The builders of North Carolina are known for offshore fishing boats that are fast, seakindly and easy to look at.
Nowhere in the world can you find a group of bluewater fishboat builders like the boys from North Carolina.
The shop owners and their crews are unique for their deep roots in the Outer Banks and offshore fishing, and for their strong ties to earlier generations of hard nuts who built boats and fished them in all conditions.
“If you look at the coastline and how our chin sticks out there, you know it has to be a rough place to fish,” says John Bayliss, owner of Bayliss Boatworks.
This is an edited version of a lengthy conversation we had with eight offshore builders from the Tar Heel State. There are other fine offshore shops in North Carolina, too, not to mention well-established companies such as Regulator and Grady-White, which build quality center consoles and other fiberglass boats. But the focus of this piece is on those mostly custom offshore builders whose boats are descendants of the early Carolina workboats that nudged their way farther and farther off the beach in the wake of World War I.
They remain a mostly tight-knit bunch who still share information and give one another feedback. And from one generation to the next they continue to improve the breed, striving for ever larger boats that are dry, fast, seakindly, smooth-riding, raise fish and are ever-so-easy on the eyes.
They move forward with a nod to the wisdom and lessons of the past, but not as its prisoners. They know their success is built on the backs of those who came before, pioneers such as Warren O’Neal and Omie Tillett.The current generation pushed the transition from plank-on-frame construction to lighter, stronger cold-molded boats with greater interior volume. Further improvements in hull design and power paved the way for today’s big battlewagons — convertibles as large as 90 feet that can run faster and farther (with more amenities) in heavier seas than the boats that preceded them.
Bayliss says Carolina boats have made the fishing world a smaller place as a result of their speed and range. True enough, but the men who build them still know how to find their way home.