Like Bayliss, some of the biggest names in North Carolina boatbuild-ing — Blackwell Boatworks, Spencer Yachts, Scarborough Boatworks, Paul Mann Custom Yachts, names recognized across the world — hail from Dare County in northeastern North Carolina. About a dozen local build-ers create boats of all sizes and finishes in Dare County, but it’s the luxury sportfishing craft ranging between 50 and 90 feet that the area is best known for. Purchase contracts of $5 million, $7 million, even $10 million are not uncommon. Outer Banks boat building has made gigantic strides in the last 50 years, and their builders are quick to recognize the local men who charted the course for them. The northern Outer Banks has a long tradition in boat building, begin-ning in the 1880s with George Washington Creef, who is credited with creating the wide, round-bottomed shad boat for commercial fishing. The boat was such a workhorse and its design so versatile that it was used for generations and named the North Carolina state boat in 1987. Sportfishing boat design evolved after World War II as recreational fish-ing grew in popularity on the northern Outer Banks. To accommodate fishing parties, captains needed boats with cabins, broader decks, deeper holds and increased power for reaching the Gulf Stream faster, and boat builders responded. From the 1950s to the 1970s fishermen/boatbuilders Warren O’Neal; Sam, Omie and Tony Tillett; and Sheldon Midgett added amenities, materials and design features that helped evolve the Carolina style sport-fisherman. But it’s O’Neal who is revered as a pioneer of the world-famous Carolina-style sportfishing boat. O’Neal, a commercial fisherman and captain, built his first boat, a flat-bottomed skiff, in 1925 and a round-sterned juniper boat in 1949. When he opened his own boat shop in 1959, his first client, Omie Tillett, wanted a new fishing boat. Tillett and other local fishing captains encouraged O’Neal to build boats based on the new designs and techniques like those coming out of Rybovich Boatworks in Florida. Tillett and O’Neal traveled to Florida to see them. After that visit O’Neal drew up a boat that included the Rybovich-style design innovations of a broken shear line, deep-V for-ward, S frame and inset cabin. O’Neal added a Harkers Island-style flared bow and an exaggerated tumblehome. When the resulting boat, which Tillett named the Sportsman, was launched in 1960, “a new standard for Carolina sportfishing boats had been estab-lished,” write Neal, John and Jim Conoley in their book “Carolina Flare: Outer Banks Boatbuilding and Sportfishing Heritage,” published in 2007. When O’Neal died in 2000, he was remembered for more than his boats. “Perhaps most important, Warren O’Neal is acclaimed as a teacher,” the Conoleys write. “He guided many of the contemporary boat builders as they started their careers, and he influenced the early years of custom boat build-ing and offshore sportfishing on the northern Outer Banks.” O’Neal built 25 more Carolina-style boats during his career, proving his eye for simple, elegant boat design. “I’ve got an old Warren O’Neal boat,” Neal Conoley says. “We restored it and had Omie come over and christen it and he did a prayer for us, it lasted about 30 minutes. … Tillett is a legend. He’s the father of all the sportfishermen more or less. He’s looked to as the one of the top fishermen in the world at his time.” From top: George Washington Creef (1829- 1917) of Roanoke Island built the first shad boat. Buddy Davis (1949- 2011), founder of Davis Boatworks, is credited for putting Roanoke Island-made boats on the worldwide map. Eighty-six- year-old Omie Tillett, a resident of Wanchese, is known as a Carolina boatbuilder and a sportfishing legend. Warren O’Neal (1909-2000) is the pioneer of the Carolina-style sportfishing boat. 50 WBM may 2015 TOP PHOTO COURTESY OF THE OUTER BANKS HISTORY CENTER, MANTEO, NC. ALL OTHER PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE DREW WILSON COLLECTION, OUTER BANKS HISTORY CENTER, MANTEO, NC.
Wrightsville Beach Magazine May 2015
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