Gulfstar Yachts was founded in 1970 by Vincent Lazzara in Tampa Bay, Florida. Mr. Lazzara was fresh off a two year forced absence from the power and sailboat building business. As part of selling his share in Columbia Yachts, he signed a non-compete clause and boded his time building houseboats. In 1970, Mr. Lazzara was already a legendary figure who had invented a snap-shackle variation, helped build one of the first fiberglass sailboats in the Rhodes designed Bounty II, and was involved with Columbia Yachts which was one of the leading early builders of fiberglass sailboats. But, his greatest legacy was to be Gulfstar Yachts.
Mr. Lazzara drawing on his experience decided to produce sailboat hulls that could double as trawlers. With a different deck mold and larger engine, Gulfstar delivered 53 and 36-foot trawlers while by stepping a mast, they had 53 and 36 motorsailers. He tapped into the floating condominium mentality of the public and built exactly what would sell. The sailboats had great accommodation but poor performance with their shoal draft, short rigs, and wide beam. Other boats produced during this era include a 43 trawler and 44 motorsailer.
While Mr. Lazzara was experienced in boat building, his crew at the Tampa Bay factory were not. In the early Gulfstar years, the workmanship bordered on criminal. Some choices were made to save money and produce boats inexpensively. The interiors were full of Formica. The ballast was iron in concrete slurry. But other problems had less to do with philosophy and more to do with poor practices. The balsa cored decks did not have solid radii of glass around deck hardware and were not sealed with resin either. They did not use backing plates for cleats. Workmen according to a former yard hand would carelessly cut holes in the deck and leave unfinished hulls out in the rain. Gulfstars still to this day cannot shake the poor quality reputation from their mistakes made in the early 1970’s.
Around 1975, Mr. Lazzara felt that consumer tastes were changing. Instead of beamy motorsailers, high performance yachts were coming into vogue. Gulfstar would have to evolve. They introduced a 50-foot high performance sailboat that would become one of their most famous designs, the Gulfstar 50. It was an era of evolution where they shifted from iron to lead ballast and Formica to classic dark teak interiors. They even changed their logo from a star to a wreath.
By 1978, the workmanship had significantly improved. They patented a process and developed a special plywood to camber edges. All the bulkheads they nicely laminated, all the corners nicely radiused. The joinery work would slowly rival the best in the industry. They did not go completely away from motorsailers and still produced some poor performing shoal draft, short rig, beamy motorsailers like the Gulfstar 47 Sailmaster series. But all their models in the late 1970’s had much better quality construction than the early 1970’s versions.
Gulfstar Yachts and all builders during this era had to grapple with the oil embargo and low supply of resin. To save resin, Mr. Lazzara used a 50% glass to resin ratio which was unheard of in those days. These days this ratio is standard as we have found out that the glass not resin rich laminate holds the strength. Despite this innovation, the discovery came along with serious growing pains, and many Gulfstars of this era have had blister problems. Whether due to their fluctuating resin ratios, the chopper gun, or the lack of vinylester resins, Gulfstars in this era until the mid 1980’s have a history of blister problems.
In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Vincent Lazzara’s two sons became involved in the company. R.C. Lazzara started designing the Gulfstar yachts of this era. By the 1980’s, the workmanship was as good or better than any other manufacturer out there. They continued to produce fine teak interiors and performance oriented sailboats such as the Gulfstar 44 and Gulfstar 60 designs. Along with these sailboats, they produced displacement motor yachts such as the 44 and 48 designs.
As they progressed into the mid 1980’s, their production shifted towards powerboats and away from the performance sailboats. The sons were more power boat guys. Maybe the height of their sailboat skill is the 54 Sail Cruiser whose stunning interior joiner work, soft ride, and quality construction is about the opposite of Gulfstar’s early days. In the late 1980’s, Gulfstar moved mostly to motor yachts. They still produced some interesting sailboats including some for the CSY charter fleet such as the 50, 45 Hirsch, and 42. They for years discussed a merger with Vikings Yachts, a power boat builder. Finally in 1990, Gulfstar sold its assets to Viking Yachts. The sons moved onto found Lazzara Yachts, a current mega-yacht builder in the Tampa Bay area.