Stern Love

BY Skip Maloney

Youll find stern love when you talk to boat owners theres a personal relationship involved. Boat owners take care of their boats with the sort of dedication and loyalty associated with family. To most boat people cars are merely a means of land transportation getting them to their boats. And who among us has ever taken the time to carefully consider and select an appropriate name for a car?

Youre talking about my favorite subject ” says Gene Woodbury 71 of Wilmingtons Woodbury Insurance. “Boats.”

A graduate of New Hanover High School UNC Chapel Hill and an insurance school in Georgia Woodbury owns and pilots Stardust a 36-foot Picnic Boat built by the Hinckley Company which has been designing and building boats and yachts since 1928.

“Shes a nice little boat ” Woodbury says. “Shes a Yankee boat built up in Southwest Harbor Maine designed for the Maine coast from about Rhode Island on up. Theres no air conditioning and it has enclosed windows that dont open.”

Woodburys been around boats most of his life and retains details about many of them.

“We had a family boat ” he recalls of a time in the 1950s when he and his family summered at Wrightsville Beach spending most of the time on the water. “It was a 16-foot Wagemaker Wolverine with a 25-hp Johnson on it. I loved that boat. We fished a lot with it. My father and I used to go fishing on it before he went to work.”

By his calculation hes personally owned between 10 and 20 boats in his lifetime. This latest Stardust was named after a 50-foot Gulfstar ketch he owned when his interests leaned more toward sailing. Not that boating has been Woodburys only passion. Hes also a licensed pilot and until November 2010 owned a plane. He tells too of sky diving a hobby that got off to a bad start when he broke both of his legs on his first jump. His primary interest in boats is shared by most members of his family including a son two daughters and six grandchildren.

“My son is in the movie business ” he says “and works as a marine coordinator with a variety of production companies so weve accumulated boats over the years. I keep three or four in the water all the time. We own several sailboats between us and have an assortment of small boats including four or five Boston Whalers.”

The Stardust hell tell you was bought over a couple of gin and tonics from a man who owned a machine shop in Greensboro.

“I knew him from boating and wed developed a real close relationship ” Woodbury says. “We were just sitting around and I asked somebody to give me one good reason to buy that boat and they gave me one. The price was right too ” he said “which always helps. And one day if the good Lords willing and the creek dont rise maybe Ill have an even bigger boat.”

Although Mark Batsons 24-foot rigid hull inflatable bears no official name it is known to him and assorted family and acquaintances as the Rubber Ducky.

“I bought it from the Navy a year and a half ago at a San Diego auction ” says Batson a Wilmington native spear fisherman scuba diver licensed sea captain airplane pilot and hands-on home builder for his company Tongue and Groove. “I was looking for something like it online and bought it sight unseen. Its something I have a passion for.”

Batson sat for his captains test when he was 18 and holds a Master 100-ton license.

As to his choice of vessel he says he was drawn to the ex-Navy inflatable because “it does real well in heavy seas. It has a heavy fiberglass center section and a steep dead rise. As the bow cuts through the water it gets a spray thats deflected away so its a very dry boat.”

Outfitted with a Cummins diesel 210 B series engine with a Konrad outdrive the Rubber Ducky has a 55-gallon fuel tank giving it a range of about 120 nautical miles. It has a top speed of 30 knots although Batson usually cruises at just below teeth-rattling speeds (between 20 and 24 knots). With no cabin space its a day cruiser that hell nose into the ocean for a 50-mile spear fishing expedition or stick closer to homewhen his family is aboardtrolling the Intracoastal Waterway.

When originally launched by the Navy it was an armed rubber ducky. With little need for a 50-caliber machine gun removal of the gun mount was the beginning of a year-long self-executed restoration project that resulted in a more family-friendly vessel that gets out onto the waterways weather permitting year-round.

“We go out pretty much every weekend ” Batson says. “It has curtains on it and if its sunnyeven in the dead of winterwell ride around.”

Though content with his purchase and the results of the restoration Batson muses about an upgrade.

“Id like to have about four more feet on this for more deck space ” he says “but the bigger the boat the less you can bring it into the shallow water around here. Its nice to be able to pull this right up onto a beach.”

Clayton “Ben” Smith III D.D.S. is a resident of Wilmington since the age of two and the current owner of the 50-foot Salvation docked at the Fish House Grill end of the Bridge Tender Marina. After graduating from New Hanover High School in 1982 Smith went fishing for four years. Hed gotten his first job working on a charter boat at the age of 12 and was a First Mate by the end of that summer. Once the cap and gown came off he just kept on going. There was some thought given to making a living out of charter fishing but Smith says a cooler head prevailed.

“I had second thoughts ” he says “because it was such a hard way to make a living and a lot of the resources (fish) were drying up.”

His Dad whod been in the Navy was a dentist and his mother was a nurse. With an interest in biology and chemistry he entered the University of North Carolina Wilmington for a couple of years and eventually transferred to UNC Chapel Hill and from there to dental school. He kept his captains license during his studies and worked weekends on charters. Hes married now to Kim and has three boys ages 8 9 and 15. Dentistry may be Smiths vocation these days but boating and fishing are now as theyve always been his passion.

Though hes owned smaller boats in his lifetime Salvation is the first big boat Smith has owned by himself.

“My Dad had a 42-foot Bertram (named Tooth Doctor) that we had for about 10 years ” he said “but when he died in 2001 we sold it. It just wasnt the same. I got married had kids and my hands were full with working and the young ones and I couldnt mess with it. It was ” he added “the end of an era.”

Eight years later Smith started looking for a new boat online and two years after that spotted a somewhat neglected Salvation that at first seemed over-priced. That price eventually came down and one afternoon Smith called a friend and headed up to Morehead City for a look that over time turned into a purchase. Built by legendary Manteo N.C. boat builder Omie Tillet and one of only seven that were built by him its a classic example of whats known as a custom Carolina-built boat featuring a deep V hull with a flared bow to cut through the waves at midship. Smith says “It flattens out so that itll get up on plane and be very fuel efficient.” It was designed specifically to navigate the tricky occasionally treacherous Outer Banks head seas. She holds two 871 GM diesel Natural engines that pre-date the boats construction and were originally designed for WWII tanks. They are notes Smith “some of the best motors on the planet.”

“Its a hand-built boat ” says Smith “and the craftsmanship is spectacular. Its a very well-built very seaworthy sturdy boat.”

It took some work to repair the neglect that had settled into it but it was work that Smith enjoyed doing.

“It was awesome to participate in (its renovation) ” Smith says “and watch it grow from a neglected thing to a work of art.”

Salvation sleeps six and though shes spent most of her time between the Outer Banks and Wrightsville Smith and a handful of friends and relatives talk of future trips to the Bahamas. Smith looking ahead to life after dentistry envisions a charter business. “Building up a clientele. I may ” he jokes “even put a dental chair in it.”

Like father like son. The 53-foot Carolina Girl is owned by George Harriss Enterprises a local real estate development firm. Georges son John a property manager for the company is her captain. She was built by Jarrett Bay Boatworks in Beaufort N.C. in 1993 and went through a succession of owners and names (Real Quick Diamond Girl). Just prior to her purchase by George Harriss Enterprises in 2005 she was owned by pro golfer Curtis Strange who had her christened The Lady Sarah.

She is an example of a classic Carolina-built boat plank on frame as opposed to most modern boats which are fabricated from a fiberglass cold mold. She carries a Detroit 6B92 diesel engine thatll push her to top speeds of 24 to 25 knots.

“The original owner was Carroll Thomas from Wrightsville Beach ” John says. “It had been around here and done a lot of fishing. Wed known the boat when it was here before and as we look at it shes back home now. Carolina Girl just seemed like an appropriate name ” he adds.

George 76 a distant cousin of Gene Woodbury owner of the Stardust still likes to get out on Carolina Girl as often as he can although health issues have tended to restrict this activity a bit during the past year or so. As spring approaches though George Harriss says hes feeling that familiar itch.

“I like to get in the cab and ride on out in it to fish ” he says. “When it gets a little warmer well have the opportunity to take clients out too. We were going to try and charter it at some point.”

“Its not a fast boat ” he adds “but its a smooth dry just very comfortable boat.”

Eric Rydzewskis 38-foot Louisa with its personally designed built and patented drive system is the culmination of a long history that began with Rydzewskis work as a boat mechanic during the time he was attending high school in Virginia in the late 70s and early 1980s. Rydzewsk gravitated naturally to engineering school at Virginia Tech and when he graduated he went to work on submarines as a civil engineer for the Charleston Naval Shipyard. He worked for the shipyard for about five years before changing careers and working for the Brunswick Nuclear Power Plant as a Systems Engineer.

“It was just a better job ” he says. About 15 years ago Rydzewsk quit working for the power plant and began earnestly what before hed been doing only in his spare time fixing peoples engines.

“Id had it with the Dilbert-style corporate experience ” he says “and realized I had things I wanted to do besides paperwork.”

While fixing engines he started tinkering with different ways of pushing boats drive systems and came up with a design that he thought had some potential.

“I made two very different rough prototypes for this drive and got a patent on it ” he said. “The second prototype worked very well but it was very crude. I needed to make a third prototype and hired an outfit to construct the hull.”

He named her Louisa after a great-grandmother from Norway. About the time he finished de-bugging its patented drive system in the fall of 2008 the sagging economy hit bottom and the boat building business and any market he might have anticipated for his drive system disappeared. These days Louisa spends a lot of time in local waters with an occasional trip down to Key West and the odd fishing and diving trips thrown in.

“Shes best described as a Down East cruiser ” he said. “Her hull shape is like a Maine lobster boat. She has a cabin with a pilot house and a small fly bridge with controls.”

She carries a Cummins diesel 6CTA 8.3 420 hp engine that at hull speed 7 knots gives her a range of about 1 000 miles. At planing speed shell range out to about 450 miles. Rydzewsk continues to work refining his drive system (“not an inexpensive process ” he says) in the hope that when the economy strengthens to the point at which people come back to purchasing boats the system will find a buyer. He gets out about once a week right through winter.

“There are very few jet-skis to annoy you in the wintertime ” he says.