Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Spanish Wells Marina Skiff reborn; thoughts on redoing another's design, splashes, copies and such

Late last year I got an email from a guy saying that he and some buddies had purchased the old Spanish Wells Marina skiff molds that I had designed and made 26 years ago. He had found my blog site and read my story about that project. He asked if I could answer some questions. He said they had been fans of this design for years and wanted to find one to redo for themselves, being avid spearfisherman and had come across the molds in Nassau for sale and wanted to build 3 - one for each of them. One of the partners was a boat builder too so would be doing all the retooling.
This was the start of what's turned out to be a very happy story for an old design that is a good boat being given a second chance and a new and better life.
I emailed Bradley Thornbrough back and gave him my Skype name and said lets talk. Within hours I was talking via the wonders of Skype from our little place in the Bahamas to Bradley, and his partner, the Builder, Eric Brush. They wanted to know all about the history of the boat, what I would change and any recommendations. We talked for over an hour. 
I told them that the original boats were tiller driven skiffs with small horse power but went on to have bigger and bigger engines. I had built the first ten skiffs and then turned the shop over to the owners and sailed away. The skiffs over the years had gotten heavier so were riding too low in the water for me and could be wet. I disscussed with Eric my ideal draft. We talked about the fuel tank postion, a full liner for this new upgraded boat. They wanted a stern bracket which I'am not a fan of so I passed on my knowledge of how they have performed on the ones that installed them. I did understand why they wanted one as they were free diving spearfisherman using Hawaiian slings of their own design and liked the stern platform to get in and out of the water in. Also the biggest point was to have a full transom with more cockpit boat space. 
They offered to compensate me for future advice. I declined as I live a simple life and don't need every buck that comes my way and I liked these guys right off and wanted to help in any way I could . Plus from looking up Eric's and Bradley's company's web sites I could see right off these guys were people I would want to build my boat. First class.
So off Eric went retooling my 26 year old simple molds, adding a parting flange to the main hull, retooling the entire hull mold, building in steel reinforcing frames on all the hull and deck molds. What I had built had rotted away being left outside for years. I core my molds so that might of helped keep them straight.
Lots of emails followed with questions, and basically asking my opinion on this or that.
The final product has been outstanding. You can see everything on their Facebook page; Spanish Wells Boat Works or

With Eric's modern building technology and skills the boat is better than ever. It's been very satisfying to see an old friend come back to life and look so well. So far they have built 3 skiffs all semi-custom.
Thanks guys .

The hull mold is reborn !

New logo. The original owners in Spanish Wells wanted to name it after me. I told them it should always be associated  with Spanish Wells, not me and I would be gone off sailing. 
Worked out well. 

The full stern and bracket. Nice set up . The liner is perfect. This boat would make a great stand up fly fishing skiff for strippers, and offshore fish as it has toe kick.

Sitting on her lines the way she was designed.

Now on to part two of this post.  

Bradley and Eric were concerned about how to separate this boat from its earlier predecessors in the Abacos that have a great loyal following in the Albury Brothers Boat building Company and its off shoot the Stuart Boat works that builds an Albury skiff design.
My advice was and still is to just tell the tale of how I came to be hired to come up with this skiff. At the time the Alburys were building smaller skiffs that had small details that could be improved upon that could greatly change the performance of this style and type of skiff. The changes and additions to this skiff style that I added and designed into this skiff made it the next best thing at that times current market in the Bahamain commercial fishing fleet. It was a good skiff 26 years ago and was a better sea boat with its simple improvements. It's a better skiff today in many ways with its new materials, construction techniques, and interior moldings that are all new. 

To me this was an improvement on a past designs pedigree and was a step forward. The Alburys went on to build rental boats with their smaller skiffs and merged into the bigger day boat designs seen today for well heeled expats that like the looks and feel of these classic skiffs. They have never adapted any of my changes to what I was asked to fix on their skiffs. 

Today there are a half dozen boat company's that are using some form of ideas that I have designed and used in my past flats skiff designs. Some have done a very good job of incorporating my ideas and styling into their new designs. These skiffs are not spashes off an old hull of mine but just liking what they saw and using it. This I like very much. It's a progression of an idea. 
Now some others have clearly turned over an old skiff hull of my design and have added and subtracted to come up with a new vision. This I like too. But so far from what I've seen online, maybe no improvements made on some.
What I do not agree with is making a splash of someone's hull. That is buying a finished boat, turning it over and just making a new mold over on old hull with maybe adding a bit to the transom with no other improvements to this hull. Then making a simple interior, not building to the same standards or better than the original and then claiming to have designed the best skiff ever. This is lowball boatbuilding that has gone on for a long time but I've not seen for awhile. 
To me taking any skiff out there and signifigantly improving on its performance is an improvement and step forward. Also if you can build a good skiff and be very competitive then you are helping the buyer out. But if your skiff looks the same but is not built as well then it will bite you in the butt in the long haul.
Remember your reputation is everything, not the few extra bucks you can make.

During the time that Bradley and Eric were retooling and building the Original Spanish Wells Skiff molds
I received an email from Marc Stoner of Stoner Boatworks saying that he had an original Marina skiff hull and wanted to make an improved mold and boat off it. Would I answer some questions? 
Sure, I said, ask away. 
He wanted to build a stern bracket into the mold and I gave him my opinions on how I feel about brackets. He asked about where and how much fuel went into the boat, what would I change.
Well I would add more freeboard, lengthen the skiff, forget about the bracket .

Why was I talking to this guy when my old design was being reborn so well?

I get lots of emails asking advice about my old skiffs and other designs from how to fix to what I think of such and such. I have answered all for free with some taking many emails to guide along.
I built the original  Spanish Wells Skiff molds for a company that paid me by the hour. I feel anyone is free to improve on my ideas. So I have had no problems with this next skiff's reincarnation.

 The Stoners, after finishing the hull mold, emailed to ask me if I would let them name the new boat after me using my name. I explained to Marc Stoner that the gesture was nice but I would not want to have my name on any boat that was being built that I had no control over. Also it's their company and name on the line not mine.
I explained that Bradley and Eric could use my name in association of having built the original Spanish Wells Skiffs molds but that the Stoner skiff would be a splash or hopefully an improvement. That the Stoner company when done with their new vision would have to market their boat as to how and why it was different than the original and the new improved Spanish Wells Boat Works skiff.
So far I have no photos to post of the Stoners Vision so time will tell. It's a huge undertaking to build a set of plugs and molds so I look forward to seeing what it looks like.

What I have tried to say here is that if others are not trying to improve on what is known to work then things will not move along. I say to all of you out there that are loyal to your builders and boats: Let the new guys give it a try. As I have tried to explain in past posts I'am always studying  what others are doing or have done to see what works and how I might make it work better in my next vision. Nothing is original, it's all a process of trying to learn what really works from past ideas.

With out this process there would be only one kayak, canoe, Maine lobster boat design out there without any new ideas. We would all be wearing Levi jeans that felt like plywood or stuck in the missionary position.


William said...

Well said! I own one of the variants you describe and now appreciate (more) how my boat has certain improvements over the others. That the evolution and changes gradually improve the entire lot.

I admire the classic looks of these class of boats & like very much this SWB skiff. Great post! Thanks for writing!

Miami, FL

Gene said...

I've always loved the looks of what I called Bahamas skiffs since I first moved to the Bahamas 25 years ago. In 1995 I bought one of the last Blue Runners Gary Kelley built. I loved that boat and had a lot of fun diving and fishing off of it.
It was only a few years ago, upon moving to Eleuthera from Nassau that I found out that the Spanish Wells skiffs were a completely different and better boat than the Albury skiffs…and I've been trying to get my hands on one for the past year.
Funny enough I came across this blog about 3 months ago, recognized your name Chris…and at about the same time came across the New Spanish wells boat project…now, in your most recent post, I learn that you designed the original Spanish wells skiff….how cool is that? Anyways…thanks for designing such a great boat.

Unknown said...

People who spend too much time worrying about what others are doing or creating are not paying enough attention to their own work.
There are numerous Bahamian inspired boats out there many of which have very similar lines. No one owns that inspiration and everyone who likes it should improve their own version of it.

Peter Morley said...

I heard how you started with your idea with the layouts. I heard you were at shroud cay and you saw one of the boats and you loved the layouts and went to highbourne cay the next day to get the measurments. The boat you saw my dad had redid and this summer I am redoing one of them with my dad. Cant wait because they are such great boats and I love the way they ride.