Big-game hap­pen­ings on and off the wa­ter

Dur­ing his ten­ure at Gre­gory Poole Cater­pil­lar, Dan Webb has wit­nessed ma­jor changes in about ev­ery as­pect of the diesel power in­dus­try over the past 33 years. A grad­u­ate of North Carolina State Univer­sity, Webb man­ages the ma­rine divi­sion for Gre­gory Poole through­out the eastern part of the Tarheel state. He also founded GPLink — a telem­atic re­mote mon­i­tor­ing and lo­ca­tion sys­tem — and man­ages that busi­ness as well. In his spare time, he’s re­build­ing a 1981 Hat­teras. We talked about old boats, new tech­nol­ogy and more, just prior to the ar­rival of Hur­ri­cane Florence on his doorstep in More­head City, North Carolina.

You be­came a grand­fa­ther for the first time. Con­grat­u­la­tions.

Thanks! My old­est daugh­ter just had a baby girl, and ev­ery­one is do­ing fine. It’s funny, my grand­daugh­ter was born in the same hos­pi­tal in High Point, North Carolina, that I was.

Cater­pil­lar has al­ways been a pop­u­lar en­gine choice for the Carolina boat­builders. Why is there such a close re­la­tion­ship?

Back in the 1990s, the en­gine tech­nol­ogy was chang­ing, and the weight started to be­come rea­son­able for the boats. At around the same time, the builders were ma­tur­ing and the his­tor­i­cally core group re­ally started to gain mo­men­tum. Back then, we had Buddy Davis build­ing quite a few boats. Hat­teras, Ram­page and Tiara were here, plus all of the cus­tom builders in the Outer Banks. When we tran­si­tioned from the 671s and two-cy­cle en­gines to the 3412s and four-cy­cles, we had the right prod­uct for that mar­ket, and we were able to grow to­gether.

What are the big­gest changes you’ve seen in ma­rine propul­sion in the past three decades?

The big­gest was when we shifted from two-cy­cle to four-cy­cle en­gines. Pretty much ev­ery­thing else since then has just been tin­ker­ing with things like fuel de­liv­ery, turbos and other sys­tems, but that was the big tran­si­tion in tech­nol­ogy. To­day, there are builders look­ing at hy­brid and elec­tric power, wa­ter-jet drives, and just dif­fer­ent ways to ac­tu­ally move the boat through the wa­ter.

What is your con­nec­tion with GPLink?

I started the com­pany as a re­mote mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem for Cater­pil­lar, but then we re­al­ized that all the en­gine man­u­fac­tur­ers wanted it, so we de­signed it to work with any brand. We started in yacht­ing and sport fish­ing, but then it grew into com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tions. A yacht owner uses GPLink be­cause he wants to see the lo­ca­tion of his boat, but for a com­mer­cial fleet man­ager, they need to mon­i­tor oper­at­ing habits and for main­te­nance. They run a lot of hours and burn a lot of fuel, so if you can save them 1 to 3 per­cent a year in fuel, those are big sav­ings.

You own a 37-year-old 43-foot Hat­teras. Why do we have such a love af­fair with old boats?

I think they have char­ac­ter. You have to dig into older boats as you work on stuff, and you re­ally get to know them when you do that. With my boat, I’ve stuck my head into ev­ery hole and I know ev­ery square inch, in­side and out. Then they’re hard to sell be­cause you have so much of your­self in­vested in them.

Why did you name your boat Fitch?

We were talk­ing about what we should name the boat, and no­body could agree on one. Fitch was our re­cently de­ceased and much-loved yel­low lab that was with us for 14 years, and that was the only name we could all agree on.

I found the boat in Marathon, Florida, in 2010. I’ve been around the wa­ter all my life, and it was time to move up to a lit­tle larger boat that I could en­joy with my daugh­ters, where we could fish but also spend some fam­ily time. I was very fa­mil­iar with the Hat­teras brand and knew the 43 was a good one. We’ve painted the ex­te­rior, com­pletely stripped and re­done the in­te­rior and in­stalled a pair of C7.1s. She runs amaz­ingly well.

What’s your fa­vorite kind of fish­ing?

I used to love blue mar­lin fish­ing. Be­ing in this in­dus­try, we used to fish the Big Rock ev­ery year, plus a bunch of other tour­na­ments on the East Coast and down to the Ba­hamas. These days, though, I’d rather fish for tuna and dol­phin with the fam­ily.

What are some of the big changes you’ve seen in tour­na­ments over the years?

Ev­ery­thing has be­come much more con­ser­va­tion-ori­ented. And the fo­cus on char­i­ties is amaz­ing. There are a lot more ladies events that raise money for can­cer re­search, and the big­ger tour­na­ments do­nate sig­nif­i­cant amounts of money to lo­cal char­i­ties ev­ery year. I feel like tour­na­ments also drive the sport-fish­ing in­dus­try quite a bit as well be­cause they at­tract the top boats and teams. Look at what Skip Smith is able to do with the Cus­tom Shootout, bring­ing all those boat­builders and boats to a small is­land in the Ba­hamas ev­ery year. It’s pretty in­cred­i­ble.

Will we see a 3,000 hp diesel en­gine any­time soon?

I can­not be­lieve that we will not. MTU has the plat­form to most likely get there first, prob­a­bly within the next few years. It has more to do with fuel sys­tems and ways to max­i­mize the horse­pow­erto-weight ra­tios, but I think it will hap­pen. The de­mand is cer­tainly there — the boats get big­ger ev­ery year.

What has been your fa­vorite day on the wa­ter re­cently?

We took Fitch up to the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay last sum­mer for a week, in and out of a bunch of small ports all the way up to St. Michaels on the eastern shore, and then back to Vir­ginia Beach. We fished our way back to Ore­gon In­let, then home to More­head City. I had never been up on the Ch­e­sa­peake be­fore, and it’s gor­geous. It’s a huge body of wa­ter. We had per­fect boat­ing weather and just had a great time as a fam­ily. In fact, that was also the longest trip on this boat so far.

What’s the best part about liv­ing on the Crys­tal Coast?

We have easy ac­cess to some of the best boat­ing and fish­ing in the world. From here, we can run to the Outer Banks or we can head to the Big Rock. It’s a ter­rific place to live and work, es­pe­cially if you’re a fish­er­man.

Cater­pil­lar en­gines re­main a very pop­u­lar choice with North Carolina’s boat­builders, thanks to the syn­ergy that formed as the two in­dus­tries be­gan to ma­ture in the 1990s.

Re­build­ing an old boat like Webb’s 1981 Hat­teras takes pa­tience and a will­ing­ness to get your hands dirty. But the re­ward is an in­ti­mate knowl­edge of all sys­tems (above). Fun for all: A ter­rific day of white mar­lin fish­ing (right) with Capt. Daniel Spencer in the Outer Banks.

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