Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

Home · Articles · News · Features · Boyne City’s Unearthly...
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Boyne City’s Unearthly Luxury

In almost 40 years, only 50 über-luxe Van Dam yachts and powerboats have left the family-owned shop.

Becky Kalajian - June 2nd, 2014  

Van Dam boats are not for ordinary people. Their unique styling demands a certain sensibility; their six-figure-and-up price tag demands a certain kind of bank account.

The wealthy and famous seek out this Boyne City shop, which along with a 34-ft. mahogany powerboat and a 44-ft. custom sailboat, is in the middle of building a hydraulic trailer for the Sultan of Johar’s 50-ft. gunboat.

And even as owner Steve Van Dam and his wife Jean slowly transition the business to naval engineer son Ben, there are plans to enter the notoriously viral Asian market.

Should that happen, it’s hard to imagine where Van Dam Custom Boats could go next.


Although Steve Van Dam won’t disclose prices for his boats, which take up to 15,000 hours to build and are usually made from a single massive exotic log, online resale prices begin at $289,000 for a 26-ft. powerboat and $595,000 for a 31-ft. African mahogany day boat.

“No one does exactly what we do,” said Van Dam, who from the start has put in 60 to 80 hour workweeks. “We’re a start to finish operation.” When Van Dam began building custom sailboats in the 70s, he was following a childhood sailing passion that morphed into a trade.

After marrying Jean, a Northern Michigan native, the two set up shop in Harbor Springs.

Opportunities in the 1980s and 90s switched their building efforts to powerboats and prompted a move to Boyne City, giving them room to expand and water access to launch their boats.

And though their facility can handle up to 80-foot boats, so far the biggest the 13-person design, engineering and manufacturing team has made is 55 feet, Van Dam said.

Their clients, mostly from all over the U.S. and Canada, run the gamut. The one thing they have in common is money – lots of it.

“They’re self made or they’ve inherited it,” Van Dam said. “It’s a pretty diverse group.”

Since Van Dam began, most of the boats have stayed in the Midwest. Their first overseas client, from France, ordered a tender, or motorboat, for his Caribbean-based private yacht two years ago.

Although that boat was not Van Dam’s largest, it featured a complex automated deploying system for the anchor.

“That was probably the craziest thing we ever had to fabricate,” he said. “After it was done, we shipped [the tender] to them and they loaded it on the mother ship.”


Van Dam uses modern glued construction to make his boats, which feature quarter-inch veneer from a single log, in most cases Honduran mahogany.

Van Dam says he likes that particular species because it’s “dimensionally stable.”

“It’s wonderful boat-building material,” he said. “It doesn’t expand or contract with moisture and is relatively durable.”

He sources his logs from mills inCincinnati and Detroit, usually going down himself to open up the logs and inspect them.

One of his current projects, “Victoria Z,” is the second Van Dam motorboat for a client from Alabama. Its 26-ft. hull is African mahogany and features a special joint to appear like paneling in the interior.

“We’ll definitely get exposure with this one,” he said about the half-finished boat, which so far has taken 15,000 hours to build. “The owner’s into the details.”

Victoria Z’s classic shape, painted underbody, and teak decks will be finished with hand-tooled leather seats and custom stainless hardware.

The 16,000-sq.-ft. shop, a former marina storage business on 16 acres, houses metal fabrication, a paint area, and construction. The two-story construction site is littered with hand tools and some bigger machinery, all of which Van Dam bought used along the way.

Two apprentices in a four-year boatbuilding program through Cedarville’s Great Lakes Boat Building School work alongside the skilled tradesmen, sweeping, gluing, and doing “all the dirty work,” Van Dam said.


Despite its relatively remote location, Van Dam said that Boyne City’s location is ideal, especially with the access to water and room to expand on their current site.

“Boyne City has been good to us,” he said. When clients first approach the Van Dams, it’s usually through word of mouth. Projects take a year or longer, and all design work stems from a “mood board,” a composite of hand and computer sketches, preliminary design work, and other inspirational photos, eventually moving into the full design and engineering phase.

Though most projects have come off without a hitch, through the years there have been a couple of heart-stopping moments for the Van Dam crew.

“We had a trailer axle break on a boat delivery to Wisconsin,” he said, “and one time we dropped a boat on Zoll St. in Harbor Springs.

“That one closed the street down for a while.”


Their marketing to date has only been through existing clients, some boat shows, and a website. This spring, the family hired a director of marketing to expand the company’s overseas exposure.

“We decided to really do need to market because of the ups and downs of this business,” said Van Dam, who says his memory of the 2008 recession remains “vivid.” “We’d like to even out the work schedule.”

Finding the right marketing vehicle is a concern for Van Dam, whose clients possess his inventory. Because of this and other reasons, boat shows have proven fruitless for the most part because Van Dam’s target market lies elsewhere, said Peter Bowers, chief marketing officer for the company.

“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of product to take off the shelf, so we have to rely on owners who are willing to show off their boat,” Bowers said. “We are currently deciding what the highest return on investment will be [in terms of marketing.]” While that phase is playing out, Van Dam says he will continue building the world’s finest wooden boats, riding his bike in his free time, and slowly backing down to 50 hours a week in retirement.

Not on the agenda? Boating. Van Dam owns zero boats bearing his name. “I love it and want it in my life, but not be my life,” he said. “There are lots of other things I like doing, and I really don’t have the leisure time for that.”

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