An Absolute Classic

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The Life Of Legendary Boatbuilder Forest E. Johnson, by Capt. Bill Pike (continued)

The Prowler with the trunk cabin

An Absolute Classic

Forest E. Johnson

I feel compelled to tell Johnson a quick story of my own. It begins at some point in the distant past as I strolled through a marina in Jacksonville, Florida, just lookin’ at boats. Close to calling it quits for the evening, I caught the glint of a perfectly proportioned, masterfully varnished trunk cabin just a few slips farther on. I picked up the pace and soon stood at the transom of a rehabilitated wooden vessel that was utterly transfixing. A chrome nameplate on the cabin, just abaft a row of rectangular ports, proclaimed “Prowler.”

“She was one of the prettiest boats I think I’ve ever seen,” I enthuse, holding a particularly representative photo up to illustrate, “…an absolute classic!”

Forest E. built boats a certain way, Johnson explains. And although the first Prowler wasn’t officially launched until 1948 (just a year after Forest E. married Heidi Tutwiler and took her on a boat-racing honeymoon), virtually all the vessels he built during his lifetime, whether for rum runners, government agencies charged with chasing rum runners, politicians, businessmen, movie stars, or racing enthusiasts, shared several characteristics.

“They had very stout, mahogany-batten-seam, white-cedar hulls,” Johnson says, “with bolted mahogany frames. The cedar planks were fastened with silicon-bronze screws and then plugged. A 32-footer would have had about 30,000 screws. I still have boxes and boxes of them in my garage, believe it or not, along with all kinds of other stuff that my dad used to build boats. I’ve got all his racing trophies, too—hundreds of them.”

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