Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Chris Morejohn's history of Hells Bay Boatworks beginning till 2001

The word technical flats skiff did not exist when we launched our first skiff. At that time the game plan and goal for Hal and Flip was to build a very simple, no extras, fishing machine that could get across the bay relatively dry and comfortable using small simple power. Something that would be able to float in very shallow water and possible for the average guy to pole along in these new untouched waters (kayaks, John boats, and other small craft already doing so) all day long and in varied wind conditions. What they wanted was a really cool, neat, trim and detailed skiff in the opposite direction of where the flats boat world had been heading and was still going. They wanted this skiff for themselves and figured their friends would want one too. They also saw an opening in a market, if done properly, that  could redefine the flats boatbuilding market and if our product did well enough then maybe one of the bigger companies would notice and buy us out. They would get their skiffs, I would get my sailboat, if I worked quickly enough, and maybe we could make some cash too. 

 Some observations from my point of view of the skiffs at this time. Remember, I am not a guide, just a guy that likes to build, design boats and be out on the water.
In 1997 Hewes, Maverick, Pathfinder, Action Craft, Egret Boats, Silverking, and a least 20 other companies were building huge, massively heavy, deep draft, hard to pole craft that they were advertising as shallow draft, light weight, fly fishing machines.
Dolphin Skiffs, the Maverick Mirage, Geenoe, Pathfinder, Mitzi skiff, Back Country Boats, and others were on the edge of what was to become our market during the next couple of years.
The typical ad would claim an 850 lb. hull weight with an 8" draft. Now you take a Hewes, Maverick, Egret at that time and weigh them and then draw a line from the transom waterline to the bottom of their Vee. These skiffs really weighed 1,500 lbs and drew 15" if lucky. I have weighed them all. All of these boats were big comfortable skiffs that did not know there was a whole other world in shallower water out there waiting. There  was nothing wrong with these skiffs, it was just that what they were claiming and actually doing/performing were 2 different worlds.
Our goal was to compete with Egret's reputation on details, but in our own style; by not having Carbon Kevlar glossy inside hatch liners that meant nothing and to compete with the Maverick Mirage, Dolphin Skiff, Mitzi Skiff, Geenoe And Pathfinder. All other skiffs were considered outdated, obsolete. Any design claiming to be a true fly fishing flats boat that had a chine coming out of the water and had to be looked at as a classic old school boat. The Pathfinder hard chine Garvey tunnel skiff was very old school but we would have to compete against them in sales too.

To do this the boat had to be very light, well engineered and have a very practical layout. I have always favored Yahmaha engines in my small boat dinghy world that I live in but the Mercury 25 hp that Flip was representing with Bass Pro at the time really put us on the map. Our first finished skiff had a Yahmaha 30 on it. The Mercury 25 is rated at the prop and was so much more powerful than the Yahmaha and other engines that we could get up to 32 mph out of our skiffs. This was fast enough to impress long time skiff owners that were used to 90 hp engines.
We wanted to show the fishing world a new way of thinking for the fly fisherman and sight caster that really wanted to pole around and stalk his prey in a skiff that was designed and built specifically for this need and market. Hal and Flip felt the Whipray was the boat.

In 1997 few existed in production; the Maverick Mirage, Mitzi skiff, Dolphin Skiff, my 5 old Dolphin skiff one-offs , Geenoes and other one-offs like Steve Huff and Harry Spears boats.
The Maverick Mirage was a remake of the Dolphin skiff. It had a reputation for structural problems, and it performed about the same as the Dolphin skiffs being so similar with my nod to the Dolphin Skiffs. They poled very well, but drew more than 10" of water, were tippy at the bow, used 90 hp engines and could use a little more space inside. Otherwise these were good skiffs. The Geenoe is a great skiff for what it represents and does.

A John boat is too but they have their limits. The Mitzi skiff is a good skiff, but has a little flatter bottom concept like the Dolphin and it is a nock-off the Mirage.
By Coast Guard standards the Whiprays transom was rated at 60 hp but we had to start out with the Mercury 25 to show and explain what could be done. It would be an up wind battle. With the 25 hp the boat would get up on plane with the trim tabs down with the bow barely rising. The Whipray would slide in a turn if the throttle was not eased off for a second to allow for the hull to lean a bit then turned back to full throttle in the turn. The design had to have trim tabs to be used to its full potential. The sliding is one of those compromises that you have in design. On the Whiprays we tried little keel tabs on the trim tabs. We ended up with the tabs having their sides turn down for little keels. Some people complained about this reducing their draft. Draft really was becoming apparent to the adventurer that was now poling a reasonable sized skiff in very shallow water in pursuit of fish. In later designs Hal and I tested many ideas on how to cure the sliding. More on this later.

The first year selling the Whipray concept was the most fun I've had in my career. Everybody was very skeptical of an all up 550 lb skiff and motor that would not beat your brains out and fall apart at the same time. Once Hal and Flip were happy about the hulls performance I commenced to build all the plugs and molds for the first skiff. What Hal and Flip asked for was a forward locker, a large aft locker, a small bait well to port. Flip asked if I could draw a blue crab with the wording "Crustacean Crevasse"on  the lid. This I did, got a plastic sign engraver to copy and put it in the mold. The stern well is Flips idea on how to make the boat self bailing and simple. I like it. Flip wanted a leather non skid look which I did using Formica in the plugs. I made the cockpit floor sit on top of a simple hat stringer with it being glassed to two bulkheads and then faired. The bow had a small hatch that folded back with the running lights. This I did years earlier. You had the option of not having the floor to save weight but losing the self bailing part. Fishermen like Ted Jurasicsick opted for the no floor version to save weight, and get a bit less draft. The side console option was to be very simple with the Gear shift coming out of the deck. The gear shift was neat but a pain in fitting and trying to keep the water out of the stern locker. I did this with a simple tray around the hull sides. To satisfy the Coast Guard rules for flotation I have used the cubic feet of the foam in the core as enough to keep the boat from sinking. A cubic foot equals 62 lbs of water or 62 lbs of weight. In reality there is plenty in the boats but the Coast Guard wants enough in the side deck area fore and aft to keep a boat floating upright in the event of sinking. What I don't agree with is that when a boat sinks with flotation like this it normally flips over and now you are clinging to a smooth upside down boat. The Coast Guard rules are up to the builder to comply with. If any thing happens to your design then they step in and determine if the boat would comply to their standards. To me the best thing to do in a sinking boat is get rid of the engine as it is the weight that wants to flip the boat over. Sitting in a half sunk boat is better than hanging onto an upside down one with your body outside of the boat. I have been in a sinking boat of another's design so can say this.
The Console was supported by a simple knee that was bonded and glassed to the hull and deck. What made it all work and not break, like on the Pathfinders, is that in my building designs the entire boat is completely bonded, glued and glassed together as one: a monocoque  structure. At that time nobody was doing this. I loved standing on top of the console at the boat shows making the boat bounce up and down saying to try that on the "other" skiffs. Of course our skiff was on a nice trailer which absorbed a lot of this showmanship BS. I built all these parts in St. Augustine Florida as "Chris Morejohn Boat Repair" under a plastic shed.

The first rough skiff that I made we took to our first boats show with me cringing at the rough finish to the deck. Hal wanted to get the ball rolling and to show the public what was going to be happening soon.
I drove the skiff to the Mark Castlow Shallow Water show in Huston Texas meeting my partners there as they where to fly in. Hal had his stores to deal with and Flip had his careers which being at this show was one of them. Hal along with Flip were old friends of Mark Castlow. Hal had an idea which Mark gladly said to go for it. I built a very simple pond out of 2 x 12 wood and lined it with plastic filling it up with water to about 6". This we slid our fully rigged skiff into with little rubber protectors over the trim tab edges so as to not rupture our pond. I had measuring rulers to hand out so people could measure our draft and compare to the others at the show. During the show I stood in and on our skiff and answered questions, nonstop for two days for 10 hours each. We had the busiest booth. I had a blast showing how all the big company's were not good at measuring their drafts. Of course every one could not believe this little skiff would not fall apart and kill them. We had to get the public to go for a ride. At this show we had a believer in Claude Berwick from Texas as he wrote us a check. We had some orders already from Hal and Flips friends, but to survive we had to get more people in the boats, get the boats built and keep growing. The pond did not burst.

We used this pond idea for several more shows along with a motor lift with a scale showing how much the Whipray Really weighed. My favorite ad picture of that time is the one of the three of us standing behind the Whipray in shallow water. It is still on the Hells Bay web site home page. We drove out to a dirt boat ramp at sunrise in Mims FL to do this shot. Flip set the shutter speed on his Camera and handed it to my wife Rachel to take. We stood together holding the boat still with our finger tips, probably making it look like the stern is just in the water. I am that short and not standing in a hole. This shot shows the character of who we were, are. Hal standing proud looking, saying "try this", I feeling and looking like "wow! I get to be part of this and a paycheck too." Flip has his trade mark look of "how long is this going to take?" It's a shame what goes on in this industry with my name being removed from Hells Bays letterhead after I sold out to my partners to reemerge with the present owners and now Hals name is gone. Look for that picture to disappear and reemerge with Flip, Stu and Chico in it with Chris Peterson sitting In the cockpit.

During my time a HBBWs I never did not sell a boat after a test ride. The best part for me was the look on the customers face when they first pushed the boat with the push pole. It was a happy ending look.
95% of non guide customers could not pole a skiff and 75% of guides. I believe this was a fact that most boats up to this time were not pole able for long distances. I know I will take some shit for this observation. But it's true.

During the first year at HBBWs I oversaw the raising of the upper chine to my original design height after 18 skiffs built. Noise reduction was paramount. These 18 skiffs are very dry boats and fish the same, it's just that if you are a big guy and stand out on the outer edge it can slap. We changed the original leather non skid as it could be slippery and made it the standard Awl Grip one. There are still lots of people out there that love this Leather deck.

Here I will try and explain how these skiffs were built at this time and in the process give my opinions on building techniques  of that time and what being bantered about today.

First off I would like to say that fiberglass resin, epoxies, Linear  paints, cloths - all this great stuff - is only as good as the engineering thought process behind it. This stuff will last and perform for a life time but not a badly designed structure. But you can rebuild one so this stuff is just great.

The first thing in Building a Whipray was to spray in the Gel coat in the molds. After this hardens then I would come in and glass over this with a skin coat of 3/4 oz. matt. This I would let harden. When it was hard to the touch you would then cut out and fit all of the core for the hull, deck, cockpit and hatches. Patterns for these parts made it a bit easier for the flat parts. The hull always needs to be fitted in place. All the hull pieces can be marked with a felt pen so as to remember how it all goes together. The core I used in the early 50 skiffs of HB was Dyvinecell core that was made up of little squares held together with a light scrim backing. With this stuff you could move it around till it layed nice and smooth within the insides of the hull. These foams come in many brands, types and density. The density is in how big the air holes are in the foam. Big air holes = low , small holes = High which means very hard to compress. In designing a skiff with all these products at your disposal it gives you lots of options. 

The standard procedure for me at this time like many other shops was to glue the foam core in by hand. This is done by laying the pre-cut core upside down and rolling resin in it trying to get some in between  the little square cuts or kerfs. With this wetted out you would then flip over and install into your mold part by hand. In the mold would be waiting the next skin layer that would have just been rolled in and wetted out. These two would then cure and bond together at the same time. 

After the first skin over the gelcoat you have the option of many types of cloth weights, types and strengths to add in. This is one part of the puzzle of how to make it strong but keep it light enough to work to the design goals. In the early HB skiffs the outer skin would then be another 3/4 oz. Matt with a 10 oz. layer of Kevlar with a 1 1/2 oz. layer of Matt on top layed simultaneously. This is what your freshly resined core would be then hand layed into by gently pressing down into this wet skin. If the core was cut properly then it will just lay down like a wet towel. This was all done by hand using buckets of catalyzed resin, rollers and brushes. When wetting out the Matt you use hard rollers that roll out all the air in this cloth and the air in the following layers. This to me. if done by well trained skilled workers, is a great way to build a boat. The skins if done right have a great resin ratio. 

Now the way to save weight, if wanted, is you can mix and match your cloths in the different parts of the boat that do not need the strength such as the upper bow area and other places. This process can also save resin weight by doing the whole skin and coring at one time after the gelcoat has cured using the wet resin the whole way through. You can eliminate the first skin this way. All the decks and parts were layed up at one time using 3/4 oz Matt , 7 oz. cloth, 11/2 oz Matt, then core. 

In designing skiffs I have always relied on a thin skin on the flat surfaces that was well rolled out and when finishing off the underside or inside layer all the high abuse areas I would build up with Matt. This would be the sheer, cockpit side edges, hatch edges, hatch channel flange edges etc. Everywhere else was very thin. The two fore and aft bulk heads would only be a layer of 7 oz. cloth. All parts glassed together with 2 layers of a 1 1/2 oz Matt tabbing at most.

Once the resin which the core is now bonded, glued to has cured you now have to check for voids. This is very easily done by scrapping a quarter across all of the cores surface. If there is a void it will make a very distinct hollow sound.  Once satisfied you then make up a resin and filler mixture to fill in any gaps in the core. Inside a hull like the Whiprays and others this filler is used in places like the little reverse spray chine to fill it out for the core to lay over. There is a lot of fairing of the edges of the core at this time. You do this with a small grinder and need to be careful not to hit the outer skin. All core needs a tapered edge for the glass skins to transition from. This is a messy job.

After this is all done and vacuumed out you are now ready for the inner skin. Again lots of things to think about for your particular design. In side the hulls of most all HBBWs designs I would lay in a 3/4 oz Matt with a 7 oz cloth on top finishing out the edges as explained . You would then glass in the bulkheads on the early boats, then the floor stringer with the floor going on top and being glassed all around. The fuel tank would go in, rod racks, stern parts, console knee, and then the inside being all finished out. Next you would bond the deck to the hull. 

At this time every body still screwed their decks on. In my early years with Back Bay Boats I bonded all my decks on with 5200 sealant glassing a lot of certain parts to the hull. I have heard from Sandy Moret that his skiff deck had problems but his son fixed it. So on these new skiffs I wanted nothing to be able to move or come apart so every thing is bonded together which is a painstaking way to go but is very strong in reality and in feel.

This is the way I built the first 30 skiffs going from a 5 gallon paint pressure pot for spraying gelcoat, to a Pressurized resin gun and gelcoat gun. I still feel you can build a fantastic boat using these simple methods with these skiffs outperforming in the long run both in price and long term durability the so called "state of the art resin infused epoxy super boats." I will discuss this later when I talk about the present market. 

At hull # 55 we would change cores and start vacuum bagging the cores in place. We also started using a bonding putty with the core. This is the next step up, it costs more and if not done well could add a bit more weight. I used this in my early foam core boats using a product called Divilett. I will get to vacuum bagging in a bit.

About mid way into 1998 I was training 12 people on how to build these boats to my way of thinking, talking to customers as I was building their boats, new customers as they wanted to see the shop, doing all the gelcoat work and helping in all the phases of construction, running around from one thing to the next. Hal and I talked by phone as he and Jamie had their Clothing stores going and were in the process of opening a new one. I kept track of all the hours, bills I had and faxed back and forth to the Chittums. 

They had this great sounding assistant that would be my link to them. She had the sexiest deep smoky bar voice and I could only picture her as a blond that had been around the block. She was great to talk to. Hal said she laughed her head off when I told him of my thoughts and about what she looked like on the phone. Hal said she had lots of guys coming in the shop to get a look. I loved it when I found out she was a very pretty black girl.

At this time we felt that I could use a secretary to field the calls now coming in to help me. My ad in the Orlando  times was basically this, "need girl to answer phones, take messages in growing boat building company, needs sense of humor." I got lots of calls for the next Monday for interviews. I had never had to do this. The Friday before was going badly with a bunch of little disasters and just dealing with a new crew that did not know boats and mainly was there for a paycheck. After noon that day I sent everyone home early. I had one thing I had to get out of the way before I could escape to my family. A friend of ours said she knew of the perfect girl for this job and could she just come by early and maybe see the place before everyone else. She was to show up at 1:00. Flip was out front doing something to his new skiff and one of my 19 year old workers Mica would just not leave the shop. Man, was I worn out. The girl shows up and getting out of her car the first thing I saw to my mystery is what was Nancy thinking? Rachel is not going have this girl in the office. She was a ginger blond red head wearing a little velour suit top and short skirt. She was a knockout. My plan was to be polite, show her the office, the shop and get her on her way, then call Nance. She was very polite and was really interested in what we were up to. I had a hard time not staring at her. She asked to see where the boats were built. The shop was all closed up so was very hot. We walked out into the shop and she says "O this is very interesting, but it is so hot in here I must take my jacket off." After she said and did this it all clicked!
It was my birthday! 

She was now wearing a short Daisy Duke top, with this impossibly short mini skirt. I put my arm around her waist and said there could be lots of over time in this job. She said meet me in the office. She was my 40th birthday present from my wife and proceeded to strip down with her boom box playing and give me a show. In the middle of my present with her sitting naked on my fully dressed lap Flip, oblivious to what was going on, opens the door to the office and pops his head in to say he's going. The girl and I say come on in and enjoy the show! Flip disappears. 

After my show present ended my wife showed up. Flip had called Hal and said Chris was going to be in such big trouble if Rachel finds out what he is up to. Mica the kid was there to make sure I would not leave early and miss my present. Flip later said Rachel was his hero. She was a great girl and Rachel and I had a good laugh together with her. On my Monday secretary appointments I kept looking for another one but Rachel said that was going to be the only one. I love her so.

During these early times at HB the workers I had were through ads in the papers. I had no experienced people except for Stan Nash who had followed me from Lures Mainship and some kids I knew but all just people that wanted a paycheck and were not at all interested in the job at hand. The fiberglass industry is a hard one to work in the work itself and the sameness it can be. Lots of people went through our doors during this time. One lady really was interested and showed lots of promise but started showing up with lots of bruises on her visibly. She just never showed up one day. It can be a hard crowd.

 During this time Hal took a million dollar key man insurance policy out on me to protect their investment. Ha, a waste of money!

 I needed help and it came in the way of Tom Gordon. Tom had been selling and servicing our gelcoat and resin guns and equipment. In dealing with him I could see that he was a straight up guy and wanted more than his job of being a traveling salesman/repairman. He knew gelcoat and I felt that he could oversee the glass department under my supervision. We were a small new company which is hard to lure people to. Stan Nash had come with me, he was my boss at Mainship and knew Tom well. I asked Tom what it would take to come and take over the glass end of HB. He came back the next day with his needs. He started two weeks later. Tom changed my life at HBBWs during this time.

I was being paid all along with my other partners waiting for the company to get going before drawing a salary. Tom at this point in the game was the highest paid person at HB.

First off Tom made it so no more me spraying gelcoat! The next thing he brought to HBBWS was because of his reputation for work ethics he was well respected by all the other fiberglass production employees at Boston Whaler and Sea Ray. Our shop lay between the two giants. Now lots of good experienced people started to come through our doors looking to work for us. When Tom started working for us he had an idea of flats boats and fishing but no experience in the way of building to my design ideas. He was a great employee in that he was always ready to make it happen for what ever I came up with in building needs. He understood the concept of what we were striving for immediately. Tom was great with the crew and understood my fanatical attention to detail. This passed down to the crew. Tom was my go to guy for research into the next glues, adhesives, etc. As we grew Tom came with us to the boat shows to help in sales and did great.

My goal was to operate HBBWS as the best place to work in production fiberglass boat building for the employees. In all the shops that I had worked in before you were always running on overtime from lack of a clear vision and too many chiefs. HBBWs was run by myself and once I had Hal and Flips OK on the idea design it was up to me from then on. 

I ran the shop on the principal of better pay, a clean shop environment and no over-time, a 40 hour work week - 7:30 to 3:30 and the crew had to do a good days work. This set up worked with Stan Nash and myself in plug building, Tom Gordon in the glass shop and eventually Scott Empson in rigging. 

Thanks to all the great people that came to work for us we were able to build a good high tech - low tech skiff in the market going from the Whipray through 6 more designs with all the plugs and molds built in house in 4 years time. 128 plugs, molds and all the corresponding thought process to go with it. Other than the hull drawings, calculations and the deck layout drawings, most everything else was in my head and conveyed to Stan, Tom and Scott in sketch form. 

I have all this information, drawings, faxes, Lines plans and copies of all the sales brochures, newsletters and ads from my time there. In 1998 we built 42 skiffs being Whiprays, the plug and mold for the ultimate dinghy and a few Skates, Mosquito Lagoons and introduced the Waterman series. 

During this time I had the pleasure of meeting Scott Flanders who owned Egret boats at the boat shows. Scott called the shop one day and  ordered a bare bones Waterman skiff . He explained he planned on towing it behind his Egret skiff to fish the flats around the Everglades as he wanted to fish shallower water and his Egret could not get into the places he wanted to go. I think this was our first sale of a mother ship setup. In later years Scott and his wife Mary cruised in company with my family in the Bahamas. Scott had sold out at about the same time as I and purchased a used 46' Nordhaven trawler power boat type. We ended up sharing anchorages in Bermuda and Horta in the Azores on our first Atlantic crossings. Scott and Mary went on to circumnavigate the world via the 5 great capes starting with Cape Horn. It takes a lot of attention to detail to do this.This same attention to detail was very evident in the Egret boats.

We also built during this time a cooler that Flip had envisioned  as a dual purpose cooler and bow casting platform. I loved it but our version was a bit heavy and it took time to build. The other ones made today are fantastic. 

Flip also designed the boat trailers for our skiffs. They are great in that they never have to get wet. We had a lot of people that would unhook the boats before they would back the boat in and then it would just launch itself off the trailer in the parking lot. 

Flip also with the help of Gil at Blue Point Welders designed a fantastic Mercury tiller extension in aluminum. We stopped selling these after someone broke off the tiller arm on his outboard.

One of the outside people that helped HBBWs grow was Gil at Blue Point Welders. Whatever idea or tower design we came up with he would build on the spot and with way more detail. Gil should get the credit for ALL the new stylish towers out there today that have been derived from our skiffs. At the time of starting HB towers were all very straight looking with big heavy hatch like tower lids on them. My idea to just add a couple of tabs to the structure and then install a very thin skinned core panel using the outer rim as your toe kick saved a lot of weight. This detail also means I can spot one of my skiffs along way away by just looking to see if the skiff has a big lid on it. Gil could always come up with a bend instead of straight. Thanks Gil.

In design, the "Skate" which became the "Mosquito Lagoon" which then became the "Waterman" were my ideas as far as boat concepts. The Wateman design name was Hals idea. These boats were my ideas to  have a very simple boat in our line to cater to the people that could not afford the Whipray. 

My reasoning was this, in a growing shop you need to keep the crew going, the cash flow going. Building high end luxury skiffs caters to a small market in the boating world. Lots of people loved our skiffs but could not afford it's price. The way to get the price down is to eliminate labor costs, which in turn means taking away some of the the boat. This is done today by making the the hatch channels drain into the cockpit which is a very clean and simple way to go. Also making the locker inside a big tub incorporated to the deck mold. The problem for me is the boat has to be level at all times for for this to work, hence the extra work in draining the water overboard. I did this in the simple hatch layouts of these skiffs progressions. 

I see the East Cape doing this, Back Country Boats did this which Chico was promoting at that time. The Back Country Boats skiff had part of its hull side from the Dave Exley Dolphin Skiff in it. Another redo/remake. If the hatches are done right this is the most cost effective way to build a skiff. 

I first drew a sketch of this proposed boat and sent it out to 350 people that had asked for a brochure to be mailed. From this I sold 2 boats. Now I had to make the molds and build the boats.

People went nuts for this concept. But... what they really wanted was the Whipray, but at the Waterman price. This was to be an ongoing problem from my time, Tom Gordon's time and still is. Hal did not like the idea of taking away the clout of the Whipray but understood the concept of staying afloat. The Waterman kept the the cash flowing between the sales of the Whipray. 

I still feel the open deck Waterman with a 25 is the ultimate shallow water fishing skiff for cost. This is the kind of skiff I would build or promote if catching and cost were the primary goals . This is still a very good market to get into to make a living as a small time builder. Contact me and I will give you a set of plans, ideas for free. These boats do not have the yacht looks of a Whipray but still get the job done.

At my time at HBBWs I helped build and oversaw the building of 143 Whiprays 5 Skates - Mosquitio Lagoons, 59 Watermans and 7 Ultimate Skiffs/dinghies. 

I still have one of the ultimate skiffs.  One has been across the Atlantic and back and all over. In fact I just got out of the present one a few minutes ago. I have also crossed the Gulf Stream in mine from West End Bahamas to Stuart Florida towing my engine less sailboat across in12 hours when we had to go and there was no wind. Don't recommend this as it is very boring. 

Through my years of doing projects to this day I have relied on the principal of truth to myself and my clients. I have always said I can get the job done but if I do not know the information I will tell you so and I will then figure it out. I never finished high school. My Cuban grandfather put himself through college in New York in the depression without speaking English. He got a degree in engineering in the depression. He always said, "Cristobal, you don't need to know all the information, just know where to get it." This I have carried through all my life. I do not lie, if I do not know what to do, I say so. But I have taken on many jobs with the knowledge that a nights research will help. I can read, I can kinda write, and basic math I know. I am self taught from High school on. I read a lot.

 As we were going along building Whiprays I was talking to my long time friend Wyatt Huggins who was an engineer at Tom Fexas Yacht Designs. Tom Fexas designed some of the most elegant and forward thinking Mega Yachts of the day. Tom is gone now. Wyatt was an old sailing buddy of mine but way more detail oriented than me. He was my go to guy for when I did not know the answer to a question. Wyatt was and still is in the big leagues in yachts. He is very much like me and very conservative in boats and life. As I was going on about where we were at HB at the time he said I think you are at a spot that needs upgrading. I will send you a guy that we use for information free for a days consultation. This guy knows his stuff and will get you to the next level.

The next day Jef Benkelman shows up at the shop in his Porsh with what was to become a Bluetooth phone in his ear talking into his sleeve to a client in China. Jef listens to my story and goes around the shop. He falls in love with our skiff, he has to have one. BUT we have got to get with the programme. Jef understands where I am at this level but shows now where I have to be. It was fascinating to hear what he had to say. 

First he explained how we need to know every day what the gel time is of the resin we are using. We have to know the Barcol hardness of the cured glass.  The Barcol hardness is obtained by using a Barcol gun that shoots a needle into the hardened surface and with the resins technical info it should read a certain hardness at the proper cured temperatures etc. We have to Vacuum bag all our core in conjunction with the resin gel times and the temperature in the shop. We must change core to the better Core Cell core. Jef represents Core Cell, but it still is a great core and move up. Knife cut kerfs and no scrim.

He wants a skiff for himself and will provide way better materials for it plus he will direct the project for free. I like Jef immediately. We can get along. He is a fanatic like me. The crew rolls their eyes and looks like this is going to be a lot more work.

Hal is not here but he loves what has transpired. What about building 3 "platinum skiffs "of super light weight with Jefs knowledge and direction? This could be a new line of skiffs for the Uber crowd. Hal will have one as will Flip. Me I don't need a skiff.

Ok so what Jef showed me was this ; first thing in the morning all shops need to take a temperature of the shop, the resin, the putty, bonding agent, the gelcoat. All manufactures give you all the details of what their products will perform at with all temperatures . With this information in hand after you get the temperature of each product with a heat gauge gun you then can correlate the times and percentages for catalyst in hardening these resins, glues. This you do by a gel test every day. 

I had been doing this by the seat of my pants up to this point .So I started a sheet on every boat that we built from this time on with the days tempt, gel times and so on . My employees had to sign off on this for future reference. Not to get on their ass but to figure out where a problem started. Bottom line was if there was a problem with a skiff it was my problem, nobody else's . This saved our ass several times in the future when resin or gelcoat was not right. The big company's would say it's our fault , but I would say come in and see our records. They always settled after seeing our work records.

I will now say that I had always had a policy of tell me any mistakes up front and all is forgotten, please don't let me find out later. During my time at HB I would have early morning get togethers with all the crew to tell them of boats sold and what was up in a good way. I wanted them to be a part of what was happening. I was also at 40 the oldest person in the shop and explained that I had been around long enough to see all the ways to get out of stuff. Shit happens so let me know in advance. The girls never lied, but some of the guys...

Jef sent all my laminate designs to an America's Cup designer in California to go over. He showed me my designs were like limp dicks to his laminate thinking. Ok, so Jef got all this carbon and super S- glass cloth for us and supervised the Vacuum bagging of three skiffs. One for him and the others for Hal and Flip. 

This was a great learning process for me and the crew. I had never needed to do this before. When Hal says we started out thinking this way it is salesmanship for his new line of skiffs. He was in the keys and Flip was elsewhere and I was learning along with Tom and the crew.

Let me say that I think Vacuum bagging is a good tool to use but is not needed to build a great skiff. What it does is simply clamp down the core till it cures. If you are bagging a skin it does not magically spill all unneeded resin into a bucket. It just clamps down over the whole project a uniform pressure. If not done right it is a major fuck up. When putting in the core it is very similar as to what was explained before except you now have to put in a bleeder hose, air gaps, and stick down a plastic bag over the whole mess of curing core having hopefully placed the core in its proper place in the rush to get the bag on before every thing cures- hardens.

OK,  it's not so bad if you know your gel times and the shop temp, resin and bonding agents gel time for the days conditions. When done right it is wonderful. If as you are sucking the pressure, out the core starts to slip and you want to adjust it , then you say oh I will just release the pressure a bit and fix this and then start over. NOT SO! Clamping down on core and putty is like squeezing a peanut butter sandwich and out goes the jelly. When you then pull the pressure down again there is no more jelly to bond the core. 

In the old way I could feel every piece going down. With bagging  It's different. You have to be well trained and know that this process is the most important part of the whole skiff. 

The guy that had this down pat during my time at HB had a bunch of tattoos on him . One was on his calf that had a pretty naked girl sitting down with her legs spread open with a dog in the middle. He knew his stuff when it came to the bagging process but we had an understanding that if a customer came his way he could take a break. He was a cool guy but I don't know what his young kid is going ask down the road about what the dog was up to.

When we finished the three skiffs they were very light. Close to 300 lbs. the problem was the bottoms were like rubber dinghies. Jef did not know what to say. I reinforced the bottoms my way and all was well.

Before doing this we ran Hal's skiff and learned a lot . This skiff being so light would in a turn slide backwards at full throttle. The boat was like a Frisbee. It was too light for what we wanted. The end of the uber Craft. Jef is still my go to guy for stuff that is outside of my grasp. He brought me to the next level.
In my own dinghies I have found that the super light dinghies are great to haul up on the beach but are miserable to be in the rest of the time. So instead of a 110 lb. skiff I prefer the 180 lb one. Except when I am alone hauling one up on a beach.

I will get into resin infusion here briefly. The future of modern boat building in America will all be done by infusion. The main reason is that the Vacuum bag that clamps and holds everything in place while the resin is being sucked through the whole laminate is that it also captures all the styrene fumes in it so it does not go out into the ozone. No smell either. Epoxy does not have styrene so no big deal. To me infusion is great for parts that have very simple curves edges and angles. It is that the cloth and core has to have a very natural easy lay to it in the mold. Having many sharp short edged Chines and convoluted mold parts makes for a difficult infusion job. It is a nightmare fitting all this dry cloth, core, Vacuum bag all in a bowl shaped mold leaning over it and then hoping that it will not shift as you pull down the pressure and start sucking in the resin wondering if and how all the cloth is going to lay over and around all these edges. 

I like laying a boat up by hand with skilled labor then bagging on the core. Infusion is great for smooth sailboat hulls, simple decks , hatches, well designed parts that were designed to be infused. They can be huge parts but simple. Just because it is the state of the art today does not mean it is good for every skiff hull. In my past designs most would work all right but what a pain to do. To do this in epoxy in a very complicated hull shape with multiple short sharp Chines is a step in the wrong direction to me. 

At this time in our shop's history I can now say we were building a technical skiff but with a low tech crew in that a lot were good at their specific jobs but had no clue as to how the rest of the boat went together. Stan, Tom, Scott and Hal understood the whole process. This we did till I left. 

If you are having a  "technical skiff " built today the builder should provide you with your skiffs birth life and all info. I think that the word "technical skiff "used today is the same as Arby's and McDonalds saying that they are serving "Artisanal buns with Old World charm."It is total BS. Come on we are all just building fiberglass skiffs here.

At the end of1998 Hal and Flip were ready for a bigger skiff to now start going head to head with all the other skiffs. My directive was to come up with a bigger version of the Whipray to cater to the Guide crowd.

The first "Guide" was launched in 09/01/99. We built the hull first and then put it through a sea trial just like we did with the Whipray. Hal, Flip and I as sports with Tom and some crew as hull weight Hal, Flip and I were very happy again. We had a Mercury 60 on the transom.The boat had lots of control in that you could trim it up and down very fast and tilt it way over. This was very important to Flip. He and I come from the thinking of seamanship and boat handling first and then maybe some speed. I like the way this boat runs, but you still have to know how to run boats to get the full advantage out of it. We were still going for ultimate shallow water access. Any keel added to stop slipping in a turn added more draft. You have to learn how to drive these boats.

The "Obannon" was Hal's idea to cater to the fly fishing guide that chums up the fish before fly fishing. A large central bait well is nothing new in flats skiffs. Phil Obannon brought us a lot of cool customers, hence the name.

In hindsight the bow needs to be shaved in a bit to catch the bow spray better by the upper chine. I look at the lines drawings today and I think the bow might have gotten a little full in the fairing of the plug. I have also changed the bottom at the stern on a customers request to fill in the little bit of rocker in the outer corners of the bait boxes. This made the boat a bit stiffer at speed and run a bit faster. 

As usual when selling one of the Guides or other skiffs it would be in an empty boat about to be delivered to its customer. The thing that kills me is how I would show how the boat performed in its perfect weight and how the client would then load the boat up with so much stuff. It was like selling someone the best fly rod for the conditions that he thought he wanted to fish in but instead he uses it to cast lead deep drop jigs.  Fifty-nine (59) "Guides" were built during my time at HBBWs.

Between the time of the Whiprays and into the later skiffs we saw the need to come up with a tunnel design to try and get into the Texas and Gulf Coast market .
The first attempt at this was to build a conical shaped tunnel like on the "Pathfinder" skiffs. This we did on a Whipray with a jack plate on the back with a 25 Mercury. This tunnel worked alright in that you could get up on plane and go shallow but the Whipray would be tippy in performance. Now I have talked recently with the past owners of this skiff and they liked it. I was not so happy.
We put this tunnel in a few Guides with mixed results. It worked but not perfect.

During this time I made friends with a great guy by the name of Jimbo Meador.
Jimbo was from Alabama and at that time was an Orvis representative and a consummate fisherman and hunter. He also knew everyone in the Gulf States and all the good places to eat seafood. He took me on a road trip to showcase our skiff, the Whipray, towing it along to a bunch of fishing clubs and just meeting a bunch of his friends. I had a wonderful time showing the skiff around and trying to explain why it cost the same as 3 John Boats. At this time not a lot of people had been out in one so it was kinda like saying " Mikey, trust me you'll like it."

During this trip I met Gary Taylor from Slidell, Louisiana.
He showed us a bunch of aluminum john boats with tunnels in them in all kinds of sizes. He also showed me how he could run a skiff in very shallow water and jump from pond to pond sliding over little mud banks into the next ponds with the motor kicking up and over.  Lots of fun.  From these tunnels and his advice I went back to the shop with ideas. 

The first person I called was my friend Wyatt Huggins at Tom Fexas Yacht Designs. Had he any ideas info on tunnels? Wyatt said that the conical tunnel was the worst in a small skiff as we had very little surface area on the bottom area. Every curve you put in the bottom took away from the flat planning area. He recommended a flat tunnel top and as little angle to the sides as possible.

Flip mentioned that at Bass Pro when they had been messing with tunnels that they had made a plastic one so they could see what the water was doing.
I did not have time for this so what I did was to build a tunnel  that was about as small as I dared go in size. From the skiffs in the Gulf I got the idea of how to suck the water up to the bottom of the tunnel when at full plane and keep it there. This in effect would angle and rise the water flow by up to 8-10 inches higher at speed. Using power trim and a jack plate would then get the bottom of the skeg to be level with the bottom of the skiff. I did this using a tube that runs from the forward end of the tunnel out back and out through the transom. This is done with a little pocket. To get the tunnel to the smallest size and least displacement lost, (were talking 12 lbs here) I just kept adding in sides to the tunnel till I figured this was it. 

When finished this tunnel worked great with the small Whipray and it's off-shoots. I love going out with Justin Sands in the Abaco Marls of The Bahamas with his HB and the tunnel. The shallowest I could ever get up on plane on a hard sand bottom with this tunnel was 17 inches. You cannot go any shallower as the cavitation plate has to be in the water. This is 17" deep. In mud you can spin around in a circle leaning the boat over and slowly lower the jack plate and power trim but this leaves a big hole in the bottom. Any one says they are getting up in less with a prop in sand is full of BS. 

Hal wanted to patent this tunnel. I do not agree with patenting stuff at this level. I feel that if I have a good idea I want to explain it to everybody else in the hopes that maybe someone else will make it better. At this level you are only looking at maybe a few hundred skiffs in the life of your company. Big deal. Plus I hate giving lawyers money. 

Well, Hal got a patent on it. In doing so I learned a lot about the process. When you get a patent lawyer part of his job is to research all the other patents to make sure you are not stealing some one's previous idea. So in the process you get to see all the other ideas. The tunnels that are in the boats I built are a conglomeration of many peoples ideas. I hope the patent has run out.

We also did a patent on the 17.8 hull design. In this Hal wanted to protect our distinct styling and hull bottom from competitors. If your design idea in not in the process of being patented within the first year of it being public then after a year it is known as common knowledge so anyone can go after it. The Whipray was too old so we used the 17.8. This is the patent that I believe that Chris Petterson rightfully used against Beavertail boats. 

Here is the pre story of the Beavertail Boats debacle. The owner of Beavertail came to us with his engine and wanted a skiff to go along with it for the duck hunting season up north. He also saw business in the south to compete with the other motor brands that were using the same type of setups. His had a Honda for an engine instead of a Briggs and Stratton engine. We built him a very light Kevlar Waterman that I tried to destroy to no avail. He loved this boat. He said he was going to sell a ton of these skiffs with his motors on the stern. 

The deal we had at the time for the guides was that if you brought us a customer with a signed contract written up with a deposit check we would give you a commission of $1,000.00 per boat when delivered. What was happening was that in the evenings we would get 4 calls from 4 different guides from a watering hole in the keys saying that they had just sold us a skiff so send a check. Of course they were all at the same table after a day out guiding when one of their customers would express interest in buying a HB skiff. We had to implement the contract deal . Only a small hand full of guides understood this process. One sold 10 skiffs.

This is the deal we offered to the Beavertail guy. You sell the boats and send us the contracts and checks. What happened was we sold a bunch of the boats with his motors and he never sold any. But he wanted his commissions on the boats we sold. I said forget about it. I pissed him off.

The Beavertail Boats to me were a blatant ripoff of our hard work. This all happened after I had sold out. I am glad that Chris Petterson won.

Now as for the East Cape and other skiffs looking at times above the waterline very similar in hull shape to some of my past boats, I do not care. I like the complement. It's like Levi Blue Jeans, a good well built pair of pants with a lot of similar ones out there with slightly different styling, quality, and cost. If they are a better skiff at a better price then great ! 

During this time of building in 1999 Steve Huff called me to pick my brain about a small Everglades skiff he wanted to build to get into small creeks where he fished. As we talked on the phone I sketched his dimensions and had an idea.
What he wanted I thought I could get out of a cut down Whipray hull. I offered to build it for him. It would be fun. 

So we, I mean Tom Gorden and the crew, cut a Whipray in half down the middle taking out 10". Then they cut off the stern by 24", then glassed all this back together with the deck cut accordingly. The fore and aft hatches fit just fine from a laid up deck. We now had a "Mini Ray. This small skiff works great and Steve was very happy. 

This boat would be a very hard boat to sell as it had all the same hardware and time to build, but you would have to charge near the same amount as the bigger skiff. I would not have made the molds for this that the later owners did in the Devil Ray. I am curious to know how many have sold.

In 1999 I started building my own personal sailboat design the 38'x11'x 27" "Hogfish maximus". This I did after work. Hal was selling off his stores and was making the move to live in Mims Florida to be involved in the shop hands on full time. Hal and Flip had HB pay for a helper for me in finishing my interior construction of the sailboat for a couple of months so I could have enough time for the company and my family. Things were happening  and I was going a bit nuts. We had expanded to another rental bay and had more employees. I launched my sailboat after 10 months of part time building from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm every day during this period. We launched "Hogfish maximus"as a livable but unfinished hull that we moved into immediately. I do not like living on land. Thanks again Hal, Jamie, and Flip.

During this time Flip came back from a fishing trip with a great idea, but very radical. He was fishing on a big out board boat that had engine cowlings over the engines and the stern. He liked the quiet of it. What about it for a stern cowling over the engine on the Guide and could it act as the tower also? I got my tape measure out and started thinking. Yes I can make it work. It had to hinge forward to get at the engine, and the engine had to tilt up inside it.
We made the mold right away. It really worked, so much so you had to get up to see if the engine had started as you could not hear it. From my poling customers around with this boat I never noticed any trouble with it as windage.
We took this to the Orlando boat show and got a lot of funny looks. I told everyone it was our Y2K shelter. I sold the boat with it on it. The client loved it but brought the boat back for a conventional tower as he said he was always having to check to see if the engine was running, and peeing. He bought two more skiffs later for a mother ship. I loved this idea.

At the end of 1999 Hal and Flip wanted to buy land and build a shop. We had already expanded to 2 more rental units. We had to expand or stall out. Hal found us a 24,000 square ft. building one street over. He got us great terms.

The many things we did right at HBBWs were paying for tools as we went. All designs and tooling were done in house. The only debt that we had was what the Chittums put up at first and then our mortgage. Of course we had our monthly bills. For me as a very conservative in my own personal financial life of never being in debt and paying every thing up front. This was the hard part for me. By 2000 we had 35 employees, payroll, material costs, mortgage etc. and had to sell, build 8 boats per month to get clear on. 

To reach customers we had 2 full page ads in magazines, our web site on the Internet and boat shows. I figured the potential from this was possibly 50,000 people a month. We sold from 8 to 12 boats a month sometimes better. Payroll was close to $200,000.00 a month plus building goods, and on and on. Once we had 4 boats finished but could not get a hold of the clients as they were off somewhere in the world. This was close to a third of the monthly nut. We needed to get paid. For me it was a pressure I did not need nor want. 

The Chittums were used to this. We were always 6 weeks out or less from having to start laying off people. Yes Scott Deal, I was not worthy. I hated this.

At the beginning of this period I was at a Thanksgiving dinner with some sailing friends in Jacksonville and they asked me at dinner what we were doing about the Internet and it's possibilities . I said "what is the Internet?" Well they gave me a short run down of what was up and what could be. They asked, "Chris have you registered your domain names?"  - "What?!" So they told me what reality was. I said do what ever it takes tomorrow and I will cover the costs!!! The next day we owned Hells Bay Boatworks.com.org.whatever. I had no idea as did not Hal and the others. Within a week every body else was buying up anything that had Hell and boats in it and trying to sell it back to us. We were very lucky with my obscure sailing buddy's.

Once the Guide was up and running the three of us sat down and talked about how we wanted to advertise. The fishing magazines will not write about you no matter how cool or great your product is if you do not advertise with them first. Advertise enough and they will pretty much write what ever you want. We had a great niche product that fit a growing market that we were creating with this concept of going where only Kayaks and john boats could go before.

Hal and I wanted to advertise telling it like we thought. Just saying the others were lying. We wanted to be aggressive. We could back it up with our boats performance. Flip did not agree with this approach. He wanted every thing to stay as it was. He had other careers to think about. I agreed with him in principal but Hal was with me." Let's give them something to talk and think about." 

Hal pretty much wrote all our advertising with me doing all the art work and overseeing Robin Redwine on the computer work. This approach brought a lot of people to our doors to see what all the fuss was about. At that time we did have a different approach to this world of designing and building flats boats. 

Today it is now a kind of even playing field with a few variations. The HPX is definitely a major player now. HBBWs is still in the game using the platform that we set up with what looks like deep pockets behind it, East Cape Skiffs are going head to head with similar technology and skiffs, Spear Boats is in the game along with some other small shops and Hal has his new boat off in left field in a very small market. 

Reading the interviews in Skiff Republic I have to say the only 2 coherent interviews done by a company's owner was Hal Chittums and Scott Deals. Hal knows the lingo and the process of building a skiff. BUT Hal is selling his skiff so a lot of what he says is very biased towards his new line of thinking to go along with his new skiff. Scott Deal is a survivor so has his story down pat. The other guys are just spitting out catch phrases that sound like they have no clue of what it means or what it's doing in their product. Very disappointing .

Hal was now in the shop full time with us both getting to the shop at 6:30 in the morning and we would not leave till often after 8:00 pm or so. After the shop closed we would often be lined up to take people out for test rides as they could only get off after work. Then as these were done we would have dinner together and talk shop.

In advertising one of the things you do is try to get well known and respected people to endorse or be a part  of your product. It is a time honored deal. This we were always trying to do by getting guides to buy our boats. One of the ways you do this is to give them a good price on a skiff. So really well known guides that did well in the media and tournaments were a priority as were guides that just did well in their profession but brought us clients. The most sought after were the well known ones that fished out of the competitions boats. To have them change over to us was part of the game. Starting out with Flip on the team was a huge step ahead as said before.

In today's market Flip, Chico, Stu, Jose, and others are now known as the legends. Here is my personal story of a couple of days hunting with Flip, the Legend.

Hal was leasing 40,000 acres from the Lykes Bros off of lake Okeechobee before I started to work at HBBWs. He would re-lease parts of this to others to regain some of its cost. Hal and Flip took me down there for a few days of pig and deer hunting. Once you went through the gate at the public road it took over an hour to get to Hal's camp. It is a place of total wonderment in what Florida is really like. Parts so untouched. Hal had a custom swamp buggy with huge tires that the three of us could sit abreast in way up in the air. The motor was a slow driving Ford engine that would just crawl along over anything and through any pond. Flip gave me his 306 with a dialed in scope on it with the instructions of "just aim and slowly pull back on the trigger, but do not squeeze as you will miss your target". "As long as the cross hairs are on it you cannot miss."
So off we go creeping along up wind looking for deer. Now as a kid I grew up with small guns in California and felt I was a fair shot. 

Shortly a nice Florida Buck jumps out in front of us about 75' ahead and we all blast of a shot at the same time. The deer for me was standing there as plain as day. I shot him right through the shoulders. Over he went. When the three of us looked at the deer it had only one bullet hole in it. At this time Hal was having lots of trouble with his eyes. Flip looks over at me and says"where were you aiming Chris ?" I said the shoulder. Flip pats me on my back and says congratulation on your first deer. He then shows and explains to me his ritual of cutting some grass and symbolically feeding the deer it's last meal and then explains to me how to dress it out with me doing the work. I have a knife that he gave me earlier for this .

With the deer dressed off we go. More deer are shot. At one point there are three and they split off right and left and as I am on the right side I shoot the running deer in that direction. Flip gets the one on the left. Flip was in the middle driving so would have to stop the buggy, take it out of gear, get his rifle, aim and shoot, sometimes with a coffee cup to put somewhere at the same time.

On the last day of this trip we are heading back to camp as the sun is going down. To my right are lots of little shallow ponds with cat tails in grooves around the edges. Out of one of these little ponds jumps the biggest buck deer I have seen in Florida. I pat Flip on the shoulder to stop. The buggy quietly comes to a stop. The deer is to our right. Flip quietly says turn around slowly and take your time. The world is standing still. I cock my rife and turn slowly trying not to pass out from my excitement and breathing. Flip is saying take your time. The buck is 60 ' away with the cross hairs looking so big on this animal that he has to be right in front of me. I pull the trigger...blam. The deer is still standing. Flip says very quietly, "reload and shoot again, he thinks it's thunder." I will give it a shot with you. He is ever so quietly moving behind me .
He says . "ready, fire" blam! Blam! Over the deer falls. I jump out of the buggy and am the first on the scene. I look up at Flip and say "Your bullet went in the same spot as mine ." Flip pats me on the back and says "Not this time Chris".
This is why they are called Legends. Because they are.

I have my "first deer" skull on the bulkhead of my sailboat and it has sailed with me for 26,000 miles. I know I shot the others because they were going in the opposite direction of Flips shooting and that is what I will keep telling myself. I keep the knife in my nav station.

Having well known fishing personalities associated with your product helps give you credit. At boat shows people come to see your boats but if a cool guy is in your booth all the better. If you are going to the Budweiser Beer booth you are going to get a beer and hopefully the Bikini Budweiser girls are there too. 
But they most likely don't want to talk boats and fishing. 
During my time at HBBWs we put just as many well known names as we could on our letterhead as pro staff. What did it mean to the building and design of the boats? Nothing. As a builder you are continually bombarded with suggestions of how they would do it. Not how to actually build the boat , run the company, keep your employees happy, make payroll, what it's like to have to fire people.... It all comes back to you have to have a vision to start with and hold to it filtering out all the outside pressures. This is where some company's get into trouble when trying to keep up with the competition and moving too quickly, making too many models. Wastes time and money. You have to know your market . I believe this is part of the reason that HBBWs failed after I sold out and left.

Being able to now use the Internet in conjunction with paper mail outs almost a weekly change over of ideas was put forth to the public. Seeing and drawing in three dimensions is a gift that I have so this was very easy on my part. When we went to boat shows the people were there waiting to talk to us in person knowing our product literature as well as we did. This move made us very accessible to the public by not just having a once a year ad campaign like the other company's did. 

By this time the possible customers all knew from word of mouth that the boats did not kill you or break apart. But in order to make the company sellable we had to grow and to grow we had to keep selling boats.

The next boat model was the 17.8. It was conceived to be able to carry a bigger motor to appease the growing crowd of buyers that wanted to go faster. I always said you want to get there 15 minutes faster leave 15 minutes earlier. By this time we were putting big engines on the Whiprays and all the other boats. Flip did not agree with this . He liked his way of boating. I live in a world of small skiffs and 15 hp outboards so I understood. I also have lived and cruised in an engine less 38' sailboat without refrigeration. It is my way of thinking and living. It will not sell. Everybody loved Flips philosophy and style, it was fine for him but not for them. We let them have bigger motors to keep selling boats.

The 17.8 is a Whipray hull with bait boxes on the stern. To add the needed extra displacement the bottom was crowned and tapered in forward to carry the extra load. Again it comes down to engines weighs x amount, bait boxes x,  add enough cubic inches of flotation and there you go. I like this boat hull very much. The bait boxes make a bit of noise with the wind from behind. I would like to fill in the bait box gap and put in a crowned stern. Then install an inboard jet drive motor in the stern locker with it right up against the aft bulkhead for balance. Shallow draft and very quiet. The boat still slides. 

Here is the tale of trying to stop the sliding.
 We knew how to drive our boats so the sliding thing was acceptable. I looked at it as a compromise in order to get in shallow water. The problem was this; The  average customer gets in a skiff, puts the throttle down then starts steering the boat like its a car on cruise control. It was kinda like getting in a car with someone pushing the gas pedal down and locking it while they drove around town. Pretty scary for me as a passenger.

On HBBWs skiffs you have to steer, use the trim tabs and have a hand on the throttle at all times. It's like driving a stick shift car. The world is on automatic now. Bummer.

When I did the plug for the 17.8 I put in an extended keel going all the way aft from the lower reverse spray chine that is a trade mark of my designs. This would give us two long keels that were up in the crown of this new bottom shape and would not drag along the bottom at all reducing draft. If it did not work I could still fill it in and have a workable mold.

Out we went testing. We put a 60 hp Mercury on the transom and the boat turned on a dime. I was too chicken to see how fast you could turn it. I had kids to think of. Scott Empson our rigging foreman said he wanted to do it. We tied him in the boat and off he went doing donuts and turns a full speed performing flawlessly. We had found the holy grail !!!! Or so we thought. With my wife and daughters in the boat I took off and started doing donuts. Wow what fun. Hal was in another skiff with Scott. After one great turn my daughter starts screaming, "Mom!" Rachel was gone! She was floating on her back in the water and did not look happy. She still hates when I go fast, even in the dinghy. 

What happened was if you had your hands on the wheel and the throttle all was fine but if you where just sitting in the skiff not hanging on too well the boat in its g-force turn would slightly break free from the water for a spit second and the g- force would set you flying. Very funny for me and Hal but not so for Rachel. End of project. The result is if you cannot drive  an HBBWs in a turn then look for another boat. A center keel will cure this as it will always be in the water but loosing the 1 inch of draft is not worth it to the purist. Yes my boats slide. Yes they are hard to dock in a wind.

 By 2001 HBBWs was a fully functioning boat building company with a well trained crew. I had been wanting to get out of this business for quite some time as I did not enjoy the money pressures, dealing with employees and their lives and all the stuff that goes with a business. The company's out look was going through the roof with that years sales of over 4 million. By most peoples standards it was not a time to leave but for me and my wife it was . We had two young daughters that we wanted to show and share some part of the world with before they would grow up into young adults.

I left HBBWs in May of 2001 to go sailing. We headed off to the Bahamas to get our sea legs . During this time I drew up the hull lines for what was to become the Marquesa. I flew back from the Bahamas to loft this boat, set up the molds, plank and glass and then do the basic fairing of this hull plug. This took 4 days.

This design was called for by Hal in response to Scott Deals new HPX. This was the first real skiff design response to the new market that we had created. Scott Deal had a winner. Mako had made a skiff that was trying to copy us. It was probably their worst design. Dolphin Skiffs had brought their old classic skiff up to date and it looked good. It was still a Super Skiff though. Action craft were doing fine in their own niche market. Scott Flanders from Egret boats along with Bob Era were trying to come up with a skiff to compete with us but they lost steam and never put a boat out.

The article by Jan Fogt in the March - April "Fly Fishing in Salt Waters" magazine had her hands full in trying to appease all these company's that were advertisers by adding them onto our coat heels. The only boat that came into play and still is the HPX. I have ridden in it. It does what they say. It's still built the same but it was a first generation skiff in response to HB. Good for Scott Deal.

I have been with Hal Chittum in his new skiff that is about the same size in displacement as the Whipray. I like very much his bold move on the sheer bow spray rail. The boat really performs like he says. It does not slide like my bottoms. Hal always has striven to have and do the best. With this skiff I feel that he has gone so far in the search for perfection that he will only have a hand full of boats sold. There are only so many 1 per centers out there for a skiff like this. It's not my kind of construction. 

When leaving HB I told Tom Gorden that if things went south and he had the opportunity he should buy the Waterman molds as these would be the most profitable skiffs to build. But you have to stay in that market and not try and move up into the luxury market . The two do not mix well. You have seen the results.

In the Marquesa I drew the bow chine and tumble home as a new styling feature. I guess the new owners liked it enough to add it to their new models as has East Cape Skiffs. Hal's new bow is getting the same compliment. I have never been in a Marquesa so I can go no further. I get mixed reports of pros and cons from this skiff but have nothing else to say on it. 

I have not been in any of the new versions of the HB skiffs. I have met Scott Peterson three years ago to give him the half model of the Whipray that I made that started it all. I also gave him copies of the original sales brochures and other stuff from the early days as a thanks for putting my name back into the company. He said he had no info as a lot was missing between owners. I have offered him copies of all the early designs, photos and all my info but he has not pursued this gesture to date. 

I find it funny to see Chico and Stu on the HB bandwagon as in the early days they were not fans of our boats. Such is the fiberglass boat building world of jumping from one company to the next to see who's checks cash the longest.

It took till June 10 th of 2002 for my partners and I to come to terms of the buyout of my shares of  HBBWs. I learned a lot about myself in the time that I was involved with my partners and the running of HB. I will say that I am not an easy guy to work with or for. I want the best from all and myself. I do not suffer fools. I have always liked working alone with one of the hardest parts of HB being that I had to delegate what I could do to others and hope for the best. I am quite sure it was a relief to my partners when I left. 

I have only read about what has transpired at HBBWs since leaving. 322 skiffs were built during my time there. It was a great run for me. I want to thank my partners for giving me the scope and freedom to create and for putting up with me plus all the great employees that understood my way of building that made HB work. 
Also without patrons there is no next project so thanks to all of you.

Chris Morejohn
-on my boat in the Bahamas enjoying the piece and quiet.

Epilogue July 2014:
Since leaving in May of 2001 my family and I have sailed the "Hogfish maximus "across the Atlantic visiting 19 country's and many anchorages, sailing 26,000 miles. We have built by our selves two small houses on our land in the Bahamas. Our oldest daughter Kalessin is 24 now and works in the top end of the Mega yacht world. She is on the M/Y Lady Linda in the Med no. Lillian, our youngest, is 19 and has just finished her first year of collage at UF in Gainesville, Florida on a merit scholarship. 
I have in this time designed and built for an Irish client in Grenada a 12,000 sq. ft. Mansion and have built alone a 32' ocean racing trimaran in all epoxy that had to be cured  in an oven for a South African client. Also one more ultimate skiff as ours was stolen. I do my art now and give out free opinions. Plus I do a lot of sailing about.
Rachel and I plan a life of sailing and she keeps a weather eye for what is around the next bend. (ed.)


Dennis Stallings said...

Wow,Thanks for letting us know about this.Haven't read all of it yet,but will be following this very interesting blog....

Unknown said...

I can't believe I stumbled across this today... I was online looking for a tiller handle for my 1998 Whipray and this blog came up in the search.

Chris, it's been a long time. I hope you are doing well. I enjoyed reading this as it brought back a lot of memories. I love reading about the genesis of the Whipray. I was an early believer and remember seeing Stu's hull in the mold when I visited the shop. You, my brother Chris, and I wet tested Frank Steeles battleship gray whipray and I think his was hull #3. I was a young guy and definitely not from the target demographic that HBBW was catering too. You built me a Whipray I could afford and I appreciate it very much. Stay safe and following seas.
Hamp Stoutamire HBH #008

ratsix said...

Fantastic read, philosophy and detail. I will teach my son how to trim the motor and run the tabs on our way to the flats in my 'old' whipray 17.8 tunnel. I hope the boat lasts a generation. Thanks for contributing your talent to the skiff loving fishermen.

Unknown said...

Thank you Chris. Great information

A Keller said...

It really doesn't seem that long ago, but it is.

boatman said...

Chris, I still have the watercolor of my red lobsterboat your dad did for me in '99.....away from the sun and behind some special glass.
Sebastian island camping with Geno Baker and Wyatt next week.
always wanted to hear the real HBBW story from the horses mouth. 'preciated it.
Scott Grider

ralph sheppard said...

Great to read and re-live the time and place when this was all so new. I recall Randy ( Towe) and you trying to figure out the new cap for his Terry boat on the floor in his carport. I recall your piece of kevlar and the amazement that a 357 round did not penetrate it ( at the shop in Tavernier).

I still have my ice blue Whipray, has to be the 1-2nd hull after you did the re-design. You had to do the improvised waterproofing because I think mine was the original side console and it all leaked into my rear hatch compartment. I recall Randy and I coming up to Titusvile, you were living on the boat and the shop was brand new. I also still have the cooler although, being so heavy and not so great at holding ice, it is merely a collectors item.

ralph sheppard