Monday, January 7, 2008

No More Rock and Roll

You may remember the article that appeared in the November issue of PMY entitled, "The End of Rock and Roll." It was about a new, compact (about the size of a beach ball), relatively affordable, high-speed gyro called the Seakeeper (above), which during our tests all but eliminated rolling on a 43-foot Viking convertible. Having been on that boat—in the tuna tower and in a beam sea—I can tell you that the difference this device made was so remarkable, we opined that Seakeeper would change boating forever.

Well, that prediction may come true a lot sooner than we thought. I got a call the other day from Shep McKinney, president of Seakeeper, who informed me that as a direct result of that article, his company had just signed a multimillion-dollar deal to supply gyros to the Azimut-Benetti Group in exchange for an agreement not to sell the units to the Italian builder's direct competitors for the next few years. It's a great deal for Seakeeper because it gives the fledgling company a solid piece of business on which to build, and it's great for Azimut-Benetti because it gives it something none of its competitors will have, at least for now.

I found McKinney's news particularly interesting because immediately after my ride on the Seakeeper-equipped Viking, I called a few builders to tell them that I felt this product was a true game-changer and whatever builder came out with it on their boats first would have a huge advantage over its competitors. Amazingly, I couldn't seem to get anyone excited—except for one guy: Paolo Vitelli, president of Azimut-Benetti.

Vitelli founded Azimut back in 1969, then acquired Benetti in 1985, and has grown the company, which he still owns, into arguably the most successful and profitable boatbuilder in the world. Above all, Vitelli is an entrepreneur who can move more quickly and decisively than a lot of other builders. It was that nimbleness that allowed him to nail down Seakeeper while his competitors were still just thinking about it. I'm predicting that his quick decision will translate into huge profits for his company over the term of the agreement. Just wait and see how he exploits the advantage of selling boats that don't rock and roll. A lot of builders are going to be trying to figure a way to avoid Seakeeper's patents.

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