Email from Rob Lawnsby to Fred Kunisch, as published on the Sovereign Yahoo Group.
In 1976 I was line foreman for the Buccaneer line of sailboats built by Bayliner in Valdosta, GA. We were building the Buccaneer 20, 24 and 27. I was so ashamed of the boat I was building I moved to The Tampa/St. Pete area of Florida in 1977, and started looking for a better quality boat to build. I hooked up with the three owners of Southern Sails of Largo, Florida who wanted to begin construction of the Skipper 20, but had no boat building experience. I built their prototype boat so they could start marketing it, and proceeded to hire the folks needed and set up the assembly line so we could start turning out the Skipper 20’s.
After about a year the Skipper 20’s were moving down the line smoothly and were selling well. The owners (I can’t remember their names, it’s been a while!) wanted to build a larger boat, but starting a hull from scratch was going to be very expensive. They acquired a set (deck and hull) of old S-2/ 7.3 meter molds and modified them to create the Sovereign 7.0. The start-up of this model caused disagreements among the three owners and cash got very tight, so then there were two companies. That is when the Sovereign Yacht Company was formed. We started production of the Sovereign 7.0 and worked on getting the bugs out of the assembly line. The owners wanted to build a solid boat and quality control was good. For a while the Skipper 20 and the Sovereign 7.0 were built at the same facility in Largo, Florida; and then Southern Sails moved out as Sovereign Yachts started expanding.
By this time, I had been in a fiberglass production environment for a number of years and kept thinking this had to be bad for my health long term, so I started looking for other areas of the marine trade that I would like. I became interested in selling boats instead of building them and left the company. So I was with them for the Sovereign 7.0 start-up, but had left by the time they introduced the 5.0. I do not know what eventually happened to the company and molds. The three original owners were all sailors. One had a naval architect background, one had a sales background, and the third had the capital. The relationship between the three was pretty good, and even the division and forming two companies was amicable. By the time they started building the 27′ model I was out of touch with them as I had moved back to New England.
The connection with S-2 was simply the purchase of the molds. There was much swapping and selling of molds back then as boat companies kept going out of business and their molds would be up for grabs. I hope all this helps you. I’m pretty sure I have on original brochure for the Sovereign 7.0, although it would take some looking to get my hands on it. I could probably scan it and send it to you if you like. Let me know if I can do anything else for you.
Email from Rob Lawnsby to Henry Gomez, December 2017:
It’s 1977 and I had just gotten divorced. I was 27. I had been the line foreman in charge of sailboat assembly for Bayliner in Georgia (they made a sailboat in those days called a Buccaneer) I drove down to the Tampa/St Petersburg area to relocate and wherever I saw boat molds I walked in unannounced with my resume of boat manufacturing experience, mostly assembly. Plus I had lived on a sailboat with wife and kids sailing all over New England and down the intracoastal.
So I go to an industrial complex and walk into a very newly formed Southern Sails company and introduce myself. There is a deck and hull, and a pile of boat parts. I talk to this guy and he stares at me and my resume. He goes into a room and two other guys come out and stare at me and my resume. One of them asks if I can turn that pile of boat parts into a finished boat. When I said “Sure!” they asked when I can start and I said right now.
One of them then said “Where did you come from?” I started to reply and he interrupted. He said the three of them were in a meeting were in a meeting trying to figure out how to find someone with boat building experience to build their first boat. They needed that boat so the sales guy could head out to dealers to try and get signed up. I walked up while they were trying to figure out how to find someone like me! He said I was an Angel coming in like this and yes, I was hired.
I built the first boat and started on the second. They had two very interesting gay ladies laminate the hulls on the side. One was built like a football player and the other would come to work all dolled up complete with jewelry. They knew their stuff and built the deck, hull, and other small bits. They tended to be heavy with the layers of fiberglass and that is why the early boats including Sovereign were so strong. I hired two guys who worked with me at Bayliner and we were off and running. I started the guys off getting paid by the hour, but switched them to getting paid by the section of boat they built so we could have fixed costs. It also boosted production. We built the Skipper 20 which was built from a mold they acquired that once was a launch.
They bought the S2 mold and started to build the Sovereign 7.0. After we got the assembly line going for the first Sovereign, they really didn’t need a production manager anymore as they could supervise the workers; and like any new company they were very short on money. They offered me a temporary position on the assembly line until the company got on their feet at which point I would become production manager again. I thought about it, decided my work was done there, and left to do other things. I have done extensive cruising since then, and ran a Hunter dealership for a number of years in Rhode Island. I currently own and run an ASA sailing school and Bareboat charter operation. www.narragansettsailing.com. I have lived aboard year round on my Southerly 10.5 for ten years.
Narragansett Sailing School and Charter