Adams Boat Care Interview - On Refitting Yachts, Value and Sustainability

From the left; Owner Carl Adams, Chief Engineer Christer Verta and Master Teak Layer Kjetil Overvik. Photo: Daniel Novello

From the left; Owner Carl Adams, Chief Engineer Christer Verta and Master Teak Layer Kjetil Overvik. Photo: Daniel Novello

A group of specialist boatbuilders forms the core of Adams Boat Care in Sweden. A refit company situated on the Island of Orust, a place known for thousands of years of Scandinavian Boat building history. The company, now one of the fastest growing in the region, are spilling over the brim in both boats in the yard and stories to tell. We have been so fortunate to be able to spend some time there over the last few weeks and getting to know the men and women behind this operation has been a privilege and and inspiration.

Interview with Carl Adams, founder of Adams Boat Care:

Please tell us a little bit about your background and how the idea of a refit company came about?

-It’s a long story so I will keep it short! I have always been a part of the global cruising community, my family has been sailing the globe since the Viking times!

I came to Sweden with my wife and our three children in 1990 from Iceland to build boats. Being a boat builder, I knew Orust was the place to find work. Hallberg Rassy hired me on the spot as I had my boat building papers with me and they were a company that understood what those papers meant.

I worked at Hallberg Rassy for 18 years over a 25-year period as I also worked for Najad Afrodite and NordWest when things were slow for HR. Being a keen boatbuilder I did not just do one job at HR I jumped around and worked on many different models and many different jobs. Hallberg Rassy Parts and Accessories started up about this time and they needed help fitting their accessories into new Hallberg Rassy boats.

I started Adams Boat Care on their request and quickly found I could work on boats making factory-built boats personal. I also enjoyed working with clients and found much common ground with them and my own history.

Hallberg Rassy 46 Regina Laska

I discovered there was a demand for my skills above and beyond my day job. Anna and I hooked up in 2004 and her skills in the varnish and finish department were a godsend to my business.

In 2005 Anna and I were involved in a big refit under HR Parts’s wing a Hallberg Rassy 43 for an American client. We rebuilt his boat so much that many ideas we had were incorporated into other boats which is a real compliment as we were working only in a tent on the industrial estate in Ellös back in the day! When things really dipped down for the industry after 2008 I noticed my demand went up instead of down opposite I had initially feared, owners were not so keen to sell their boats to buy new ones but hang onto them and get them in shape instead. I had more than enough work.

I started working full time for myself and Anna and I formed Adams Boat Care AB. Clients that knew us were lining up and one old client and friend Leon Shultz jumped at the opportunity to let me manage his big project to bring back Regina Laska HR46 back to life, using a network of skills from people and companies we had been working with all these years. That’s how it all started. There is even a film about it!

What kind of services do you offer today and are there any plans to add other goods and services in the future?

-Now we have established ourselves on Vindö with proper machine shops and indoor storage and a harbour with lifting facilities. The sky is the limit. We bring classic boats back to life for ocean going cruising. We can redesign boats and their parts no end!

At present we mostly refit Hallberg Rassy’s but what is already springing into life are all the other brands getting refits done here.

This winter we are re-building a Regina 49. I have plenty of ideas but most of all I work hands on with my clients wishes as they all have individual needs, my job is to develop and make their dreams come true. 

You are a mix of specialists offering a 360 degrees approach to a refit. Can you introduce the members of a typical team? 

-Daniel Engstöm of Spinsail is our rigger. There is no one we trust with our rigs than him he came with us around 2013.

Then we have our own in -house engine and electrical, our chief engineer Guru Christer Verta of Verta Marine. He has been with me on all my projects and up until now there hasn’t been an Adams Boat Care refit unless he has blessed that side of the project.

He is also in charge of training up our new young prodigy Robin Nodesjö who started working with us in our new form for a year now we have great hopes and plans for him.

In the same building we have VakuumTeak i Väst and Kjetil Overvik who has been laying my decks since around 2012.

For gelcoat repairs and plastic repairs even, we have officially retired and infamous Agne I Bro! He likes to keep busy and works for us by the hour doing work only he can.

Master Teak Layer Kjetil Overvik showing a sample of 12mm teak. Photo by Daniel Novello

Master Teak Layer Kjetil Overvik showing a sample of 12mm teak. Photo by Daniel Novello

We have Anders and his workshop in Ellös who is a metal worker and he and I design and build almost anything is stainless steel. From Targas and radar poles to delicate soap bottle holders. Anna runs everything. She lives pretty much in her flight tower up in the office and coordinates the projects, buying the right stuff for each project, billing the clients and paying us all the salaries.

On top of this she is very still much in production with her varnishing painting and finishing skills. The best way to know she’s been there is to notice nothing at all except your beautiful boat shining and smiling back at you. We have many helpers that come and go and it is hard to mention them all.

But, Mustafa, a Syrian refugee, had never set foot on a proper boat other than a dangerous inflatable dinghy with his family, turns wood into sculptures. A client of Jordanian origin, a doctor in Switzerland asked him to make an Arabic tiller for his HR29. The result was beautiful and talk of the town. Mustafa now runs the wood shop. I concentrate more on management, but I jump in where ever I am needed which is all over the place when things get busy!

Who is the typical customer and where are they coming from?

A typical customer is a family that want to go sailing offshore for a few years. They come from all over the world. Japan, New Zealand, USA, UK, China, Russia, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Sweden and I know I am forgetting someone.

Orust is far away from anywhere, why do customers come from all over the world to get a refit done at Adams Boat Care?

Henån or Vindön is on Orust the island where the Vikings built their ships. Orustians have been building boats here for as long as human memory goes back. Look in any harbour on the planet and you will see at least one boat built on Orust in it.

Customers come to us because they have a boat they love and they want fitted out with all latest modern safety equipment and comforts of home.

Wifi, LED lighting and stuff that wasn’t invented when their boat was built. A cupboard here and wardrobe there and wine cellar under there.

I love to solve problems on a boat and have a knack for building inside and using space I know is sorely missed on factory-built boats.

I like to understand what a client want and make it happen. It is careful communication about the needs of every individual on every boat.

One of the more famous yachts you have refitted is Mahina Tiare III. Can you elaborate on what went in to that refit and why?

There is a trust I have with my clients and don’t want go into too many details, but they wanted to increase the style and comfort of their boat as much as anyone.

Their deck was worn out and we replaced it. We put in a modern (analogue) engine and tidied things up after all the miles she has on her.

Anna varnished their bright work. One thing I am happy about was convincing them to lose their varnished handrails and put on shiny stainless steel ones. Everyone knows what a pain in the neck it is to varnish a long hand rail with gloss varnish every year. They have the varnished toe rail, and doing the handrails too was just a pain for first mate Amanda. Varnished handrails are beautiful yes, but these clients work hard to get their boat ready in the spring like everyone else.

Bits of the teak deck on Mahina Tiare 111. Probably the longest milage on a Hallberg Rassy teak deck ever. Photo by: Daniel Novello

Bits of the teak deck on Mahina Tiare 111. Probably the longest milage on a Hallberg Rassy teak deck ever. Photo by: Daniel Novello

She’s a working boat and the owners are professionals. The varnish didn’t last five minutes with all the kicking around it got under their hard offshore sailing courses. It was nice to do something that contributed positively to their lives by simply giving them one less job to do.

We have seen a few examples of custom work. What products have you designed and are there any limits to what you can create?

-I believe that ever since we could pick up a pretty shell or flower thousands of years ago and give it away simply to make someone happy, have we  been able to see form and design. And that there is pride and beauty in turning a piece of wood or metal into something that is not only beautiful, but has a purpose and a function in daily life.

A wooden spoon or a cutlery drawer. A folding dockstep that doubles as a shoe box, (a client asked me to build one, so it wasn’t my own design, but god knows did it take figuring out how to build! I had to reinvent the wheel)

This collapsible deck step doubles as a shoebox. One of many custom builds by Adams Boat Care in Sweden.

Another client has a damaged hip so we built a portable dockstep so she can move around and hang off any part of her boat and climb off easily and safely, this is a big seller and we build the step to suit just your boat as all models vary.

Most of us are getting up there in age so handy light weight aids just help us spend more time at sea.

There are no limits to what we can build and that’s what makes us so popular. A factory like Hallberg Rassy doesn’t have the time or the money to put a team on custom work. For Adams Boat Care this is our bread and butter. I am an artist and love doing technical drawings and turning ideas into real tangible functioning objects. This is the best feeling in the world!

Put it this way; our Viking fathers didn’t just build boats, they pimped the shit out of them with Dragon heads and bright stripes and squirmy bits everywhere, they knew how to dress up their boats to impress the ladies and fiercest of foes!

Products we make are on customers demand we then put them on our webpage to stimulate new ideas, custom Ipad holder with drink holder built in, drink holders of all shapes and sizes, a binocular holder for that exclusive odd pair of binoculars you just had to buy but don’t know where to put? Foldable extension tables for extra guests up in the cockpit: you name it, we make it.

We have been talking to a few of your customers and they are very happy and satisfied with not only the quality of your work, but also the sense of friendliness and customer care. What is the secret behind this exemplary customer experience you manage? 

-This is always so nice to hear! I think customers pick up on the passion that we have. It is not only building bits on boats for customers and trying to make some money, but the fact that we are a very import part of their own personal adventure and that makes our work exiting.

There’s a quote I love from the Slocum society I keep in my wallet; “In an age when mass society has rendered obsolete the qualities of individual courage and independent thought, oceans of the world still remain, vast and uncluttered, beautiful and unforgiving, awaiting those who will not submit. Their voyages are not an escape but a fulfilment.” I don’t think there is a secret other than simply to do what you love doing. Customers pick up on this quickly as it’s their dreams we are dealing with.

How does the season look like? Any free allotments for 2018/19/20?

-We are fully booked! We can help with sail by work in the harbour but my heated sheds are full for the winter. There’s some space 19/20.

Many are certainly wondering how much for example a new teak deck will cost. Say on a 35 footer in need of stripping the old and putting on a new one?

-It all depends on the number of square meters on the 35 footer as they vary. With Vakuum Teak i Väst’s exclusive vacuumed 12mm teak this teak has an 8mm deep caulking groove, so you have about 30 percent more life before you run out of teak decking compared to our competitors. You should estimate from 150 000 SEK and upwards.

A piece of 12mm teak with 8mm groove. Photo by: Daniel Novello

A piece of 12mm teak with 8mm groove. Photo by: Daniel Novello

Maintaining your yacht is not only a vanity issue, but also about safety. What are, in your opinion, the issues sailors tend to forget in yacht ownership? 

Absolutely! Safety is most important! We have divided up our refit program to try and cover three areas: a) safety b) comfort and c) style.

Yachts and sailing up until recently have been a primarly male dominated. Sailors who want to sail around the world offshore with their families tend to forget that to do this, they need their partners on board too. Owning a boat is very much a woman’s place as well. This is where the style and comfort comes in, the creature comforts of home. Nice cosy lighting is so easy these days to light up dark cold areas, low sexy lights in the cabins for romance for example. A sailor’s dream come true!

Women at sea of course means also the family budget is behind your boat. Any real man knows he’s shot in the water without his wife’s blessing.

One thing I don’t understand is why men don’t let their wives take the helm when they come into harbour and as the bigger and stronger of the two he does all the hard work! All that unnecessary tension and fear! Send your wives to sailing school, get them to take off shore certificates in sailing, skippering and medicine and you have an invincible team for offshore sailing. Getting Mum on board also means the kids come along too and before you know it you are off cruising! The world is full of disappointed divorced men that forgot what was most important in yacht ownership, their wives.

What would be the oddest request from a customer?

- It is hard to even fantasise about this as anything is possible and I don’t want to jinx us by uttering any limits for Adams Boat Care!

This question does bring to mind one request however and it was so odd, and the reasons were so bizarre that I refused to do it. An owner of a very large boat wanted me to paint all his beautiful hand crafted varnished teak furniture in his crew quarters grey and even take out the Corian basin and replace it with a cold metal one. When I refused to do this because I thought he was ruining the value of his boat, he got angry and said it was because he didn’t spend all his life making all his money so that his captain and crew could laze about in luxury. He wanted them to jump when he rang his bell.

Some jobs you just don’t need to do. This request took away the quality of life. Not something I was willing to be a part of.

Thanks to the Carl, Anna and the rest of the Adams Boat Care family for sharing all the stories and knowledge with us!

If you are considering a refit, small or large do get in touch with Adams Boat Care

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