Last of a Breed: Meet Lazzara Yachts’ Dick Lazzara

Photo Courtesy of Lazzara Yachts
Photo Courtesy of Lazzara Yachts

Pride and dedication to the pursuit of perfection are a Lazzara family tradition. Dick Lazzara learned that ethos from his Pop, Vince, in Chicago, where the elder Lazzara built his first fiberglass sailboat in 1954.

Dick started sailing and fishing at age three on Lake Michigan. He swapped shoveling snow for sand at age nine when the family moved to St. Petersburg, Fla. He joined his father in the family business, Gulfstar, building trawlers and motor sailers in 1974.

Now at age 60, the patriarch of a privately held, third-generation family company, Dick has guided his sons, Joey, Tony and Richie into different specialized disciplines. But Dick Lazzara is the last of a dying breed, as few of today’s yacht manufacturer/owners can design, engineer, build, sell and race both sailing and power yachts.

Dick Lazzara grew up with industry icons, learning design purism from Olin Stephens, the execution of craftsmanship from Henry Hinckley, and brokerage from Dick Bertram. He’s raced sailboats in the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit and sailed one designs. He loves the Bahamas, having spent much time at his father’s residence on Cat Cay.

In 1971, Lazzara served with the Coast Guard in the North Atlantic during the Vietnam War. He was assigned to the secret service in 1972 to a presidential support detail in Miami to protect President Nixon  before joining Gulfstar two years later.

Family Legacy
For a cruising boat, the Gulfstar was very good upwind. Today the Lazzara family is still renowned for striking a nice balance between design, function, quality and production at an affordable price: the key to successful mass production.

“It was a fast indoctrination to yacht building with 400 other employees,” Lazzara recalls.

Gulfstar merged with Viking in 1987, and in 1991 Dick opened Lazzara Yachts with his father and his brother, Brad.

“Dad’s the first one there in the morning and the last to leave at night,” says his son, Joey. “He leads by example.”

Lazzara Yachts is still an innovator in design and manufacturing processes. The Lazzara Quad 75 is known for its joystick maneuverability and smart control systems powered by four Volvo Penta IPS 600 units with a counter-rotating, forward facing propeller.

The LSX 64, their latest introduction, is an open concept express yacht topping out at 35 knots. The split-level is one of the LSX’s attractive features – something Poppa Vince did with his sailboats and trawlers for years, where you’re at the helm and look down into the galley. It’s kind of a New York loft look.

“I never thought my Dad would ever go down that road, but he did,” says son, Joey. “It was very difficult to get him to go so dark at the beginning. The whole build was a contrast between dark and light. Now dark wood and light fabric is a hot trend.”

Life in the fast lane
Lazzara’s son, Joey, joined the company after Dick had a horrific accident in 2001 while racing offshore powerboats.

“It was a long, tough road for my family and they really hung together,” Dick says. “They didn’t know whether or not I would live for over a month (after the accident).”

It’s hard to believe that a handsome man like Dick Lazzara hovered near death for a month or suffered severe facial trauma. His neighbors in Lithia, Fla., who know him as a rancher breeding Clydesdales, would be surprised to know he raced boats in a fast-paced lifestyle.

He crashed at 90 miles per hour, resulting in life-threatening injuries, including a fractured sinus cavity. He was told to expect blindness within three years. His jaws were wired shut and he had seven titanium plates, an optical metal screen and more than 400 stitches.

Lazzara was fortunate to survive the accident and come back to the yachts that are his passion, the company that he has nurtured, and the family that he loves. He is a relaxed, calm man who’s slowed down. After living a fast life for years, the 10-acre ranch and the horses are his hobby and refuge.

“Being at the ranch is like the water in Key West,” Dick says. “It is so peaceful and quiet out in the middle of nowhere with the stars out at night.”

For Lazzara, the ranch provides serenity, refreshing his brain to provide innovative ideas for boats. It keeps his feet on the ground, which is important for an executive traveling the world with million dollar yachts and wealthy people.

“God only gave us so many days on earth,” he says. “The ones at sea don’t count against you.”