Talking Fish, Talking Boats with the Boatbuilders of North Carolina
By John Turner ,

Catching the Horizon, By Chris Landry continued

“Comment on pioneer builders of North Carolina”


These guys had to survive to eat, so they had a mission statement to build a platform to go out in rough water and fish and do a job. Focused functionality. I would give credit to Warren O’Neal. He essentially wrote the book. A lot of the builders we read about, whether it’s Mr. Midgett or Buddy Davis, all worked under Warren O’Neal.


They were fishermen first and builders second. They fished the boat all summer, and in the winter they went back to the shop. Warren O’Neal created boats that rode well and still had a pretty look. No computers. He created something from nothing. It was pretty amazing — a stack of lumber becomes a boat. They were artists above all else. My dad was the same way.

Tom Spencer


I have a 1970s boat, a Sheldon Midgett boat, the original Fight-n-Lady. I just love the lines of the boat. If you consider the time period in which it was built, it’s kind of unbelievable. If you see those older boats on the water today, it really hits home how gorgeous they are … how well-proportioned they are.


I design my boats with the traditional Carolina lines I learned from these men. I design my engine rooms to have an ease of continued maintenance, and I’ve always appreciated the way a true wooden boat holds to the sea, and the way she fishes.


Omie Tillett and Warren O’Neal built a completely different boat for the charter fishing business. They were visionaries. They really stepped out. Every day they were breaking new ground. Buddy Davis was an outstanding fisherman who raised the profile of the North Carolina boat. People will see a Carolina boat, and say, hey, that’s a Buddy Davis. Why do they say that? Because they know what a North Carolina boat looks like, and they know the name Buddy Davis.


Warren O’Neal put the word quality into our boats. Omie Tillett and Ricky Scarborough put the looks into the Carolina boats. But it took Buddy Davis to come along and tell the world about them and put them on the map. You should also mention Sheldon Midgett because he was the man who taught so many boatbuilders so much and doesn’t get the credit he deserves.


Their fortitude to build outside of what was normal for those times, to break away and create their own look. They cared about quality and creating beautiful lines. They didn’t have the tools we have today. To do that takes some real talent.

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