Considering the catamaran’s history as a championship-winning raceboat, its remarkable patriotic paintjob and the amount of waterways the 46-footer has explored from coast to coast as well as islands offshore, there may not be a more accomplished and more recognizable Skater Powerboats catamaran than the legendary Freedom US 1. And just like the former owner of the boat—Kansas native Jim Lee, the guy who converted the boat from raceboat to pleasure boat in 2001—there may not be another performance boat enthusiast as well-known as Lee, who founded Lee Aerospace in 1989.
No one enjoys the high-performance boating community more than Jim Lee.
What started as a small aviation windshield and cabin window company has grown over the years to include advanced aerospace transparency design as well as repairs and installations, aerostructure assemblies and composite manufacturing programs for some of the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world. Naturally, thanks to his deep passion for performance boats (both racing and pleasure) spurred on by his late friend and mentor, Bob Morgan of Big Thunder Marine fame, it was only a matter of time before
Lee Aerospace started manufacturing custom boat windshields. Today, the Wichita company constructs new and replacement windows for companies such as Boat Customs, Doug Wright Designs, Mystic Powerboats, Outerlimits Offshore Powerboats and, of course, Skater. While Lee, 61, no longer owns a big cat, he does have an outboard-powered 28-foot Skater that Boat Customs redid a few years back, as well as a Cigarette Racing Team 39 GTS performance center console and a 35-foot Cigarette V-bottom he keeps at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri along with his 57-foot Carver Voyager motoryacht.
Then there’s Christina. A 2008 72-foot Hatteras motoryacht docked at Miami Beach Marina that is the party boat when it comes to the offshore racing championships in Key West, Fla. Believe it. We caught up with the busy Lee, who won his first national championship in 1994 in a 28-foot Skater, and he said he remembered one year having 78 people on the boat. Can you imagine the stories Christina, which recently received an interior overhaul that Lee said is incredible, and Freedom could tell?
Besides boating, what do you do to relax?
I still like to go boating; it’s hard not to enjoy yourself on the water. My new thing is that I’m getting back to my roots. I started ranching in Flint Hills. I grew up on farms and ranches. I love it—it totally relaxes me.
How much smaller is the boating side of your business than the aerospace stuff? It probably varies greatly.
From a passion standpoint, the boat side is huge. In terms of overall business, it’s somewhat small. That’s OK though. The performance boat stuff is glamorous and fun, and I love the people. To me, it’s pretty cool that my business helps bring aerospace technology to the boating world. The boats have improved dramatically from say 20 years ago when we started doing windshields—back then it was mainly F16-style canopies—and so have our products in terms of quality, durability and optics.
My first real customer in the go-fast boat business was Mike (Fiore) with Outerlimits. I met him at the boat show in Miami and he wasn’t very happy with his windshield optics so we worked out a deal. Then we started doing some raceboat windows for Pete (Hledin) at Skater and from there we worked with John Cosker on some Mystic race windows and Doug Wright on his raceboats.
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