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Linwood Parker III
When Linwood Parker talks about his days as a boy on Harkers Island, North Carolina, he thinks of boats. He remembers watching boats being built out of necessity in this fishing community along the Atlantic, and during those years, Linwood Parker made a lot of mental notes. After returning to Harkers Island after college, Linwood built a 25-foot boat out of juniper and sold it. He took that money and bought materials to build a 38 footer. And then a 55 footer. Soon, it became clear to the young boat builder there was a future in boats and North Carolina. Today Parker Marine Enterprises, with 150 employees in Beaufort, builds 18-28 foot boats for the recreational fisherman.
You grew up knowing you wanted to build boats didn't you?
I did. I had the advantage of seeing many boats built during my childhood. I watched boats being built from concept through completion. Since it was a small town, I'd hear all the critiques of every boat that was built. I had the opportunity to observe what performed well and what performed better.
So, as a result, you knew the design that was going to work best?
I knew you had to have different designs for different uses. I knew that our first boat needed to plane on small power and that meant a modified "V" hull. And I also wanted to have larger fuel capacity so the boat would have a longer range. As you look at the side profile of our boat today versus the first Parker, you will see they are very similar. The bottom design of the current model tends to be more in the "deep V" category since the objective now is to obtain a soft ride as well as a dry ride.
Is Parker ever going to build an inboard model?
No plans to do it in the future. We've done it in the past but I tend to think we'll stay with the outboard design. It frees cockpit space and with the new technology for outboards comes better fuel consumption and attention to environmental issues.
You build boats up to 28 feet. Are there plans for more designs?
Yes, I've had the plug (the precursor to the actual mold) for a 31-foot boat for the past eleven years and haven't put it in production yet. We are unsure of the timing for its production.
We've just gone through a winter and spring with high gas prices. Does that worry you?
Sure it does. But there is an offsetting factor in what happened this year: The economy was strong. I've seen evidence of trouble when the prime rate goes above 10%. If it goes to 15%, and we've also witnessed that too, then everything stops as well as all plans for the introduction of new products. Or if we have a combination of a slowing economy and the price of gas going above $2/gallon, along with a rising prime rate, then there is reason for worry.
What is the biggest issue facing the boat-building industry today?
Our industry isn't unique. We are working hard to be more efficient. Our margins are squeezed but we still put out a good product. The biggest concerns facing business today are government-regulatory issues. Being reactionary, as government regulators are, we have to march to that drummer. I think the industry has a prime responsibility to show there is a happy medium.
What will a Parker in the year 2020 be like?
There are a lot of things under development right now. Fiberglass is replacing wood but when installed properly, there is not a better product out there than wood. Boats are subjected to repeated stresses that you don't see in sports utility vehicles. The oceans are a hostile environment. I think on-board electronics like a fishfinder or a GPS will be standard rather than accessories. And it will add another dimension of safety. I think steering won't be done with cables or hydraulics as now but, instead, through electric wires. It will be more dependable and responsive.
There are always problems associated with making certain a particular model boat fits safely on a trailer. Might we see a boat builder and trailer builder team up together?
It certainly makes sense but the logistics would make it tough. To ship the boat in combination on trailers from our factory would add to the freight charges. This is something that would need to be addressed at the dealer level.
We hear discussions every day about whether boaters should be required to take a Power Squadron or Coast Guard Auxiliary class before going out on the water. What's your opinion?
Boating accidents are not, in the majority of cases, the result of a lack of education or knowledge. It is purely a lack of common sense. Whether or not a class is taken, in many cases, alcohol is the main contributing factor. The paperwork and the bureaucracy involved in tracking who has or who hasn't taken a class, as well as the administering of the policy is going to make boating more expensive and will not solve the problem. Before the government is involved, my preference would be the involvement of the private sector. For those who need instruction boating safety classes by the Power Squadron or the Coast Guard Auxiliary can be taken. Buyers could be asked about their experience by the dealer. If they feel a class would be beneficial, the dealer can suggest local groups offering boating instruction. Keep it away from the government.