Part 2: “I learned what a neat, well-built boat was.”
By Capt. Ken Kreisler — May 2002
"Warren began building a beautiful frame-and-plank juniper trunk-style boat in the late 1950s," Tillet continues, "after he and I came back from looking at boats at John Rybovich's Palm Beach yard and on Harker's Island, North Carolina. We didn't copy them, just improved on the design by taking that Harker's bow flare and Johnnie's [Rybovich] broken sheer."
The evolutionary line stretches back to the first such charter boat that challenged the inlet and the offshore waters of Hatteras, Cape Rodanthe, and Ocracoke--the graveyard of the Atlantic--to the boats of Sunny Briggs, Paul Mann, Randy Ramsey, Ricky Scarborough, Steve Gwaltney, Irving Forbes, Buddy Davis, and others. Each started on the deck in the Oregon Inlet charter fleet, became captains, and after fishing all spring, summer, and fall, went to work building boats during the winter.
"All I ever wanted to be was a mate on a fishing boat," says Mann. "And the idea for building one came to me when I was about 12 years old." Mann, youngest of the group and therefore always trying to prove himself to the older men, began fishing with Tillet in 1978 at the age of 20. He built his first charter boat, The Mad Hatter, at age 25, a proper rite of passage considering the stakes. "Omie worked with Sunny [Briggs] and I during those early days," Mann reminisces. "We learned quality and built a boat in Sunny's backyard in an old barn. He ran the boat, and I was the mate." The two, still friends, parted ways once the younger Mann decided he liked combining time-tested building techniques, like using traditional wood-planking-on-frame construction with plywood overlays, with new materials such as foam coring.
Briggs shares Mann's sentiment. "We owe everything to Warren and Omie. They taught us well," he says. "Everything had to be just so. He never asked his men to do the hard job. He did it himself."
Briggs began building his cold-molded boats in 1988; before that he used traditional plank-on-frame construction. He, like the others, was a mate in his teens and worked in a boat shop or built houses in the winter. In addition to his tenure with Mann, he also worked with Buddy Davis and Scarborough. "I learned what a neat, well-built boat was," Briggs remembers.
"It's been cold-molded ever since the first one," he says. "Why? Because cold-molding eliminates the extra space taken up by frame-and-plank construction. My customers want and need all the interior room they can get, and that can get complex."
Randy Ramsey of Beaufort, North Carolina-based Jarrett Bay Boatworks started in the Tillet-O'Neill circle just like the rest. "It was 1980," he says, "and I was running a charter boat." Even though Ramsey was an off-island boy, once he got the spark to build his own boat, he began working out of an old tin shed. The idea was to build a boat just like the Roanoke rigs. "All of Capt. Omie's boats were frame-and-plank juniper and were really something," he adds reverently.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.