Carl Herndon is best known as the founder and CEO of Blackfin Yacht Corp. and the former president of Bertram Yachts. Today Herndon, who is 65, is president of Jupiter Marine International in Palmetto on Florida’s west coast. He bought the company in 1998. The Jupiter team includes many of the same managers and craftsmen who have worked with Herndon through the years, plus several family members. Jupiter has built center console fishing boats exclusively since its inception, but last year the company introduced its first express model: the Jupiter 39 Express.
Q: How and when did you get into the marine industry?
A: I got into the marine industry probably in the early ’60s, starting with a company called Challenger Marine, and I’ve been in the business ever since.
Q: How would you describe the boats you’ve designed and built over the years?
A: I would classify them as functional, durable. Our belief has always been to build a very rugged boat that will stand the test of time. We have resisted weight-saving devices that in some cases have turned disastrous. We have resisted such things as cored bottoms and things of that nature, which we don’t believe in. So we’ve tried to stay with the traditional type of boat, which actually makes the boat a little heavy but durable. I can say that some of earlier boats that we built in the early ’70s are still around and are still commanding resale values of four and five and six times what the boat sold for originally.
Q: What is your favorite?
A: It’s hard to pick a favorite. I spent most of my time on the Blackfins because I had that company for 25 years, and I spent most of my time on the 33 and then the 38. I liked those kind of boats. But, of course, now I have a renewed respect for the outboard product line. So now I’m headed off in a different direction.
Q: Did you grow up around boats?
A: I was born and raised in Miami, and I got my first job at a marina in North Miami, building boats there. I have been boating and fishing and around boatyards my entire life.
Q: Are your boats focused on multi- or single-purpose use?
A: Well, we’ve always tried to design our boats to be as versatile as possible. We advertise the boat as a sport-fishing boat, but we have an awful lot of customers that use the boat for cruising, for diving, for entertaining. So we try to make a boat that is versatile and not single-purpose.
Q: How has the boating industry changed in the past 20 years?
A: We’ve seen a lot of technology and sophistication. I think the boats have gotten a lot better from the standpoint of reliability, quality. We’re seeing a little more family-oriented products. More and more boats are adding amenities so it can be a family sport. I think that’s probably the direction it will keep going.
Q: How has Jupiter Marine grown over the years, and where does it stand now?
A: I got involved in Jupiter in ’98. After I got out of the inboard business and the sportfishing business, I basically retired for a couple of years. I got bored, though, and decided to get back in it. I saw the technology of the outboards, as far as the 4-strokes and higher horsepower, and I perceived that the outboard was going to take over the small-boat [sportfish] market. So I developed my interest in the outboard product line and developed my boats around the availability of the motors that were being produced.
Q: Does the Jupiter work force consist of many employees who used to work with you at Bertram and/or Blackfin?
A: For the first 10 years, all of the employees had worked for me at Blackfin or Bertram because [Jupiter]was located in Fort Lauderdale. When we moved over to Palmetto, I did lose some of the employees. But the entire management staff moved over from the other coast, and about 10 percent of the others. But, fortunately, this area has a lot of renowned boatbuilders, and we were able to develop a good, quality work force. They’re different people, but equally experienced.
Q: What’s important in a boat for today’s buyer?
A: I would say there are three things: value, value and value. What we are seeing is not buyers who want the best or more expensive [boat], or the guy who wants the cheapest. People in our market are willing to spend for a very fair price for what they perceive as the best value. I think they are looking at reliability and resale value, and how do they protect their investment? This is the direction we go for with our products. We haven’t had a price increase in 2-1/2 years, and we continue to improve the processes and materials to the point where we can maintain the highest quality and still give the customer value.
Q: You recently introduced your first express-style fishing boat. Why did you make the jump to an express when you previously had built only center consoles?
A: It was the request of customers— Jupiter customers who started out in center console boats. They wanted something with overnight accommodations. I had customers coming out and saying, “When are you coming out with an express?” And, of course, at the boat shows I had a lot of my Blackfin customers saying, “We really like the stuff you do — why don’t you come out with something like a traditional sportfish.” They wanted the amenities for overnighting and running out to the canyons and over to the islands. There’s a market there, and we wanted to try and broaden our base.
Q: Can you sum up the purpose or mission of the 39 Express?
A: To provide the ability to be able to go farther and stay longer. It has a place for overnighting and a place to fix dinner and that type of thing. So it gives you a lot more range.
Q: Do you see Jupiter building additional express boats?
A: We hope to have an express for each of our model sizes. Right now we build the 29, the 34 and the 38. We will, over the next couple years, have an express version of the 29 and 34.
Q: What is the future of center console?
A: I just think it’s the most versatile product, and it is easy for an entry level person to get acclimated to. It’s the easiest to dock. You have the best visibility. The concept is timeless. There have been modifications and improvements — for instance, they’ve added heads to the center console. Some of the newer styles have sleeping accommodations. I think we’ll see wider beams, longer lengths, but I think the concept is pretty stable.
Q: With gasoline prices being so volatile, will we see a decrease in the popularity of the deep-vee and an increase in the modified-vee, in the interest of better fuel economy?
A: That’s a hard call. We try to stress the ride of the boat and, of course, the shallower you make the deadrise, the harsher ride you are going to get. So I think it’s a mixed bag. The design depends on the use of the boat. If you’re going offshore to the canyons or the oil rigs, you’re going to want a boat that can run in those conditions pretty fast. And that pretty much dictates a deepvee boat. On the other hand, there are a lot of smaller boats that are used inland that have modified-vee hulls. I don’t see the deep-vee being phased out in our market, which is typically offshore.
Q: In the propulsion arena, some center console builders, such as SeaVee, have introduced pod drives. Will Jupiter test those waters?
A: We don’t have our head in the sand, and I would say that we would test any new technology. We don’t pioneer anything. We don’t want to be the first to have a problem. I sit back and watch and see if this thing is going to work or not work. That [Volvo Penta IPS] pod drive is interesting. I talked to the engineers at the boat shows. We’ve gone through the concepts. I think the concept is extremely interesting. I am a little concerned that it takes a lot of water, a lot of draft. It looks like the propellers are exposed to a lot of debris. It makes me a little nervous. The outboard has adequate propeller protection, and when you get into shallow waters you can trim them. But we sell boats, not engines and power. If that’s what the customer wants, we’ll end up doing it. Right now, it’s wait and see.
Q: You said that a number of your family members work at Jupiter. Do you see an advantage to this?
A: I’m looking forward to retirement one of these days — in about 20 years [laughs]. I have my son running the manufacturing plant. My son-in-law is doing the sales. My wife is doing the marketing, and my daughter is doing the finances. So I think I’ve got all of the bases covered. Right now, in this economy, family businesses have an advantage because we’re all more passionate. We’re going to work harder. We’re going to work longer. We’re going to work for less and do anything necessary to make this business a success. I think that gives us an advantage over the corporate-run companies.
Chris Landry is a staff writer for Soundings Magazine. This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue.