BE­FORE THE STRIKE

Marlin - - CONTENTS | DEPARTMENTS - —Pe­ter Fred­erik­sen

Big-game hap­pen­ings on and off the wa­ter

Re­lease Marine is a lead­ing-edge busi­ness that de­signs and man­u­fac­tures big-game fish­ing ac­ces­sories as well as yacht-qual­ity ta­bles and fur­ni­ture in Sa­van­nah, Ge­or­gia. Head­ing up the ef­forts is Sam Peters, the com­pany’s dy­namic yet in­tro­spec­tive founder and pres­i­dent. Peters shares his pas­sion for fish­ing, as well as the story be­hind Re­lease Marine’s tremen­dous growth and the chal­lenges that lie ahead.

Re­lease Marine leads the in­dus­try, but it didn’t hap­pen overnight.

When we first got started, I no­ticed that the Ry­bovich chair, which was de­vel­oped in the 1950s and was the in­dus­try bench­mark for fight­ing chairs, hadn’t re­ally changed much at all. So we took one apart and an­a­lyzed ev­ery aspect and func­tion of the chair, from the seat to the footrest to the rod hold­ers to the stan­chion. I charged my de­sign team to make ours not just bet­ter but the best. As the Re­lease chair evolved, so did the com­ple­men­tary items like helm chairs, board­ing step boxes, rocket launch­ers and cus­tom marine fur­ni­ture.

How did you get started?

My fam­ily was in the mill­work and door man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness in the early 1970s, spe­cial­iz­ing in his­tor­i­cal re­pro­duc­tions and other wood­work­ing projects through­out the Sa­van­nah area. But thanks to my grand­mother, who got my fa­ther and then me in­volved in fish­ing, I caught my first sail­fish when I was 6 years old. We fished from small boats and even­tu­ally found our­selves build­ing what would be­come the Re­lease 26, a small cus­tom fiber­glass fish­ing boat with a deep-V hull. We built about 20 of them. But what we no­ticed was a void of off­shore fight­ing chairs and fish­ing ac­ces­sories for this size of boat, like Albe­marle and Grady-White, which were grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity on the

East Coast. We built our first spe­cial­ized fight­ing chair in 1977.

What de­fines a Re­lease Marine prod­uct?

It starts with the ma­te­ri­als. When a cus­tomer comes to us with an order for a fight­ing chair, helm chairs or other ac­ces­sories, our first step is to group all of the wood we need to build the var­i­ous com­po­nents into a sin­gle unit, so all of the pieces have per­fectly matched grain and color. The wood will have sim­i­lar growth rings so when they’re com­pleted, each piece will not only look beau­ti­ful but will also take on a durable, flaw­less fin­ish that will en­dure in the marine en­vi­ron­ment. When a cus­tomer wants some­thing spe­cial, we have 2D and 3D mod­el­ing to show him ex­actly what he is go­ing to get, and we can show him as many dif­fer­ent ex­am­ples as he needs to be sat­is­fied. It’s what we do.

How long does it take to build a fight­ing chair?

From the time we pull the raw wood un­til the fi­nal assem­bly, it’s about 30 days, with about 87 hand-hours on the chair.

Is this a one-per­son job from start to fin­ish?

No. Our work is highly spe­cial­ized and de­fined, with dif­fer­ent de­part­ments each do­ing their tasks. We have a staff of 45 peo­ple. Some of our crafts­men cut the wood, as­sem­ble and build the chair; oth­ers do the fin­ish work. Pas­sion is im­por­tant in our line of work be­cause each piece is unique, and when you have a per­son who is pas­sion­ate, they will do the best job ev­ery time. Some of the peo­ple in our shop have been with us for more than 20 years, and al­though they may never see a chair they built af­ter it leaves Re­lease Marine, thou­sands of other peo­ple will see it — at a boat show, at a tour­na­ment or along the wa­ter­front — and ad­mire it. That makes all of us proud.

In­no­va­tion is crit­i­cal in ev­ery busi­ness. What’s the drill for Re­lease Marine?

My group fishes a lot of tour­na­ments, and it’s when we’re fish­ing that a lot of new ideas de­velop. I like to watch the an­glers and crews aboard these boats and ob­serve the way they move around the cock­pit. Do they flow back and forth, or do they get in each other’s way? It helps us when we are de­sign­ing new items like rocket launch­ers. We have over 115 dif­fer­ent op­tions for this item alone. When it was first in­vented, the typ­i­cal rocket launcher was stubby and only held four rods. To­day, they hold a bunch more and in­clude drink hold­ers, a stor­age drawer and so on. As the boats have be­come larger, so have the launch­ers, to spread out the an­glers so they are

not bump­ing into each other when work­ing mul­ti­ple kites in sail­fish tour­na­ments. It’s in­no­va­tions like these that help win highly com­pet­i­tive events. To the un­trained eye, a rocket launcher looks sim­ple, but it re­ally is any­thing but.

Then there’s the Re­lease Marine Bat­tle Sad­dle.

Ab­so­lutely. It’s a game changer. This is our so­lu­tion for small to mid­size boats that can’t han­dle the space re­quire­ments for a tra­di­tional fight­ing chair. It has the pro­file of a rocket launcher with a teak bucket seat and reel har­ness clips, plus eight rod hold­ers, a bait tray and a quick-change gim­bal cup. In­no­va­tion can come when you least ex­pect it, but you al­ways have to be pre­pared. One night, a cou­ple of days be­fore a boat show, I woke up out of a sound sleep with an idea that would elim­i­nate the ex­posed deck bolts that se­cure the stan­chion base of the fight­ing chair to the cock­pit sole. I called one of my ma­chin­ists at 6:15 the next morn­ing, and he was able to make the base for me to take to the show. In­no­va­tion and pas­sion, that’s the story about the peo­ple at Re­lease Marine. We are al­ways think­ing about the next best thing.

What are some of the chal­lenges on the hori­zon?

Be­ing able to adapt to change is crit­i­cal. When we started build­ing chairs, they were fin­ished with a prod­uct called Cap­tain’s Var­nish.

It was good but nowhere near what we use to­day. We had an op­por­tu­nity to do some in­te­rior work on Gulf­stream air­craft, and from these jobs we learned about prod­ucts like com­pos­ite coat­ings, spe­cial­ized sand­ing pa­per, and con­trol­ling dry­ing con­di­tions to pro­duce su­pe­rior fin­ishes. One boat owner told me that his ves­sel was in the yard twice a year to get the bright­work done, but his Re­lease chairs never needed any­thing. That com­pli­ment is a credit to our peo­ple.

What are the most de­mand­ing items you build?

Cock­tail ta­bles for the salon. It sounds strange, but build­ing a ta­ble is ac­tu­ally the se­cond half of the process. First, you have to de­sign it. Many peo­ple want a ta­ble that doesn’t take up much room in the salon but can open wide for a din­ner party. It’s chal­leng­ing be­cause it re­quires a num­ber of mov­ing parts, yet it needs to be sta­ble and mul­ti­func­tional. And you have to in­clude a cer­tain amount of stowage in­side, so it’s def­i­nitely not like the high­low ta­bles of the past. Per­haps just as in­tri­cate but on a to­tally dif­fer­ent scale is a teak helm pod, which is formed with dif­fer­ent pieces of teak, each with its own shape, an­gle, crown and roll, that is cut on our pair of CNC routers. The Bat­tle Sad­dle is a three-di­men­sional unit made from six pieces of teak and no vis­i­ble fas­ten­ers.

What’s your fa­vorite fish­ing tour­na­ment?

I like them all be­cause each one is unique, with its own fla­vor and en­thu­si­asm, and we al­ways meet great peo­ple and de­velop ter­rific re­la­tion­ships. I en­joy fish­ing the In­ter­na­tional Mas­ters An­gling Tour­na­ment be­cause it re­ally evens out the play­ing field with a strict set of rules that gives a fair shake to each in­di­vid­ual. When I am fish­ing the Mas­ters, I know that once I get a bite, it’s up to me as the an­gler.

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