A boat­build­ing pi­o­neer and his last boat con­tinue to re­write sport-fish­ing his­tory

Marlin - - CONTENTS FEATURES - By Capt. Tom South­ward and Ladd Bayliss

A boat­build­ing pi­o­neer and his last boat con­tinue to re­write sport-fish­ing his­tory

Many of the dis­tinct, beau­ti­ful char­ac­ter­is­tics of a Carolina sport-fisher — the sweep­ing bro­ken sheer, gen­tly curved tum­ble­home, warped plane bot­tom and flared bow — were in­flu­enced by a num­ber of boat­builders. How­ever, one of the most dy­namic pa­tri­archs was un­doubt­edly Omie Tillet. While he was only able to com­plete eight hulls be­cause of an al­lergy to epoxy, his in­flu­ence con­tin­ues to­day with John Bayliss, Paul Mann and Jar­rett Bay’s Randy Ram­sey, among scores of oth­ers.


Tillet comes from a fam­ily of fish­er­men that in­cludes his younger brother Tony, who is still fish­ing out of Ore­gon In­let, North Carolina, to­day. Omie be­gan work­ing with his fa­ther, Sam Tillet, at the age of 10, and by 20, Omie was run­ning his first boat. As many Carolina char­ter cap­tains soon learn, a new or dif­fer­ent boat is of­ten needed in or­der for them to keep fish­ing in the chal­leng­ing con­di­tions, so Omie ap­proached his long­time friend and fel­low fish­er­man Warren O’Neal.

Dur­ing the win­ter months, Tillet had fished in Florida, where he vis­ited Ry­bovich Boat­works. After re­turn­ing home, he learned that a Ry­bovich boat was close by, so he and O’Neal trav­eled from the Outer Banks to Vir­ginia Beach, Vir­ginia, to per­son­ally check out the var­i­ous de­sign in­no­va­tions for them­selves.

In fall 1960, con­struc­tion be­gan on Sports­man. In spring 1961, O’Neal, with the help of Tillet and Lee Perry, launched Sports­man — the clas­sic Carolina boat was born. Tillet con­tin­ued to work for O’Neal for sev­eral years, un­til he started Sports­man Boat­works in 1973. He built many fa­mil­iar boats that still ply the off­shore waters of North Carolina to­day, in­clud­ing Sky­lark (now Sal­va­tion), Temp­ta­tion, Carolinian (now Rigged Up) and Brothers Pride; he started the hull for Mary One (now Cov­er­age).


When asked about his unique de­signs, Tillet sim­ply says, “I bor­rowed what I liked about other builders’ boats and com­bined the fea­tures. I give all the credit to Warren O’Neal, Ry­bovich and the Hark­ers Is­land boys. I didn’t in­vent any of those things my­self.”

While Tillet might not have cre­ated the de­signs, he did im­ple­ment prac­ti­cal fea­tures into his boats that are in­cor­po­rated into many new builds to­day. As with many of the early Carolina boat­builders, he fished daily and con­tin­u­ally sought ways to im­prove his boats, whether through func­tion­al­ity or an im­proved ride. Bayliss says, “Omie Tillet was a great fish­er­man who could take the prac­ti­cal knowl­edge and make it a part of the boats he built, while still mak­ing them beau­ti­ful and ef­fi­cient.”

Tillet as­sisted Bayliss with his char­ter boat,

Tarheel. “It is a sin­gle-en­gine boat, and as was typ­i­cal back then, you would have a sin­gle shaft and pro­pel­ler with two rud­ders,” Bayliss notes. “Omie had an idea to put ev­ery­thing in line by go­ing to a sin­gle large rud­der aft of the pro­pel­ler but adding a ‘flank­ing rud­der’ for­ward of the strut. The flank­ing rud­der’s pur­pose was solely for back­ing down. Tarheel was set up per­fectly for this be­cause we had two fuel tanks and the cen­ter com­pan­ion­way was wide open for this ex­per­i­men­tal project. The sec­ond win­ter I had the boat, Omie helped me de­vise and in­stall this sys­tem, and it was a big suc­cess. Fuel is prob­a­bly your largest ex­pense as a char­ter fish­er­man, and Omie’s idea saved us al­most 10 per­cent a day in fuel, and gave me an­other knot of speed by re­duc­ing drag.”

While there were many oth­ers build­ing boats on the Outer Banks, Tillet sep­a­rated him­self with his look and qual­ity, some­thing that pro­foundly mo­ti­vated Mann. “My de­signs and lines are still in­flu­enced by Omie — the tra­di­tional Carolina style with some soft­ened ra­diuses and tweaks are still ev­i­dent in all my boats,” he says.


Tillet’s im­pact on the Outer Banks did not be­gin or end with boat­build­ing — he showed his younger fel­low cap­tains a kind of brotherly love with his

ac­tions and words. Mann tells a story about when a storm blasted Roanoke Is­land and flooded most of the is­land. When folks cleaned up, they put all their trash on the side of the road, in­clud­ing their lawn mow­ers that had been ru­ined by the salt­wa­ter flood­ing. Early one morn­ing, Tillet called Mann and asked him for some help, so they drove around in Tillet’s truck, pick­ing up as many mow­ers as they could fit in the back. Tillet said he would get them all run­ning again, which he did; he then set the mow­ers on the side of the road for any­one who was in need to take one home.

He was con­stantly giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity and to his fel­low fish­er­men. Ram­sey says, “Any­time you spend time with Omie, you leave a bet­ter per­son. He has such a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude, and he truly cares about each per­son he in­ter­acts with.”

Tillet was a pi­o­neer in sport fish­ing. Along with his fa­ther, Sam, he or­ga­nized the group of boats in Dyk­stra’s Canal to form what is now the Ore­gon In­let char­ter fleet. While Tillet was build­ing boats, and long after he stopped in the early 1980s, he con­tin­ued to fish. Tillet started a tra­di­tion of bless­ing the fleet on the VHF ra­dio as they ven­tured out to the fish­ing grounds. That tra­di­tion re­mains to­day with other cap­tains and at many

tour­na­ments through­out the re­gion. In fact, un­til a few years ago, Tillet would per­son­ally travel to tour­na­ments to bless the fleet each morn­ing.


Tillet’s boat­build­ing legacy re­mains with his boats, and the last he fully com­pleted was for the Bon­ney fam­ily: the 54-foot Brothers Pride, chris­tened in 1980.

In win­ter 2018, Brothers Pride stayed in the Bayliss boat­yard in Wanch­ese, North Carolina, for the last round of a three-year re­pair-an­drestora­tion plan. Thirty-eight years prior, Al Bon­ney got a call from Tillet at 5:30 a.m. on a chilly Novem­ber morn­ing. Tillet needed a de­posit for a boat, be­cause the lum­ber had ar­rived.

It had taken Bon­ney a few years to per­suade Tillet to build a boat for him and his brother Larry, but this par­tic­u­lar phone call made it of­fi­cial. Years ear­lier, Al came to know Tillet dur­ing the build of the fa­mous Temp­ta­tion, when he be­gan vis­it­ing his boat shop on Roanoke Is­land. This turned into a dual cap­tain-and-mate job on

Temp­ta­tion for Al and Larry. Temp­ta­tion’s stel­lar first year ful­filled a prom­ise of great­ness that seemed in­her­ent in Tillet’s boats: It caught three blue mar­lin its first day, and 200 white mar­lin in the first year.

Once Tillet laid the keel on Brothers Pride, the Bon­ney brothers moved to Man­teo and joined the build crew. A mere 10 months since that early morn­ing phone call, the Bon­neys chris­tened

Brothers Pride on Au­gust 20, 1980. It went straight to Ore­gon In­let, North Carolina, to start fish­ing.

At the time, Brothers Pride might have been just an­other sport-fisher. To­day, we know it to be the last boat from a leg­endary crafts­man, as well as an in­cred­i­bly col­lec­tive project in which many fa­mous char­ac­ters were a part of the build process — men who set the bar high in both sport fish­ing and char­ac­ter.


Once set­tled at Ore­gon In­let, the next 14 years of

Brothers Pride’s life fol­lowed a cer­tain ca­dence. Three spe­cific points in time ruled its move­ments from Hat­teras to Rudee In­let, Vir­ginia, over the course of a year. Mid-April marked the be­gin­ning of its fish­ing sea­son in Hat­teras; July 3 — the Bon­neys’ mother’s birth­day — saw it re­lo­cat­ing to Ore­gon In­let for the sum­mer fish­ing sea­son; and La­bor Day meant it was time for its north­ern mi­gra­tion to Rudee In­let, where the white mar­lin sea­son con­tin­ued un­til the fish moved on for the year. For the win­ter, Brothers Pride spent its time un­der shel­ter in Great Bridge, Vir­ginia, un­til the weather warmed, prompt­ing a move back south to Hat­teras, where the pat­tern re­peated once again.

Along the way, Brothers Pride es­tab­lished quite the rep­u­ta­tion. “Tillet builds his boats with that hum,” Bon­ney says, chuck­ling. In­deed,

Brothers Pride fished of­ten, and well, as a prom­i­nent mem­ber of the lo­cal char­ter-fish­ing fleets be­tween Ore­gon and Rudee in­lets. Its own­ers fished a num­ber of tour­na­ments and placed fa­vor­ably. They ex­celled at catch­ing blue mar­lin, and most uniquely, Brothers Pride re­mains a cen­ter­piece of the Bon­ney fam­ily even now, 38 years since its chris­ten­ing.

Humbly, Al Bon­ney places Brothers Pride’s al­lure to blue mar­lin as a prod­uct of his crews’ propen­sity to fish for them more of­ten than other species. As a sport-fish­ing com­mu­nity, we know dif­fer­ently: A dis­tinct com­bi­na­tion of pedi­gree and an un­end­ing level of com­mit­ment from the

They ex­celled at catch­ing blue mar­lin, and most uniquely, Brothers Pride re­mains a cen­ter­piece of the Bon­ney fam­ily even now, 38 years since its chris­ten­ing.

Bon­ney fam­ily cre­ates a spe­cial en­vi­ron­ment be­hind the tran­som that re­peat­edly calls an ex­cep­tional class of fish to­ward the cock­pit.


To­day, Brothers Pride is no longer a char­ter boat; it is now run by the Bon­neys’ all-fam­ily, multi­gen­er­a­tional crew, which sim­ply loves to fish. Their ado­ra­tion for Brothers Pride was supremely ev­i­dent when they em­barked on a three-year plan to ex­ten­sively re­store and re­pair the iconic build.

In 2015, the heavy lift­ing be­gan when it was repowered with Cater­pil­lar C12s and a full en­gine­room up­grade. It also re­ceived new wheels, shafts, sea­cocks, spray rails and a flybridge con­sole. The con­clu­sion of this ini­tial boat­yard stay marked

Brothers Pride’s im­me­di­ate re­turn to fish­ing and a chance to chase a few more blue mar­lin be­fore its next se­ries of re­pairs be­gan.

The fol­low­ing win­ter, Brothers Pride and its com­mit­ted own­ers re­treated to the boat­yard to tackle the re­place­ment of the wa­ter tank, through-hull fit­tings, struts and steer­ing. The lazarette area was re­paired and re­painted, fol­lowed by the in­stal­la­tion of new rud­ders, rud­der tubes, rud­der shelf and a trim-tab re­work.


While these up­grades were nec­es­sary, Bon­ney won­dered whether the change in bot­tom gear would re­sult in de­creased ac­tion be­hind the tran­som. He laughs as he says, “I told John [Bayliss] not to change her hum too much, it was just fine like it was.”

The boat’s first day fish­ing after the run­ning-gear changes proved that the hum was still there. At 7:15 a.m., Bon­ney’s youngest grand­son was hooked up to his first blue mar­lin, a nice 300-pounder. They re­leased the fish in just 15 min­utes. The hum of Brothers Pride, along with a pink Ilan­der Ex­press on the left short rig­ger, was an at­trac­tive sce­nario once again, just like all those years be­fore.

With the me­chan­i­cal up­grades com­plete, a fi­nal set of re­pairs re­mained: bring­ing the ex­te­rior back to life. Var­i­ous fiber­glass re­pairs were needed as the hull was metic­u­lously brought back to a smooth, fair sur­face. New primer and top­coat added a fine level of shine. The toe rail, half-round, rocket launcher and sa­lon door were all trans­formed to a beau­ti­ful faux-teak sur­face. Fi­nally, new out­rig­gers, a new frame and sig­nif­i­cant up­grades to the ex­ist­ing hard­top fi­nal­ized the ex­te­rior re­pairs.

For Bayliss boat­yard man­ager Judd Beatty, the last three win­ters of trans­for­ma­tion on Brothers

Pride have been pretty spe­cial. “After many con­ver­sa­tions with Bon­ney about the dif­fer­ent as­pects of Brothers Pride’s up­com­ing re­pairs and his­tory, it didn’t take me long to re­al­ize the qual­ity of per­son I had met,” he says. “Peo­ple like Al Bon­ney and his fam­ily don’t come along ev­ery day, and boats like Brothers Pride are one in a mil­lion.”

After three win­ters of ex­ten­sive plan­ning, and pur­pose­ful com­mit­ment, Brothers Pride was rechris­tened on April 6, 2018.

Over the course of this restora­tion, many have asked, why the name Brothers Pride? For Bon­ney, the se­cret to the name is em­bed­ded in the con­struc­tion, re­pairs and the life of the boat it­self. “Ev­ery per­son that has worked on this boat from the very be­gin­ning took great pride in what they were do­ing,” he says. “Ev­ery­one that has touched this boat, we were and still are a group of friends — re­ally more like brothers — that came to­gether to build some­thing real. I’m al­ways proud of that.”

Brothers Pride will spend its sum­mers at a few lo­cal tour­na­ments, and fish­ing for fun with its fam­ily. Just like it’s sup­posed to do.

Tillet al­ways con­sid­ered dif­fer­ent ways to make his boats per­form bet­ter. He fished recre­ation­ally and com­mer­cially, and needed a boat that would per­form well in the wide range of sea con­di­tions found off the North Carolina coast.

Clock­wise from top left: Tillet as­sist­ing with de­liv­ery of the boat’s orig­i­nal en­gines. The ar­rival of the lum­ber meant a phone call to Al Bon­ney for a de­posit. Hard at work on the new boat at Tillet’s shop. Al Bon­ney, Omie Tillet, Larry Bon­ney and a friend cel­e­brate Brothers Pride’s chris­ten­ing on Au­gust 20, 1980.

The 50-foot Tillet Sal­va­tion (top), whose lines are sim­i­lar to those of Brothers Pride, is still a work­ing char­ter boat on the Outer Banks. Re­mov­ing the hard­top (above) to make way for ad­di­tional work. The boat un­der­went an ex­ten­sive re­fit at Bayliss Boat­works in Wanch­ese, North Carolina, not far from where Brothers Pride was orig­i­nally built.

The boat gleams with fresh paint as the over­haul comes to an end. Brothers Pride was rechris­tened on April 6, 2018, by the Bon­ney fam­ily, which will con­tinue to fish aboard the clas­sic for years to come.

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