Seth Katz searched for years to find a 1953 Chris-Craft Rocket similar to the one that his grandfather owned when he was a kid. Katz found one, all right – the actual 17-foot runabout that he remembered from his childhood. The thrill of that amazing discovery and purchase was soon followed by a disappointing experience with a restorer, and it sent Katz down a new career path.
"I had sold my business and was supposed to retire. That was the plan anyway," Katz said. "But after what happened with the boat, a friend and I ended up doing the restoration ourselves. And I started thinking how the same thing happens to other people, and I wanted to put a stop to that."
So five years ago, he opened Katz's Marina on New Jersey's Lake Hopatcong and confidently stood behind his work by offering clients something practically unheard of in the restoration business – a one-year warranty.
"When you spend $30,000 on a boat, it should be worth more than a dime when you take it home," Katz said. "All the problems and frustrations that I had as a consumer I vowed to straighten out as a retailer."
One of those frustrations, as Katz sees it, is that it takes too darned long to restore a wooden boat. "Generally, restorations take anywhere from one to three years," he said. "Being the obnoxious, impatient person that I am, I'm thinking 'I could be dead by the time that thing gets finished.' So we set out to change that. From start to finish, our restorations take five to eight months."
But with such a dramatically reduced turnaround time, does the quality suffer? Considering Katz had to build an additional marina on Lake Hopatcong last fall in order to keep up with the work load, it would appear his clients have answered. Katz's Marina has quickly become among the largest – perhaps the largest – antique and classic boat dealers in the country. And Katz said the word "dealer" is an important distinction.
"We do not broker boats; we own them," he said. "We have close to 100 in our inventory right now, and I work on every one of them. That's why I stand behind the work, because I know the boats."
Katz has been getting to know classic wooden boats since he was a kid. He always loved how they looked, how they worked and what they meant to their owners. But the idea of starting a restoration business came out of necessity – an overwhelming feeling that he needed to help protect and preserve these precious commodities and their history … and do it right.
And the lightning rod was the 1953 Chris-Craft Rocket Runabout that found its way home after so many years. Katz's grandfather, Harry Katz, bought the Rocket new for his sons, Lew (Seth's father) and Dick, to enjoy with their families on New York's Greenwood Lake. They made precious memories on the Rocket, but the boat was eventually sold to make way for a newer model.
As Seth Katz grew older and began to gain success as an entrepreneur, he went looking for a boat just like the Rocket that his grandfather once owned. None that he found was ever quite right, so the hunt continued for years – until one day while searching eBay. He saw a '53 Rocket Runabout for sale in upstate New York, and it included an unusual option that he immediately recognized.
"It had a search light, and those weren't factory installed," Katz said. "But my grandfather's boat had one. That got my attention."
So Katz and a friend drove five hours north to see the boat for themselves. The Rocket's search light didn't guarantee anything, but when Katz saw the transom …
"My mother had backed into a dock once, so when I saw that the transom plates had been repaired exactly where she'd hit that dock, I knew this was the same boat," Katz said. "It was amazing."
His mother, Barbara, was surprised – and not surprised. "She said, 'Only you could have found that boat,' " Katz said.
Katz's restoration of the Rocket included swapping out 95 percent of the wood. "It was on its last legs, so in a sense, I saved its life. That's a special feeling; that's one of the reasons I enjoy the restoration business."
Katz christened the boat Renéeshins, the childhood nickname given to his wife, Renee. "It's the treasure of my collection," he said.
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