Two images come to mind when I think about Eliminator Boats, a custom performance-boat company I’ve covered for more than 15 years.
The first is of the inside of my eyelids—call it blackness—as I ride next to Powerboat magazine test team driver Bob Teague in a 25-foot Eliminator Daytona catamaran at 144 mph. It wasn’t just the scariest boat ride of my life—hence my closed eyes—it was the scariest moment of my life, and that includes the three malfunctions I had in the 1,000 skydives I did before I came to my senses and hung up my parachute.
When I opened my eyes and discovered I was still alive, and then looked at the number on the radar gun in my sweaty hands, I swore I would never again do another stupid-fast boat ride, even if I was getting paid for it. (Of course, since then I’ve been the co-pilot in a lot of stupid-fast boat rides for Powerboat, yet none have been in a boat that small going that fast.)
From that moment on, whenever I thought about Eliminator, the word “speed” came to mind. And I got goose bumps.
Flash forward several years, to my second image of Eliminator. I am standing behind photographer Robert Brown in the office of Bob Leach, the founder and owner of Eliminator Boats. Brown has lit the office for portrait photography.
In the process of researching my upcoming Powerboat magazine profile of Leach, I’ve learned that several leading West Coast custom boat builders refer to him as “The Godfather” of West Coast custom boating. So I’ve asked Leach to don a tux ala Don Corleone for a photo shoot inspired by a poster for the movie, “The Godfather.” Leach, ever the good sport, is game, and the photo of him in his tux with his stunning daughter, Brandi, leaning toward him, graces the opening spread for the story.
From that moment on, whenever I thought about Eliminator, and more specifically Bob Leach, the word “class” came to mind. I’m not talking about the kind of stuffy elitist posing adopted to mask massive insecurity in the face of considerable success. I’m talking about the kind of class it takes to lighten up, to have a sense about yourself, and to engage in a silly photo shoot for a national magazine.
So it’s safe to say I have an attachment to Eliminator Boats and, more specifically, Bob Leach. That’s why the company’s Chapter 11 Restructuring, which I learned of earlier this month, hit me hard. Truth be told, it slammed me. It left me as shaky and disoriented as I was after that 144-mph ride in the 25’ Daytona.
“It’s not anything we like doing, but on the other hand the option not to do it is fatal,” Leach told me. “I would rather pay everybody every dollar we owe, but it’s just not in the cards at the moment.
“Believe me, if I had my choice I would pay everybody,” Leach continued. “But I don’t have it. I have liquidated everything I own personally to maintain us and get to where we are.”
Leach, who added that simply going out of business was “not even on the table at this point,” said his restructuring plan will be reviewed by the court. There is a strong chance that the company will return to its former headquarters in nearby Mira Loma. According to Leach, outside investment in the company remains “a distinct possibility.”
In its biggest year, Eliminator built more than 300 boats across its Daytona catamaran and Eagle V-bottom lines. But with the recession of the last three years, those numbers plummeted dramatically. Compounding the problem for Eliminator was that the company had, shortly before the downturn, opened a new facility in Perris Valley, Calif.
During its 30-plus years in business, Eliminator led and influenced the entire West Coast custom market. Noted builders Dave Hemmingson of Dave’s Custom Boats and John West of Ultra Custom Boats even worked for the company before striking out on their own.
The question is: If Eliminator Boat has to file Chapter 11 just to survive, what does the future hold for other West Coast custom builders? The healthiest outfit at this point appears to be Dave’s Custom Boats, but most others are struggling. In fact, most are in survival mode.
Despite what is the most difficult time in Leach’s life, he remains optimistic, even upbeat.
“There’s a lot of interest in our new 27 Speedster, and we’ll be looking at building some other new models as well,” said Leach. “I ‘interview’ everyone who comes through the door, and 80 percent of them are saying their businesses are picking up. So that’s the good news.”
So once again, I think of class. And I get goose bumps all over again.
Bi-weekly columnist Matt Trulio is the editor at large for Powerboat magazine. He has written for the magazine since 1994. Trulio’s daily blog can be found on speedonthewater.com, a site he created and maintains, which is the high-performance arm of the BoaterMouth group.