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40 Years of Building Bespoke Wooden Boats

This is a story of drive, passion and legacy. Steve Van Dam’s dream of sailing to far off places began with a small wooden boat on Lake Macatawa, not far from his family home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Motivated by self-reliance and a passion to learn, Steve complemented these qualities with a love of wood and water — shaping the undercurrents of what Old World masters term, "a calling."

After rebuilding a 36’ sailboat and marrying experienced sailor and co-founder, Jean Hodge, in the early 1970’s, Steve Van Dam’s instruction from Canadian master boat builder, Vic Carpenter, propelled him to branch out to perfect the art of shaping wood in his own way. He moved the operation from his first boat building shed in Harbor Springs, Michigan to expanded facilities in Boyne City, Michigan, and maintained his visceral belief in legacy craftsmanship, that continues to drive the company mission today.

Steve continues to take things to a higher level, his persistence and tenacity have positioned Van Dam Custom Boats to be synonymous with all things deemed uniquely fluid, luxuriously dynamic and intricately detailed.

40 years later, he is still handcrafting classic wooden boats alongside wife, Jean, and son, Ben. The vision has not faltered- to deliver a creation that can be hailed as, 'the only one in the world'. The classic wooden boat designs are incorporated with highly evolved engineering, creating a finished product that is strong, beautiful, and singular. Every Van Dam creation is different, but each fulfills a vision, a dream.

Celebrating their 40th year in operation, Van Dam Custom Boats strives to bring each client’s dream to reality with one constant at the forefront; the never ending pursuit of perfection and a dedication to ensuring the future of quality, hand made watercraft. The words ‘production line’ or ‘spec plans’ are not words that you will hear in the shop or in conversation about their creations. Each boat is designed and built to be as individual as its owner…truly the only one in the world. Whether an exotic design like Alpha Z, an early 1900’s Art Deco runabout like anniversary launch Catnip or a stylish yacht tender like Tender To Faith, each boat is bespoke and crafted by hand, always.

“If you want to differentiate yourself by the boat you own and you want it to be a true representation of you…or if you want to show your appreciation and love of true craftsmanship, we are the right solution for you,” says company president, Ben Van Dam. A naval architect in his own right and son of founders Steve and Jean, Ben notes that the company has never intended to build a production model and looks past the fact that there are cheaper, faster and less structurally sound methods of building boats. “Wood is dynamic. Something we humans could never create. There is just a natural beauty about wood.” It is very evident the appreciation and respect the company has for this natural, sustainable resource. Wood is the foundation of all they do, and they do it well.

The cold molded process used at Van Dam Custom Boats affords owners a strong, lightweight vessel that is water tight and impervious to rot or cracking from swelling. Van Dam boats are built so that the raw wood never has to interact with, or react to, the element of water. An impressive lifetime guarantee backs this claim against water damage (based upon yearly inspection of the boat) and to date, there has not been one single claim since the first build in 1977.

Ed Hermann, the actor best know for his portrayal of Franklin D. Roosevelt on PBS and as Richard Gilmore on Gilmore Girls used his Van Dam, IRIS, as a way to get away from the world to sit and read. His kind words sum it up well. “If you are looking to build a boat of any size, style, speed or pleasurable use, to the most exacting of standards in workmanship, finish and seaworthiness, there is simply no better place to do it than Van Dam Custom Boats.”

With their team of talented craftsmen and on site capabilities ranging from custom wood and metal work to paint, mirror like finishes and high tech electronics, it is safe to say the commitment to elevating legacy craftsmanship will continue well into the future. Ask any one of the elite group of Van Dam owners and they will confidently say designing, building and launching a Van Dam is a journey very much worth the experience.



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