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Benjamin Foster, with sales and marketing for Symphony Boat Co., adjusts the electric motor on the Elektra model before heading out to the St. Louis River. Forum News Service photo

Duluth man ready to sell his newly designed boats

DULUTH, Minn. -- It's what you can't see that shows the boat making experience of Marcel LaFond. The owner of the Symphony Boat Co. has spent most of his life studying how boats are made -- from actual design to business models. He's been a careful observer and has learned what he doesn't want to see in his designs.

The simplicity of the two boats the company has produced from a shop at Spirit Lake Marina in Duluth is exactly what LaFond had in mind since his brain began whirring about all things boats as a kid growing up near water in central Minnesota.

"It took many years to put something together," LaFond said recently as he prepared to take the Romance and Pianissimo out on the water for test runs.

"I've wanted to try this for years."

The two crafts are like nothing you see on the water today, with their stunning wooden interiors and aluminum skins. The prices of each boat reflect the craftsmanship LaFond puts into them, including using the latest design techniques to keep prices comparatively affordable. Think of Symphonys as brand-new and customizable options to antique Fay & Bowens or ChrisCrafts.

"They have the charm and character of a wooden boat without all the required TLC," LaFond said. He was referring to the aluminum hulls that call for little maintenance.

The Romance, part of the Overture series, is designed "to transport a group of fisherman up a chain of lakes to a remote cabin," LaFond writes in literature for the company. He could have added "in style" for a craft that costs $20,000 or more depending on custom requests.

The Pianissimo is electric, and the latest of the Symphony designs under the Elektra model and in the $35,000 range. It's a pontoon in a hull mode, LaFond said. It's the kind of boat even the inexperienced can captain, he said.

"It's an alternative to the pontoon," he said. "It's quiet, for a conversation on the water."

Both styles are "modestly priced," he said. He cuts costs by using a three-dimensional computer design program and current machine cutters for the skeleton of the boats.

He learned to use those tools while working at Cirrus Design in its fuselage engineering group.

His shop at the marina holds another boat in progress and models, including the motor yacht that inspired the Symphony project.

"My experience is in motor yachts," LaFond said.

He wanted to build a boat that could take on the Great Loop, a trip down the Mississippi River and back through the Great Lakes. It remains his dream to build such a cruiser, but he wants to start out small and build his way up.

That yacht dream carries the simplicity theme, something integral to LaFond's boating philosophy.

"Part of the joy of boating is getting away from the complexities of life," he said. "You often see boats that require so much repair and upkeep."

The Symphony name, and the musical monikers for the first boats, comes from LaFond's love of classical music.

"I compose a boat like a composer makes music," he said.

With the two models out there for people to see and try out, LaFond hopes to begin making sales. People are buzzing about the boats they've seen, he said.

"Everyone is amazed," he said. "They've never seen anything like it."