“Oh, you’re young.” – Darrell Allen, Owner/President, Island Packet Yachts
Most prospective buyers of something like a brand new 38 foot sailboat begin with a factory tour, but as it was the summer of 2020, our first introduction to the team at Island Packet Yachts was on Zoom. Darrell seemed pleasantly surprised at how “young” we were. “Leslie,” he said, “you’ve got to meet these people.” Leslie is Darrell’s wife, co-owner and Vice President of IPY, and wearer of multiple hats at the company. We had been referred by a yacht broker, but we would be working directly with the two of them throughout the build and delivery process.
It was Lee who chose Island Packet to build our dream boat. We’d been in the market for a new “yacht” since we sold our old Cheoy Lee ketch. We’d considered other manufacturers, in particular Pacific Seacraft. We were living in Chapel Hill when they moved their manufacturing to North Carolina. We were also intrigued by the concept of the Seaward Yachts, with the retractable keel. It was actually a Seaward dealer who introduced us to Island Packet. The full keel design caught our attention. Our Cheoy Lee had been a full keel boat. Maybe it was the familiarity, or the notions of comfort and safety that the design carries. Or maybe it was the crisp white Island Packet hat that arrived in the mail with the interior wood sample we’d requested. Nice move, Darrell.
It’s no secret that under former ownership, options for a new Island Packet were few. It was quite the Henry Ford – the customer can have the Model T in any color as long as it’s black – kind of mentality. For our build, though, we could choose from lots of options. The rig: Solent. The power: Solar. The main salon layout: Two Captain’s chairs, please and thank you. At my request, they are height-adjustable (I’m 5’3″).
When I asked how wide the bottle slots in the “bar” were, Darrell and Leslie reached out to the Island Packet owners’ group on Facebook. Based on their feedback, the bar cabinet got a redesign to accommodate bottles of different widths. That’s important.
We are only the third model-349 to feature the light maple interior. Make no mistake, this is not the European flat slab and right angle look. Louvered doors, sculpted moldings, and the impeccably constructed sapele and maple cabin sole help maintain the traditional aesthetic. It’s just so light and bright inside the cabin. We selected the classic ivory hull that has become a hallmark of Island Packet Yachts. It’s how we recognize one another on the water.
Construction was slated to begin on Monday, October 5th, 2020. We’d planned a special “birthday” celebration for that evening. In our excitement of selecting the design options, we’d had many calls, texts, and emails with Darrell. The best so far came on Friday, October 2nd. From Darrell: “You can have a toast tonight. We actually started your headliner today.”
Progress photos followed almost weekly, mostly by text. Darrell: “IGU coming out of the mold.” Us: “What’s an IGU?” Answer: it’s the internal grid unit, the skeleton for all of the fiberglass tanks, compartments, and other storage areas that will hold all that we need for weekend trips or longer cruises. The hull layup was fascinating, especially when pictured at about a 90 degree heel angle (hopefully we won’t experience that angle again any time soon).
The lead ballast went into the keel on November 16th. Other sailors have written more eloquently about it, but this method of construction lends to the stability – and durability – of our boat. We marked it as an annual holiday on Google Calendar, because “Ballast Day” sounds like a good name for a holiday.
Soon, the parts started coming together. A crane picked up our deck to connect it to the headliner. Another lowered the IGU into the now righted hull. From my personal journal, December 15th : “This morning Darrell sent a picture of the IGU fully glassed in to the hull. It is truly awesome. We’re starting to recognize the interior of our boat at week 11!” Following that, everything that you don’t see from the exterior or interior of our boat was installed: plumbing, wiring, tanks and gauges, and the all important 45 horse power Yanmar diesel engine. Bulkheads went in, and the interior “rooms” began to take shape. Aft cabin, salon, galley, head, forward cabin.
We were fortunate enough to finally be able to visit to the Island Packet factory in March of 2021. Being that we both work in manufacturing, we were excited to start with a factory tour, until Darrell asked “Don’t you want to meet your boat first?” We approached her from the stern. I admit, standing beneath her hull, I found the sight of the full keel comforting. We walked up the stairs to the decking that surrounded her and looked down into the hull. Dedicated carpenters and electricians were assembling the structure and systems that would become Siar. Their pride in their work was palpable.
One “option” we’d requested was to remove the standard-issue microwave. The carpentry team had mocked up a storage cabinet in it’s place, with two door options from which I could choose. I am thankful for that extra storage space every time we make a pot of coffee aboard Siar.
We continued our tour through the factory until we came to Siar’s deck. The off-white headliner had been fully installed, complete with opening ports and LED light fixtures. “Lee,” I said, “there are so many lights in here!” I climbed up on her deck to inspect the installation in progress of the teak eyebrow rail – another option of my choosing. Impressed by the width of the forward deck, I commented that I’d be able to throw down a yoga mat and train up there. Ever practical, Darrell chimed in, “you know there’s a boom there, right?” Months later in St. Petersburg, I would be proven correct.
The Island Packet factory was not spared the brunt of Covid-19, nor was our build. Crafting a customized sailing yacht that is modern in performance but classic in style requires many individual and highly specialized skills, and these skills are not easily replaced when one person, or even one department, is out sick. By the original schedule, on our visit in mid-March we would have seen the final touches on Siar: interior varnish, cushions and chairs. As it happened, the deck joined the hull about a week after we departed. Incidentally (ok – significantly) the entire interior is built out before the first coat of varnish is applied. A total of 4 coats were applied to all of the interior wood at once, for a noticeably uniform finished appearance. That was only after the entirety of our cabin interior was trimmed out by just one person. One solo, skilled craftsman. Thank you, Donimic, she’s beautiful.
As our revised delivery date approached, Darrell and Leslie had to head up to Ohio to deliver 349 hull number 16. Their YouTube video is worth a watch. Upon returning to Florida, Darrell sent photos of our Siar in a sling, complete with bottom paint, forest green boot stripe, and polished ivory hull. On June 9th, she was loaded onto a truck for the short drive south to Salt Creek Boat Works in St. Petersburg. Once there, she was lowered into the water to undergo rigging. We celebrate June 9th as “Splash Day.”
Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy of Island Packet Yachts