There are a lot of rewards that come from running the world’s most successful expedition yacht company. The achievements of all those cruising Nordhavns, the overjoyed owners, the constant chatter that keeps the brand consistently in the conversation – those are all feathers in the cap of Nordhavn’s president Dan Streech. But it’s taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears to reap those rewards and a lifetime of dedication to get to this level of success. And, sometimes along the way, you just need a bit of encouragement.
In 2006, during a radically busy stretch of time when Nordhavn was hitting its stride following the launch of its new 86-foot queenship and the expansion of its product line, that shot in the arm came by way of some kind words sent by one of the company’s youngest fans. A 9-year-old named Brian* had written to profess his adoration and appreciation of the brand and to make known his intention to one day travel the world’s oceans on his own Nordhavn. He’d done his homework and he’d discovered that no other manufacturer could possibly build a boat capable enough to deliver the sort of adventure he was looking to do.
Brian wasn’t a typical kid with a passing fancy for boats. His was the next-level sort of obsession that breeds ship captains and naval architects. He would do just about anything to catch a ride on a boat and wasn’t the least bit frightened when cruising in weather. While his mates were using their filled-up bathtubs to zoom around their toy dinghies, Brian was digging up his back yard and creating small rivers and canals with locks for his plastic vessels to pass through.
The tone of Brian’s letter struck a chord with Streech. Nordhavn’s leader has always felt it important for kids to develop a passion for something, whether it be sports, arts, reading, or the like – when Streech was young, it was science and engineering that engrossed him. That attitude has extended to the identity of Nordhavn, which is known to promote children’s interests: a junior category was created for the Mad Fish Hunt contest and most recently the Kid’s Nordhavn Design contest garnered entries from teens and tots all over the world showing off their yacht design skills. Over the years, Nordhavn would receive a handful of letters like Brian’s, from kids who would reel off facts they’d memorized from the website, their vast knowledge even putting some of the company’s salesmen to shame. In these letters, Streech saw his own 9-year-old self, writing similar words to motorcycle companies, and it prompted him to serve up replies with equally fervent responses. “I would always make a big deal about [replying to children’s fan letters], send them a big package and a bit of respect,” said Streech, which he hoped would help to feed the kid’s interest.
The grand gesture worked on Brian. A few weeks after he’d contacted Nordhavn, he received a big envelope in the mail. It contained a Nordhavn hat, a reference book and the blueprints to a Nordhavn 55, his favorite boat. Brian was ecstatic, but more importantly, he was motivated. He wore the hat non-stop and continued getting out on the water on his uncle’s boat every chance he got, gaining more and more experience. As a teenager, he helped his grandfather restore his old boat, a 1956 Trojan runabout. With confidence brimming, they decided to build their own boat from scratch. They purchased a kit from Clark Craft called the Challenger Sport 11. The task solidified Brian’s absolute admiration and connection to his grandfather. It also sealed his decision to go into boat engineering. “I wanted to work in the engine department of a ship,” he said.
After graduation from high school, Brian was accepted into the Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City, MI, one of 67 cadets.
Fifteen years have passed by and things at Nordhavn are no less hectic now than they were in 2006 as Streech tries to juggle an overstuffed order book. A shot in the arm comes by way of e-mail. It’s from Brian, the one and the same who had written all those years ago. He had recently come across all the items he received from Streech and decided to send a follow-up email.
“When I was about 9 or 10 I wrote a letter to Nordhavn, and you wrote one back. You sent me a hat, some blueprints of the Nordhavn 55 (my favorite boat at the time), and a pocket reference book. I thought it was the coolest thing!
I was going through it all the other day, and just for the fun of it figured I’d write you again now that I’m older.”
Brian is 24 now, and explains that he wound up leaving the Maritime Academy because he didn’t want to be at sea and away from family for six months at a shot. He now works for Loyola University as a boiler operator – the land version of the exact job he had intended to do on a ship. “Part of me wants to go back to ships and stay there,” he says.
The two boats he worked on with his grandfather are still put to good use, and serve as a wonderful reminder of their bond. The connection will be there as long as he keeps cruising, Brian said.
As far as the dream of world travels on board his own Nordhavn goes, it’s still there, but he isn’t putting pressure on himself to see it through. For now he’s content to wear his Nordhavn hat and keep track of the comings and goings on the website. He tells Streech that he had no idea at the time that the president of Nordhavn was the one who had responded to him. “I didn’t realize you were the founder of the company when I wrote you years ago,” Brian says in his email. “I have to give you credit for founding such a magnificent business. I imagine it’s got to be a very tough job managing something so huge.”
And it is, but for Streech, it’s made just a little bit easier with the occasional shot in the arm to get him through.
*last name withheld upon request