C.A. Surdyke and Company

The interior upgrade experts

26th June 2001.
By Chris Caswell

If you’ve owned your present boat for a few years, you’ve probably reached the point where some of the problems and shortcomings are becoming major irritants. But, if you’ve been out looking at new boats, you may have a waterborne version of the “sticker shock” suffered by new car buyers. Is there a way to keep the good features of your boat while removing the problem areas?

C.A. Surdyke & Co. thinks so. The largest yacht interior design firm in the United States, they specialize strictly in the upgrading of power and sail yachts. The company handles everything from a basic redecorating project to a major reconstruction such as the Feadship described here.

“Why is it,” asks Jim Surdyke, project manager for the company, “that the same people who enjoy the interior of a German luxury car, a Herman Miller office system in their place of business, or a home straight out of “Architectural Digest,” have to accept a sub-standard boat interior? We’ve set out to change the thinking that says it can’t be comfortable if it floats.”

Surdyke, whose wife Carol Ann founded the company, believes that the age of the recycleable yacht has arrived. “In the last 25 years, most changes have not been in the hull or propulsion systems, but in the interiors,” he says. Products that weren’t even available in the mid-1960s are now considered standard equipment on new yachts and, to remain current, must be retro-fitted to older yachts.

Even if you don’t own a boat that you want to upgrade, you still might want to know about the company services because, as Jim Surdyke points out, “All over the United States, there are literally thousands of boats for sale that are in good condition but can’t find a buyer because the interior looks like a l950s motel room.” Buy one at the right price, upgrade the interior, and you have essentially a custom yacht which will recoup all of the costs at resale.

One Surdyke customer is an example of just that philosophy. He was considering a 57-foot offshore trawler that was well built and well equipped, but the interior was a major drawback. Sadly lacking in decor, it also had problems with space planning and human engineering. C.A. Surdyke was called in to see what could be done and, after suggesting and estimating a remodeling, the yacht was purchased. At the Surdyke shipyard on Seattle’s Lake Union, the interior was completely redesigned. The pilothouse received a new helm layout and raised settee as well as a slide-out leather desk on top of the chart table for use as an office. The saloon, which was overpowered by an immense bar (Jim Surdyke laughs that the yacht seated four and drank 80), was gutted and refurbished into a modern and comfortable area for entertaining and lounging.

In another case, the owner of a vintage wooden Grand Banks 42 had looked at new boats but, after 20 years of satisfied ownership, still preferred the GB-42. Delivered to Surdyke, the facelift gave the yacht an expanded helm that incorporated radar, sonar and ham radio, a cleverly designed settee that increased the seating capacity while taking up less space, and more stowage. The galley was improved with modern appliances such as trash compactor and disposal, the counter was upgraded with larger sink and stowage, and better lighting was installed throughout.

To achieve the result, the interior was stripped completely (the headliner had literally disintegrated from age) and, because the teak veneer bulkheads were tired, Surdyke recovered them in a luxurious but sturdy vinyl fabric. Before starting the reconstruction, the entire interior was carefully scrubbed and then painted with mildew preventive paints to provide another 20 years of easy upkeep. The result was a modern and usable interior in a yacht which the owner wanted to keep.

But why do you need a company such as C.A. Surdyke to handle something that you can probably sub-contract on your own. Jim Surdyke grins at the memory of owners who have tried to upgrade their yachts in that fashion. “First, you have to find quality tradesmen in a variety of different specialties, and then you have to assume that they will work well together and communicate their needs to get the project done on time. And then there is the unexpected. One owner started a simple redecorating job but his workmen found rot around the cabin windows, which led to removing all the window valances, pulling out the headliner, removing interior bulkheads, disconnecting the wiring and plumbing, unhooking the air conditioning, and removing the insulation. Suddenly, it was a completely different project.”

On another yacht where the owner attempted to coordinate the rebuild, he approved a minimum cost plywood for the bulkheads. But when the wallcovering specialist arrived, he found that more than 200 hours of hand preparation would be required before he could install his surfaces because the plywood was so cheap. As Jim Surdyke notes, “That’s a case where a few dollars in savings in one area cost thousands of dollars in another area. Any complex project needs good management.”

There are three general categories of upgrade work for C.A. Surdyke: redecorating, restyling, and rebuilding. If you’re merely duplicating what already exists by fixing it, that is maintenance and repair. If the nature of the project involves changes in the interior design, then you’re doing restyling or rebuilding. For example, if you replace a generator, you don’t need anyone with a design background but if you put in a larger generator, you are beyond simple maintenance. You need to consider design modifications, center of gravity, ventilation, electrical loads, and much more. Redecorating

According to Jim Surdyke, “Any pre-1982 yacht that has not been redecorated will look prematurely old. To retain its value, a yacht should be redecorated every three to six years depending upon how much use and how trendy the design is.” He points out that there was a four year fad in the early 1980s toward mauve interiors, which are now so common that they’ve lost any uniqueness and should be redone.

The typical redecorating list for a Surdyke project might include new headliner, carpeting, upholstery, window and wall treatments, ceramic tiles for the galley and heads, and even coordinated accessories such as towels and bedspreads.

The company recommends against any “half-way” projects, noting that a partial redecoration results in two things happening. First, the new decor shows how bad the original is and, second, the original decor detracts from the new and the entire effect is diminished.

Restyling

According to Jim Surdyke, “Any time the boat doesn’t support the lifestyle of the owner, you need a restyling, and a good example is the galley. A few years ago, there was no space allotted for microwave, trash compactor, food processing center, or even ice maker. Those items are considered standard equipment today and, if you have them at home, you should have them aboard.”

Boats built in the mid-1970s are good candidates for restyling, and another area to be considered is the master stateroom, where twin berths were once the norm and modern yachts now feature walk-around queen or king beds.

Rebuilding

C.A. Surdyke recommends this for yachts that are 20 or more years old. In most yachts of this vintage, the ships systems are outdated, the wiring and plumbing is inadequate and the styling needs to be modernized.

The prime areas are often the helm stations, which were rarely built to handle the array of navigation and communication systems available today, or even to include the instrumentation used on modern engines.

“Other than certain classics such as Feadships, Burgers or Trumpys, most pre-1960 yachts are not candidates for rebuilds where one criteria is to recoup the investment, primarily because their style is too dated,” Jim Surdyke cautions. If return on investment is not a major factor, then there are a variety of suitable yachts to upgrade, with good seagoing hulls and classic lines that lend themselves to such a project.

Devon, a 1960 66-foot Feadship is the result of one such rebuilding project by C.A.Surdyke. Extensive design work and engineering resulted in the addition of a deckhouse saloon that looks like it has always been there. Stretching the house aft from the former pilothouse, the company milled wood to metric sizes to exactly match the original Feadship joinery, even in areas that were out of sight.

The new saloon was intended as a lounge area, which freed the former deckhouse saloon for use as a dining area, and the deckhouse galley was then doubled in size and fully modernized. The master stateroom was enlarged with a new walk-around bed surrounded by beautifully finished bureaus and a vanity, while the guest staterooms received similarly fresh treatments. The pilothouse, which was showing its age, was completely renovated with a modern instrument panel, electronics, and systems. While the other work was taking place, the aging electrical wiring was replaced with a 110-volt DC system drawing off a huge bank of batteries. All of the yachts electrics can now run for four days continuously, yet the battery charge will only be reduced by 30 percent, a result of careful engineering.

Founded eight years ago by Carol Ann Surdyke, the company has reworked yachts ranging from a 36-foot Uniflite to a 95-foot Westport. At first, she worked as a conventional interior designer for yachts, specifying the colors, materials and changes to be made, which the yacht owner would then take to a shipyard for the actual work. But she soon found that the shipyards would often cut corners or talk the owner out of some aspects of the design, resulting in an emasculated effort that didn’t meet her exacting standards.

At that point, C.A. Surdyke & Co. moved into a position of not just design work, but of supervising the actual work in the shipyard both to relieve the owner of that responsibility as well as to insure that it was carried out as designed. But that resulted in either tension or indifference by the shipyards, which wanted to cut costs and minimize the difficulties, even if it meant changing the design.

So three years ago, the company decided to regain control of their projects by literally doing everything in-house. Jim Surdyke, with a background as a project engineer, supervises a team of 30 specialists in areas such as upholstery, joinery, electronics, electrical systems, and engineering. A team of engineers using sophisticated computer design programs handle the details of all hull or deck modifications, which are then executed in the compact facility on the Seattle waterfront.

What’s next for this growing company? In addition to a variety of interesting upgrades on older yachts, they have also expanded into the design and construction of interiors for new yachts. Builders of large yachts would rather have specialists such as Surdyke handle the details of arrangements, fabrics and colors while they concentrate on their primary business, which is the actual construction of the yacht.

The end result is that C.A. Surdyke does it all: upgrades yachts for their present owners, helps new buyers improve the yachts they find on the market, and creates new yacht interiors as well.


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