Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My flats boatbuilding story from 1982 through how Hells Bay Boatworks started.

I wrote the story of how I got started in the flats boat world 5 years ago. I did this for two reasons. The first was that my daughters wanted me to tell, explain my side of the story as so much miss information and tales were being told that were not near the truth. Of course I want all of you to know that this is my version of what I incountered. I have kept records of most all the boats that I have built and most all information. In regards to my time at HBBWs I have every fax and piece of correspondence from my time working with Hal and Jamie Chittum along with Flip Pallot. In essence I have documentation of my intire time at HBBWs from before it started through the buyout of my shares of HB. This was before emails.
I have a very extensive photo and paper trail to corroborate my side of the story. I'am publishing this in detail as so many skiff owners would really like to know the true history of their skiff. 

The second reason I have put my tale to print is to show the public that a great vison can start and come to fruition with a very simple idea. I want to show you here that that in my career I have done well in my way by working very hard and having good common sense to look at projects with eyes wide open holding no prejudices towards the vision. By this I mean that I love all types of boats and have used this observational and real practical use to help me in thinking and creating outside the box.
This is the story of a high school dropouts journey in the flats boat world up to designing and building the Whipray flats skiff.
I have added photos to this post now as when I first published it I had not been able to get these pictures online. 

This story starts in 1982 on the island of Islamorada in the Florida Keys.  It was at Bayside Inn Marine where I met Hal Chittum who led me into this interesting niche of the boating market. First, in order to properly understand how this story came to be I must start at the beginning of my life on the sea.

Here I am building the tiki hut at what was Bayside Inn Marina in 1982.
I don't know if World Wide Sportman tore this down when they built Bass World there.

Go back to 1973 and you will find me at age 14. My parents have sold all of their possessions, have purchased a 36’ wooden Gaff Rigged Ketch and have the idea of sailing to Florida from San Diego, California. 

Our family's ketch sailing in the San Blas islands in Panama enroute to Florida in 1976

A few years later we arrived in Tarpon Springs. Go to 1976, Stamas Boats hired me to work in Research and Development. I was to be the helper of two old Florida boat builders in building all the plugs, molds and patterns for the line of Stamas Boats. I was 18 at the time and fell into an apprenticeship that would guide me throughout my boatbuilding career.
Kenny Karnu and Richard Stauffer took me under their wings and taught me how to channel my perfectionist nature into honing my skills at being a plug and mold builder. The most important lesson that they taught me was that with a clear vision of the finished product the process of building a mold could become very efficient. In the process of creating a concept it is crucial to keep things simple for if you add in too many designers and idea guys the process can easily become disjointed and go off in too many directions. Thanks to good fortune I have had the opportunity to put this into practice as I worked on many projects for many interesting people.
After a year in service to Stamas Boats, I left on my 18 foot, 10 year old plywood sloop passing through the Keys and then on to the Bahamas. It was 8:00 at night on December 3, 1977 when returning to the Bahamas my little sloop, Bilbo Baggins struck something as I neared the halfway mark in the Gulf Stream. Within minutes my sloop had sunk leaving me swimming, alone, without a dinghy only one fin, and a spear to defend myself. I swam for 20 hours and ended up 45 miles up the coast in Biscayne Bay as the sun set. The only person I knew in Florida to call at the time was living Key Largo which is how I ended up, within a week of losing everything I owned, working at Glander Boats, located in Key Largo. This job led to many others.

My 18' plywood sloop Billbo Baggins sailing off the Berry Islands in the Bahamas

Painting the bottom on the tide in Pipe Creek in the Exumas

By 1982 I was married to Lawanda Lillis and living aboard our own built sloop in “Little Basin” in Islamorada. This area is now owned by the World Wide Sportsman Company. We both worked at Bayside Inn Marina for Ray Dye, lawanda in the office and the yard,with me fixing,painting and repairing all that came through the place. Try to picture Islamorada in the early eighties. The Lorralie Restaurant had two sailboats anchored off it, Little Basin had a small dock and the number of fishing guides could be counted on your fingers.

Building our sloop "Shellan" next to what was then called the Sea Lark building in Islamorada. I built the hull when working for Glander boats after my little sloop sank.

Lawanda at the helm as we sail out to Florida Bay from Lews Marina which was next to Max's Marina 
In Islamorada. 

Fitting deck beams to a 32' cutter that I was helping to build as project leader working for Dave Calvert in the Sea Lark Building.

Some statistics;
From 1977 to 1982 I had built for myself and others a total of 17 boats from 16 feet to 60 feet and I had logged 10,400 ocean sea miles under sail on my own boats.

Building a rowing dory in the evenings in what is now the main check out place in World Wide.

I love to sail, cruise, explore and fish. My passion was and is all kinds of boats from sail to power. At that time I knew of Flats Fishing but had no desire to own or build a skiff when I could have a great time sailing off to anchor and go fishing in my dinghy.

The only fishing guide I knew at that time was Tony Lay who kept his side console Hewse Bonefisher without a tower at Bayside Inn.

This all changed when Ray Dye introduced me to Hal Chittum. Hal had a project for me to do. He and Eddie Whiteman had purchased two Mako 18 foot flats boat hulls with bait boxes on the transoms and had tried to get a custom builder in Miami to build the interiors and finish them out. The boats had the 17 Mako sheer cut down to Flats boat height with flush decks and simple drain  channels but had ¼ inch copper tubing for the drains. The boat amenities consisted of a forward hatch, main hatch bait well and a sump hatch. Cockpits were self bailing.
Eddie Whitman finished his skiff himself. The hull was solid glass and everything else was glassed over plywood with decks and hatches plywood cored. The finish was raw, the boat was a wreck and it weighed a “ton”. Hal was a busy guide so he gave me the project to finish. My quote to him was within an hour’s time of completion. Ray Dye rigged the boat.

Hal's mako ready to paint the insides

This project got me talking with Hal about the guiding industry. Being a sailor, getting about on engineless sail boats and having designed and built some small rowing and sailing boats I told Hal in one of which has turned into one long discussion of what if, what about. I told Hal that in the sailing world where races are won by seconds that the state of the art is in building in foam core in construction with better quality materials. I said I could build the same skiff weighing ⅔ less than his present skiff. He then could use a smaller engine, save on fuel, and would be easier to pole. It would float higher of course in shallow water but at that time it did not seem to be such a big deal. Hal asked if I would be interested in doing this.
“yes of course” what a challenge!
Two days later he came back with 3 clients for me to talk to; Charles Causey, Bert Sherb and Dick Negly.
Within the month Lawanda and I had quit our jobs, rented a commercial house next to Campbell’s Marina in Tavernier in Key Largo from Stu Marr and opened shop as BACK BAY BOATS. This was 1982, I was 25 and Hal was 31 years old.

My observations at the time of the skiffs that were about;

Shy Poke:
A grey coloured, deep vee skiff, heavy, no dry lockers but had a good ride. Billy Knowles had one.

Hewes Bonefisher:
Obviously it was a knock off of a lapstrake ski boat. The bottom had a built-in trim tab hook. The boats were built with solid glass hulls and the decks were cored with plywood.They had wooden carpet covered floors and wood glassed over stringers. No dry lockers and were heavy. Tony Lay had one.

Cuda Craft:
A very shallow soft vee at the stern with conventional chines. A simple glass interior. I was told they slid in a turn. A basic, plain skiff with classic looks.

Dolphin Skiff - Dave Exley:
This boat hull developed by Exley was at the time a crude open skiff built in Homestead. It was very heavy with a rough finish, had no dry storage and a deep draft. It was a good camp rough and ready skiff at that time. They ran great but were tippy.They made no noise,but nobody was thinking of that then.Except Steve Huff and Harry Spear.

Fiber Craft:
A long, lean but massively layed-up hull. This very heavy skiff had a rounded bow and a very narrow spray rail at mid point of topsides but not big enough to really work. I kept in mind some of these points to my future designs. Davie Wilson built his own Fiber Craft skiff.

Sidewinder Skiff - Bass Boat Type:
I made a custom deck for Carl Naverrae with a side console. Deep vee.Similar to a Shypoke

Willy Roberts
Willy and I became friends while I had  my shop in Tavernier. It was my dream to have a shop equal to his. He was building fiberglass boats at this time molded from his plywood designs.I do not remember if he used foam core at this time or balsa core. At the time they were a classic.

Maverick - Lenny Berg:
The 18 ft was a big deep vee boat with a good conventional flats boat deck and interior. I was told it had a great ride, was wet, poled like a tank and made lots of noise. Hank Brown used to hang a piece of carpet over the bow to stop the noise.

These little skiffs were custom made from existing hulls that were originally little play boats. They had a very flat run that flowed into a rounded bow shape. It was originally designed to sit in and sport around in with a wheel forward.To make the boats work for fishing. The owner’s fitted spray rails low aft, near the water and high in the bow. The boats were heavy and tippy. I think of them like bass lures with metal cheeks wobbling along. They have a loyal following. I learned from this design and incorporated much of what I learned into my future designs. They had an offshoot of this called the WIND RIVER SKIFF.

Action Craft:
It had sloping outboard side decks and a very sharp angular look with a moderate vee bottom. To me it was very ugly.Action Craft started their company in 1983 with this boat using a foam in its deck core.

Mako 18 Experimental:
As explained earlier the 18 was a cut down 17 Mako on the sheer, with bait boxes added. The Mako construction had wood stringers, plywood or balsa cored, foam filled with chop and roving construction. This was a very heavy way to build yet standard practice at the time. The boat slid in a turn.

John Boats:
Well, there is nothing more classic and simple than this flat bottom skiff in wood or aluminum or glass. The boats would still rule if everybody was not in a such a great big fucking rush.

This is my opinion from my perspective at that time. There were a sprinkling of other one off boats as well. Billy Pate had a monster built from the Shypoke hull style. There were little cold molded plywood boats but mostly little vee-hull conventional boats with flat decks.
I do not know of anyone who was building a lightweight purpose boat at that time. Willy Roberts might have put core in his boats but I do not remember this.Billy Knowles had a 16 footer mold i believe called the SlOW POKE made but I never saw anymore than the first one.It was very small.

BACK BAY BOATS started in 1983 with two projects.
The first was to build a custom foam-cored Sea Craft 21 for Dick Negly. Lawanda and I started on this at the same time as we started on  the Mako 17 redo/redesign/revamp project for Charles Causey and Bert Sherb. They liked the boats Hal and Eddie had and liked the ideas on construction that I was proposing. They wanted a Mako hull but with less freeboard to the bow and to slow down the skipping. Charley’s boat was to be built first.
That was their input and the rest they left up to me. My price for the project was 20,000 US$. This included the 2 hulls, cost of the plug and mold. The rigging was up to them. Both boats were contracted to be done within the year.

I started my career as most fiberglass flats boat builders by modifying another man’s design. This process still goes on today. One only has to look at Kevin Fien’s boats, BEAVER CRAFT for example and the YELLOW FIN boats to name a few.The truth is I am all for seeing a good idea and making it better.I just do not think it is good business to make your boats look the same as your competition.
The first thing we did was buy a used Mako 17 for 300.00US$, cut the sheer off at the right height, cut the interior and flip it over onto the floor I made in the shop. This consisted of plywood screwed to the floor with formica glued on top. The changes I made to hull were as follows;
I lowered the sheer height from the Mako 18’s 4” lower.
a 4 inch flange around the sheer
a 1 inch thickness added to the transom with 3 degree more angle,
two sets of lifting strakes aft tapering out about mid way. I did not see any need for lifting strakes forward as the boat was going to be lighter therefore did not need the lift as they cause water to part from the hull earlier and miss the chine.

Mako remake hull plug ready for gelcoat.

Who ever built the SILVER KING boats agreed with me as they built it the same way. As did Scott Flanders and Jim Gardiner of EGRET fame years later. All the conventional deep vee boats at that time had the strakes all the way up the bow. They were noisy and wet. Lifting strakes are for deep vee craft that need lift to get out of their own holes.

The hull was layed up in solid glass with all the stringers, bulkheads, interior, deck and hatches of Divinycell foam core. At the time most boats made no pretense at trying to have a dry locker. Some decks had proper drain channels but no piping going overboard.

Hull number one Charley Causey's skiff.

All fuel tanks were metal. In order to get away from metal tanks, gain space in the boat, move the weight forward and balance the boat at rest and when poling I devised a way to build fiberglass tanks in the bow. This was accomplished by using the hull sides and the forward bulkhead and were kept very low.
The Coast Guard rules at the time stated fiberglass tanks were fine if they passed the pressure test, structural tests etc and as long as they were not built as part of the hull. To separate the hull from the tank I rubbed mold release wax on the hull before laying up the tank and glassed the tank edge up 4” above the wax line. That became the “attachment point”. 40 gallons into bow locker down low worked great. The wax barrier is my separation of hull and tank. All hulls and tanks were layed up in Dion resin and to my knowledge no problems have surfaced in these boats.
The rod racks were glassed in as part of the hull. I believe I was the first to build monocoque boats in glass. Willy Roberts and all the wooden boat builders before me of course had been doing so.
I built my one off decks on the same plywood and formica floor making all the hatch channels and coamings out of wood as forms,using clay fillets as radiuses and waxing over. 

Hatch forms being pulled from a completed one off deck molding. This takes a week from start to finish.

Deck all trimmed ready to be bonded to the hull. From there I would finish in Awlgrip including the cockpit. The hulls had gelcoat on them as they came from a finished mold.

This is quick and easy in a flat deck and allows every boat to be custom from the hull on up. The decks were glued on with 5200 and the deck and inside were Awlgripped. The finished hull with hinges, rubrail, and console weighed 700 pounds. They were overbuilt but at the time time were way ahead of anything being built. Because of their lighter weight they floated approximately 3 to 4 inches higher and were easier to pole. They ran great with the 115 Mercury outboard fitted and they looked great.

Waiting for Rick Justice to pick Charley's skiff up to be rigged.

Charley and I going or the first test ride. We are in the canal in plantation key just behind where Willy Roberts old shop used to be. 

After finishing Charley’s skiff I approached Bert Sherb about his boat with a central round bait well design with the side lockers and the normal hatch forward. he said - “great”
I believe this is the boat that SILVER KING based their company upon. I have no idea who got this together in this adaptation of my adaptation to the Mako hull. That is the crux of the fiberglass industry.

In my element fairing out Berts skiff.

Berts finished skiff at the dock at Bay Side Inn Marina. It's now Bass world.

The next boat I designed, I built using Divinycell core and Kevlar. It was a one-off Scooter Boat  for Dick Negly. He was very happy as to how the Sea Craft had turned out.  

The Sea Craft project.

We finished all three boats on time. The Scooter Boat vision from Dick was that it “had to float in 5 inches” on a hard sand bottom in Texas. It had to do this with all of his gear; rods, guns, decoys, umbrella for his wife, cooler, food, baitwell, 60 gallon fuel tank, tools and more. The boat had to get up on a plane in 5.25 inches of water.
I drew a pointed bow flat bottom 20 foot skiff with a 10 inch long wedge tunnel with an extension off of the curved stern leading to a 200 Mercury with a jet drive.The entire boat was built of Divenycell foam core with an outer skin of Kevlar. I drew a spud hole going through the deck from the poling platform so if one wanted to stop one just flipped a solid aluminum lever and down went the spud and the boat stopped dead. Next, put the push pole between your legs, pick up your rod from its place alongside the tower and start casting. Of course in Texas we were fishing where no airboat or tunnel boat had gone because they all weighed so much and when they stopped planning they had to have a foot of water underneath to float in Plus the tunnel boats needed 18 inches of water to get on a plane. In Dick’s boat the biggest problem was if there was ENOUGH water to stop in as it skimmed along in a few inches.It was loud,pounded ,slid,but could get up in ankel deep water.
As a bonus, in 1984, Dick flew Lawanda and I to Port Mansfield, Texas so we could use his skiff for a 10 days.

In my new shop. I glass the side planking on one side first before I build the jig to support the hull on. I set these aside. Then make my station molds and when finished I then lay these full length planks on the hull stations. Because the glass is only on one side they bend like a noddle and are very easy to attach. When done I then glass the out side of the entire hull. Very fast and easy with a hull shape like this.

Ready for glass. You can see my car out by the gate. Keep life simple if you can.

By the time I had built 4 of the Mako remakes a gentleman by the name of Carl Naverrae was brought to the shop by my guide friends. I had begun to know some of the Islamorada guides quite well. Tony Lay, Eddie Whiteman, Billy Knowles,Davie Wilson, Forrest Hanes and Hank Brown.
I proposed the idea to Carl to build his 17 skiff totally with core using a unidirectional s-glass from a company called ORCAWEB. The s-glass came in a foot wide roll. Carl said to do whatever it will takes to make the skiff the lightest.
It was made with a built-in side console and a big main hatch. He named the boat as he had all of his other’s “BACKLASH” It is my favourite boat from the Back Bay Boat days. It is the one seen in pictures by Hank Brown’s wife of George Bush Senior in it with George Hummel as guide. The boat was very stiff and had a great feel. I built only 2 more solid glass hulls as the cost was more for all core. My price at this time was 12,500.00 US$ for a custom  hull and deck.
Rick Justice, in Plantation, did all my rigging.

The inside of Carl's skiff. The aluminum plate is for a boat chair. Carl had cancer at the time and needed a good chair to sit in. He was the nicest guy ever. 

Putting the finishing touches to Carl's skiff the " Back Lash"

By the end of 1983, Lawanda and I found a lot for sale next to the Tavernier Health Dept building. We bought the land and Randy Wall built us a 1,000 square foot shop with a small apartment and office. We could build two boats at once. Carl Navarrea’s boat was finished here and Dick Negly’e Scooter Boat was started here. I now had a shop of my  own that was bigger than Willy Roberts!

As our shop looked just before we sold it and took off sailing. 

The next project was Hal’s idea of building in all core a lightweight small skiff. He was able to use the then SUPER SKIFF mold from the builder in Homestead.At that time the boats were built with a minimal camp skiff iterior. Hal wanted one as did Dick Negly and Dev Mooring. Hal introduced me to Sandy Moret as the third customer.

I layed up 3 foam core Kevlar hulls and started on Dick,Dev’s boat first. The mold was taken back to Homestead. I also had 2 more 17’s to build. At the time the SUPER SKIFF was a very basic boat, crudely built but a price point skiff. If it were lighter it would float shallower, less engine size, etc. You must remember this was not the 90’s onward whereby Bob Hewes and company were the main deal. The other boats at this time were from really small shops. It was just Lawanda and I. We were very busy but had no inclination to expand. My clients were chomping at the bit to lend us money to grow large but we liked our life as it was. We had no car, built boats and we were able to find time to go sailing or fishing. We had borrowed 45,000.00 US$ to buy the land and build the shop. In 15 months we had paid off the loan.

This is Sandy Morets Super skiff

My idea at the time for a slick looking side console.

Dev Mooring sent me this photo a couple of years ago of his skiff which he still lovingly takes care of.

The Super Skiff hulls incorporated all my previous knowledge of core building and were finely detailed. During this time Steve Huff came to my shop to hire me to help him lay up his own hull in Homestead. By this time Super Skiff did not want the mold out of their sight. The boat that Scott Deal learned about pressure waves, in the late eighties, was this boat.  
Steve Huff finished his boat just the way I like my own personal boats - strong, simple and to the point.
I believe the interior detailing, hatch channels and over-all looks of both the 17’s and Super Skiffs played a  role in Scott Deal’s push with flats boats marketing. What he and others did not pay attention to  was in the details of construction. Light-weight, mass produced boats designed and styled for multiple sales do not lend itself to long term boat life if not built right. Scott took the Super Skiff idea and tweaked it into the Mirage. From the time he bought Hewes Maverick I do not believe he designed a boat from scratch. That would all change much later when HELLS BAY BOATWORKS and the “Whipray” came on the scene. Then he was forced to. I am getting ahead of the story.

During this time at Back Bay Boats I met Flip Pallot. He came by the shop one day to see if I would talk to a friend about the 17’s and how I was building them. “could he pick my brain?” Sure!
This is how I met Bob Era of Mangrove Boat fame. I went to his house and looked over his tricked out Challenger. We talked boats. Bob wrote me a check for 150.00 to learn what I knew. This started a few months of ongoing conversation. I sent him my sketches of how things were built but most everything I did at that time was in my head. By now in my career I had 3 years of building these boats with the added plus of being able to use them for free - gas included -  when available. I got a lot of fishing time and boat running time logged in. This helped me get to know the pros and cons of the projects. Other boats were available to me as well and I was able to go out in other guide’s boats. I had lots of hands-on building, repairing and also real sea time. By the end of ‘86 I had gained another 6,000 sea miles.

Bob Era put together a team of respected engineers and builders and came up with the Mangrove Skiff. His boat is totally different than the Mako - beamier - crowned deck, etc. but it is, I belive, the first attempt at a total foam core constructed production boat from scratch.
All my boats at that time were one off or semi-so. I do not know how many boats were built from his molds, the first one was launched November 1986. He still has the molds.
By the end of 1986 Lawanda and I had built 18 custom skiffs from 16 to 21 feet, 12 sailing dinghies, and repaired numerous boats.
The Bahamas were beckoning and I was bored with flats boat building. We sold out Back Bay Boats and left.

It would be 9 years passed, a lost marriage, a new wife, kids, and more sea miles before I was to get back into the Flats Boat game.

In between a lost marriage I designed and built the plugs and molds for the Spanish Wells Crayfishing industry. I met Rachel while I was in the process of building the deck plug for this skiff. 

Rachel was on a five day vaction and met me on her second day. I invited her to lunch. Then to see the sunset after work. I then asked her to stay. She spent the next two days asking people about me. She stayed and we have been married now for 26 years.

This time it would be different.
Only original designs. No more re-designs.
This came to be by way of an old client - Charlie Causey.

When I met rachel this is the sailboat that I had built and which we sailed about the Bahamas and Caribbean in raising our two daughters as they came along.

The spark began as an idea to build a 45 ft sailing catamaran, funded by Charlie,designed and built by me as part owner to be used as a mothership for bonefishing in the Bahamas.
Firstly we would need a custom skiff to fish the flats with.
My idea came from this reality. All of the skiffs being built in 1995 were too big and heavy. The engines too large and complicated. My vision was for a 16 foot skiff that was light, tiller driven, 25-30 horsepower motor that we could have several on the mothership and a simple interior. The boat had to be dead quiet and also be able to handle rough seas and a current chop that the channels in the Bahamas are known for.
I had already designed and built a 12 ft version that was my family’s skiff for 5 years. 

Here is my dinghy design siting on our dock in the Bahamas. The other one is my later redesign that I did at HBBWs.

The new version was to have a rounded displacement hull that would turn into a flats lifting chine. The run aft would be flat but would flow into a deep vee forward. I would put a spray rail in the hull well out of the water to catch spray. My 12 foot skiff had a similar bottom but the spray rail was lower and thus made too much noise for flats fishing. 

Station mold stage.

Finished at Charly Causey's house in Islamorada.

I built this boat in Marathon FL alongside a friend’s catamaran project in 1995.
At the (entering? awkward use) stage of the project, Charley got cold feet and decided to have just a normal Flats skiff with a 90 HP Yamaha on the transom, ultimately scratching the catamaran project. By my standards the 90 horse ruined the boat but the finished product floated in 5 inches of water, poled like a dream and ran like a Wahoo .Charley loved his skiff and my family and I had other places to explore in our 32 ft self designed and built shallow draft centre board yawl HOGFISH.

1996 found Rachel, our daughters and I in St Augustine. Our eldest, Kalessin, in kindergarten and our youngest, Lilly,  a growing concern. I worked at Luhrs Mainship in R&D and we settled into St Augustine. Our boat was not growing with our girls and we were trying to decide if we could give up our freedom along with the boat and settle ashore. Work has never been a problem, but not having a boat will always be a major difficulty for us.
Then, one day, the phone rang in the new shop where we were building a 38 sportfish plug. No one was meant to use the phone but for some reason I answered it. I actually hate phones.It was Hal Chittum,he had tracked me down. He had an idea for a project and would I be interested in talking. This is where the idea of Hell’s Bay began. 1996 - St. Augustine FL.

I called Hal back after work (pay phones were still operable) and he said he and his buddy Flip Pallot were thinking of a concept of building the ultimate John Boat. A detailed interior with dry lockers, a light boat with a small engine. Something to replace the TRACKER, a john boat with Fip’s name on it. He wanted me to drive down to Mim’s to meet him Flip and talk this over.
I rented a car - I had a bicycle - I do not like cars much either.

The idea ran like this. “would I come up with a design for construction of a hull that would fit what they were basically looking for? I told them to call Charles Causey and  go use his boat. If they liked it I already had a mind full of improvements on how to make that boat design better.It would be way better than a John boat hull. This is why I like one-offs. They are always improving, one just needs patrons to keep one going. I left Mims saying we would meet soon and I would have a design proposal ready.

Hal was still in Islamorada with his store and was able to go out in Charlie’s boat. He and Flip would be able to meet soon. In the meantime I made four half models of different shallow water designs; a john boat, a vee bottom Garvey, a modified flat and vee forward shape and my design for what would become the WHIPRAY. I also brought the half hull of Charley’s skiff. Using these models I could present 3-dimensions when placed on a mirror showing the whole skiff.

I had not talked to Hal for years before he approached me by phone. I knew Hal to be a great idea guy, someone who can put people together with ideas and make things happen. I knew Flip from 10 years prior when he came by Back Bay Boats for visits to chat about boats, and I knew he was a well respected fishing guide, writer, hunter, and TV storyteller. I could tell Flip and I had similar sea sense and and how a boat should be run. I knew that both men had spent many years running small skiffs, guiding and poling clients around. I knew that Hal liked to win and that Flip liked to live life to the fullest his way. Both of their knowledge of fishing and small boats was priceless. Both men different but both looking for something very similar in this project.

Rachel our daughters and I drove back to Mims and this time thanks be to the auto Gods the rental car company could only find us a Cadillac for the economy car price. Rachel and I basically drove a living room for that one hour and a half faster than anything we had ever driven.

After presenting all my hull forms with their pros and cons it was agreed that my new hull design was what they wanted. Flip did not think that water noise was going to be a problem so he asked me to lower the upper chine 3 inches as designed. We also discussed at length the sheer height. He wanted it lower, I said no. It stayed. He and Hal would discuss the interior. We went back to St Augustine and I quit my job.

The deal was Hal was to put up the money, I would design and build the hull and deck plugs and build HUll # 1. The plan was to build the first hull and test drive it before building all of the other plugs/molds from this.
I rented a steel box car in an old boat yard, procured a business license under Chris Morejohn Boat Repair and gave Hal a fixed price contract to build plugs mold and HUll #1 for 14,000.00 US$ for labour plus 10% above materials cost. I built the whole thing including the rough #1 boat in 4 months time.
During this time, Hal and Flip would come to see the plug. I would build it out of strip planked cedar. The boat had been lofted full size so Hal and Flip could see the sheer height. It can be difficult for non draftsmen to visualize heights.

My original hull lines drawings for the Whipray.

Rough weight list

Section calculations on a yellow legal pad

Transome engine numbers

Thinking of the weight. I wanted to build fiberglass fuel tanks.

Hull to deck thinking.
I gave all my original pictures of building the plugs, molds and hull #1 to Chris Peterson of building this skiff in St. Augustine Florida.

Now Flip could see the height was perfect. My design for this skiff was to depart from Charley’s design in the stern and how it transitioned to the bow. I wanted to run on the bow in rough water, plane easily and be as dry as possible for a small skiff.

This is how I design my boats;
The first thing I do is make a weight list of everything that goes into the boat. Everything!!! Tools, shoes, pants, belts - yes everything that will be placed in a boat. I am 5ft 3in tall and weigh 155 lbs. Most of my clients have been over 6 ft and weigh over 200 lbs. I have weighed every piece of hardware that goes on my and other people’s designs. This weight list is a great tool.
The hardware from one boat goes to the next, only the rub rails and engines change.
When I start with a draft line I have a good idea of my dry hull weight. It takes a little time to add up cubic footage of hull and deck but it matters.
This is where I save the weight. At HELLS BAY BOATWORKS we had a 5000 lb Chantillion scale. We used it constantly. We used it to weigh everything, even had opportunities to weigh the competitor’s boats if they presented themselves to the shop. Boy, was that fun!! More on that later.
Once I have the weight idea and draft ideal I then draw on paper what I have in my head. From this I then divide up into station sections and do a rough displacement calculation. I use a calculator, not a computer program.
From this I tweak the displacement and hull shape. There has to be a vision to do this. From this I then make a large half model. This can take a day or two to do. With the hull lines drawn on the model I can then look at it like on a computer but more touchy feely. I tend to cut away a bit from the hull at this stage. When done I then cut the half hull up into pieces at the station section lines. I now have all the half sections of the boat to look at. From here I trace around these on graph paper and then recalculate the displacement of each section very carefully. With this info I draw a proper set of lines drawings and offsets.

Today I can feed the offsets into a simple free lines program on the internet and it will tell me everything  in a nano second. Lots of fun. But on computers I think garbage in garbage out . Vision in vision out, or so you hope!

I then loft the boat full-sized and start building.
With Charley’s design I had a flatish displacement hull aft going into short lifting chines.

Hal and Flip were looking for a small skiff that would run with a 25 Mercury outboard. With this in mind and my target weight of 350- 385 lb boat floating in 4 inches or so of water I went to a very slight crowned stern and then about mid way going into a good vee section. Instead of lifting chines aft the hull was flater with a little chine pocket that I hoped would act as a keel when poling. I put a little rocker in the aft transom corners to let the boat trim up and down.Flip liked this. The boat would have trim tabs. I installed my reverse spray strake at the point that it would be most useful. I had never seen anyone do this. The upper chine I felt was too low but knew that it is easier to raise this in a new mold than lower it.

This would be a very dry running boat though. The upper chine was needed and I ran it all the way aft to get more volume inside the boat and for looks. The stern keelson chines were 3 inches across and Flip asked me to fill them in some. I agreed. That was the extent of my partners involvement in the Whipray hull design. Now it was up to me to finish the plug, make the mold and build the first hull.I was left to build the boat according to my own design engineering principals.


Hal and Flip drove up and I weighed a few friends and positioned them in the open hull to act as a finished hull.We used Flips 25 Merc.Hal,Flip and I were the sports.We ran up and down the creek,they were very happy.So Hal got me to build a very rough interior for Flip and Lefty Kreah to use on Flips next up coming Walkers Cay Show.I did this.

Here is hull #1 right after our first boat show at Frank And Liz Steels fly shop in Titussvile. More on that pool in HBBWs later history.

Hal called after Flips taping of the show.He said that they loved the boat and that he and Flip were coming up to talk.Hal felt that the design had so much potential that he wanted to start a company and sell them.He wanted me to build them.I said I would build 10 and train a crew and then be on my way.Hal said,"wait, I want you to be our partner in this,I will give you a 24% share along with Flip and Jamie and I will hold the balance.He and Flip would sell them and you will build them.The boat will be called the Whipray and the company will be called Hells Bay Boatworks." I said I would think about it.

My wife Rachel and I had met in Spanish Wells Bahamas while she was on vacation,fallen in love,got married had kids and did lots of sailing adventuring together.We had been pretty free spirits.This would be a big commitment.I would not be able to move on in a year.Our daughters were 8 and 3 years old.We wanted a bigger boat, one that we could live our life out in.Our present boat the Hogfsh I had designed and built in wood composite as a shoal draft Yawl.A bigger version would be great.Having a shop to build it in and all the deals that go with it would be a great advantage.Could I run a business and build a 38 ft. sailboat at the same time? Would the four of us survive with me gone all the time?

I knew Hal from hours of talking about ideas,boats,fishing,etc.We had never had any business dealings together except for the Super Skiff hull deck that I had built for him.He paid me and then promptly sold the boat as he was in the retail store business and needed the cash.He and Jamie who I had only briefly met years before were still deeply entrenched in the Chittum Store chain.Hal would be a great salesman.He knew everybody and could remember all their names and have a good story to go along with them.I knew he would be able to cover the cash flow to start with.

Flip I did not know well.He and Hal were good friends.The relationship looked to be that Hal was the point man and Flip would be the input guy with the two of them looking to me to make their vision a reality.Both men had never drawn or built a boat from scratch that I knew of.Flip had great credibility, lots of friends that would come in the door to see what he was involved in.This was a huge plus.I felt we had a good chance to get things going.
Rachel and I agreed,lets go for it.

This is what I proposed to Hal;
-I needed a new company truck ASAP
-I wanted full control of how the shop would be run,ie I hire,fire ,raises etc.
-I was to build,construct the boats to my construction designs,way of thinking with input from them on the interior designs and future hull styling.
-I needed shop space to build my next sailboat.
-That in 3 years time I would leave Hells Bay and they would have to buy me out.

Hal bought me a new dark green Ford F150 within the week.
The Whiprays interior was designed May 1997.
Hells Bay Boatworks incorporated July 30th 1997.
The first boat running by September with all molds done.
Chris Morejohn Boat Repairs moves to Titusville Florida because of cheap rent and that Flip lived nearby in Mims and that Hal could stay at Flips when visiting the shop.
In October 3rd of 1997 we print our first newsletter from HBBW introducing the Whipray logo drawn by me.

Production starts in earnest in November.We were off and running...what a ride it was for me.

The Whipray design as explained evolved from Hal and Flips vision of having a better flat bottom John boat and in using my hull bottom and construction designs to put their interior ideas into.
For the layouts of the interiors of our future boats I would look to my partners knowledge with me being the detail guy on how to put it all together.
This time period for me was a great learning experience. I have had the great good fortune to meet and get good clients. Having nice people to work for always makes you want to build another boat. 
It also helped to be young with tons of energy, determination, and the quest to build the best I could.

I will be posting in a separate blog my opinions and observations of the current state of Hells Bays Boatworks drive to retell, rewrite the history of this company. Chris Peterson, his employees and Flip Pallot openly writing Hal Chittum out of the company's history is to me very sad and embarrassing for all involved at Hells Bay and what it could stand for. Telling a good fish story is one thing but trying to buy your way to a new reality is pretty silly in today's world of total information and knowledge. 
 The truth is Hells Bay Boatworks would not be here if not for Hal and Jamie Chittum. The Chittums put up the money to start the company, paid Flip Pallot to be its spokes person by giving him shares in the company, hired me to design and build the boats with an added impetuous to get me to stick around by giving me a 24% share in the company. If you've read my version of the story you will see how everyone's rolls played out. I will back up my story with all my past customers, employees, Hal Chittum  and many other witnesses. Plus my paper trail. It needs to be told strait and true.
Buying a company is one thing. Yes you can sell off its parts. Lay off all the employees, start over with new designs. But to be so naive to have a picture of three of the partners in your bought company on your home page and to write out the mans name who really put it all together is just plain sad. What do you think of your customers intelligence? Nobody will notice this? What else are you not telling your customers ?

This picture was taken by my wife Rachel very early in the morning with Flips camera for this ad.
We are standing in cold shallow water.

I have a legacy to pass on to my kids and hopefully grandkids. I'am very proud of my involvement in my boat building and design career. The tale of how the Whipray and other skiffs came to be needs to be told.

My design and boat building career is on going.