OBX Boat Builder Legacy

Marlin Mag 2001

historywulffCaptain Buddy Cannady

The Outer Banks has its share of colorful seafaring characters. Buddy Cannady definitely qualifies as one of them. A charter captain and former duck-hunting guide, Cannady has a shop in Manteo that builds one boat per year – built his way.

Cannady’s boats take about 25 weeks to build, and the process provides employment for a number of charter crews that don’t fish over the winter months.

The method of construction is called jig building – one of the oldest shipbuilding methods known to man. Cannady sinks heavy posts into an absolutely level floor and takes all the levels from that. His plans, sketched on grubby pieces of plywood at a simple 1-inch-to-1-foot scale, sit in a pile on a sawdust-laden shelf.

Though it may not sound like a sophisticated operation, Cannady’s boats are in huge demand. Of course, Cannady doesn’t care. He’s still going to build just one per year and fish during the summer. No one dances to the beat of his own drum better than he.

Cannady’s boats are meant for charter work. They’re not fancy or flashy. But anyone who can recognize real beauty in stark simplicity and functionality will instantly fall in love with Cannady’s hulls. Boats like the 56-foot Easy Rider, Cannady’s newest model, have enormous room below with plenty of storage for rods, tackle, bait freezers and the like. Open interiors offer little privacy except for the head.

historybobby2Easy Rider boasts twin diesel power since her captain and owner, David Graham, plans to fish the Bahamas and other exotic locales when not after Oregon Inlet’s tuna and white marlin. However, most Cannady boats get a single diesel. When you fish 150 days each year, the cost and operation of a boat must be a nickel-and-dime affair. For that reason, the design and construction plays to the pocketbook. The keelson fits inside the hull instead of outside for less drag and better fuel efficiency. The hull consists of juniper frames and normal marine plywood. The bulkheads all go in while the boat is being framed so it all locks together. Then the planking goes over the outside, rather than putting the walls in last and having to tab them in.

Everything is simple, clean and functional – there’s no mistaking that this is a workboat. As Cannady says, “They’re good enough for those who use them.”


From Buddy Davis Boats History

2-1North of Hatteras on the Outer Banks , is Roanoke Island and the towns of I Manteo and Wanchese. Commercial fishing and shellfishing were the area’s primary means of commerce and although the neighboring town of Nags Head has recently experienced a boom as a tourist-oriented beach community, Roanoke retains much of its original flavor and close ties to the sea.

The boats built here are as much a reflection of the Outer Banks as they are a reflection of the men who build them. The remote nature of Roanoke in the 1950s and 1960s created a strong bond between the charter captains, many of I whom built boats in the winter, and their unique environment. The captains built boats that were designed to surf Oregon Inlet, take the headseas on the way offshore, and come home as economically I as possible. Of the seven major custom I builders making Carolina boats on Roanoke today, all owe the origin of |their design to O’Neal’s Boat Works, founded by Warren O’Neal in 1959.

2-2O’Neal’s Boat Works was located in Manteo and built three charter boats for Oregon Inlet captains before being contracted strictly for private custom boats in the early 1960s. O’Neal’s boats featured 20 degrees of deadrise in the bow and tapered down to an almost flat stern, giving a combination of big sea ability with a good speed-to-fuel economy ratio. Buddy Davis, no small player on the Carolina boat-building scene himself, credits O’Neal as the father of the Carolina sport fishing boats.

“You’d be wrong to say it didn’t all begin with Warren,” Davis said. The flared bow was taken from some boats being built at Harkers Island, but Warren developed the sharp entry and the flat stern section.”

Omie Tillet, a friend of O’Neal’s and a fellow charter captain at Oregon Inlet, spent winters fishing for sailfish at Palm Beach and returned to Manteo raving about the Rybovich boats. O’Neal began coating his all juniper hulls with fiberglass in the same manner as Rybovich in the mid-1960s and developed a shear line much like that of the Rybovich design. The hull shape remained strictly in the Carolina fashion and O’Neal’s boats began to gain notoriety among fishermen. Around the same time; O’Neal built the first Jersey Devil for Mike Levitt of Philadelphia. Noted angler John Wood, a long-time Rybovich fan, became enamored with O’Neal’s performance and more palatable price tag. He commissioned a series of O’Neal boats, all of which he named Olive E.

2-3During these peak years of O’Neal Boat Works, many of today’s Roanoke builders learned their trade from O’Neal. Omie Tillet, Sheldon Midgett and Buddy Davis all began their boat building careers under O’Neal’s tutelage.

In 1971, Omie fillet founded the famous Sportsman Boat Works at Manteo. Tillet built both charter boats and private boats and his vessels quickly developed a reputation for their strength, I classic lines and fish-catching ability. I Sportsman boats were constructed of juniper in the traditional caned planking fashion and many were tournament winners; Peter Conatas’ Mary Cne and Dr. ~ Leroy Allen’s Sea Hag are two well-known examples. However, Tille was extremely allergic to epoxy, and decided that a quick return to charter fishing would bring immediate relief to both his skin and his nerves. He sold Sportsman l to his foreman, Tom Daughtry, in 1977, and the yard was moved to Wanchese.

2-4Daughtry, also an Oregon charter captain, has been at the helm of Sportsman ever since, successfully modernizing the yard and its products. Composite construction of encapsulated, multidirectional plywood began in 1986, giving Sportsman boats the speed and ability necessary to compete on today’s tournament scene. Currently on tap s an 80-foot sportfisherman and, in a departure from normal construction methods, an aluminum and fiberglass motor yacht.

From 1970 until 1980, former O’Neal protege Sheldon Midgett built a series of custom charter boats in Manteo. The boats were used predominantly by Oregon Inlet and Virginia Beach charter captains who found them to be excellent fish-raisers and very reliable hulls. One of Midgett’s employees was a boatbuilder and charter captain named Buddy Davis. Davis would arguably make the largest impact of O’Neal’s proteges, building custom boats for 10 years and then forming Roanoke’s first production boat yard in 1984.

2-5Davis left Midgett in 1973 to start Buddy Davis Boat Works, then located in Manteo. Davis built one boat in Manteo, then moved to Wanchese in 1974. In 1977, he began to experiment with production design, building two boats out of diagonal juniper. The next year, Davis switched to diagonal mahogany construction in the Rybovich tradition. He built four boats this way before switching to the plyboard cold-molded boats ~at would be the prototype for his production models. Davis admittedly respects the two great custom boat builders of South Florida.

“The plyboard cold mold was very much a Merritt influence. I was always impressed with both Merritt and Rybovich. If anyone tells you that we aren’t influenced by Merritt and Rybovich, you’re not getting the whole story,” Davis said.

2-6In 1983, Davis built a 47-foot boat and a 61-foot boat on a mold using fiberglass with an Airex core. These designs became the foundation of Buddy Davis Yachts in June of 1984. Davis launched his first 47 in July 1985, and has since built 73 47footers and 24 of the larger boats. To say they have been will received by the sporhfishing community is a serious understatement. Buddy Davis Yachts has gained a reputation that places it among the best of production boat companies.

Tucked in behind Buddy Davis Yachts is the shop of another of Roanoke’s most prestigious custom builders. Rick Scarborough began his building career with a 17-foot tunnel-hull boat that he used while duck hunting. He founded Scarborough Boats in 1976 and began building 22-foot center console boats out of juniper and fiberglass. Scarborough’s first large boat was a 4ffoot boat built in 1978. Since then, he has built a sportfisherman every seven or eight months. In the interest of speed, Scarborough’s juniper/glass boats have a little less deadrise in the bow and less vee in the stern than any Roanoke builder.

“Everyone thinks that their way is right,” Scarborough explained. “If you don’t, you’re in the wrong business.”

2-7He also has some definite thoughts on construction materials and methods. “I will not build boats on a jig (mold). I just don’t feel like they’re as good as a boat built from the keel up. I also don’t want to go to the plyboard like everyone else. I know it’s lighter, but I honestly feel that juniper will outlast plyboard every time,” Scarborough said.

Irving Forbes, a one-time mate for Omie Tillet during the charter season, l founded Forbes Boat Works in 1986. Forbes learned the business as foreman for Buddy Davis during the Buddy Davis Boat I Works days and obviously paid attention in class, as his boats are quickly having an impact on the custom boat market. Forbes’ boats feature the classic beauty of the Carolina hull and more than hold their own in the
Gulf Stream.

2-8In one charter season at Oregon Inlet, the 53-foot Fintastic and the 50-foot,Forbes Billfisher performed well, finishing second and third respectively in the Oregon Inlet Billfish Tournament and catching more than one very large blue marlin. (900 pounds plus) during the year. Forbes echoes Scarborough when it comes to building boats.

“I like the wood/glass construction, | and I don’t plan to build boats on a jig,”Forbes said. ‘That’s not to say I won’t ‘ ever do it, but I like the way I’m able to keep the boat exactly how I want it”

Gwaltney Boat Works, also located in Wanchese, offers yet another modification of the Carolina design. The company is operated by Steve Gwaltney and his boats feature more hawk in the bow and solid glass construction. The stern, flatter than most Carolina boats, is comparable to Scarborough’s design. Gwaltney’s boats are some of the fastest sportfishermen available, with speeds approaching
40 miles per hour, but are also very capable in big headseas.

2-10Sonny Briggs, who has been building large sportfishing boats for 10 years, also places major emphasis on speed. He’ll build two boats per year, specializing in 37- and 50-foot boats. Briggs built the Shotgun for Peter Pulitzer and the wellknown Diamond Lady with a Carolina design, but built the
El Zorro in the West Coast bow-fishing style.

“I usually do Carolina hulls that are constructed a little differently from the other builders on the island,” Briggs explained.

Briggs builds his boats with a cold-molded hull and Philippine mahogany/ glass composite on the bridge. He feels this combination gives him the right mix of strength and speed.

“I feel that the mahogany on the bridge makes it stronger and more rigid than some other boats. I also put a lot of deadrise in the bow because the boats cruise so fast (28 knots) that you need he deadrise for a comfortable ride in any kind of sea,” Br gas said.

Where builders like Davis and Briggs took to O’Neal, Rybovich and Merritt as heir main influences, Hatteras Island builder Buddy Smith, of Island Boat Works, combines parts of the Carolina style with many of Jim Smith’s ideas. The result is an extremely fast boat with not as much bow flare or deadrise as the typical Roanoke boat. Island has produced seven boats during its six years of operation, including the 57-foot Citation, a 38-knot boat with stock 892s. Buddy Smith’s hulls are built of 3/8 inch plywood/Kevlar composite with two lay- I s of Nytex on the outside. The company recently finished a 40-foot boat that tops out at 3&knots with 375 hp Caterpillar diesels for power.

2-11“We really like the 40-footer,” Smith id. “It’s perfect for people who want to fish without having a captain or crew. With a little more power in her, I think she’d go well over 40 knots.”

Manteo builder and Oregon Inlet captain Buddy Cannady follows the old hoot building boats of juniper from the el up. Cannady has more than 80 boats to his credit and will build one boat in the 50-foot range during the winter, fish it for one season, then sel1 it. Like Buddy Smith at Island Boat Works, Cannady admires the speed of the Jim Smith boats.

“It wouldn’t be logical for us to fish the flatter boat because we have too much choppy water, but that old boy (Jim Smith) really has it figured out when it comes to going fast. On my new boat, I’m taking a little bit here and there with shaft angles and chine design. Something to make it faster and still be able to fish every day,” Cannady said.

“I guess the one constant thing would be the Carolina hull and the fishing at Oregon Inlet,” Buddy Davis explained. “At one time, every builder but Ricky was working as a charter captain there. If our boats didn’t work, we were out of business.”

It is this charter captain’s ethic, the cold appraisal of a boat’s abilities on days when the horizon acts like a roller coaster, that has tested all Carolina boats. It is a test the boats have passed with flags flying, keeping not only the charter captains in business,
but the boatbuilders of the Outer Banks as well.

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