Mike Allen and his team are redefining the meaning of shipshape.
Mike Allen designs dream boats. Whatever you can think up, he and his team at Tidal Creeks Boatworks will find a way to make it float. Painstakingly designing and handcrafting every square inch, they create what Allen describes as “gentlemen’s fishing boats” that are unmistakable on the water. On an island steeped in maritime history, Allen and his team are literally carving out the next generation of Nantucket-born boats one hull at a time.
From their state-of-the-art boat building facility located on Square Rigger Road, Tidal Creeks Boatworks takes only one or two commissions per year, with each boat sporting a distinctive look and feel that comes from working closely with clients, who remain involved from start to finish. “At this point I have built thirty-six boats, and it all starts with a conversation,” says Allen, who explains that this personal approach can at times allow the owner to alter aspects of the design mid-stream, an unusual level of flexibility that can occasionally make his and his team’s work more challenging, but one that also keeps his clients involved in an “organic process.” This presents an advantage that has resulted in a high level of customer satisfaction, with clients often commissioning multiple boats with his firm.
When asked about the special types of boats Tidal Creeks builds, Allen explains that boats are often identified by region. “Maine boats look a certain way, Carolina and Florida boats have a certain look, and then Palm Beach boats also have their own style. Then there are West Coast boats. They look much more commercial and industrial. I build in the Palm Beach style, which originated after World War II when sport fishing boats became popular in Florida. Rybovich, Merritt and Whiticar are my biggest influences. I build on their coattails, but with a special New England flair.”
Like most expert design firms, the team at Tidal Creeks strives to create a perfect intersection of form and functionality. Tidal Creeks’ “gentlemen’s fishing boats” are aesthetically distinctive with sleek lines and a streamlined silhouette also inspired by Hinckley boats, but with Tidal Creeks’ practicality and durability. Crafted through a process called “cold molding,” the boats start out upside-down on a special wooden rack that is designed to hold them throughout the building process. The rack eventually gets covered in a fiberglass overlay so it becomes part of the boat’s structure and is meticulously painted to resemble wood. In this sense, Tidal Creeks’ boats present a distinct advantage, because they require much less maintenance than a traditional wooden boat.
Part of Tidal Creeks’ appeal is the authentic Nantucket connection customers experience when doing business with Allen. Both Allen and his father are true Nantucket natives, being born in the Cottage Hospital, and Allen’s grandfather, “an innovative, entrepreneurial guy,” once owned Don Allen Ford and several gas stations on-island and was an expert automobile and airplane mechanic who served as director of the Civil Aeronautics Administration (now the Federal Aeronautics Administration). Business and engineering are in Allen’s blood, as is the kind of discipline that seems to come naturally to him. His background ranges from competitive athletics to service in the U.S. Air Force. “I had aspirations to go to the Air Force Academy, but I wound up enlisting instead,” he says. “I’d always been involved in the boating world, though, and I’ve always had a passion for the water here on Nantucket. When I was in the Air Force, I’d plan my leaves around the scallop season on Nantucket.”
For Allen, building a solid team is as important as crafting the perfect boat. He’s emphatic on this point: “It’s teamwork that makes it possible for me to pursue my passion.” He claims that, while he could theoretically tackle building a custom boat on his own, it would be so time-consuming that the already slim profit margins of the business would make it all but impossible. James Vincent, Parker Graham, Will Smith, J.C. Johnson, Mike Ricker and Crystal Ray round out the Tidal Creeks operation, which also includes full-service boat storage and maintenance. Providing excellent opportunities for year-round employment on-is-land is also something Allen takes pride in. “We have had plenty of talented people come through here, but not all of them can necessarily make it work year-round.”
Some of Allen’s clients think of him as an artist, but he considers himself more of a craftsman. “I love the creative process, but there are times when it can really drag, and we are all exhausted by the end, but we always learn something, and we are always striving to do better.” When asked to describe his own aesthetic, Allen says, “All of my boats look as if they are from the same family. I want it to be visual. I want people to say, ‘Oh, that’s a Tidal Creeks boat.’ My boats are timeless, elegant, clean and fast.”