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They still builds them they way they used to

TARPON SPRINGS — Small planes pulling banners announcing cheap rum runner specials?

How 20th century.

A local custom boat builder is using old-fashioned methods to create a high-tech vessel, which will soon be hugging the shoreline in Ocean City, a summer resort area on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Corinthian Catamarans is nearing completion on a 72-foot catamaran that will be equipped with two high-resolution, LED displays to be used for advertising, much like floating electronic billboards, said Corinthian co-owner Bob Muhlhan.

The company also makes passenger ferries, dive vessels and party boats, among others. All are motor-powered and are made from hand-laid balsa-cored fiberglass.

First, fiberglass sheets are placed in a hull mold. Next, resin is put on top and pushed into the fabric. After several layers, balsa wood is put on top and coated with more resin. Then additional fiberglass and resin layers are added.

"Every centimeter is hand-pressed for every layer," Muhlhan said.

The result is a hull that offers better stability than the "chop gun" method, in which builders spray fiberglass pieces and resin into a mold, Muhlhan said.

"It just isn't as durable or strong or nearly as thick as hand-laid," he said.

The method is more costly, but the end result is well worth it, Muhlhan said. "There's just no comparison in the durability of our final product," he said.

Located across from the Sponge Docks on the north side of the Anclote River, the site has been a boat yard for at least 25 years. Husband and wife Bob and Paula Muhlhan, of Palm Harbor, and their three partners — Tom and Denise Landa of Tampa and Kurt Langer of New York — bought the business in 2002.

In 2005, the group opened their own metal shop so they could make aluminum components such as railings and canopy frames onsite.

"We've been able to improve our designs for the integration of the above-deck components with the rest of the vessel," said Bob Muhlhan, 58. "That's naturally improved our quality."

Despite a sluggish economy, sales of custom-built catamarans have remained steady over the past few years, said Paula Muhlhan, 51.

But the rising cost of aluminum and oil, from which resin is made, spells eventual price increases, Paula Muhlhan said.

Corinthian Catamarans produces six to eight boats each year, on average, and each is custom built. Smaller vessels can be completed in six to 12 weeks. Larger ones — such as the 20-ton, $750,000 vessel heading to Maryland — can require six to nine months of work.

The company has made glass-bottomed boats, a debris collection vessel for the Port Authority of Puerto Rico and catamarans that were rigged to film parts of all three Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Because each boat is custom built, the sky's the limit when it comes to add-ons.

"Gates, doors, cabinets, a bar; whatever you want," Bob Muhlhan said.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4162.

If you go: Corinthian Catamarans is at 1065 Island Ave., Tarpon Springs. Call (727) 934-6055.

They still builds them they way they used to 07/05/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 7, 2008 12:40pm]
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