Capt. Paul Mann

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couldn’t take my call — be­cause he was un­load­ing a de­liv­ery truck. That and pri­or­i­tiz­ing a cus­tomer’s build sched­ule are un­com­mon tasks for the head of a cus­tom yacht-build­ing com­pany, and they of­fer tremen­dous in­sight into the kind of boatbuilding shop Mann runs. He is just as in­volved in ev­ery hull that leaves his shop to­day as he was some 30 years ago when, at age 25, he built his first boat. ¶ “All I wanted to do back then was run fish­ing char­ters,” Mann says, “so I built a boat. But then some­one else wanted one. And then some­one else again. For 16 years, I ran char­ters, of­ten work­ing seven days a week, while dur­ing the off­sea­son I would build boats … but at some point, the boatbuilding time started spilling into the fish­ing time. Some­thing had to give.” ¶ As much as he loved fish­ing, he grew to love the build­ing and de­sign process, of tak­ing a stack of wood and turn­ing it into a cus­tom-crafted keep­sake. He moved on from sin­gle-screw char­ter boats to sport-fish­ing yachts, with a fleet to­day that ranges from 52 to 81 feet length over­all from his shop in Manns Har­bor, North Carolina, be­tween Albe­marle and Pam­lico sounds. ¶ “Cus­tom boatbuilding is the best form of art you can do with­out be­ing what most peo­ple would call an artist or an ar­chi­tect,” he says. “I was lucky in that I was born in a time when we didn’t have spe­cial­ists. Back then, you had one doc­tor who you saw for most any­thing, not like to­day when you have a dif­fer­ent spe­cial­ist for ev­ery is­sue. It was the same way when it came to build­ing boats. So early on, I worked on ev­ery as­pect of the process. I learned how to work the wood, but I also learned how to align a shaft. To­day,

we have dif­fer­ent spe­cial­ists on our team, and un­like other forms of art, build­ing a cus­tom boat is a team process.” ¶ Mann gives much of the credit for his suc­cess to that team, say­ing, “I have to take my hat off to the qual­ity of my em­ploy­ees. We have be­tween 30 and 35 at any given time, work­ing on two or three boats at once in our 40,000-square­foot build­ing.” ¶ Most of the peo­ple work­ing at Paul Mann Cus­tom Boats have been there for years, many for decades. He says they add to the in­put from each yacht’s owner, which also is in­valu­able. ¶ “The owner is a big part of the process, as is the owner’s crew, which is of­ten as knowl­edge­able as any­one,” Mann says. “Ac­tu­ally, you’re all sort of mar­ried for the du­ra­tion of the build. We’re in con­tact through­out the process, and we video the project as it takes place. The own­ers give us feed­back, let us know when they’ve changed their minds about some­thing or they see a way to make an im­prove­ment, and we keep them con­stantly in­formed. They feel a sense of cre­ation along with the rest of the team be­cause they play a very real role in it.” ¶ Mann loves the in­put and says he still learns new things by in­ter­act­ing with dif­fer­ent peo­ple on each and ev­ery build. ¶ “As life changes, boat styles change,” Mann says, “and some­one who’s in­ter­ested in fish­ing with the guys at one point in his life may de­cide he wants a boat that the whole fam­ily can go out on, later in life.” ¶ One owner had Mann de­sign a 77-footer that could sleep 12 peo­ple so all his kids and the kids’ kids could stay aboard. Another owner started by hav­ing Mann build him a 52-footer, then later a 60-footer, then years af­ter that a 56-footer. ¶ Find­ing suc­cess with such an ar­ray of boats, and with cus­tom Carolina sport-fish­ing yachts in gen­eral, he says, was some­thing of a sur­prise. ¶ “We de­signed and built our

plank-on-frame boats specif­i­cally for fish­ing the wa­ters out of Ore­gon In­let,” he says of the wa­ter­way on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. “We had to be able to fish when it was rough, and we wanted to come home at the end of the day. So we were just build­ing to our needs. We didn’t re­al­ize that our boats were su­pe­rior for han­dling rough seas com­pared to many of the boats built else­where un­til they started trav­el­ing around more. When Carolina boats be­gan go­ing to Florida and peo­ple there saw how our boats per­formed, it be­came some­thing of a big deal.” ¶ Around 2000, a change in Carolina de­sign and con­struc­tion took place with the ex­plod­ing pop­u­lar­ity of jig-built boats: cold-molded boats built over mul­ti­ple frames, usu­ally CAD-de­signed and router-cut to cre­ate a “jig” around which the hull is con­structed. Mann says he still prefers tra­di­tional plank-on-frame con­struc­tion, but he will build on a jig if that’s the cus­tomer’s de­sire. ¶ “The boats are strong and sea­wor­thy ei­ther way,” Mann says. “I just per­son­ally pre­fer plank-on-frame boats, and I can build them lighter than a jig boat, us­ing fir stringers and ok­oume in the sides and bot­tom. There’s not a right or a wrong; they’re just dif­fer­ent, and the mar­ket de­manded jig con­struc­tion. I’m not so hard-headed that I can’t change, so I car­ried my de­signs to an ar­chi­tect, put them on a com­puter and started router­ing jigs — but they’re still my de­signs.” ¶ To­day, Mann takes breaks to en­joy fish­ing and wing shoot­ing, but his am­bi­tion to build great boats re­mains. “I’m 58 now and hope to be do­ing this un­til I’m 70,” he says. ¶ And if you get asked to wait for a mo­ment af­ter call­ing Mann, sit tight; he’ll be done un­load­ing that truck be­fore you know it.

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