In the years following WWII, backyard boat builders along the shores of the Carolinas began crafting a new breed of boats, one with a very distinctive design that would be tested and prove true in the rough waters of the Atlantic. The build quality was so well-thought out that even today, you will see these style boats especially in the coastal waters of the Carolinas and Florida.
Today we will explore the history of the custom Carolina and discover what makes this design so seaworthy. Who knows – you just may discover that the Carolina is the right style boat for you.
Recognizing the Custom Carolina Design
Once you know what to look for, you will easily be able to pick out custom Carolina when you see her.
Custom Carolinas feature a huge bow with extreme flare. They have a broken sheer line that steps down where both the cockpit and the cabin meet.
Carolina built hulls tend to have a shallower draft with a sharp entry. Looking aft from the bow of the boat, you’ll note a sharp, deep V-hull design that smoothly transitions to a shallower and modified-V or sometimes a flat hull as you go aft. Running aft along the side of the boat, you’ll then notice the flare of the bow is smoothly replaced with tumblehome.
Carolinas are usually cold molded or plank on frame making them much lighter than solid glass hulls. This in turn helps with top speed and allows for less draft. These techniques are more expensive to build and require many more man hours than a typical hull that gets popped out of a mold.
Carolinas have 3 key features that are the secret to their seaworthiness:
The Deep/Sharp V
The deep-V design up front allows the boat to slice through head waves allowing for a smoother wave cut and less pounding or “bashing.”
Carolinas have a distinctively large bow. This again helps with rough sea states. Having lots of free board up front means you can take on larger wave action and handle more green water.
Prominent Flare (bow)
From the waterline going up at the bow, the Carolinas’ freeboard starts as a deep-V which then transitions to a noticeable flare toward the horizontal aspect as it reaches the gunwale. This keeps the topsides dry as it deflects the waves as they crash under the bow.
North Carolina’s sportfishing can be traced back to commercial fishing boats of the late 1800s. Sport fishers grew directly out of the commercial fishing boat line-up. Fisherman would remove the nets from the cockpit of their fishing boats while doing charters in the summer. They would then add some chairs for their customers.
The predecessor to the Carolinas where the Core Sound fishing/work boat. Carolina boat builders would soon emerge out of this need for sport fishing in the 1950’s basing their designs around the Core Sound boat.
The Florida Connection
Starting in the 1930s, just off the Florida coast in such places as Cuba, Bimini and Cat Cay, marlin and tuna were being caught in large numbers by fisherman like Ernest Hemingway and Habana Joe. Hemingway spent a lot of time on his boat Pilar during this period of his life both for big game fishing and escaping the pressures of life.
Word spread quickly about this new sport called “big game” fishing. Boats back then weren’t equipped to handle the big fish. Ennis Merritt is one such individual who started to build the Carolina style boat in the mid-50s. He left Long Island and bought acreage in Pompano, Florida where he started building boats with his company Merritt Boat and Engine Works. His 37 sport fishers became very famous. Of the 13 original 37 footers Merritt built, 12 still survive today.
Some Legendary Names in Carolina Style Boat Building
- Buddy Davis (Carson R. “buddy Davis Jr.): Davis built over 350 boats. He incorporated many contemporary design innovations and construction techniques. He brought “yacht finishes” to the sport fishing boat line up.
- Sunny Briggs (Thomas H Briggs, III): Sunny was taught a lot about fishing starting as a mate when he was 12 years old. He later captained for Omie Tillett then started building his own boats in the winter while fishing in the summer. Years later, Sunny went on to open Briggs Boatworks in Wanchese, NC in 1985.
- Omie Tillet: Omie was frequently found on the water working with his father since he was 10 years old. He then ran his dad’s boat at 20 and then partnered with Warren O’Neal to start building boats at the age of 31. His first boat was inspired by John Rybovich who made fishing boats after WWII. Omie and O’Neal were legends because they thought outside the box with radical new ideas.
- Paul Spencer: Paul got his start as a mate when he was 12. He later got his Captain’s license and started fishing charters and tournaments. He went into boat building in 1996 and to this day he has remained very progressive about his boat building.
- Craig Blackwell: Craig started in Michigan. He learned about resin work with Gougeon Brothers who developed West System Resin. He lived in Florida for a while where he perfected his art of building jigs. He later moved to North Carolina where he worked for Buddy Davis. In 1986 Craig started his own business Blackwell Boatworks. He’s now built over 60 sportfishing boats.
- Ritchie Howell: Ritchie Howell grew up on the water in the Wanashe area and spent a lot of time ferrying boats up and the down the coast when he was young. He runs a smaller but very successful boat yard and oversees every detail in his boatbuilding.
- Captain “Buddy” Cannady: “Captain BC” was a very well-known sport fisher builder in North Carolina with over 30 boat builds to his name. He was also named the world’s fastest boat builder. He began this journey in 1954 when he bought his first boat, a charter boat named Snot. He too started building boats in the winter so that he could charter during the summer. He worked alongside Warren O’Neal. Buddy Davis and Canady teamed up in 1973 to build a charter boat named Capt. B.C. Cannady. Then in 1974, Captain BC opened Cannady Boatworks and built in his backyard. He remains a legend in both charter fishing and boat building.
- John Bayliss: Like so many others, John started his on the water career as a young mate, then as a captain running his charters. He worked with Hatteras until the traveling and being away from family became too much of a strain with over 200 days a year away from home. He stood up Bayliss Boatworks and started building his own boats in 2002.
The Take Away
If you are serious about sport fishing, a Carolina Style boat may be the right choice for you. With years of refinements, boatyards have been taking what works and simply making it better. Some of the legendary names were mentioned above but there are lots more that should be given credit to for this battlewagon’s style and function.
Now that you know why they look the way they do, is a Custom Carolina in your future?