SWEET RIDE

RENOWNED NAVAL AR­CHI­TECT LOU CODEGA TALKS ABOUT SPORTFISHING BOAT DE­SIGN TRENDS

Anglers Journal - - CONTENTS - By Gary Re­ich Photos by Jay Flem­ing

Naval ar­chi­tect Lou Codega, who has de­signed more than a dozen Reg­u­la­tor mod­els, knows what it takes to pro­duce a good-rid­ing cen­ter con­sole. By GARY RE­ICH

It was the late 1980s, and Joan and Owen Maxwell were on a quest to find them­selves. The cou­ple were wan­der­ing around an Ex­per­i­men­tal Air­craft As­so­ci­a­tion fly-in in Oshkosh, Wis­con­sin, when Owen had an idea.

“Let’s just build boats. That’s all I want to do,” he told Joan. “Maybe Albe­marle still has one of the 21 molds. We can just work off that.”

This was the mo­ment of con­cep­tion, so to speak, for Reg­u­la­tor Marine, which to­day is one of the most re­spected names in the fish­boat busi­ness.

Within a few months, Joan and Owen be­gan an ex­haus­tive search for some­one to draw the com­pany’s first boat. That’s when Lou Codega — then a Navy en­gi­neer — en­tered the pic­ture. Codega worked nights and week­ends on the de­sign, and the cen­ter con­sole he drew for the Maxwells — the Reg­u­la­tor 26 — be­came a rock star in the cen­ter con­sole fish­ing world.

Nearly 30 years later, Codega’s tal­ent for de­sign­ing tough, smooth-rid­ing, deep-vee cen­ter con­soles and sportfishing boats is un­ques­tioned. Along with more than a dozen Reg­u­la­tor mod­els, Codega has helped to

de­sign mod­els for Carolina Clas­sic, Hell’s Bay, Ry­bovich, Cabo Yachts and oth­ers.

Here’s some of what Codega told me in his home of­fice be­fore we fished for stripers with Owen on Codega’s Reg­u­la­tor 23, Fly­away.

AJ: When and how did you get in­ter­ested in boat­ing?

LOU: I grew up near the wa­ter in Rhode Is­land. One of my un­cles was a re­tired chief boatswain’s mate from the old-school U.S. Navy at Pearl Har­bor, Hawaii. He taught me to run a boat and all the sailor arts when I was very young. He also lived on the wa­ter and had a small skiff, so he let me run that. I bought an 8-foot sail­boat around age 16 and taught my­self to sail.

I knew when I was very young that I wanted to be a naval ar­chi­tect. The story I tell is that my fa­ther used to drag the fam­ily to New­port, Rhode Is­land, dur­ing Amer­ica’s Cup races to see the boats. Those were the far more in­for­mal days, when you could walk up and touch the boats af­ter the races. I still have a pic­ture of In­trepid on a rail­way that I took in 1967. I fig­ured that those were the most beau­ti­ful things that men could build, and I was go­ing to de­sign them when I grew up.

I wanted to do sail­boats when I grad­u­ated from the Webb In­sti­tute, but there were no jobs avail­able. So I went to work for the Coast Guard and then later for the Navy’s small-boat de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing group. There I got to de­sign and test a wide va­ri­ety of boats but mostly did high-per­for­mance boats for the spe­cial op­er­a­tions guys. I was work­ing there when I met Joan and Owen, and drew the Reg­u­la­tor 26 at night and on week­ends.

AJ: How did you guys come up with that first de­sign?

LOU: That’s ac­tu­ally a funny story. We wan­dered around boat shows tak­ing pic­tures and mea­sure­ments of things we liked, and made fur­ther notes about things we didn’t like. There were lots of things we saw and then said, “We can do bet­ter.” I’ll never for­get one boat show in Nor­folk, Vir­ginia, when we were mea­sur­ing and pho­tograph­ing a Black­fin, and the sales guy asked us if we needed any help. We had to act as if we were sim­ply shop­ping around for boats — you know, with tape mea­sures, notepads and cam­eras in our hands.

Joan and Owen wanted to build the be­strid­ing, safest and [most] well-built deep-vee fish­boat on the mar­ket. We had a few dif­fer­ent de­signs around 23 and 24 feet that we played around with, but ended up need­ing 26 feet of length over­all to fit what we wanted in­side it. That’s how the Reg­u­la­tor 26 was born.

AJ: What’s the se­cret when it comes to de­sign­ing a great-rid­ing fish­ing boat?

LOU: There are no se­crets. Any­one can go to a boat­yard and copy the lines from a Reg­u­la­tor 26 and build one. That’s only a small part of the deal. The im­por­tant part is the hull shape, bal­anc­ing the weight in­side the hull prop­erly and en­gi­neer­ing the proper dead­rise tran­si­tion all the way from the bow back to the tran­som. Any­one can slap a steep tran­som dead­rise on a boat. Get­ting the tran­si­tion cor­rect is very dif­fi­cult. In fact, I’m still re­fin­ing it af­ter nearly 30 years of build­ing boats.

For ex­am­ple, the Reg­u­la­tor 25 is a way bet­ter boat than the 26 was. It’s the re­sult of re­fin­ing the de­sign and years of tweaks and changes. We’ve di­aled in the dead­rise tran­si­tion just right, the chine widths have been changed, and we’ve tuned up the spray strake de­sign. The struc­tural grid in­side also is very im­por­tant — and dif­fi­cult to get right. All of this re­fine­ment is noth­ing if the boat isn’t built right, though. No one puts the care into their boats like Joan and Owen do. They’re ob­sessed with per­fec­tion.

AJ: What other fish­ing boats have you de­signed, be­sides the work you’ve done at Reg­u­la­tor?

LOU: I drew up 21- and 27-foot pro­duc­tion cen­ter con­soles for Hell’s Bay Boat Works; 25-, 28-, 32- and 35-foot sportfishing boats for Carolina Clas­sic; 31-, 35- and 45-foot­ers for Cabo Yachts, as well as some work for Ry­bovich when I was em­ployed at Don­ald L. Blount and Associates. There are also plenty of other projects that I’ve been in­volved with for Marolina Yachts, In­truder Boats, AL Cus­tom Boats, Bluewater Yachts and Mi­rage Man­u­fac­tur­ing. AJ: What do you like about de­sign­ing sportfishing boats?

LOU: Sportfishing boats are the epit­ome of de­sign. They’re en­gi­neered to get used and run in dif­fi­cult con­di­tions and do very spe­cific tasks. I like the chal­lenge of de­sign­ing a boat that folks feel com­fort­able in and know is go­ing to get them back home safely. It’s not an easy thing to do.

AJ: Why aren’t all deep-vee cen­ter con­soles the same?

LOU: There’s a var­ied mix of qual­ity, price and em­pha­sis of de­sign. With Reg­u­la­tors, we re­ally em­pha­size the sea­keep­ing and ride as­pects and de-em­pha­size other parts of the de­sign. For ex­am­ple, our boats are not as fast as many oth­ers. That’s by de­sign, in fa­vor of a more com­fort­able ride. Also, we never com­pro­mise safety or han­dling. It’s im­por­tant to de­sign a pre­dictable, safe boat for our cus­tomers.

AJ: Speak­ing of pre­dictabil­ity, what are your thoughts on stepped hulls?

LOU: Stepped hulls are good, and they work. They per­form best in calm wa­ter and flat sea con­di­tions when you’re go­ing re­ally fast. But a true stepped hull is very dif­fi­cult to con­trol be­cause you’re re­ly­ing on ven­ti­lat­ing the hull to get per­for­mance. To me, that’s an un­sta­ble sit­u­a­tion. There’s less boat in the wa­ter. So I don’t do them.

Gone Fish­ing

Around noon we grabbed a bite to eat and headed down to the Smith­field Sta­tion Ma­rina to run Fly­away on the James River and meet up with Owen. Although the fish were highly un­co­op­er­a­tive — and we all know how that can be — we had pro­duc­tive con­ver­sa­tions about Codega’s boat, Owen’s fish­ing back­ground and what drives him to build boats the way he and Joan do.

AJ: Lou, what do you like about your Reg­u­la­tor 23?

LOU: Ev­ery time I run it, I learn some­thing new. I mean, it’s a great boat and a plea­sure to use, but it’s feel­ing what’s go­ing on un­der my feet and see­ing how it re­acts to dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions that’s so ful­fill­ing. It helps me de­sign a bet­ter boat.

AJ: Have you ever de­signed a power cat for fish­ing?

LOU: Truth be told, I don’t like power cats. There are def­i­nitely some sea con­di­tions where they are bet­ter [than a deep-vee]. For ex­am­ple, power cats run great go­ing into a chop — and you don’t re­ally have to trim the boat well to get a good ride. That’s good for an owner who is a begin­ner. You can sim­ply push the throt­tles and go. Deep-vee boats have to be trimmed cor­rectly to get a good ride in rough con­di­tions … and not ev­ery owner knows how to do that. There’s def­i­nitely a learn­ing curve, in that re­spect.

AJ: Owen, tell me about your fish­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and how that has shaped Reg­u­la­tor’s busi­ness model.

OWEN: I started fish­ing around Hil­ton Head, South Carolina, in the ’70s as a kid. We poked around in a lit­tle 16-foot Bos­ton Whaler cen­ter con­sole with only a com­pass. The more I fished, the more peo­ple I met. And then they took me fish­ing. I be­gan to ven­ture off­shore.

At the end of the day, Joan and I are com­mit­ted to build­ing the best-run­ning deep­vee cen­ter con­sole boats on the mar­ket. That’s what shapes us, and Lou’s de­sign is re­ally at the core of what makes a Reg­u­la­tor a Reg­u­la­tor. Our boats are not the fastest out there by any means, and they’re heavy. But we’ve got a say­ing: “They might beat us go­ing out, but we al­ways beat them com­ing back in when it’s nasty.”

AJ: Lou, can you speak a lit­tle to the cur­rent trend of cen­ter con­sole boats get­ting larger and larger? Is it dif­fi­cult to de­sign a big­ger boat?

LOU: De­sign­ing the boat — even if it’s big­ger — is easy. It’s mak­ing room for and bal­anc­ing the weight of all the ad­di­tional gear in­side that makes de­sign­ing one a chal­lenge. And folks who buy these larger cen­ter con­soles ex­pect all of it — you know, air con­di­tion­ers, gen­er­a­tors, hot wa­ter heaters, in­vert­ers. There’s more fuel weight to bal­ance, and wa­ter tanks are big­ger and heav­ier. Stuff, that’s the chal­lenge.

AJ: How will fish­ing boats change in the next 10 years?

LOU: I think you’ll see more changes to ex­ist­ing tech­nol­ogy rather than some rad­i­cal new piece of tech­nol­ogy that mas­sively changes the de­sign ethos of sportfishing boats.

OWEN: I think cen­ter con­soles will cap at a cer­tain length. I also ex­pect con­struc­tion stan­dards to con­tinue to im­prove as more builders em­brace com­pos­ites. That be­ing said, we’re still com­mit­ted to the heavy deep-vee model. That’s our core DNA.

Codega says sportfishing boats rep­re­sent the epit­ome of de­sign. They’re en­gi­neered to run in dif­fi­cult con­di­tions and do spe­cific tasks.

Af­ter more than 30 years de­sign­ing boats, Lou Codega says he’s still re­fin­ing the el­e­ments that go into mak­ing a great cen­ter con­sole.

The team at Reg­u­la­tor Marine signed the de­signer’s 23-footer, Fly­away, which he calls a plea­sure to run.

Codega’s Reg­u­la­tor 23. Re­fine­ments to chine widths, spray strakes, dead­rise tran­si­tion and more help sub­se­quent mod­els con­tin­u­ally im­prove.

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