Maiden Voyage

When Matthew Nix selected a 15-person team with six full-time members more than a year ago, they undertook a project to create a seaworthy vessel: a yacht with solid cherry walls, a kitchen with granite countertops, a bathroom with a tiled shower and a Jack-and-Jill sink, and a living room with a skylight Nix describes as “giant.” With so many details, Nix says, he dreamed big throughout the project with his nights occupied with thoughts of “building a boat in my sleep and waking up 50 times with measurements and calculations racing through my head.”

J.Z. Morris is the reason Nix’s brain is so full of numbers. When Morris had a vision, Passage, a 50-foot-long yacht narrow enough to traverse rivers yet still seaworthy, he contacted Nix, the fifth generation co-owner of Carl A. Nix Welding Service Inc. in Poseyville, Ind., and longtime family friend. Morris — a native of New Harmony, Ind., who’s made a career in commercial real estate rentals from his Manhattan office — has had a lifelong interest in yachting. His late father, Robert, was a well-known financier from Southern Illinois with offices in New York and Florida. Robert began the predecessor company to Berry Plastics, one of the largest privately owned companies in Indiana headquartered in Evansville, Morris says. Morris’ mother, Alice, is a popular patron of charitable organizations in the Tri-State. In 1986, after studying at the Maine-based Westlawn Institute of Marine Technology, Morris launched Amazon Boat Company and soon found a team to create a 55-foot custom mahogany day sailer, Patrician, created by the Michigan-based Van Dam Custom Boats.

Nix spends his days repairing agricultural and construction equipment and shaping metal for custom projects. “When Mr. Morris approached me with this idea, I didn’t know that I could build it,” says Nix. Though the 25-year-old welding company owner is a self-described boat lover and owns a few boats for Ohio River recreational fun, he’s never been on a yacht. “But, I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge, and I am not afraid of hard work,” Nix says. “I saw how much passion Morris had, and I knew I would have the same. I do.” That attitude combined with Nix’s wealth of welding expertise gave Morris confidence that Nix could be a principal in Morris’ yacht business adventure, Amazon Boat Company.

Morris will launch Passage from the Ohio River banks near Mount Vernon, Ind., this April and travel the Tennessee River to Kentucky Lake. Then, he’ll head down a canal system into the Gulf of Mexico to spend his summer yachting the waters near south Florida.

Like Patrician, Morris’ new yacht is a dexterous vessel — narrow enough for traversing river passages but strong enough to withstand the rigors of the seas. Because yachts are supposed to have curves and “nice yachts shouldn’t have straight lines,” says Nix, Passage has “really beautiful curves.”

These beautiful curves are built at the beautiful bend in the river, Southwest Indiana, where Morris and Nix call home, which is why two landlocked men created a local boat company here. “I love to travel, but this is home,” says Nix. “If I’m going to run a business and have a family, I want it to be here.” Near the Ohio River, their boats and yachts have access to anywhere in the world, Nix says.

“Also, we have an abundance of good people in our area,” says Nix. “To build a custom yacht like ours at a reasonable price, it takes people who know how to give an honest day’s work and have pride in what they’re doing.”

The Midwestern work ethic Nix finds in the local workforce is a big reason he finds so much success in other entrepreneurial ventures. Nix also owns Outdoor Connections Inc., a retail store, in Poseyville, and he recently partnered with three others to launch a marketing company, Outdoor Video Creations and Marketing, which provides outdoor outfitters with marketing services. Yet, Nix isn’t finished with the yacht business, and he plans to take custom orders after Passage launches.

That will come after he has his first yacht adventure with Morris on Passage, he says. “I’m looking forward to spending time on it.”

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