Russ Garufi had his first boat when he was 14 years old. It was a 16 footer with 35 horsepower that he’d purchased from Sears. He took that boat out in the South River off the Chesapeake Bay until he was 16, when he upgraded to a 21-foot Reinell with a V8 inboard/outboard, also from Sears.
Once the young man was out of school, he had a clear goal: starting his own business. He started by driving around looking for houses with storm damage. He’d knock on the doors and start talking with the owners, building up clientele doing home repairs. After the house behind where he lived was struck by lightning and caught on fire, Garufi went over and spoke to the man who owned it. He was able to get an appointment with his insurance company, where he sat down, gave them his repair numbers and then received the green light to rebuild the house. “Once I finished it, I learned that was what I wanted to do,” Garufi says.
By his early 20s, he was building houses with a crew of about 50 working under him. Then, boats came back into the picture. He bought a new 42-foot Bertram that he kept for 17 years.
“Having a boat that long I learned what holds up and what doesn’t hold up,” Garufi says. “So when I started my first boat, I took my experience I had in building and what I had in fishing and keeping a boat that long and I incorporated a lot of that stuff into it.”
Little did he know that embarking on the build of that first boat would lead to Titan Custom Yachts and a whole lineage of boats after.
What is now known as hull number one for Titan started on the drawing board as a 58-footer, aptly named Titan 58. He has his wife Linda to thank for the name, which she picked from Greek mythology and its connection to strength. Construction on the boat began in 1999, and Garufi had a very specific set of standards he intended to keep.
“I didn’t like squeaks. The older boats would squeak like crazy, the bulkheads would shift, the cabinets would rub. So when I built my first boat, I paid particular attention to making sure everything was built strong. And because of a lot of the larger buildings I’ve built over the years, I’ve learned about Microlams and beams and a lot of engineering work, which I brought into the boat building world with me. I’d built
many houses so this was a whole new thing that was fun to do.”
The Titan 58 construction site would take place half a mile from where Titan Yachts sits currently in Bishopville, Maryland. The build started in a field behind a chicken coop Garufi’s buddy owned and who also had built a charter boat himself.
“I set the jigs up behind his chicken coop outside,” Garufi recalls. “Then, when the weather started changing, I built a lean-to over the top of it, and then when it started getting chilly, I framed the walls and put plastic on the outside and inside and that actually insulated it as well. It’d be warm during the day, and we’d run a heater at night.”
Garufi had started the project by himself, then was joined by several of the crew that worked for him building houses. Some of them enjoyed the work so much they decided to stay on the boat building side. A group of them have continued to work under Titan Yachts for about 15 years, and Garufi considers them excellent craftsmen.
By the end of 2000, Garufi and his team had completed the Titan 58. Linda recalls the first build with pride in her husband knowing just how far the builds have come.
“There was no architect there, it was hand-to-eye, it was just him building it,” she says. “And because he’d built the barn around it, he could never really stand back and see it from afar until it came out. It was something else.”
Garufi kept the Titan 58 for a year. When he put it on the market, it sold within a week.
“The 58 I built for myself, not thinking I was going to build another one, but I sold it, and I thought, ‘I’ll build another one,’ then I sold that
one and thought, ‘I’ll build another one after that.’ I bought my shop property, and I just kept building them.”
For the second boat, Garufi hired architect Darren Roop, who had recently started his own company. Garufi took several profiles of all the builders and put them on a table, picking out what he liked about each, further cementing the modern Titan profile. And Garufi still wanted that smooth ride he’d set out to create for hull number one.
“I told him, ‘We live in the northeast, we’re doing 50-, 60-, 70-mile runs in three to five footers at 30 knots, I don’t want the boat to
pound or shutter like production boats do, I want to be comfortable,’ ” he explains. “We came up with our bottom contour, and I built the first 62. It came out great.”
Now, after finishing hull number nine, the Lunatico, Garufi is getting ready to start hulls number 10 and 11, two 68-footers. One he has a customer for and one he’ll take some time enjoying on the water himself. He plans to finish them in 2024.
And while the first boats all used “Titan” followed by the length for names, it was hull number seven, Garufi’s personal boat, that kicked the trend. This one he named Effie Mae after his grandmother, someone he says was a great woman with a great name for a boat. When he starts his 68, he’s going to name her Effie Mae as well.
But besides some name changes, Titan has remained fairly consistent with how it makes boats.
“The only thing I’ve changed since the first boat is I’ve softened the bottom of the window line a little bit and I’ve softened the front of the house,” Garufi says. “I raked it out a little more, and I raised our bow up 10 inches so we have a very good following sea boat. You don’t even have to hold the wheel, you can run in eight footers and that thing will steer straight. But that’s from years of being on the water and understanding that stuff.”
As for what creates that distinct Titan profile, Garufi also credits the vents, which can take two men about two months to build, costing close to $20,000. “Our windowline comes back to the point in the back,” Garufi says. “A lot of guys are rounding windows, it seems like.”
The Titan 58 recently sold and is in North Carolina, where she can now be seen on the water with a new name painted on the transom: Clickbait. She’ll be going to Manteo to be a charter boat, according to Linda, who has kept a progression of photos showing the builds and where they’ve gone throughout the years.
“I just like to follow the boats and see where they are just because I’ve been on them all and seen them all since they were a pile of wood. It’s so heartwarming to see them come along.”
As for Russ, it’s all about being a part of the build process right up until the boat is on the water. It’s a tried and true method his 14-year-old self would surely be proud of.
“When I’m finishing a boat, putting the final touches on electronics, tweaking the props, putting it in the water for a sea trial, that’s what I enjoy,” he says. “Because all the builders, we’re building art … art that functions.”
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