It was serendipity that on a rainy day while staying at the Ortega Landing Marina in Jacksonville we needed an oil change and other routine engine room service. There are two good boatyards less than a half mile from our marina, and I decided to have the work done at Huckins. They put us in a working slip for the day and mechanical tech Jack started the work.
Then as I looked around I began to notice beautiful traditional boats in the Huckins riverside boat slips and “on the hard” for restoration and bottom work.
I walked over to the yard office to give them my paperwork. When I entered the small lobby, the walls were lined with letters, photos and memorabilia of the remarkable history of Huckins Yacht Corporation. There was even a photo of John F. Kennedy in command of a Huckins PT Boat!
Turns out that Huckins Yacht Corporation, on the Ortega River on Jacksonville, was founded in 1928 and is one of the oldest boat bulders in the United States. During WWII, Huckins was one of three boat builders (the others were Higgins and Elco) that supplied the US Navy with patrol torpedo boats (“PT Boats”).
The Huckins PT boats were 78 feet long, had a 21 foot beam, and with three 1200 HP Packard engines could achieve speeds more than 48 mph. Current “Fairform Flyer” Huckins hulls still use a variant of the lightweight and powerful PT Boat hull design.
Huckins now makes custom yachts ranging from 40 to 90 feet, combining classic design and traditional workmanship with modern technology (like its new 38 foot diesel-electric hybrid yacht). It crafts customized boats one at a time and has built more than 460 yachts during its 90+ years of operation.
The Company is owned by Cindy and Buddy Purcell, the founder’s granddaughter and her husband.
While I was admiring the lobby “museum” a man saw me, came out of the simple adjoining office and asked if he could help me. As we talked, Buddy Purcell modestly told me that he was one of the owners, had worked for the company more than 50 years, and enjoyed every day of his work. I asked for and scored a tour of the workshop and a few of the Huckins yachts in the company’s boat slips.
Buddy is a wealth of knowledge, has a great sense of humor, and lives out a strong loyalty to the company’s products. He talked of joining the company and working in the paint room as the boss’s son-in-law, the difficult but necessary move from wood to composite construction in the 1970s, the many personal and institutional relationships developed over the decades, and his thoughts on continuing the Huckins craftsmanship legacy.
Buddy showed me the upstairs room that houses hand-drawn plans of every boat ever built by Huckins. He even opened a drawer and paged through the original plans of the Huckins PT boat!
Mr. Purcell then toured me along the company’s covered docks and showed me a few examples of beautiful Huckins yachts. In addition to manufacturing new yachts for customers, the company routinely restores, repowers, and services Huckins Yachts made in the 1940s through today.
It was an unexpected privilege to experience this example of traditional custom boat craftsmanship, made in the USA. And as we left the dock when our service work was finished, we were honored to have CEO Buddy Purcell come out to help untie our lines!