(05/22/13) - Mid-Michigan has a long history in the automotive business, but few know about the sailboat industry. There are boats raced around the world and they're made in Michigan.
In the world of competitive sailboat racing, the name Nickels Boats is well known.
"If you want to race at that level, you need a boat you're confident in. We build those," said Hugh Armbruster, owner of Nickels Boat Works.
Twelve employees work in the Flint plant.
"We build with fiberglass," Armbruster said.
The Lightning is the most popular model. It's the boat you want when learning the essentials of racing.
"Some of the skippers on the last America's Cup had spent their early training years on Lightnings," Armbruster said.
The 19-foot boat sells for about $22,000.
"Nickels has Lightnings in Europe, in Africa and Australia," Armbruster said.
The company also makes smaller, less complex sailboats like the JY-15.
"They're used for camps, sailing schools and things of that nature," Armbruster said.
No high-tech robots are needed to assemble a JY-15. A work crew picks up the deck and fits it on the hull, which has been lined with a waterproof glue. Clamps hold the two pieces together until the glue is dry.
As they say here, they make everything for sailing except the swim suit.
"We make our own rudders here. A mast we built is ready to go out the door today," Armbruster said.
Nickels isn't limited to sailboats.
"We're assembling some trailers here and a military latrine that we work on," Armbruster said.
It's one thing to see the boats being made in the factory. It's another thing to see them on a beautiful lake on a nice sunny day.
"It's a very good sailing boat. It's very agile as far as how it turns, how it maneuvers. So that makes it a little more easy for beginning sailors," said Ryan Flack, general manager at Nickels Boat Works.
You would think with many of their customers living near oceans that Nickels Boat Works would be located in Florida or California. But the company has no plans to move.
"We're proud to be in Genesee County. Great people. We have great workers. It's a great place to be," Flack said.
Nickels makes about 50 sailboats a year.
"Like any small company, we're always looking to grow," Flack said.
The next time you see a smart looking sailboat gliding across the waves, take a good look. It could be made in Michigan.
For more information on Nickels Boat Works, click here.
ABC12 Main Station