A Partial Armchair History of Ericson Yachts

goldenstate

Member III
Blogs Author
I have been working for my own edification, on cobbling together a history of Ericson Yachts. There are several versions floating around the internet and really, it hasn’t been that long since the shop closed. I welcome the input of others to clarify and amplify. Here are some rambling notes. If I have overlooked existing threads on the subject, please let me know.

My boat purchase has made me particularly interested in the 32 foot model, and one reasonably impartial source of reviews for experienced boats is PracticalSailor.com. PS has a good review from 2000 of both of the principal versions of the boat, and in that story suggest:

“The company was formed in 1964 by Don and Gene Kohlman, two San Francisco Bay area sailors who moved south to Irvine, California to set up shop. Their first boats were what Don called “an eclectic line,” meaning they grabbed what they could—a modified Carl Alberg design, a 26-footer by W.B. Crealock and a 32′ 5.5 Meter keel boat similar to the Columbia Sabre of that same time.

The first boats were introduced in 1965. In 1971, the CML Group bought Ericson Yachts and ran it until 1984 when Gene Kohlman bought it back. He and Don managed things until 1990, when they were forced to shut down.”


This story about the Kohlmann brothers starting and then re-purchasing the company seems to have been repeated a few times, as in this article from Yachtworld about the 380. The author also attributes the design of the boat to “Bill King” rather than Bruce King, so there may have been some slap-dashery in the research. Based on other sources, it does not seem like the Kohlmann brothers started Ericson.

I couldn’t find much on-line about Don Kohlmann, but Gene Kohlmann is still around. His LinkedIn profile is here. Apparently, he graduated from Stanford in 1974. If he was 22 then, in 1964 he would have been about 12 when he started Ericson. That doesn’t make sense if Kohlmann’s bio is accurate.

Wikipedia tells a different, potentially more correct version:

Ericson Yachts was founded by Handy and Jenkins in about 1963. They began with molds bought from a defunct builder as well as from an enterprising dump operator. After a year or two of operation, they filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy and were subsequently purchased by Mark Pitman and Del Walton in 1965. During this period yacht designer Bruce King's first production designs were built. They were the E-30, E-32 Scorpion, E-41, E-35-2, and the E-23. In 1968 Ericson was sold to Pacific American Industries, Roland Mayotte Chairman. Mark Pitman stayed on as president, and Del Walton stayed on as VP of sales. The new facility on Deere Ave in Irvine was built by PAI. During this period the E-32-2, E-29, E-39, E-27, and E-46 were built. 1.64 In 1971 Ericson was sold to CML, Charles Leighton Chairman. Mark Pitman left, and Del Walton became president. During this period the E-25, E-37, E-23-2, E-36C, Madcap (custom 40) (Ericson 41 1967-1971 1-50 Hauls 41'Ocean Racer) E-31C/Independence 31,E-34-R/E-34-T, E-30-2/30+ were produced. In 1978 Red Cavaney replaced Del Walton as president. The E-25+/26, E-38/E-381/E-38-200 were produced. In 1981 Eugene Kohlmann replaced Red Caveney as president. The E-35-3/E-34, E-32-3, and the E-28 were produced. In 1985 Ericson was sold by CML to Acquico, Eugene Kohlmann president. In 1990 Ericson ceased operations and liquidated assets. Some of the molds the E-26, E-28, E-32, E-34, E-38, and E-43 (never built) were bought by Pacific Seacraft, a subsidiary of Singmarine Corp.

Pacific Seacraft itself was purchased by Southern Californian businessman Jeffrey Emery in September 1998.


This version seems more plausible. There is another article floating around on an aged Geocities site that is similar to the Wikipedia version, but also includes the notion of the Kohlmann brothers regaining control of the company in 1984.

So, my simplified version:

1963-1970
Startup phase, different private owners trying different things to make sailboats.

1971-1984
Purchase by CML group, corporate ownership, better than average financial backing.

1984-1990
Purchase by Don & Gene Kohlmann who managed the production of the 1985 and later boats that seem to be the focus of most attention at this site.

Who was the CML group? Corporate ownership? That sounds suspiciously like a bunch of bean-counters trying to squeeze money out of noble boaters! CML stood for Charles M. Leighton, who went to Harvard Business School, taught there for a year and then put together a company designed to aggregate multiple smaller companies aimed at the American leisure market.

Still sounds pretty bean-countery, right? They bought a weird bouillabaisse of different companies: The Nature Company, NordicTrak, Britches of Georgetown, Sierra Designs, Boston Whaler, and Ericson Yachts. That one company should own these varied businesses under the umbrella of ‘leisure products’ sounds like the height of B-School BS, but maybe that’s just me. This idea of conglomerate excellence kind of came and went with Jack Welch. Production problems ensued. In the 1980’s lots of manufacturing jobs were moving offshore, even nylon tent-sewers at Sierra Designs.

But that's not, for me, the interesting part of the CML story.

Charles Leighton died in in 2013, and the not-so-secret secret to understanding the CML groups’ ownership of Ericson Yachts is that Charlie Leighton loved sailing. Loved it. He started the sailing team at Bowdoin before graduating in 1957.

He had the company shop make boats for him to race in Kennedy-esque summer events. As reported in the New York Times, Charlie’s E-39 winning the ‘Corsair Cup’ in 1977. Also in the NYT Summer of ’77, racing an Ericson 43. Back when the Grey Lady would address such events.

After he retired, Charles “Charlie” Leighton went on to devote apparently a large amount of time to US Sailing. He liked going fast and racing boats:

This whole Bowdoin/Harvard/Newport race connection helps to explain how Ericson wound up with a career of work from a guy like Bruce King who, from what I have read, seemed closer to his element drawing boats for Hinckley than for some fiberglass experimentalists in Irvine.

But all good things must come to an end. In 1983 CML went public, and started cycling through different businesses. (Back to this story) Among others, they bought a Sybervision, a company which (quaintly) produced self-help VHS tapes. “The company's executives had decided that the yacht business was too cyclical to provide steady profitability.” It makes me think, given what I have learned about Charlie Leighton, that he fought pretty hard against the sale, but probably couldn’t justify with a public investor base having his own boat company for Bruce King to draw nice boats for him.

Who knows Don and Gene Kohlmann? They kept Bruce King, they did a good job of building boats, but building yachts is an expensive, volatile business. Would love to hear more.
 
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Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
I can toss up a little Ericson - Olson trivia. Sometime in mid-88, Pacific Boats was going thru bankruptcy, and they sold the tooling and patterns for the established Olson 25 and Olson 911s to Ericson. Also in this deal was the tooling for their brand new Olson 34 (and only one built with a cored hull), with only the one hull finished.
EY continued production of the O-25 and O-911S (and 911LE) models and started producing the O-34, with their signature EY solid layup hull. Everything stopped by the end of 1990.
:(
Given the general look of the port lights of the Olson's and some other design features, I have always speculated the the Kohlmann's were long time friends or at least acquaintances of George Olson. That whole transfer just seemed to happen (well, viewed from a distance) quite seamlessly.
What I do not know is whether the EY-built smaller Olson's had cored hulls, and I suspect that they were solid layup.

In that industry, I suspect that everyone was at least socially acquainted... when we were in Alameda to buy our O-34, in 1994, our broker told me that NA Carl Schumacher used to have coffee with other boat builders and sailers in an older restaurant near Balena Bay marina where we ate breakfast.

More fun trivia: https://ericsonyachts.org/ie/threads/18-ericson-not-a-sailboat-eryc2004f990.14364/#post-101808
 

goldenstate

Member III
Blogs Author
I reached out to Gene Kohlmann over the weekend and got a nice note back. Gene confirmed that the Wikipedia version of the origin story is much closer to the truth than the Practical Sailor one. Gene became an Ericson dealer in 1973 at the age of 21 and joined the company formally in 1978. He became president in 1980 at the age of 29.

I asked Gene a few questions about different aspects of the evolution of the company, and he said he would mull over whether or not to jump on the forum and offer his thoughts.

It should be said that Gene himself is an accomplished sailor. Here is his brief biography from Chief Integrations, a technology company he is now running with his son: https://www.chiefintegrations.com/about/
 

goldenstate

Member III
Blogs Author
I am wending my way through Richard Henderson's Singlehanded Sailing (2nd ed., 1988) from my local library and in his discussion of types of craft suited for solo circumnavigation, Henderson makes mention among 'production craft' of the experience of Webb Chiles in a 37' Ericson, Egregious.

Aha! An Ericson solo round the world, how exciting. Unfortunately, it didn't really all go very well for Mr. Chiles. During his initial foray in 1974 His hull cracked, broke some mast bolts, and stopped in Tahiti to fix them. After he fixed them, they broke again and had to turn back for home.

He went again in 1975, and made it around.

Chiles' account is here in free PDF on his web site. I haven't finished it yet.

Chiles has continued to make solo sailing his essential occupation in life, completing a total of 6 circumnavigations, the most recent in a Moore 24, outlined recently in Cruising World magazine.

I wonder, given the timing of things, if the introduction of the TAFG in 79/80 was partly a reflection of this experience. Maybe that and Charlie Leighton racing similar boats in the summers around the same time.
 

Slick470

Member III
I can toss up a little Ericson - Olson trivia. Sometime in mid-88, Pacific Boats was going thru bankruptcy, and they sold the tooling and patterns for the established Olson 25 and Olson 911s to Ericson. Also in this deal was the tooling for their brand new Olson 34 (and only one built with a cored hull), with only the one hull finished.
EY continued production of the O-25 and O-911S (and 911LE) models and started producing the O-34, with their signature EY solid layup hull. Everything stopped by the end of 1990.
:(
Given the general look of the port lights of the Olson's and some other design features, I have always speculated the the Kohlmann's were long time friends or at least acquaintances of George Olson. That whole transfer just seemed to happen (well, viewed from a distance) quite seamlessly.
What I do not know is whether the EY-built smaller Olson's had cored hulls, and I suspect that they were solid layup.

In that industry, I suspect that everyone was at least socially acquainted... when we were in Alameda to buy our O-34, in 1994, our broker told me that NA Carl Schumacher used to have coffee with other boat builders and sailers in an older restaurant near Balena Bay marina where we ate breakfast.

More fun trivia: https://ericsonyachts.org/ie/threads/18-ericson-not-a-sailboat-eryc2004f990.14364/#post-101808
Loren, A bit of a hijack, but I don't know if there ever was an Olson 911LE model. I've never come across that designation, only the Olson 911S and SE. With Ericson selling the boat as both the S and SE versions. In theory there were differences in how they were spec'd out. The lines are pretty blurry as you could request them in several different interior trim levels and deck hardware levels. There was an early Ericson brochure that called the boat the Olson 30S, but I don't think they ever actually sold one with that designation.

Interestingly, to me at least, the Olson 911 is descendant from the Capo 30 which is actually probably closer in design heritage to the other Schumacher designs like the Express 34 and Express 37 (and Oyster Lightwave 395). Whereas the Olson 34 is George Olson/Pacific Boats design that seems to be a scaled up 911S to compete with the Express 34. Either way, they are all amazing boats and credits to their designers and builders. I'm certainly glad we own one.
 

steven

Member III
Gene Kohlmann ran Albatross Yachts in Oakland, CA in 1974 - ?.
Albatross handled Ericson and Catalina.
I worked for Albatross teaching sailing and brokering while I was a graduate student at Stanford.

If anyone is in contact with Gene, give him my best.

--Steve
 

Keith Parcells

Sustaining Member
Don Kohlmann, who wrote this (from resources section here at EY.org), is apparently well and acting as sales manager for Nordhavn yachts (power vessels) in Seattle.
 

Martin King

Sustaining Member
I guess I should jump in here. The wikipedia page was fact checked mostly by me. Ericson Yachts was founded by Ray Handy. The practical sailor
article is bullshit. A couple of ex Columbia Yachts employees including my father went to work for Handy. This era (early 60's) was ground zero for the fiberglass boat industry that was about to explode. The original factory was on Struck avenue in the city of Orange. You've got way too much focus on CML in my opinion. Ericson really takes off after being sold to PAI with Del Walton and Mark Pitman in charge of it. PAI built the factory in Irvine complete with a modern production line and testing pool. They were able to produce boats at an astounding rate. This is good and bad. By the mid 80's, I think the market had peaked for new racer/cruiser style boats and domestic manufacturers were faced with increasing competition from abroad and their own used boats. The luxury tax (remember that one?) in 1990 was the final nail in the coffin for many.
 
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tenders

Innocent Bystander
I was the creator of that old “oocities” archive back in 1998, on a “geocities” website, long before Wikipedia. The history came from some emails I swapped with Don Kohlmann and bodged together from some Northeast Ericson Association newsletters that I had run across somewhere.
 

TAPH2O

Member II
Where are the blue prints for all these boats of special interest to me is the E36c which my daughter has recently purchased?
And we can find no source for original owners manuals.
 

goldenstate

Member III
Blogs Author
Where are the blue prints for all these boats of special interest to me is the E36c which my daughter has recently purchased?
And we can find no source for original owners manuals.
Resources the site holds by model are categorized. Here is what is available for the 36:

If you can't find an owner's manual, you are not alone.
Ericson disappeared in 1990 and no one has a financial incentive to keep up with old documents.

Sailboatdata.com has plans for a 36c: https://sailboatdata.com/sailboat/ericson-36c

Good luck!
 

goldenstate

Member III
Blogs Author
Thanks @Martin King for the contribution to the thread.

Has your dad written publicly about his time with Ericson?
I (and I'm sure many others) would be pleased to learn anything he wanted to share about his experience.

Thanks too to @tenders for your work in the same history-of-Ericson!
 

TAPH2O

Member II
I have all the info shared here from past investigations. Hoping to revive interest in digging up the bones perhaps is Bruce King still alive how about the employees who did the actual glass and wood work and the acquisition of things like motors struts props sinks hardware yada yada.
Thanks for the reply.
 

TAPH2O

Member II
Had a nice chat with Don Kohlman and he said there were no drawings just laid up from wooden molds. Also the bronze was done by “Elk Brass Foundry” now defunct. I think he said they didn’t gat into manuals until around 1988.
 

kapnkd

kapnkd
What would be a GREAT and an honoring thing to do for Mr. Bruce King would be to have some sort of virtual/online gathering of all of us to recognize, celebrate and HONOR Mr. Bruce King for his incredible and lasting design achievements. (I am not all that techy literate but reasonably sure it could be done - maybe on this site on a well pre arranged day???)

...I seriously doubt there is any another boat brand with such a dedicated ownership and strong following with such a kinship and brotherhood. We DO share, laugh and solve problems of our proud Ericson boat ownership like no others.

Mr. King with his design achievements IS the one who has brought us all together across this country and formed a lasting bond among us. AND - for that, we ARE ever so great-full. It would be ever so great to pay him a SPECIAL LIVE VIRTUAL TRIBUTE!

(Food for thought...???)
 

Martin King

Sustaining Member
Where are the blue prints for all these boats of special interest to me is the E36c which my daughter has recently purchased?
And we can find no source for original owners manuals.
Where are all the blueprints? They were in the cabinets bought up in the liquidation sale back in 1990. They have not surfaced in all this time, so I think it's safe to say they were thrown away.
 

1911tex

Member III
Anybody know if Bruce King is still with us? Trying (w/o much success so far) to obtain a half-model of our '87 34 II. Much appreciated.
Nordic Star...beautiful Ericson! You gave me a solution for keeping the anchor chain off the deck....thank you!
 
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