Evans takes a flyer with specialty boat

On the Outdoors

October 15, 1995|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

For several years, Joe Evans and J. Hamilton Yacht Co. were, as Evans described it, at the high-tech end of the sailboat business, repairing and updating racing boats at Bert Jabin's Yacht Yard in the Eastport section of Annapolis.

Evans and the J. Hamilton Yacht Co. are still in the sailing business, but Evans has a new passion, fly fishing, and a new version of an old boat in which to do so, the Simmons Sea Skiff.

When Evans took up fly fishing a couple of years ago, he said he used a Chris Craft skiff. While the boat was well-suited to the conditions of Chesapeake Bay, Evans found that it was poorly suited to fly fishing.

"You just couldn't take it up in the shallows," he said this week PTC while preparing for the Annapolis Powerboat Show, which will end its three-day run this evening at the city docks. "We were faced with a dilemma of what is the right boat for the job. Boats that were already set up for fly fishing were not especially suited to the bay."

In considering the problem, Evans said, he remembered the Simmons he had used as a boy in Charleston, S.C., and began to investigate where he might find plans for a boat he thought had not been built for a couple of decades.

"We found a set of plans for $15 in a museum in North Carolina," Evans said, "and that was about all they were worth. But they were enough for us to start work on a little 18-footer, which we never finished because there were so many other things going on at the time."

The repair business was booming and Evans was busy fishing and making contacts that eventually led to his becoming the Orvis flyfishing guide for Chesapeake Bay.

"When I met the Orvis people on a duck-hunting trip, they were surprised by the lack of fly fishing on the Chesapeake Bay," Evans said. "This is the last place to catch on to saltwater fly fishing at the rate the rest of the country has been taking it up. . . . So, after meeting the Orvis qualifications, I became a guide -- without a boat or any customers."

In the meantime, the Simmons Sea Skiff was a means to an unclear end.

"But then I found an original 1957 18-footer and bought it sight unseen," Evans said. "It turned out to be in great shape, even though it had never been restored.

"We rigged it for fly fishing, with snag-free fittings and so on, and I became convinced that it was a good boat for the job."

Evans' interest in the Simmons led him to Nelson Silva, who was building replicas of the boat in North Carolina, and Evans cut a deal with the builder in the hope of expanding the market for both of them.

"His market was not that big and he was interested in selling to us and we were interested in buying and finishing these boats out for fly fishing," Evans said. "Last year, Silva died, and we, while working with Silva's wife and young son, ended up with the whole shooting match, so to speak."

The J. Hamilton Yacht Co. is building 18- and 20-foot versions of the Sea Skiff with fiberglass bottoms, marine plywood topsides and wood framing, a combination of materials that Evans says makes sense.

The use of wood makes the boats lighter than fiberglass boats, meaning they may be powered with less horsepower and poled easily in the shallows, and unlike flat boats or bass boats that allow easy casting from wide-open deck platforms, the sea skiffs have enough freeboard and bow to ride well when the wind is up.

The skiffs use outboard power, with the motor mounted in a well, which means the prop stays in the water in all but the roughest conditions.

"We are building one for a customer in Columbia, and there are at least 10 other people that want them," Evans said. "But that has been a mixed blessing because we do much more repair business than building."

Evans will sell the boats fully outfitted, including a trailer, or without any equipment. An 18-footer will cost between $6,800 and $13,000, and the 20-footer will range in price from $11,000 to more than $20,000.

Recommended power for the two boats is 40 horsepower on the 18-footer and 70 to 90 horsepower on the 20-footer.

"Some people enjoy rigging out their boats and buying the engine and so forth," Evans said. "Plus people like the idea that they can work on these boats themselves. If you scratch or ding a wooden boat, you fill and fair and repaint.

"If you do the same thing to a glass boat, you come and see a business like ours to get it fixed."

Last year, Evans went to the powerboat show with just one of his creations, and it sold on the first day.

"So we spent the rest of the time tying flies and giving them to the kids going by," Evans said. "But we had a good enough response that we are emboldened and going back this year, to sell boats and fly fishing."

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