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Dream boats: Simple, elegant describe Duluth boat maker’s designs

Marcel LaFond, owner of Symphony Boat Co. (left) in the Overture model, and Benjamin Foster in the Elektra model head out from Spirit Lake Marina for a test run on the St. Louis River recently. (Bob King / / 5
Benjamin Foster, with sales and marketing for Symphony Boat Co., sands the hull of the second example of its Elektra line of boats powered by an electric motor at the company’s warehouse at the Spirit Lake Marina recently. (Bob King / / 5
Symphony Boat Co. will customize its models for customers. This is the console for the Elektra model. (Bob King / / 5
Benjamin Foster, with sales and marketing for Symphony Boat Co., adjusts the electric motor on the Elektra model before heading out to the St. Louis River. (Bob King / / 5
Handcrafted touches mark the boat models made by Symphony Boat Co., including these fingerjoints in its Elektra model. (Bob King / / 5

It’s what you can’t see that shows the boat making experience of Marcel LaFond. The owner of the Symphony Boat Co. has spent most of his life studying how boats are made — from actual design to business models. He’s been a careful observer and has learned what he doesn’t want to see in his designs.

The simplicity of the two boats the company has produced from a shop at Spirit Lake Marina in Duluth’s Riverside neighborhood is exactly what LaFond had in mind since his brain began whirring about all things boats as a kid growing up near water in central Minnesota.

Related content: About the boat maker.

“It took many years to put something together,” LaFond said recently as he prepared to take the Romance and Pianissimo out on the water for test runs.

“I’ve wanted to try this for years.”

The two crafts are like nothing you see on the water today, with their stunning wooden interiors and aluminum skins. The prices of each boat reflect the craftsmanship LaFond puts into them, including using the latest design techniques to keep prices comparatively affordable. Think of Symphonys as brand-new and customizable options to antique Fay & Bowens or Chris-Crafts.

“They have the charm and character of a wooden boat without all the required TLC,” LaFond said. He was referring to the aluminum hulls that call for little maintenance.

The Romance, part of the Overture series, is designed “to transport a group of fishermen up a chain of lakes to a remote cabin,” LaFond writes in literature for the company. He could have added “in style” for a craft that costs $20,000 or more depending on custom requests.

The Pianissimo is electric, and the latest of the Symphony designs under the Elektra model and in the $35,000 range. It’s a pontoon in a hull mode, LaFond said. It’s the kind of boat even the inexperienced can captain, he said.

“It’s an alternative to the pontoon,” he said. “It’s quiet, for a conversation on the water.”

Both styles are “modestly priced,” he said. He cuts costs by using a three-dimensional computer design program and current machine cutters for the skeleton of the boats.

He learned to use those tools while working at Cirrus Design in its fuselage engineering group.

His shop at the marina holds another boat in progress and models, including the motor yacht that inspired the Symphony project.

“My experience is in motor yachts,” LaFond said.

He wanted to build a boat that could take on the Great Loop, a trip down the Mississippi River and back through the Great Lakes. It remains his dream to build such a cruiser, but he wants to start out small and build his way up.

That yacht dream carries the simplicity theme, something integral to LaFond’s boating philosophy.

“Part of the joy of boating is getting away from the complexities of life,” he said. “You often see boats that require so much repair and upkeep.”

‘Like a composer makes music’

The Symphony name, and the musical monikers for the first boats, comes from LaFond’s love of classical music.

“I compose a boat like a composer makes music,” he said.

With the two models out there for people to see and try out, LaFond hopes to begin making sales. He’s also pitching the boats for commercial use by resorts and boat rental outfits. People are buzzing about the boats they’ve seen, he said.

“Everyone is amazed,” he said. “They’ve never seen anything like it.”

The Pianissimo won the “Skippers” award at this summer’s Minnesota Lakes Classic Boat Show in Alexandria. Symphony also drew an award and raves at last month’s Lake Superior Classic and Custom Boat Show on Barker’s Island.

Symphony boats are scheduled to be at Canal Park Boat Rental in the Minnesota Slip this month. There you can take one for a spin or just watch how it moves on the water.

Look for them at special events as well. The Overture and Elektra models have been on display during events at Barker’s Island in Superior and in Canal Park.

LaFond just wants people to try one of his models.

“It’ll give them a unique experience,” he said. And it just might sell some boats. Which would be good since his initial funding for the new business is getting low.

Each sale will result in an individualized design, LaFond said.

“Now, it’s about getting them on the water.”