My History with Selene

By John Clayman

In early May of 1998, I was working in Ted Hood’s Design Office and also managing the design, engineering, and construction of his Little Harbor WhisperJet 44 as well as being responsible for new business development. He received a call from his boyhood friend and frequent shipmate, Brad Noyes. They had enjoyed sailing together including in the America’s Cup, a raft of ocean races, and on numerous cruises aboard countless yachts they each owned over the years. The conversation among the septuagenarians went something like this: 

Brad: Hey Ted, I’m getting a new boat.

Ted: What are you getting now Brad?

Brad: A Solo 47 trawler designed by Harvey Halvorsen which is going to be built in a yard in China that has never built a boat before. (Of course, the alarm bells should have been sounding.)

Ted: How much? That’s cheap! (Ever the Yankee) I’ll get hull two.

Harvey Halvorsen, a descendant from Danish boat builders who emigrated to Australia was an old hand in China where he had his Island Gypsy line of boats built. His plan was to have the 43’ and 47’ Solo Trawlers built at the new Jet-Tern Marine shipyard in Dogguan an industrial city on the Pearl River Delta and to distribute them through his well- established Island Gypsy dealer network. 

Building boats was the dream of young Howard Chen, who was Taiwanese and had worked in the industry there. He had convinced his family to allow him to set up shop on the Dongguan campus where their factory had thousands of employees manufacturing stainless steel silverware for many of the leading brands worldwide. This seemed like a fantastic opportunity for Halvorsen to get the Solos built at a cost well below that of his competitors. With Howard’s enthusiasm and his family’s financial support, what could possibly go wrong?

Ted Hood's SOLO 47-01 SEA ROBIN
Ted Hood’s SOLO 47-01 SEA ROBIN

Ted ordered the first two Solo 47’s in May of 1998 directly from Halvorsen. A few months later in September, Ted and I were on a two-week tour of the Pacific Rim looking for additional manufacturing capacity, as we were maxed out in Rhode Island. Between New Zealand and Taiwan, we decided to stop in for a brief visit at Jet-Tern to meet Howard and see the facility. Coincidentally, while we were scheduled to be there the first hull molded by the yard was going to be released from the mold. We were on the mezzanine of the brand-new shed with all of Howard’s workers in starched uniforms standing in military formation as the hull was released. Ted, who was a self-taught boat genius, and I with my training in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering at MIT had the same reaction. It appeared to us there was insufficient buoyancy aft. In order to be able to offer a 43’ and 47’ models, Halvorsen had the yard dam the aft end of the hull mold for the 43’ which we had just seen. We were not overly concerned as we had ordered the full-length 47’s . After only a few hours at the yard we were on our way to Taiwan through Hong Kong.

One of the hallmarks of Ted’s remarkable career as the world’s leading sailmaker, prolific yacht designer with more than 1,500 of his boats built, yacht builder, inventor of in mast and in boom furling and countless other innovations was that he was never satisfied with the status quo. Over the next few months Ted drew interior joinery details typical of his Little Harbor sailing and power yachts. Rather than planning on installing active fin stabilizers when the Solos arrived at his yard in Portsmouth, RI, Ted drew a pair of asymmetrical center boards to dampen roll. Other than that, we really were not directly involved in the Solos. In March of 1999, Ted and I returned for a half-day visit to Jet-Tern. By that time the first Solo 47 was molded and work was progressing on Solo 43-01. While aboard with Howard, Ted noticed the teak cap rail which was being landed on the bulwarks was rectangular in section. Ted grabbed an offcut of teak and with his ubiquitous pencil drew the proper camber explaining to Howard: Mill the teak like this…the cap rail will be friendly to the touch, hold varnish and shed water…and that became the template for the cap rails of all future Solos and later Selenes.

Near the end of October, Solo 43-01 arrived at Halvorsens’s Fort Lauderdale Island Gypsy dealership. Upon inspection, the dealer rejected the boat. Shortly thereafter, Brad Noyes came up from his winter home at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo. Brad immediately phoned me and declared the boat a disaster and said he was out. The next day I flew to Fort Lauderdale and came to the same conclusion. I called Ted and shared my opinion and to my surprise Ted responded: “I don’t want to hurt Howard…we’ll keep our position and take Brad’s boat too.” Whereupon I replied, “Are you crazy…you want two of these crappy boats?”

I suspect Ted’s rationale was that he wanted to explore yacht building opportunities in China which in 1999 was still in its infancy, much as it was in Taiwan in the early 1970’s. Ted’s first boats were built in Marblehead, Massachusetts in his first yard. He then had some lovely wood sailing yachts built in Japan where labor was inexpensive in the late 1950’s, to his design including one that got him on the cover of TIME Magazine. He then shifted to the Netherlands where he had a number of Little Harbor sailing yachts built in steel and later in closed cell foam cored FRP. In fact, he designed the first foam cored yachts ever built. By the 1970’s he had shifted production to Taiwan first with some contractors and then with his own yard. So perhaps Ted really knew what he was doing by accepting the first two Solo 47’s.

Selene 57 wheelhouse in ice
Selene 57 wheelhouse in ice

The week before Christmas 1999, our first Solo 47 was due to arrive as deck cargo in Port Elizabeth, NJ. I was understandably worried about what sort of issues we would find aboard the boat, so my crew included one of mechanics. As soon as the ship docked, we were allowed aboard to prepare her for launching after retrieving the key from the captain. While unpacking her and waiting our turn, containers were whizzing by overhead. We attached the starting battery cables and bumped the engine because as soon as the boat hits the water, we were required to get underway without any possibility of lying alongside the pier. While passing Staten Island on the Kill Van Kull, I asked my crew to take a look in the engine room because I could not get the boat past 4 knots. He came up quickly and noted the wrong gearbox was on the engine, so the prop was turning at half speed. Instead of being a 24 hour trip, we were now looking at two days nonstop which meant we would be arriving Portsmouth, RI in a blizzard. Keep in mind we had no electronics except for a handheld VHF, no heat, nor hot food. Thankfully, there was a compass mounted in the wheelhouse, but it had not yet been checked for deviation. Fortunately, I am skilled at dead reckoning and we had an uneventful trip arriving at Little Harbor on a Saturday morning covered in snow. Ted came down to greet us and to see the boat calling me an old salt. To which I replied sarcastically, “That was lot of fun.”

On Monday morning we hauled her out and after surveying her had to spend the winter rebuilding her to make her usable. Ted’s twin asymmetric centerboards did dampen the roll somewhat but were not satisfactory, although a noble experiment. Later in the spring we removed the centerboards and installed active fin stabilizers using a Naiad system but substituted the controls with a three-term system from Koopnautic in Holland. Later, this impressed the techs from Naiad…enough that Naiad bought Koopnautic to get their control system.

A few months later Solo 47-02 arrived and she also required almost a total rebuild. By now even at our costs, we were into these boats for several hundreds of thousands of dollars of warranty work. However, Halverson would not acknowledge any responsibility. I recall clearly when Ted called me into his office and asked me what I was going to do about our losses. My knee jerk reaction was to respond…Ted, this was your idea! But of course, I bit my tongue and responded…I guess I’m going back to China.

Shortly thereafter, I met with Howard and suggested he should divorce himself from Halvorson if he ever wanted to achieve any success in the industry. 

“You funded the tooling, so just pay him whatever he wants for the design rights to the Solo 43 & 47. We will help you to improve the designs and engineering and work with you to become a much better builder. I will also specify the right equipment,” 

I told Howard and then noted that the Solo brand was already tainted, which is what lead to the creation of the Selene brand.”

Over the next several years, I was at the Jet-Tern yard every month and in the interim period I left a different tradesman from Ted’s Little Harbor yard in RI. We also did some of the drawings in RI using Jet-Tern’s drafting style to assist with new designs. I had heard from trawler buyers that boats from the clear market leader Nordhavn seemed too industrial and that Kadey-Krogens seemed a bit staid. My goal was for the Selenes to be much more elegant than the competition and to offer more thoughtful, refined features while maintaining or exceeding their quality of construction and engineering. To assist with this effort, we arranged for our carpentry foreman from Ted’s Little Harbor Taiwan to move to Jet-Tern. This is why the Selene joinery stands head and shoulders above the competition.

It was not straight-line progress because it was China. It was more like two steps forward and one back. It helps to realize in those days, skilled Chinese yacht builders were few and far between. As with most manufacturing companies, the work force came from hundreds of miles away from the coast. Workers were only able to return home once a year for a week to celebrate the lunar new year. The staff lived on campus in dorms and were provided with three meals a day. It was a long workday with a break for a structured exercise period. It was not easy training farmers to build yachts so the first few years despite our best efforts at the yard we still had to do a lot of rework in RI. Over time, Selenes improved, and I am very proud of what we accomplished. This was in no small measure due to Howard’s determination and hard work, along with the financial backing of his family. In testimony to the success of the project, Selenes took a very significant amount of market share from Nordhavn and Kadey-Krogen. Perhaps the best compliment was that Brad Noyes returned to the fold and had us design and build a highly customized Selene 48 for him in 2004.

We brought both Solo 47-01 & 02 to the Newport Boat Show and a few weeks later brought Solo 47-01 to the Solomons, MD Trawler Fest to introduce them to the East Coast. Because Howard had a limited understanding of the American market and no sea time aboard a Selene, I asked him to attend the Trawler Fest and to join me and my crew on the return trip to RI. We departed Sunday evening from Solomons and ran nonstop for 40 hours to Portsmouth, RI. I had Howard on my watch to get better acquainted and to share with him my thoughts about the first 47. While passing along the Connecticut shore, for a time we were running alongside a typical wood fishing trawler about 50.’ It inspired me to redraw the lines of the 47 with more volume amidships for increased tankage, more engine room headroom, and to alter the prismatic coefficient. It took quite some time for Howard to fully embrace my idea. As a first step, the hull molds were adjusted slightly and a few years later the line was retooled with the so-called Deep Hull version. These boats have proven to be far more desirable than the earlier boats. I also pushed Howard to create the first Selene 48, which followed the Selene 53. We used the hull tooling from the Selene 47 and made the swim platform part of the canoe body of the hull to increase the sailing length for more speed and also more buoyancy aft. All new deck tooling was made with a flybridge that offered the same advantages as that of the Selene 53 where the flybridge bumped out fully covering the side decks. This allowed room for a comfortable dinette, BBQ, wetbar,  and more. Unlike the Solo / Selene 43’s & 47’s which had a mast in a tabernacle and boom for mounting antennas and handling the tender, the Selene 48’s all had a hinged radar arch with the trailing edge of the Bimini attached to it. In the early days, no Selenes had hard tops…just Biminis. I was asked on multiple occasions about offering hardtops but being a sailor who had ridden out at anchor a couple of hurricanes and numerous storms I declined. I felt that a hardtop created a lot of windage that could not be reefed in a blow. However, it’s quite clear that many of you prefer hardtops so I was proven wrong. In fact, the third owner of Selene 53-14 even had a hardtop added at very significant expense.

In the early days, we were the East Coast distributors and Friday Harbor Yachts based north of Seattle had the West Coast, with another distributor based in France. I recall at one time all three of us were at Jet-Tern together. Howard was complaining about our warranty costs relative to the other distributors. I asked the French distributor how their clients used their Selenes. “Mostly as floating condos.” How many hours do they typically do a year? “About 50 hours.” 

I then asked Brian Calvert of Friday Harbor the same question. They usually are never offshore because they enjoy cruising on the Inside Passage and run maybe 250 hours annually. I then explained to Howard that our clients back then were typically highly experienced sailors that often would be underway 500 hours annually. If we finished commissioning a boat in late January or early February and our clients wanted to start in the West Indies, we often delivered the boats offshore in the winter. The boats would get twisted with plenty of green water on deck and we would find any defects and then fix them. Without that sort of use, many of the defects we repaired would remain as latent defects and not be troubling for perhaps some years.

In the early days our Selenes also had different specifications than for the other markets. For example, after Solo 47-02 all of our Selenes had 24 VDC electrical systems whereas the rest of the world clung to 12 VDC for several years.

PassageMaker

As you may know, PASSAGEMAKER Magazine has changed hands a few times since it’s founders Bill & Laurene Parlatore started it in 1995. Bill Parlatore had never been to Asia and I enticed him to join Ted Hood and I in 2003 on a trip to Jet-Tern to write about Selenes. He wrote the longest article ever to appear in the magazine and it certainly helped with our marketing efforts.

On July 22-24, 2005, we held the first East Coast Selene Rendezvous at Ted Hood’s Little Harbor yard in Portsmouth, RI. There were 35 Selenes and 11 owners of boats under construction in attendance. Friday evening, we had a New England clam bake with raw bar followed by a lobster dinner in one of the yard’s cavernous sheds. The following day we cruised in company to Potter’s Cove on Narragansett Bay and then onto Bristol for a catered dinner at the Herreshoff Museum hosted by Halsey Herreshoff himself who reminisced with Ted about yachting in the last century. Sunday, we all had brunch at the New York Yacht Club’s Newport Station Harbour Court.

By the fall of 2005, it was clear Ted was suffering the effects of Alzheimer’s and it was time for me to start Seaton Yachts. Sadly, Ted passed in 2013 and even in a nursing home, he had his beloved drawing board nearby and continued to draw boats.

Since founding Seaton Yachts, we have helped countless folks purchase brokerage Selenes based on our experience. We go to great lengths to keep track of the Selene fleet worldwide be they in Australia, Cyprus, Europe, or our own back yard in North America. We very much enjoy making it as easy as possible for our clients to enjoy their Selenes for as long as they own them. This means help with maintenance, training, deliveries or even cruising advice. I suppose it’s why we have made so many friends amongst Selene afficionados. I’m personally proud of how special Selenes are…it’s been a rewarding journey.

Our brokerage, sales, maintenance, and consulting programs with Selenes now continue as we launch Selene Trawler Ocean Trawler Experts. If you want to know more about Selenes, simply spin some cruising yarns about the boats, or have specific questions or issues we are here to help.

Capt. John Clayman
President 
Seaton Yachts / Selene Ocean Trawler Experts

Newport Shipyard
One Washington Street
Newport, RI 02840 USA
Tel: +1 401-851-2002
Mobile:+1 401-225-2194