With the sun bouncing off its velour lawns and impossible mansions, Palm Beach reclines along Florida's east coast like a dowager on a chaise longue, nose lifted in delicate disdain at run-of-the-mill ostentation. This promontory considers anything less than a Rolls-Royce a bourgeois conveyance and finds nothing remarkable about the local A&P offering caviar instead of peanut butter as its Saturday shoppers' special.
This casual acceptance of wealth extends even to Palm Beach yachts, which seldom qualify as genuine status symbols unless their length is measured in city blocks or they happen to be one of those remarkable sport-fishing boats built just across the inland waterway in—ugh—West Palm Beach by an immigrant Yugoslav cabinetmaker named John Rybovich and his three sons. It is not just that Rybovich boats are the ultimate in functional luxury, which they are, or that they cost a lot of money, which they do. Their greatest distinction is that even a billionaire has to stand in line to get one. John Rybovich has never built more than five boats a year, and at 84 years of age he isn't about to cheapen the product now.
In many ways Rybovich is the last word in snob appeal. A Ferrari has that prancing black stallion to identify it, a Rolls-Royce the famous windblown figure. A Rybovich doesn't even have a nameplate. "A true boatman," says Emil Rybovich, the youngest son, "doesn't need to look at a tag to tell what kind of a boat it is."
One tag that all Ryboviches come equipped with is a price tag, and while the list of those with enough of the ready to buy a Rybo is short (there are only 62 Rybos afloat), their names ring with solvency. There is Jim Kimberly of Kimberly-Clark paper mills (Kleenex and other things), who fishes the Blue Fox. There is Peter A. B. Widener III, who has had three Rybos and heaven knows how many racehorses. Roger S. Firestone, who makes tires, owned two Rybos: a 44-footer that he sold to Gregory McIntosh Jr. and a 42-footer that he gave to the University of Miami. C. Dabney Thomson, a Cincinnati Cadillac dealer, owns the biggest Rybo of all, a 58-footer. Edgar Kaiser of Kaiser Industries has two, a 37 and a 40. The 50-footer Volador (see cover) is owned by two women, Lois Henry and Sharron Riseling, who live happily on money that bubbled up out of Texas oilfields. A Rybovich named Clara Joe was once the proud possession of Tough Tony Accardo of River Forest, Ill. "One of the blessings of our business," says Emil Rybovich, "is, doggone, the nice bunch of gentlemen who own our boats."
The reasons these nice, rich gentlemen and gentlewomen willingly shell out so much money for a motorboat that costs four times as much as any other are roughly those that prompt an art collector to pay $150,000 for a Renoir when he could get a good print at the local art store. A Rybo is a work of art, and art comes high. Kimberly's Blue Fox cost him, conservatively, $150,000, and Dabney Thomson had to sell at least 100 Caddies at retail to pay for his Rhino. Of course, if you want to be chintzy you can buy a Rybo "dayboat" for around $60,000. A dayboat is something under 40 feet. Add to these initial costs yearly maintenance for captain, mate, fuel, dockage, cocktails and other incidentals of about $30,000 and you have a pretty fair idea of the expense involved.
Rybovich owners have little cause to worry about depreciation on their investment. Rybovich sees to that. "Our market is like the diamond market," says the eldest son, John Jr. "If you don't flood the market, the market stays high." And the Ryboviches, accordingly, keep the tide way out. As a result, a Rybovich worth $100,000 new will bring $87,500 five or six years later. So great is the demand, in fact, that one owner, a year after taking delivery of a new 50-footer, was offered $5,000 more than he had paid for it.
Actually, most Rybovich owners couldn't care less about depreciation or appreciation. They do, however, at least pretend to care about initial outlay and, like most bargain hunters, will listen when John Rybovich Jr. tells them where savings can be made. One saving he often recommends is that of building the customer a bigger boat than he originally had in mind. Although this sounds like rookery, it is, as John explains disarmingly, "just common sense."
"Why shouldn't a man be just as comfortable in his boat as he is in his home?" says Emil. "You name what he's got in his house, we've got it in our boat." They have, too—from air conditioning and ice-making machines to radar sets fit for the Queen Elizabeth. But there are some parts of every Rybovich that no house—or even the Queen Elizabeth—can match: the parts devoted to the catching of fish. Whatever else a Rybo may be—and it's a lot else—it is principally the world's finest machine for boating a game fish. "Our boats win a lot of tournaments," says John Rybovich modestly, "but a tournament is a poor measure of a boat. It's not the boat but the angler and boat crew who win." Maybe, but the biggest prize in last month's International People to People Fishing Championships was taken aboard the 44-foot Rybo Nitso. Jane Thomson won the Chub Cay tournament last year aboard her husband's Rhino. David Lake's 44-foot Rybo Olé was the top boat in last year's Master's Tournament at West Palm Beach, and so it goes. "We just build a boat to do a job," says John, "and the ones we build get the job done."
"We've never built two boats alike," says Emil. "An owner will come in and say, 'Gee, I like this boat. I like everything about it. But this is the way I want my boat,' and he names a lot of special things." And what the owner wants he gets—and hang the cost. "Our boats," adds Emil, "are strictly a personal thing. We're very prejudiced about them."
The men who actually build Rybos seem to feel much the same way. They go about everything from screwing on a chrome bottle opener to bolting in the engines as though each boat were their own. A passable boat could be built by any ordinary boatyard with the same load of exotic lumber, nuts, bolts, screws, paint, engines, radars, stoves, bars, outriggers and fighting chairs used by Rybovich, but the Ryboviches build a boat matched only by another Rybovich. The three Rybovich sons and their father all believe that a bored workman is a bad workman. So they rotate their artisans from one job to another to keep their interest fresh. "Among the four of us," says Emil in a classic of modest understatement, "we get out a pretty good boat."