We are proud to have represented Hell's Bay Boatworks at every Florida show we went to this year. President Chris Peterson is such an enthusiastic, interesting guy who loves his boats. Through working with them at shows, visiting their factory, and talking to HB owners, we have gained an appreciation for the level of quality they put into what they build.
Flip Pallot, a flats fishing legend, was among the original founders and is still fishing on a HB and, his personal boat, 'Marl', was actually at the shop having some work done while we were there. Peterson acquired the company after a successful career in outdoor media and real estate, and rather than having a day job to afford time on the water, he bought HB out of bankruptcy (on the courthouse steps!) and has built it into the prestigious brand that it is today. They build boats custom/to-order, and do not skimp on any step along the way.
We have plenty of photos and videos of their exhibit and an interview at the Palm Beach show, a guided tour of the HB factory, and a look at 2 of Capt. Peterson's personal boats (neither of them are HB boats, and one is in much better shape than the other, take a look!).
Flats fishing is a whole different sport, especially when compared to what we do up north. The flatlands are often less than 5 feet deep, and are best navigated on small, shallow skiffs. The location is reached, the engine is raised, (not just trim, 'jack plates') and the fish are hunted, with a push-pole to get around. With one person on the poling platform looking for fish and pushing the boat to the fish (actually hunting the fish), and a man on the front deck with a flyrod ready to present the bait to the fish, it is a complicated way to fish. These different characteristics require diffetrent types of boats- Hell's bay builds those boats and builds them well. These are not bass boats that double as a runabout, or something you can tow a skier behind, these are hardcore fishing boats.
Here is a picture of the typical 2 man crew at work, right in front of a shuttle launch (Titusville is very close to the NASA facility).
When walking into the lobby of HB, the walls are covered, with everything from flys tied by the greats (Lefty, Flip, etc), to pictures of every sort of customer with every sort of HB boat, with every sort of fish. Here is GW and GHW Bush.
Beyond the immediate lobby is the Showroom, with 4-5 of the newest models set out for customers coming to see the latest and greatest. In this picture, you can see Tom Gordon on the left (presumably making a sale).
Just past the Showroom is the rigging/refit area. This is where final assembly happens, such as attaching engines and instruments. If a customer has a HB boat and would like something done to it, whether a different color of paint, different engine, or any other modification to give them the competitive edge, HB is equipped to do it. The rightmost boat in this picture was in to get its non-skid redone.
Beyond the refit area is the mold area, where mold are assembled, modified and cared for. This is precise work as not only must the shape and design of the mold be perfect for performance reasons, but even the finish of the mold must be impeccable for aesthetic and 'release' (removing the hull or deck from the mold) reasons. This is when we started to realize that these are not your average fishing boats. In the picture below, you see a mold (I believe for their Waterman); take a good look at the white areas. These areas are minute modifications. They don't hold these innovations off till the next model season, they are constantly affecting change to improve. Forward, you see the hull getting a more aggressive cut which will keep the rider dryer, and provide better stability. The centerline of the boat is being flattened into a shape Mr. Peterson called a ‘delta convex’. This is to make the boat plane better and go faster, and is a necessary design change as engine technology is progressing (read: getting lighter). Customers are now requesting more 90 hp engines on a boat that would tpically be built for a 60 hp. Also, the aft corners on the boat are being rounded. This does not mean the entire 10% of the boat is being modified, like some larger sportfishes are doing nowadays, but just an inch off the corner on either side is being blunted, which allows for sharper turning (water is not as disrupted as it would be on a sharp edge) especially when stalking fish via pole. We wish we had the camera rolling while Mr. Peterson discussed all the research and reasoning for fine tuning the hulls!
We’ve only just scratched the surface.
The back third of the Hell's Bay building is where everything is put together. A principle concern while stalking fish is to remain stealthy, and every fitting and seam on the boat is made to be silent. No 'shoebox' fits here with only a couple screws. Every joint is chemically welded together. From what I understand, a chemical (I believe a two-part, like an epoxy) is applied which seems to melt the substances, typically two pieces of fiberglass, together. In our pictures, you can see a gray line, what looks like the joint is caulked, where the chemical bond is. A caulk/putty is applied on top of that to make further tooling easier, and fiberglass laid on top. This makes for the strongest, lightest joint I can imagine, with any sort of creak or groan out of the question.
The core that you are seeing bonded is a very light closed cell foam. Another layer that is clearly visible is a Kevlar weave (gold color). Many manufacturers will claim a Kevlar hull, though only putting a thin strip down the centerline, or patches of Kevlar at stress points. The ENTIRE Hell's Bay hull is lined with Kevlar. No corners are being cut here.
Another technique HB uses is different types of fiberglass to utilize the advantages of each. If a bi-axial woven fiberglass is the strongest for the application, that will be used, but also layered with a piece of fiberglass cloth that is not woven, with fiberglass going in any particular direction, for the best abrasion resistance available.
When your largest boat is 18 ft, you dont need a five story paint booth. The HB booth is probably 55 ft x 14 ft. They can spray both gel and AwlGrip in their paint booth. ALL surfaces are backpainted with AwlGrip which means no interior areas are unfinished. This is huge to us from a cleaning standpoint, as trying to get mold out of some unsprayed wood or porous fiberglass is next to impossible.
Overall, I now have a much greater appreciation for the boats, and think they more than justify the price. If you have any more questions about Hell's Bay, check their website. If you want to learn more about flats fishing, I recommend the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust site (be sure to take a look at "Pirates of the Flats", a celeb filled video about conservation!).
Please let us know if you have any questions about the factory, require more contact info for HB, or just have feedback on how the information is presented. We will have a handful of videos up from the factory soon!