When George Luzier, 80, was a young boy in Sarasota, the only way to have a boat was to build one yourself. So when he was 14, under the watchful eye of his yacht captain uncle Bob, Luzier built his first boat under a pine tree on Hudson Bayou, then a playground of vacant lots where boys would put out one-plank docks and set sail on homemade contraptions. In 1966, Luzier floated a loan and built a shop on a tiny street off U.S. 301 near downtown Sarasota. It is from this unremarkable building, fragrant with sawdust, decorated with ships' name plates, that he and his brother, Homer, spent decades practicing the now almost extinct art of wooden ship building.
"He's got a very good eye for what looks good on a boat: simple clean lines," says Charles Ball, who owns several boats, including a 22-foot Luzier. "There are few people around like him who know how to do what he does. It's a tremendous resource we have here. He's a Sarasota classic."
Luzier boats rarely change hands; like works of art, they are treasured and handed down. So attorney Deborah Blue was thrilled when she had a chance to buy her 21 1/2-foot Luzier, Stormy, which was built in 1972 for an avid tarpon fisherman in Tarpon Springs. The boat has a platform in front from which he would cast.
"The design, the wood, the care and detail, and the fact that it wasn't made out of a poly substance. . . it's something real that has stood the test of time," says Blue to explain her affinity for Stormy. "She's 30-plus years and still as gorgeous as the day she was built."
When Blue and her husband, George Adley, first took Stormy out, they were only somewhat prepared for the attention showered on them from boat admirers who recognize a unique product. "They just have a personality," says Adley. "Wood boats have a quality that's softer; they have a weight to them. From an emotional standpoint, it feels like you're in a Ralph Lauren ad. It makes going to grab a beer a glamorous event in itself."
Luzier boats have spawned a select coterie of fans, a group of whom even met in Useppa in 2001 for a Luzier regatta. "There's a sort of cult of Luzier boat lovers around," says Blue. The following probably has as much to do with the salty personalities of George and Homer Luzier, their place in the history of the city (their grandfather was an early Sarasota postmaster and each generation has been involved in historical preservation) and their wealth of boat-building knowledge as with the shared love of the boats. Tom Luzier, Homer's son and George's nephew, remembers big parties every Christmas attended by doctors and lawyers, the artsy crowd and the society people, with plywood on sawhorses serving as tables, a "mile of food," smoked mullet and often a pig roasting.
"They all came together for the love of the boats," he says. "They took so long to build that they all
took on their own life."
Much has changed for the Luzier brothers from the time they were kids learning their craft. There
are few vacant lots on Hudson Bayou, for example, where a young boy today could build a little boat. And newcomers have moved to town to take their places beside the stalwarts of Sarasota society. But inside the shop, time stands still. The spine of a boat lies supine on the concrete floor, awaiting its skin of Honduras mahogany, juniper, spruce and teak. Boat captain Mark Liberman has stopped by on a crisp winter morning to shoot the breeze with Luzier and help out with a project; and two men are scraping down the hull of Teal, a boat Luzier built decades ago named for a woman named Matteal. Homer doesn't work here any more (he retired and moved away), and George doesn't do as much as he used to, but the magic lives on in the hulls and decks of the creations that are passed on like heirlooms from boat lover to boat lover.
"A wooden boat is a different feeling," Homer muses. "It feels like it's alive. When you turn and walk away, you look back and you say, 'My God, that's a beautiful thing."