The Younger Generation Breathes New Spirit into an Old Name
By Jan Fogt
The name Rybovich was synonymous with the world's finest custom sport fishing boats when John and Emil Rybovich sold their family business 11 years ago. And at Rybovich and Sons in West Palm Beach—the company the brothers Rybovich sold following their brother Tommy's death—they still build good boats. But it is no longer a family business at the old Palm Beach yard, "and damn it, only a Rybovich can build a real Rybovich."
"And so we are, again," says Emil.
Just a year and a half ago the saws began to hum again for Emil Rybovich, this time with his son, Michael, 30, in charge of things, a situation that not only Emil happy but also brings a smile to John Rybovich Jr.'s face. He stops by several times a week to see how things are progressing at Rybovich International in West Palm Beach.
How the Ryboviches got back into the boat-building business after more than a decade away from it has to do with the younger generation of Ryboviches, namely Michael. Like his father and uncles before him, he worked his way up in the ranks from scrubbing boat bottoms to varnishing and operations manager at the old yard, where he worked for the new owners after his dad and uncle sold out. With that experience under his belt, he decided he wanted to build boats—his own—so with Emil lending some expertise, Mike has become a third-generation boat builder, turning out custom sport fishing boats under the new Rybovich International name.
That pleases Emil. "I'm excited there is someone who wants to carry on and defend the Rybovich name, especially when it looked like there for a while, that neither John's son nor mine wanted to." And defending the family name, Emil is careful to make the distinction that he nd Michael and Rybovich International are not associated with any other marine firm.
The 28thStreet location in an industrial area of West Palm Beach may not be as scenic as the waterfront yard that the family operated for so many years, but the atmosphere inside is as family as ever, with Emil's stepson, Marty Evans, lending a hand and learning the ropes. There also are a handful of old timers who have returned to the fold, craftsmen that Emil directed for more than 30 years.
"We're starting over again," Emil says with a grin, standing next to the hull of boat #2, a 33-footer that the crew hopes to put in the water before spring. "Basically, we're back to where we were in the beginning 30 years ago, when we were a small operation. Back before it got so big." Getting big and the loss of Tommy were the reasons John and Emil sold out.
The sheer water lines of the 33-footer that occupies the metal warehouse where Rybovich International is now headquartered also stirs memories. It is reminiscent of the first Rybovich sportfisherman, a 34-footer that was finished in 1947. There is a cabin and accommodations in this boat exactly like that first Rybovich sportfisherman. And there is the cockpit, a huge roomy fishing platform that has always been the Rybovich hallmark. Functional, efficient, and luxurious as a Rybovich is, like a thoroughbred that's meant to be ridden, these boats are made to be fished. That's one thing that never changes.
Hull number two will be going into the water for its Palm Bach owner sometime this month or next. It has twin diesels and accommodations that satisfy creature comforts. The hull is similar to Hull #1, says Michael, and actually is a stretched version of the new company's first 32-footer. There are other differences as well. Hull #1, which was sold to Charles Bouchard of North Palm Beach, was designed to be a light-tackle boat, actually a Rybovich center console. Bouchard, who likes to fish 20-pound spin or lighter, wanted to be able to fight a fish from anywhere on the boat. Having owned a 53-footer that he rarely slept overnight on, he felt he was ready for a day-fishing boat, but he wanted a good sea boat. He also wanted a Rybovich and, hearing that Emil was back in business, he bought it sight unseen--on faith," adds Emil.
Economy and performance were also important to Bouchard, who ordered the new Ruthie with a single high-performance Caterpillar diesel. Aside from the clean trim lines, there is a wrap-around deck, rocket launcher, roomy console for electronics, vee berths, small galley and standup head. The convenient fishing boat is really the kind of sportfisherman that John Rybovich Jr. would pick if he were ordering a new boat.
Eight months later, Bouchard says the boat is a performer and is everything he was looking for. Over the summer he took it north for the giant bluefin tuna season, returning home to the Palm Beaches earlier in the fall for the sailfish season.
Initially planned as a 28-footer, when it was first tank tested it was lengthened to 32 feet and became a boat aimed directly at the boat-buyer shopping for a 30- to 36-footer, a market crowded with more than a dozen or so production boats. Aside from offering a "not-too-different price tag of around $200,000" the father and son boat building team is aiming for the buyer who wants a customized boat, or as Emil puts it, "the man who doesn't want just another damn boat." "What we've got to offer is a real cleaned-up act, a r-e-a-l Rybovich," he says with emphasis, "not just something that's been made to look like one."
Built of laminated mahogany, with two layers of fiberglass cloth and epoxy covering the outside of the hull and another layer of epoxy and glass inside, the new Rybos are strong.
The educated boat-buyer, he adds, knows the difference and that's the man who is going to recognize and appreciate the distinctive lines and classic styling of the new models. Built of laminated mahogany with two layers of fiberglass cloth and epoxy covering the outside of the hull and another layer of epoxy and fiberglass cloth coating the inside, the new Ryboviches ar strong.
"Weight is not our primary concern," explains Michael. "We are more concerned building a strong hull," he says, in answer to a question about why they have not sought to compete against the generation of the new super light-weights.
With one model already fishing—in November Bouchard caught and released four sailfish and a blue marlin on 20-pound spinning gear in one day off Palm Beach—and another soon to be, plus a third sold and fourth on the drawing boards, Emil and MIchael have been looking for a waterfront location, one that for obvious economic reasons will most likely be north of the Palm Beaches. And while they are planning boats of all sizes, the new location would satisfy Emil's goal of building a new boatyard and being able to turn out custom sport fishing boats of all sizes.
The day may also come when for the first time in history, Ryboviches will be building fiberglass boats, but says Michael, "that would be part of a different division all together."
"We're Rybovich International, the custom boat building division," explains Emil, "and we're going to be around for a long time building boats for the man who wants something special. As long as we keep building boats out of wood, we can give it to him."