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An American Dream

Things are still tough in the boat business. While there are signs of a faltering recovery, no one’s exactly gushing about the future. Most everyone seems resigned that the boat business will be a shadow of its former self, at least for now.

But not everyone. A core of optimists continues to believe that if they could only build that boat that’s rattling around in their head, they’d be rich, happy, and universally esteemed, economy be damned.

I hear from them regularly—even through The Great Recession—describing their perfect boat. Some concepts are so rudimentary, they’re hard to take seriously, though I remember the designer Tom Fexas telling me that some of his best ideas started out on the back of a cocktail napkin. Others arrive fully formed, with drawings, specs, and even prices, and often inquiring if I know of a savvy dealer with the perspicacity to rep The Next Big Thing in boats.

Some of these dreamers are down-and-outers; others are sufficiently successful to have their attorney compose the cover letter for them. It seems the dream of being a boatbuilder is a democratic delusion, a siren song that’s put more than one otherwise sober-minded entrepreneur on the rocks. Every size and type of boat you can imagine is involved, but especially sportfishing boats. If there’s something alluring about the idea of building a boat, there’s something downright addictive about the prospect of building a sportfishing boat.

Time was you needed a certain expertise to turn a fuzzy idea into a drawing, much less plans. Now CAD programs allow nearly anyone to craft a presentation so impressive, it actually looks like it might succeed.

If only it were that simple. Turning plans into an actual boat is the hard part, involving myriad mundanities like finding enough cash to actually build the thing, a hurdle some dreamers figure to clear by getting Customer No. 1 to pay for Hull No. 1 before it’s built. Others just cross their fingers.

Yet financials don’t daunt these dreamers. They certainly didn’t daunt Buddy Davis, who many credit with popularizing the custom Carolina sportfisherman. Davis died in January, leaving behind him mixed financial success and a legacy of beautiful, seaworthy battlewagons revered by knowledgeable anglers. A savvy angler himself and possessed of an eye for what makes a good boat, Davis was also a dreamer, one of the lucky ones who saw his fantasies actually become boats that people aspired to and lusted for. The boat business needs dreamers like Buddy Davis, even now. Especially now.