A look at how the lat­est in custom boat con­struc­tion and ma­te­ri­als re­sults in stronger, lighter and faster fish­ing ma­chines

A look at how the lat­est in custom boat con­struc­tion and ma­te­ri­als re­sults in stronger, lighter and faster fish­ing ma­chines

Boat con­struc­tion and ma­te­ri­als have come a long way since an­cient mariners first hol­lowed out a fallen tree and floated down­stream. Many of us re­mem­ber the early builds from Hat­teras — think back to the 1960 in­tro­duc­tion of KnitWits ; at 41 feet in length, it is con­sid­ered to be the first fiber­glass pro­duc­tion boat over 30 feet, and one that is still run­ning to this day. But did you know that the use of com­pos­ite ma­te­ri­als dates back to an­tiq­uity?


Ac­cord­ing to schol­arly re­search, the ear­li­est record of com­pos­ite use is gen­er­ally at­trib­uted to the an­cient Me­sopotami­ans around 3400 B.C. Us­ing their own home­grown sticky stuff, they glued strips of wood placed at dif­fer­ent an­gles to one an­other, and voilà: ply­wood was born.

The use of composites grew by leaps and bounds, and by around A.D. 1200, those ras­cally Mon­gols fig­ured out that by us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of wood, bam­boo, an­i­mal ten­dons and bones, all wrapped in silk and bonded to­gether with pine resin, their bows were much more ef­fec­tive. So ef­fec­tive, in fact, that the weapon ruled their world in both hunt­ing and war­fare well into the

14th cen­tury, when firearms first ap­peared.

Fast-for­ward to the 1930s, when resin de­vel­op­ment took a gi­ant step for­ward, par­al­lel­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of fiber­glass by the Owens Corn­ing com­pany. Fiber­glass-re­in­forced poly­mer was given a patent, and it would only be a mat­ter of time un­til the au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try de­signed and pro­duced a to­tally com­pos­ite car body. Af­ter the in­tro­duc­tion of the 1953 Corvette, the marine in­dus­try caught on.

In the next decade and on­ward — with the patent of carbon-fiber ma­te­rial for com­mer­cial use, tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced resins and epox­ies, new fab­ric weaves, bet­ter strength-to-weight ra­tios and the ad­vent of Everett Pear­son’s See­mann Composites Resin In­fu­sion Mold­ing Process (SCRIMP) sys­tem of vac­uum bag­ging — other in­no­va­tions have brought us right up to to­day’s high-tech, state-of-the-art con­struc­tion meth­ods, ones that have given us some of the most beau­ti­fully built and func­tional fish­ing ma­chines known world­wide.

To get a han­dle on just how all this has af­fected high-level tour­na­ment-ready sport-fish­ing boats from the OC­TO­BER 2018 custom sec­tor, I went right to the source with sev­eral well-known builders to get their in­put.


“We put a lot of en­gi­neer­ing into our boats, and each one, from a 60-footer to a 90-footer, gets the same at­ten­tion,” says Gary Davis, su­per­in­ten­dent of new con­struc­tion at the sprawl­ing Jar­rett Bay Boat­works fa­cil­ity in Beau­fort, North Carolina. “You can’t just add more horse­power to make the boat go faster. The only way to skin that cat is to look for ways to im­prove the hy­dro­dy­nam­ics and elim­i­nate weight. Those are the chal­lenges that new tech­nol­ogy ad­dresses.”

The Jar­rett Bay ap­proach looks at the whole build to en­sure all of the crit­i­cal struc­tural parts, as well as all of the boat’s sys­tems, work in har­mony in or­der to ex­ceed ex­pec­ta­tions. “For ex­am­ple, with our 90-footer, the owner wanted the boat to be not just fast but as quiet as pos­si­ble,” Davis says.

With the re­search done, they de­ter­mined that while a full carbon-fiber pack­age would yield the best speed, with the level of sound­damp­en­ing ma­te­rial needed to achieve the de­sired deci­bel lev­els, the weight sav­ings would be elim­i­nated, and the boat would ac­tu­ally be heav­ier. “We came up with a hy­brid method for the hull skin, sides and tran­som by build­ing

them out of the rel­a­tively same light­weight ma­te­rial we have been us­ing over the past 15 years — a cold-molded prod­uct made out of ply­wood and epoxy,” Davis notes. “The wood acts as a fairly good sound in­su­la­tor too.”

Af­ter that, the sim­i­lar­i­ties go away. For ex­am­ple, all the stringers, bulk­heads, decks and ev­ery­thing from there on are foam-cored, with car­bon­fiber-in­fused skins. “In the case of all the top­side stuff, we’ve taken the E-glass out and re­placed it with carbon fiber,” Davis says. “On the hull it­self, we do have the E-glass lam­i­nate on the hull, in­side and out, but af­ter that, and with a few ex­cep­tions, ev­ery­thing else is a car­bon­in­fused lam­i­na­tion.”

As far as mount­ing those new high-horse­power en­gines, one of the headaches with carbon fiber is the ab­so­lute need to isolate it from met­als to pre­vent gal­vanic cor­ro­sion. The main stringers where the en­gines sit have a higher-den­sity foam core and an over­lay of carbon fiber. Over that is a welded alu­minum cap that is prop­erly sized to ac­cept the mo­tor mounts. To isolate it all, a layer of E-glass was ap­plied be­fore the paint. And to make sure the through­bolts would not come in con­tact with the carbon fiber, a com­pres­sion sleeve was in­serted. “Ev­ery­thing you see mounted on that boat, and ev­ery­where that par­tic­u­lar ma­te­rial is used across the board, we use a com­pres­sion or grip sleeve to make sure there is no chance of any con­tact with a screw, bolt or metal com­po­nent to set up gal­vanic cor­ro­sion,” Davis says. “This does com­pli­cate the build, but we made it hap­pen.”

With the bless­ings of tech­nol­ogy and new ma­te­ri­als come a host of ills that must be ad­dressed. “With the new pro­cesses, we are al­ways look­ing for weight-sav­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, and in the fi­nal anal­y­sis, it all adds up. To make it hap­pen, ev­ery­body in­volved has to be in the same mind­set,” he adds.


“We are big be­liev­ers in the triple-ply Ok­oume hull, and I think, uni­ver­sally, every­one can agree that noth­ing com­pares to the sound­dead­en­ing ca­pa­bil­ity, the ride and the per­for­mance of this hull,” says John Bayliss, whose boat­build­ing fa­cil­ity in Wanch­ese, North Carolina, bears his name.

While the hulls at Bayliss Boat­works are glass in­side and out, and use epoxy resin through­out the build, the con­struc­tion process will vary with the build­ing ma­te­ri­als used. Dur­ing wood con­struc­tion, for ex­am­ple, a spe­cific West Sys­tem epoxy will be ap­plied. “When we get to the cabin, su­per­struc­ture, fly­bridge and con­sole, we use Core-Cell foam that is glassed

on both sides,” Bayliss notes. “We still use Philip­pine ma­hogany for the frame­work in the over­head of the cabin, which pro­vides room for air ducts, wir­ing bun­dles, light­ing and so on.”

Bayliss and I dis­cussed the all-im­por­tant no­tion of be­ing weight-con­scious through­out his builds. While that is es­sen­tial in to­day’s hori­zon­chas­ing fish­ing boats, his per­sonal stamp on ev­ery boat that leaves the fa­cil­ity also comes with a pedi­gree that pays spe­cial at­ten­tion to the ride. “I be­lieve there is such thing as get­ting too light and high-tech, where a solid glass or core boat tends to res­onate the sound more. That’s why we stick with cold-mold­ing and the wood hull,” he says.

To fur­ther weight sav­ings, Bayliss has re­placed his deck­ing ma­te­rial with a very durable 3M hon­ey­comb core, and all bulk­heads are a com­bi­na­tion of marine ply­wood and Core-Cell, glassed on both sides. “Our boats are re­ally quiet, ride very well and fish like they are ex­pected to,” he says. “As far as all these new ma­te­ri­als are con­cerned, and while we’ve adopted some of them into our builds and con­struc­tion process, like CNC [com­puter nu­mer­i­cal con­trol], in-house de­sign

says Paul Spencer, of the Wanch­ese, North Carolin­abased Spencer Yachts. “And we’re al­ways look­ing for new ways to make things lighter and stronger on our boats.”

The for­mula of horse­power plus weight equals speed and per­for­mance is the well-ac­cepted math for se­ri­ous sport-fish­ing boats, and while Spencer and the other builders seek to push the lim­its of their builds, they all must keep some­thing very im­por­tant in mind: The boat must still with­stand the rig­ors it will be put through at sea.

To that end, when Spencer first be­gan with com­pos­ite con­struc­tion, the com­pany en­gaged struc­tural en­gi­neers to sup­ply most of the data. In ad­di­tion, with the al­limpor­tant resin com­pa­nies, the builder also con­sulted on which were the best for­mu­las to use for resin in­fu­sion, given the higher tem­per­a­tures. “We use post-cur­ing for our builds, and will ac­tu­ally cook the whole hull, cabin and bridge in an au­to­clave oven in or­der to gain the full ben­e­fit of the prod­uct,” Spencer says. “When we cure at 200 to 250 de­grees, the re­sult is a harder, more sta­ble out­come, with­out any of the post-cure is­sues like print­through. This way, we are able to take full ad­van­tage of these high-tech resins.”

When it comes to carbon fiber, Spencer notes a lot of



good uses for the ma­te­rial. “In our bulk­heads, for ex­am­ple, it’s great be­cause it won’t be abused there,” he says. And while carbon fiber does have its draw­backs — the afore­men­tioned need for iso­la­tion, for ex­am­ple — there are many other uses where strength and weight sav­ings are needed. “We don’t do the hull, but with the bulk­heads and decks where you would need, let’s say, 20 ounces of E-glass, it only takes 10 ounces of carbon fiber and half the amount of resin to sat­u­rate it,” he points out. “The weight sav­ings can be sig­nif­i­cant.”

Spencer’s main fo­cus is its con­tin­ued use of composites in a jig-built boat —in­cor­po­rat­ing any new tech­nolo­gies that can strengthen its builds and make them lighter — af­ter stren­u­ous re­search and test­ing, of course. For this builder, it’s not any one thing but a se­ries of in­no­va­tions that re­sult in the boats you see com­ing from their fa­cil­ity.


Build­ing with high-tech ma­te­ri­als is where Mark Wil­lis’ Stu­art, Florid­abased Wil­lis Marine finds its com­fort zone. “From the ini­tial con­ver­sa­tion with the cus­tomer, we know right from the start whether it’s go­ing to be a high-tech build or some­thing a bit more main­stream,” he says. “And it doesn’t mat­ter whether it’s one of our custom flats boats or a com­pli­cated build like the 77-foot Uno

Mas, we ap­proach ev­ery­thing in the same way.”

In or­der to get things go­ing, Wil­lis and his team start with com­puter stud­ies and a full CFD (com­pu­ta­tional fluid dy­nam­ics) anal­y­sis, which shows the char­ac­ter­is­tics of an ob­ject as it in­ter­acts with wa­ter. Along with weight stud­ies, this al­lows Wil­lis to de­velop an idea on pa­per of what the best build plat­form is, way be­fore any con­struc­tion be­gins.

“While the de­sign process re­mains the same, us­ing ma­te­ri­als like carbon fiber will af­fect the weight stud­ies since they are sig­nif­i­cantly lighter than the tra­di­tional glass com­pos­ite or wood struc­ture,” Wil­lis says. “When we go this way, track­ing the weights dur­ing ev­ery phase of the build be­comes an in­te­gral part of the plan.”

With a some­what vi­sion­ary ap­proach, Wil­lis is also tak­ing a new slant when ad­dress­ing the run­ning gear on his boats. And while the tech­nol­ogy has been around for some time, hav­ing roots in the mil­i­tary, the weight-adapted method­ol­ogy con­sid­ers the struts, shaft, props and rud­ders as one sys­tem — what Wil­lis calls an en­gi­neered driv­e­train. “They are an­a­lyzed through CFD to be as slip­pery as pos­si­ble, given the weight of the wa­ter pass­ing through and by them,” he says. “It’s this kind of stuff that is bring­ing the marine in­dus­try well into the 21st cen­tury.”

Wil­lis and I dis­cussed the ap­proach he used for Uno

Mas, work­ing with an owner who came to them with a cut­ting-edge idea that would push the en­ve­lope right from the start. “We re­ally worked on the styling for many months, us­ing mod­els and 3D com­puter pro­grams, un­til every­one was happy with how it was go­ing to look,” he says.

Wil­lis is com­fort­able with his niche in the mar­ket and prefers to use high-tech ma­te­ri­als in his builds. “For me, any­body who wants Wil­lis Marine to build them a boat wants some­thing that sets them apart from the oth­ers,” he says. “I’m al­ways look­ing for that par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge.”


Do­minick LaCombe likes to go fast, from his mo­tor­cy­cles and cars to the boats that slip down the ways at his Amer­i­can Custom Yachts fa­cil­ity in Stu­art. “It’s all about the weight,” he points

out. “Lighter means faster. We were build­ing light, strong boats when the horse­power wasn’t there. When the en­gine horse­power started to get higher, our light, strong builds were al­ready there per­for­mance-wise,” he says.

Back in the 1980s, LaCombe be­gan us­ing carbon fiber to re­in­force the deck beams, as well as re­plac­ing the fiber­glass fab­ric with Kevlar for added strength and re­duced weight. “The Kevlar was re­ally good for col­li­sion bulk­heads,” he notes.

LaCombe’s take on work­ing with carbon fiber echoes every­one else’s con­cern about the ma­te­rial: “Think about it as be­ing a sheet of steel,” he says. “If you put a screw in it, you’re go­ing to have to isolate those two met­als.”

And with that in mind, ACY makes ab­so­lutely sure that when­ever carbon fiber is used, spe­cial at­ten­tion is given to pro­tec­tion and iso­la­tion.

Be­ing a custom builder, ACY uses lim­ited pro­duc­tion tool­ing molds for the house and fly­bridge; the for­mer has Core-Cell foam beams in the over­head for the bridge deck. This is one of the places where they use vac­uum-in­fused carbon fiber along with Pro-Set epox­ies to pre­vent any print-through. “We own the whole in­fu­sion pump sys­tem and are able to make sure the resin-to-weight ra­tios are kept right where they be­long,” he points out.

With tech­nol­ogy de­liv­er­ing new resin chem­istry, ACY has taken ad­van­tage of the ad­vances by in­te­grat­ing the ad­vanced for­mu­las into its builds. Ev­ery­thing in the de­sign and build­ing process that tech­nol­ogy has pro­vided to make things a lit­tle bit lighter and more user-friendly, LaCombe says, has been in­cor­po­rated into the boats that bear the ACY name.


As tech­nol­ogy con­tin­ues to ad­vance, it will be in­ter­est­ing to see what comes down the line and how that will af­fect our in­dus­try and, in par­tic­u­lar, the custom builders. There are rad­i­cal de­signs al­ready show­ing up, and new ideas about propul­sion op­tions and build­ing ma­te­ri­als that will see the next gen­er­a­tion of boaters look­ing back at what came be­fore, just as we do with the first fiber­glass boats. Time will tell.

The 77-foot Uno Mas from Wil­lis Marine pushes the very lim­its of cut­tingedge tech­nol­ogy.

Gary Davis

While the su­per­struc­ture and other com­po­nents are cored, Bayliss Boat­works uses a more con­ven­tional ap­proach to its hulls (above) to pro­duce sport-fish­er­men like the 64-foot Lor-A-Di (left).

One way to make a boat faster is to make it lighter. Spencer Yachts has been on the cut­ting edge of com­pos­ite con­struc­tion, in­cor­po­rat­ing the lat­est in tech­nol­ogy in ev­ery new boat it builds.

Paul Spencer

Amer­i­can Custom Yachts has been pro­duc­ing strong, speedy boats for many years, due in part to a pro­pri­etary vac­uum-in­fus­ing process that en­sures the cor­rect ra­tio of resin to com­pos­ite in each com­po­nent (above). The com­pany has been us­ing light­weight ma­te­ri­als like carbon fiber since the 1980s.

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