Watercraft built by hand
Sunsation boats made of fiberglass

By ERIN KOSNAC, Times Herald

CLAY TWP. -- As he was growing up, Wayne Schaldenbrand got tired of buying boats that were over-promised and under-delivered. He knew he could build a better boat.

And he's built a business doing just that.

In 1982, Schaldenbrand, along with his brother, Joe, opened Sunsation Powerboats. The company's hand-built powerboats are sold at dealerships across the nation, as well as internationally.

"There's so much attention to detail that goes into making these boats," said David Hare, chief operating officer. "We're all pretty anal when it comes to the integrity of the boat.

"It's not about aesthetics with us. It's about integrity and performance."

The boats first come together in a room filled with fiberglass, drums of resin and huge molds.

"If it doesn't start right here, we're in big trouble," laminating Supervisor Tim Heinzman said.

Heinzman, 35, of Algonac used to watch the Sunsation crews at work as a kid. Now, he's been an employee for about 17 years.

"You have to put your heart and soul into working here," he said. "We're not just here for the paycheck. We love what we do."

In the neighboring room, Chad Spangler trimmed off rough fiberglass. After the fiberglass is removed and holes cut where equipment will be placed, the boat is transported across the street to another building.

There, the powerboats come together as all the parts are applied and attached. Wiring is done. Carpet is laid. The fuel tanks are placed.

When the Sunsation crew is finished with the boats, they're shipped about 200 miles away to Middleville to get hand-painted. The boats return to Clay Township before being sent to dealers.

Hare said the company builds about 80 powerboats a year. It takes about six to eight weeks to make a boat, which start in price around $80,000. But different models vary in needed manpower. For example, the 32 Innovator can take up to 1,000 hours.

Hare said employees take every boat out for a test run.

"It's good for everyone to see what it can do, see the finished product of their work," he said. "That's the fun part."

Originally published Sunday, June 6, 2004

Photos by MARK R. RUMMEL, Times Herald

TIME TO SHINE: Brad Stratichuk of New Baltimore buffs the coating on the outside of a 32-foot boat at Sunsation Powerboats in Clay Township. Sunsation makes boats that are sold internationally.

TRIM JOB: Donald Leenknegt of Algonac cuts the rough fiberglass off the edge of a hull at Sunsation Powerboats in Clay Township. After the boats are made, they are sent to Middleville to be painted.