The lineage of the Carolina-style of boatbuilding can be traced to a pair of Roanoke Island charter boat captains.
By Capt. Ken Kreisler — May 2002
When conditions are right, the fox fire-hued fog hovers just above the ground, its blue-green luminescence tinged with white. The cottony presence, here and there in patches, is thicker and more consistent in other places. A freshening breeze, laced with the salt air blowing in from the sea over Bodie Island, pushes the ghostly glow further inland and reveals a copse that moments ago was shrouded in mist.
It is just before dawn on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. By the time the sun rises and burns off the fog, the wind will cross the towns of the barrier islands to the east: Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head. And just to the east-southeast, Oregon Inlet will be awakened. Roiling and frothed up, the combers here can reach 15 feet on a calm day, making this one of the most dangerous inlets anywhere. It is through this inlet that the boats from Stumpy Point, Wanchese, Manteo, and Manns Harbor must go in order to get to the rich fishing grounds off the Outer Banks and, when the day is done, return.
It takes a special breed of person and a special kind of boat to deal with Oregon Inlet. Perhaps that's why sea-hardened men, like charter boat captains Warren O'Neill and Omie Tillet, who as boys cut their eye teeth on these waters, were inspired to build boats that could deal with often hellacious conditions.
By 1960 they came up with what is today known as the Carolina style--sharp entry, shallow draft aft, broken sheer, generous bow flare, and a hull form built to take both head and following seas--and started a custom boatbuilding trend with Roanoke Island at its epicenter, a place whose influence quickly spread far and wide.
"I fished all my life and worked around the water," recalls Tillet, now 73. "When you do that, you're always looking at everything, especially boats. You see something you like, and being a dreamer, you start to imagine making it better. I guess that's how it all started.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.