STATESIDE REPORT - Vale Buddy Davis
Our man in the States, CAPT KEN KREISLER, reflects on the life and times of influential American sportsfishing boatbuilder Buddy Davis
A SAD PASSING
For those of you blokes who love the profile of a big shouldered sportsfishing boat; whose imagination runs to the horizon when you see an elegant sheer, dramatic bow flare and sharp entry; and to whom, when encountering big water, are glad to have the kind of boat under you necessary to get you safely back home; to those of us who know the what the names Rybovich and Merritt, Whiticar and yes, even your own Riviera means to boating, then you will appreciate what a visionary Carolina charterboat skipper and boatbuilder by the name of Buddy Davis did for the design.
When I first started out working in the business, I was a yard snipe at the now, long gone old Schatz Brothers place on Gerritsen Creek, located in one of the outer boroughs of New York, that being Brooklyn. Kind of like where Bondi is in relation to the Sydney Opera House. I spent that first summer, the one before my senior year in high school, mostly cleaning up the grounds, scraping bottoms, helping to caulk seams on the wooden boats that needed the work, and slapping on lots of bright blue paint below the waterline. I worked on elegant Wheelers, round-bilged Egg Harbors, battered and bruised dragger boats, and one pretty little thing someone told me was a Rybovich.
Summers came and went. As I entered my college years, my proficiency with brush, paint and varnish, with hand sanding and pulling props, and, along with rod and reel, getting boats in and out of the water got pretty good. So-much-so that it was enough to earn me a spot as a deckhand and mate on many of the private charter and head boats as well as going out dragging on some of the old tubs up the creek. By the time I was 21, I had earned my 100-Ton Ocean Operators License and was proudly six-packing my 42-foot Maine-built Downeaster.
It would be years later, with lots of water in my wake and fish coming in over the gunwales working on me to help form my ideal vision of what a sportsfising boat was all about. And I guess it was around that time, too, when I saw my first Buddy Davis boat. After that, and along with the Rybovich design and a Whiticar I had worked on, that ideal vision would be forever bonded to my love of being out on the water.
I told Buddy that story years ago when I visited him down in the Florida Keys, in Marathon, where he lived, and it made him smile. "I hear that kind of thing a lot, Ken," he said as he nodded in approval, his hair already snow white against his tanned and character-etched face.
He had just laid out the plans for a new boat across the dining room table, keeping the line drawings from curling up from the corners with a quartet of paperweights. More than the beautiful lines and flared bow and sharp entry; more than the symmetry and low profile; more than any of that, was what I saw in his face and eyes as he straightened up and looked over the plans. Along with all the pride and satisfaction, I saw the distinctive glimmer of something that said a job well done. "That's going to be another one with my name on it," he said.
We spent the rest of that day out on the water and most of the evening, over dinner, talking about boats and fish and weather. Of capt Omie Tillet and the Sportsman Boat Works, Warren O'Neal and Harkers Island, and Oregon Inlet. Of Wanchese and Manteo — most likely obscure names to you blokes but nevertheless, important ones in the history of American sportsfish design — and of the boys who fished with him and grew up to be their own men, some even going on to build their own interpretations of the Carolina boat.
I stayed in contact with Buddy over the years, mostly at the boat shows where, as I walked down the docks, he hailed me with that soft Carolina drawl of his. He and I would often get the opportunity to pull up a corner of gunwale and spend a few moments catching up on things.
"Let's go out fishing again, Ken. As I recall, we did pretty good," he said to me the last time I saw him. "As soon as all these boat shows are come and gone," he added, waving one hand up in the air and smiling.
Sadly, I never got to fish with him again. Our schedules never seemed to mesh. Most likely my fault for not making the time but it always seemed as if I was on the run flying in and out of someplace and on my way somewhere. And maybe that's the takeaway here. For what better way is there for those of us who have given our lives to everything nautical than to share the feeling and to spend time with our shipmates. We may argue about this and that, have dissenting opinions, make the wrong decisions now and then and in general give in to the foibles of just being human. In the end, there is little else that brings more satisfaction to us then to swap a watery story, spin a yarn or two, enjoy someone else's good fortune and provide warmth and comfort in times of distress or worry.
To all of us who knew him, we have lost a friend. To his family, the loss is something deeper and hopefully, one that will soften as it ages. But as long as there is a Buddy Davis hull out there, and of those who worked with and were influenced by him, he'll always be with us, hands on the wheel, looking for fish, and smiling.
"It's really not that important how big or the number of fish is that you catch. What matters most is how you fish." — Buddy Davis, 1949-2011.
Photos: Buddy Davis; 58 BD Sports Fisherman in profile; 58 BD SF
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