fantastic place, and we get a certain amount of lousy press." And if he needs to get away from any more lousy press, all he needs to do a step toward the pier and scoot away on his fishing boat, Alexa, or maybe something else he dreams up about floating. One thing for sure, whichever way he turns, there's water on his mind.
"When I'm not doing it, I'm thinking about it, he says. Before he heads off for a late afternoon repast at a local restaurant with a group of his friends."There's something Zen to it. If you're not boating, then you're thinking about boating. It's my great getaway, and they I don't have to go that far to get away. All I have to do is cast off, and I'm just gone.