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The Boat Whisperer

A lot of great boats were built in Santa Cruz County during the 1970s and ’80s, boats that are beloved among our Latitude readership. We’re talking Express, Olson, Santa Cruz 27, Moore 24, boats that are light, athletic and built to be sailed hard. We love to sail them, race them, and sometimes crash them too.

When the fiberglass splinters, mast folds up, keel retracts causing the boat to turn turtle; when your cartop Moore El Toro takes flight on the freeway at 60 miles per hour; when your Ultimate 20’s keel nails that one darned submerged rock in your favorite Huntington Lake cove, well, that’s when you need to call the Boat Whisperer.

Craig Smith and his shop dog Hazel
Craig Smith is enjoying a COVID-19 hiatus from busted boats with Hazel, his loyal shop doggie.
© 2020 Susan Burden

The Boat Whisperer would surely hate being described thus. He does not advertise or seek publicity and has no website, no email address and no computer. There’s no sign on the street announcing the name of his business. He does possess a degree in psychology from Stanford University, which no doubt has been useful in some situations, especially concerning collisions, protests and insurance companies.

This nautical psychologist is none other than our friend Craig Smith, and we dropped in recently on his anonymous concrete Watsonville warehouse facility, which is called Elkhorn Composites. Here are some photographs of this fascinating, dusty wonderland, where broken boats go to recover from those times when we have a really bad, gelcoat-crunching day on the water.

Stuff around the shop at Elkhorn Composites, and old rusty tractor toy, a wooden sign with the name "SMITH" carved on it, a metal tray with 3 fresh apples, and a wall with collectibles
The unique world of Craig’s shop.
© 2020 Susan Burden

Craig has been operating his business for about 30 years. He began his career with a short stint in the wholesale world of Port Supply in 1989. Dissatisfaction with the corporate environment there led to Craig working for Ron Moore’s boatbuilding shop, where he learned from some of the best Monterey Bay craftsmen and found his niche.

Craig Smith's desk reflects 30 years in the industry
Craig’s desk reflects 30 years in the business of building and fixing boats.
© 2020 Susan Burden

When we dropped in on Craig last week, he was enjoying some time off after this long, strange 30-year trip. He was cleaning up around his home in nearby Prunedale, and sorting through a pile of oddities on the shop floor. A mirror-like Santa Cruz 27 gleamed, resplendent in its brand new orange and red gelcoat. The complete restoration was on hold due to the pandemic, and its impact on the owner’s budget. A Moore 24 waited nearby on its trailer, ready for surgery.

This re-gelcoated Santa Cruz 27, with the project interrupted by the pandemic, looks like a brand new boat
This re-gelcoated Santa Cruz 27, with the project interrupted by the pandemic, looks like a brand-new boat.
© 2020 Susan Burden

Craig Smith is really enjoying his time off, and he told us to “tell everyone to stay away a little bit longer, but I’ll be back soon.” We’re confident that as sailboat racing returns after the pandemic, Murphy’s Law will still be in operation, meaning that what can go wrong probably will. We’ll break our boats, and Craig Smith will fix them.



  1. Kelvin D. Meeks 4 years ago

    I really enjoy these type of profile pieces – offering a glimpse into the lives of the people who are involved in the sailing community – whether sailors, people who practice their craft with great care and diligence, adventurers, creators, makers, etc.

  2. Phil Vandenberg 4 years ago

    Dog is “Hazel” not “Heidi”

  3. Mark Ellis 4 years ago

    Proud to call this wonderful man family and his humility and wisdom have long been his calling card along with many other fine attributes. Craiggers, you rock!

  4. SSpiffy 4 years ago

    Looked at the photo of the dog and thought, “That dog has a knot in its tail!” Yeah, I’m not all here today…

  5. Dave Wilson 2 years ago

    Craig is a fine man, and does amazing work on boats. I’m proud to call him my friend.

  6. Butch Michel 2 years ago

    Craig has done so much for me on my two hi end racing Lidos
    He always has a smile ,a story to make you think
    Craig is one of the GOOD ONES !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Fred Schroth 2 years ago

    I did not shave my beard and pose for this photo. Craig is not my brother. I do not have a secret San Diego other life. Ll

  8. Daniel Emerson 9 months ago

    Craig is a wonderful person, skilled at boat repair and full of erudite musings on goings on of the day. I always look forward to having a reason to have my various boats visit his shop. He has helped me rebuild a Moore 24, re-glass a formula board, and finish and paint a Peeler skiff. It is worth working with him on your projet as you will come away with a deep appreciation of boats and how to do it right.

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