the murky gray of the false dawn begins to lighten with the rising
sun, stacks of 10 foot breakers fall across the channel of Oregon
Inlet. This is the first day of a mid-September cold front, and
the offshore fishing for white marlin should be well worth the price
of admission. In the inlet, the outgoing tide is being met by a
northeast breeze of nearly 20 knots. The charter boats, all-custom
built in the now famous Carolina style, leave their marina on Pamlico
Sound. The boats form a long string as they run under the tall bridge
and on out into the breakers.
the cockpit of the second boat, a young angler is running the inlet
for the first time. He leans out and looks down the hull at the
dark, cresting seas. The first boat leans into a wave and disappears
down the backside. On the bridge of the second boat, the captain
slows the single diesel to zero thrust and then goes to half throttle
as the bow rises. The boat launches down the backside and hits the
second breaker full on. The hull's knife-like entry punches through
the wave and sends a green wall of water down the flared bow onto
the face of the temporarily paralyzed angler. The wooden boat pushes
through four more breakers
this case, the scene was Oregon Inlet, but it could just as easily
have been Hatteras Inlet or Ocracoke Inlet, all ports integrally
linked to big game fishing lore and boat building tradition. It
would be correct to say that building sport fishing boats on the
Outer Banks began with legendary captain Ernal Foster and his Albatross
boats, but when considering the impact on the boating world as a
whole, Outer Banks boat-building history was made on a day Willis
Slane couldn't fish.
May 1959, Slane and his colleagues of the Hatteras Marlin Club were
faced with northeasters that made running Hatteras Inlet a suicidal
proposition. The big breakers and strong headseas overmatched any
of the boats available at the time. Slane, a hosiery manufacturer
from High Point, North Carolina, and evidently not a person who
calmly accepted changes in his itinerary, vowed to find a boat made
of fiberglass able to fish in the bad seas so common to the Outer
Banks. Legend has it that a colleague dared Slane to build the boat
himself. Thus, Slane founded Hatteras Yachts on little more than
an idea, a set of plans by Jack Hargrave, and a dare from a bored
the morning of March 22, 1960, Slane launched his boat, a 41- foot
convertible named Knit Wits. The boat was everything Slane had hoped
for. Knit Wits was used briefly as a demo boat for Slane's fledgling
company before being sold to Sam Robinson and
W. B. Brooks of New Orleans.
this beginning, Slane led his company to the highest echelons of
the boat building industry. Hatteras Yachts, purchased by GenMar
in 1985, now has manufacturing facilities in both High Point and
New Bern, North Carolina and is the largest production manufacturer
of yachts over 40 feet in length. Hatteras has not strayed very
far from Hargrave's original hull design, but a tremendous amount
of research is applied to new materials and production. The company
is currently working in three-dimensional computer-aided development
as well as computerized manufacturing. From its inception, Hatteras
has been very successful in producing both motor yachts and sportsfishermen.
The company's attention to the offshore fishing scene waned during
the late 70s and early 80s, but Hatteras has recently taken a higher
profile in the sports fishing arena and has had good results from
56-foot demo boat, Hatterascal. With Captain Ron Locke on the bridge,
Hatterascal won the Hatteras Marlin Club's tournament in 1989, bringing
WilliS Slane's flagship to the winner's circle at the Birthplace
of the idea. One wonders what Slane would have thought of the air-conditioned
flying bridge. Or! for that matter, the awesome new 75-foot convertible
scheduled for this year.
of Hatteras on the Outer Banks , is Roanoke Island and the towns
of I Manteo and Wanchese. Commercial fishing and shellfishing were
the area's primary means of commerce and although the neighboring
town of Nags Head has recently experienced a boom as a tourist-oriented
beach community, Roanoke retains much of its original flavor and
close ties to the sea.
boats built here are as much a reflection of the Outer Banks as
they are a reflection of the men who build them. The remote nature
of Roanoke in the 1950s and 1960s created a strong bond between
the charter captains, many of I whom built boats in the winter,
and their unique environment. The captains built boats that were
designed to surf Oregon Inlet, take the headseas on the way offshore,
and come home as economically I as possible. Of the seven major
custom I builders making Carolina boats on Roanoke today, all owe
the origin of |their design to O'Neal's Boat Works, founded by Warren
O'Neal in 1959.
Boat Works was located in Manteo and built three charter boats for
Oregon Inlet captains before being contracted strictly for private
custom boats in the early 1960s. O'Neal's boats featured 20 degrees
of deadrise in the bow and tapered down to an almost flat stern,
giving a combination of big sea ability with a good speed-to-fuel
economy ratio. Buddy Davis, no small player on the Carolina boat-building
scene himself, credits O'Neal as the father of the Carolina sport
be wrong to say it didn't all begin with Warren," Davis said.
The flared bow was taken from some boats being built at Harkers
Island, but Warren developed the sharp entry and the flat stern
Tillet, a friend of O'Neal's and a fellow charter captain at Oregon
Inlet, spent winters fishing for sailfish at Palm Beach and returned
to Manteo raving about the Rybovich boats. O'Neal began coating
his all juniper hulls with fiberglass in the same manner as Rybovich
in the mid-1960s and developed a shear line much like that of the
Rybovich design. The hull shape remained strictly in the Carolina
fashion and O'Neal's boats began to gain notoriety among fishermen.
Around the same time; O'Neal built the first Jersey Devil for Mike
Levitt of Philadelphia. Noted angler John Wood, a long-time Rybovich
fan, became enamored with O'Neal's performance and more palatable
price tag. He commissioned a series of O'Neal boats, all of which
he named Olive E.
these peak years of O'Neal Boat Works, many of today's Roanoke builders
learned their trade from O'Neal. Omie Tillet, Sheldon Midgett and
Buddy Davis all began their boat building careers under O'Neal's
1971, Omie fillet founded the famous Sportsman Boat Works at Manteo.
Tillet built both charter boats and private boats and his vessels
quickly developed a reputation for their strength, I classic lines
and fish-catching ability. I Sportsman boats were constructed of
juniper in the traditional caned planking fashion and many were
tournament winners; Peter Conatas' Mary Cne and Dr. ~ Leroy Allen's
Sea Hag are two well-known examples. However, Tille was extremely
allergic to epoxy, and decided that a quick return to charter fishing
would bring immediate relief to both his skin and his nerves. He
sold Sportsman l to his foreman, Tom Daughtry, in 1977, and the
yard was moved to Wanchese.
also an Oregon charter captain, has been at the helm of Sportsman
ever since, successfully modernizing the yard and its products.
Composite construction of encapsulated, multidirectional plywood
began in 1986, giving Sportsman boats the speed and ability necessary
to compete on today's tournament scene. Currently on tap s an 80-foot
sportfisherman and, in a departure from normal construction methods,
an aluminum and fiberglass motor yacht.
1970 until 1980, former O'Neal protege Sheldon Midgett built a series
of custom charter boats in Manteo. The boats were used predominantly
by Oregon Inlet and Virginia Beach charter captains who found them
to be excellent fish-raisers and very reliable hulls. One of Midgett's
employees was a boatbuilder and charter captain named Buddy Davis.
Davis would arguably make the largest impact of O'Neal's proteges,
building custom boats for 10 years and then forming Roanoke's first
production boat yard in 1984.
left Midgett in 1973 to start Buddy Davis Boat Works, then located in
Manteo. Davis built one boat in Manteo, then moved to Wanchese in
1974. In 1977, he began to experiment with production design, building
two boats out of diagonal juniper. The next year, Davis switched
to diagonal mahogany construction in the Rybovich tradition. He
built four boats this way before switching to the plyboard cold-molded
boats ~at would be the prototype for his production models. Davis
admittedly respects the two great custom boat builders of South
plyboard cold mold was very much a Merritt influence. I was always
impressed with both Merritt and Rybovich. If anyone tells you that
we aren't influenced by Merritt and Rybovich, you're not getting
the whole story," Davis said.
1983, Davis built a 47-foot boat and a 61-foot boat on a mold using
fiberglass with an Airex core. These designs became the foundation
of Buddy Davis Yachts in June of 1984. Davis launched his first 47 in
July 1985, and has since built 73 47footers and 24 of the larger
boats. To say they have been will received by the sporhfishing community
is a serious understatement. Buddy Davis Yachts has gained a reputation
that places it among the best of production boat companies.
in behind Buddy Davis Yachts is the shop of another of Roanoke's most
prestigious custom builders. Rick Scarborough began his building
career with a 17-foot tunnel-hull boat that he used while duck hunting.
He founded Scarborough Boats in 1976 and began building 22-foot
center console boats out of juniper and fiberglass. Scarborough's
first large boat was a 4ffoot boat built in 1978. Since then, he
has built a sportfisherman every seven or eight months. In the interest
of speed, Scarborough's juniper/glass boats have a little less deadrise
in the bow and less vee in the stern than any Roanoke builder.
thinks that their way is right," Scarborough explained. "If
you don't, you're in the wrong business."
also has some definite thoughts on construction materials and methods.
"I will not build boats on a jig (mold). I just don't feel
like they're as good as a boat built from the keel up. I also don't
want to go to the plyboard like everyone else. I know it's lighter,
but I honestly feel that juniper will outlast plyboard every time,"
Forbes, a one-time mate for Omie Tillet during the charter season,
l founded Forbes Boat Works in 1986. Forbes learned the business
as foreman for Buddy Davis during the Buddy Davis Boat I Works days and
obviously paid attention in class, as his boats are quickly having
an impact on the custom boat market. Forbes' boats feature the classic
beauty of the Carolina hull and more than hold their own in the
one charter season at Oregon Inlet, the 53-foot Fintastic and the
50-foot,Forbes Billfisher performed well, finishing second and third
respectively in the Oregon Inlet Billfish Tournament and catching
more than one very large blue marlin. (900 pounds plus) during the
year. Forbes echoes Scarborough when it comes to building boats.
like the wood/glass construction, | and I don't plan to build boats
on a jig,"Forbes said. 'That's not to say I won't ' ever do
it, but I like the way I'm able to keep the boat exactly how I want
Boat Works, also located in Wanchese, offers yet another modification
of the Carolina design. The company is operated by Steve Gwaltney
and his boats feature more hawk in the bow and solid glass construction.
The stern, flatter than most Carolina boats, is comparable to Scarborough's
design. Gwaltney's boats are some of the fastest sportfishermen
available, with speeds approaching
miles per hour, but are also very capable in big headseas.
Briggs, who has been building large sportfishing boats for 10 years,
also places major emphasis on speed. He'll build two boats per year,
specializing in 37- and 50-foot boats. Briggs built the Shotgun
for Peter Pulitzer and the wellknown Diamond Lady with a Carolina
design, but built the
El Zorro in the West Coast bow-fishing style.
usually do Carolina hulls that are constructed a little differently
from the other builders on the island," Briggs explained.
builds his boats with a cold-molded hull and Philippine mahogany/
glass composite on the bridge. He feels this combination gives him
the right mix of strength and speed.
feel that the mahogany on the bridge makes it stronger and more
rigid than some other boats. I also put a lot of deadrise in the
bow because the boats cruise so fast (28 knots) that you need he
deadrise for a comfortable ride in any kind of sea," Br gas
builders like Davis and Briggs took to O'Neal, Rybovich and Merritt
as heir main influences, Hatteras Island builder Buddy Smith, of
Island Boat Works, combines parts of the Carolina style with many
of Jim Smith's ideas. The result is an extremely fast boat with
not as much bow flare or deadrise as the typical Roanoke boat. Island
has produced seven boats during its six years of operation, including
the 57-foot Citation, a 38-knot boat with stock 892s. Buddy Smith's
hulls are built of 3/8 inch plywood/Kevlar composite with two lay-
I s of Nytex on the outside. The company recently finished a 40-foot
boat that tops out at 3&knots with 375 hp Caterpillar diesels
really like the 40-footer," Smith id. "It's perfect for
people who want to fish without having a captain or crew. With a
little more power in her, I think she'd go well over 40 knots."
builder and Oregon Inlet captain Buddy Cannady follows the old hoot
building boats of juniper from the el up. Cannady has more than
80 boats to his credit and will build one boat in the 50-foot range
during the winter, fish it for one season, then sel1 it. Like Buddy
Smith at Island Boat Works, Cannady admires the speed of the Jim
wouldn't be logical for us to fish the flatter boat because we have
too much choppy water, but that old boy (Jim Smith) really has it
figured out when it comes to going fast. On my new boat, I'm taking
a little bit here and there with shaft angles and chine design.
Something to make it faster and still be able to fish every day,"
guess the one constant thing would be the Carolina hull and the
fishing at Oregon Inlet," Buddy Davis explained. "At one
time, every builder but Ricky was working as a charter captain there.
If our boats didn't work, we were out of business."
is this charter captain's ethic, the cold appraisal of a boat's
abilities on days when the horizon acts like a roller coaster, that
has tested all Carolina boats. It is a test the boats have passed
with flags flying, keeping not only the charter captains in business,
but the boatbuilders of the Outer Banks as well.