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December 8, 2023

Sabre Yachts founder Roger Hewson remembered as innovator and mentor

Roger Hewson, founder of Raymond-based Sabre Yachts, died in early December, according to the boatshop’s blog.

Courtesy / Sabre Yachts
Roger Hewson was the founder of Sabre Yachts.

Hewson worked for the family construction business while designing boats on the side. 

In 1971, he unveiled Hull No. 1 of the flagship Sabre 28 sailboat at the Newport Boat Show.

From Raymond, the company built 588 of the company’s flagship Sabre 28 yachts, according to Soundings magazine. In 2003, the model was inducted into the American Sailboat Hall of Fame.

Sabre made the transition to motor yachts and developed such products as the Sabre 36 Fast Trawler, with amenities for the weekend boater. 

“Roger was an innovator who would make difficult decisions to always make the product all it could be. He was a leader and a mentor to many who shared his love for the sea and the craft of boatbuilding. He was also a generous and kind-hearted man who valued family, supported the boatbuilders at Sabre, and gave to many charitable causes and initiatives in the community,” the Sabre blog post said.

Continued growth

Hewson, who grew up in Montreal, recalled sailing on a lake north of the city, where his family had a cottage, as well as at the Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club.

The boatbuilding bug took hold when he was 6 years old, Hewson recalled in a video history of Sabre Yachts. His dad was building a 12-foot sailboat in the garage and the young Hewson was responsible for holding the screws.

As a young man, Hewson developed a speedy scow-design sailboat, which he coined the Sabre Scow for the boat's saber-shaped hull (also adopting the French spelling, "sabre"), according to published reports.

In the video history of Sabre Yachts, Hewson recalled that Sabre Scow design was speedy and high performance, but also a bit of a tempest — "as happy upside down as it was right-side up." 

In the early 1970s, Hewson built a Sabre workshop of 4,000 square feet on Raymond land owned by the family of his wife Charlotte (known as Charlie), not far from Sebago Lake. 

Hewson recalled the excitement of getting a check from a customer for $50. Charlie Hewson balanced the books, working part-time from home while raising the family. 

Hewson said he scoured New England boatyards and marinas, taking measurements of boats to come up with new designs. He was best known early on for developing the Sabre 28, which combined aspects of a racing boat and weekend cruiser. 

When the Sabre 28 was inducted into the American Sailboat Hall of Fame in 2003, the hall noted, "If Roger Hewson and his associates at Sabre Yachts hadn’t hit a sweet spot with the 28 — bringing the look and feel of a yacht into the pocket-cruiser size range — they wouldn’t have had a 15-year production run, nor gone on to build close to 2000 larger sail and power boats. Perhaps the truest testimony to their success in crafting a boat of lasting quality is the price a 28 fetches on the used boat market today. Depending on maintenance and updates, prices can range from $15,000 to $30,000."

He described a later sailboat design, the Sabre 42, as the "apex" of his designs. 

File photo / Tim greenway
Certified composite technicians prepare resin for the VIP resin infusion process for the hull of a Sabre 42 Salon Express in the mold room at Sabre Yachts in Raymond.

Changes in the business

But it wasn't all smooth sailing for the company — in fact, Sabre is one of the companies that's made the transition from sailing vessels to power boat production, as customer tastes changed.

In the early 1990s, with the boating industry struggling with a down economy and a tax on luxury goods, Sabre took on two investors, Ed Miller and Daniel Zilkha, who reportedly acquired two-thirds of the company, and entered into a period of growth. Zilkha served as CEO for a period.

At the time of the company's 50th anniversary, in 2020, Sabre was working out of an 83,750-square-foot space in Raymond, as Mainebiz Senior Writer Laurie Schreiber reported in Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors, where she is a contributing editor.

At the time of the 50th anniversary, the company had 150 employees and the motor yachts, which ranged from 38 to 66 feet and cost between $700,000 and $3.5 million.

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