EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Merging form with function has always come naturally to Carl Pellegrini, a former commercial photographer from Egg Harbor Township.
Pellegrini owns SeaCanvas, an Egg Harbor Township company that custom designs and fabricates boat enclosures and covers for recreational boaters and sport fishermen.
These plastic enclosures, sold through a franchise called EZ2CY, fasten around the bridge decks of boats to block the icy wind. They come with sliding, zipping or roll-up windows.
This lets boaters spend more time on the water in the early spring and late fall, he said.
“It’s a clear, semi-rigid acrylic window. The main use is for sportfishing boats,” he said. “We do work all across southern New Jersey.”
SeaCanvas also manufactures custom boat covers, which can be used winter after winter, unlike the blue shrink-wrap.
Nationally, marine fabrication is starting to recover from the effects of the recession, according to the trade group Industrial Fabrics Association International, based in St. Paul, Minn.
Fabricators such as SeaCanvas produced 22 million square yards of material in 2012, a 5 percent increase over 2011, marketing research manager Jeff Rasmussen said.
His association is projecting another 5 to 7 percent increase in marine fabrication this year.
“A couple years back, everyone was having some degree of struggle. The dust has settled in the industry a lot,” he said. “The one thing that has helped the marine market is that people who are boating enthusiasts are very loyal to their love of the water.”
His state, the land of 10,000 lakes, is popular with boaters, most of whom use some type of fabricated enclosure.
“Once you get used to it, you wouldn’t go without it,” he said.
Pellegrini and his assistant, Gladys Maxwell, of Ocean City, do all the fabricating in Pellegrini’s 3,000-square-foot shop on Ocean Heights Avenue.
They go to the customer’s boat to take precise measurements, and turn their two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional boat shelters using drafting boards and industrial-sized sewing machines. Every pattern is custom made to suit the boat.
But Maxwell said they have a good eye for this kind of work.
“I came from the awning industry, where everything is custom made, too,” Maxwell said. “This is very similar.”
Pellegrini moved to South Jersey in the 1990s from Philadelphia, where he worked as a commercial photographer shooting products that appeared in magazine advertisements.
In the 10 years he had a photography business, he was a regular visitor to South Jersey, where he enjoyed water sports such as windsurfing. He began his fabrication career by making soft products such as windsurfing bags. But his custom products couldn’t compete against cheaper ones imported from foreign manufacturers.
That’s when he turned to after-market manufacturing for boats.
“Every single boat is different, even if it’s the same make and model,” he said. “We pattern what we need to pattern, build everything to specification and install it when it’s done.”
The company’s recent work won seven awards in January from the Minnesota-based Marine Fabricators Association.
One Award of Excellence was for replacing a soft vinyl enclosure with the acrylic one on a customer’s cruiser. He had to remove the old enclosure track without damaging the boat and replace it with a four-sided enclosure with custom windows and zippers.
Pellegrini said his business is growing at a comfortable rate, but he has no interest in growing too quickly.
“It’s not likely to be a 10-person shop. But we could add some work in the future,” he said. “It’s nice having the control we do over everything now. When my customers give me a nervous look, I can tell them that I’m the one who will be leaving the footprints on the deck, and I’m the one that will wipe them off when I’m done.”
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