This week the Jolly Swag got a week off as I traded my job in her driver’s seat for some time at the helm of Watermark, a lovely 53’ Huckins motor yacht celebrating her 48th year of service. Watermark was acquired by friends about a year ago and this trip—from Maryland to Florida–is my second cruise aboard.
Huckins is an eighty-year-old boat-building company and is still owned by the founding family. Highly regarded by yachtsmen, they are not well-known outside the industry. Their name has not become a household word because they have never been a boatbuilding factory that produced multiple copies of boats on a production line, like Chris Craft and Sea Ray, for example. Huckins is a custom builder. The boats were built to order for a single client, who had specific ideas of the size boat he wanted as well as the yacht’s accommodations, layout, performance, and equipment, usually down to the tiniest detail.
Except that one client ordered 18 boats.
It seems the US Navy’s Patrol Torpedo (PT) program was floundering in the early stages of WWII. Several boat builders—not including Huckins—had delivered dozens of operational boats. But the boats pounded severely and did not hold up to the performance requirements of a high-speed ocean-going boat. In fact, the Navy suspended construction by all builders until they could conduct extensive sea trials on the existing boats–an event that became known as the Plywood Derby and included a 195-mile highspeed offshore run.
Earlier Huckins persuaded the Navy to let them build one boat of their own proprietary design, the Navy agreed to the construction on condition that they had no obligation to purchase the vessel. The boat was scheduled for completion about the time of the Plywood Derby. The Huckins design outperformed the other PTs, and the company was awarded a construction contract for a series of boats.
At the time, a commander of the PT training squadron made four trips to the Huckins yard to take delivery of newly constructed vessels while waiting for orders to join the PT fleet in the Pacific.
He later became the hero of PT 109.