In all of the history of sport fishing, you’d be hard-pressed to find more influential boat builders than the Merritt family. In the late 40s, patriarchs Franklin (Roy) and Ennis Merritt bought a 10-acre tract on the Intracoastal Waterway in Pompano, Beach Florida. They planned to use the site to start a charter fleet of head boats. The boatyard began as a way for the brothers to maintain their charter boats.
In 1955, the brothers’ two sons, Buddy and Allen, began building boats on the property. Buddy designed and built the boats, while Allen ran the business. Allen’s son, Roy Merritt, eventually worked his way into the business. By the time Roy built his first Merritt boat, the yard had actually stopped building boats for a couple of years. Roy Merritt’s first build was hull number 20—and it would be quite influential.
“I was in my late 20s and we had actually stopped building boats in 1968 or 1969,” says Roy Merritt. “I’d always worked on the boat building side. My Uncle Buddy died in March of 1971 but a guy approached me and asked if we could build another 42-footer for him. And I said, ‘Man, I don’t know.’”
“So, I went to my father who wasn’t a builder, he was sort of the frontman, and my grandfather, who was still alive and he knew a lot of stuff. All the boat builders were gone. But I went to these guys and I said, ‘What do you think?’ They said, ‘Do you think you can do it?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, I guess. I’ve been around it enough. I think I can do it.’ They said, ‘Go ahead and built it. If you don’t like it then we will just burn it!’ So that boat became hull 20…and was called the Jane S.”
“It’s very significant because if it wasn’t for that boat, I’m not sure that we would have started building again. I really don’t know,” says Merritt. “At that time, we had a yard running with plenty of repair work. The thought was that we were done with the building. Once you start building though, it becomes an affliction. That’s what you want to do. You’d much rather build them, than repair them. We are on hull 109 now…it’s an 88-footer.”
“The guys who came to me to build the Jane S were Fred “Paunch” Stone and his brother Pat. George Schiegert ran the boat, they all grew up here in Pompano—they were Hillsborough Inlet boys,” says Merritt. “I already had the patterns for the frame and somehow it came off pretty good. I knew I could figure it out…it just might have taken a little while. I can’t remember that much, but let’s just say it was concerning when I started.”
Almost 90 boats later, there’s probably not a whole lot of similarities between the Jane S and the yachts produced at Merritt’s today—at least not in terms of construction. “Throughout your boat-building life there are a lot of things that influence you. It’s never any one thing. Every time you build one, you try to make a better one. You’re always looking for those little things that will make it just a bit better. I think all builders work that way,” says Merritt.
“We transitioned from frame to cold mold, to fiberglass to composite. It’s a lot more interesting now with a lot of new products,” says Merritt. “Everything is cored, we have Kevlar in the hull, the superstructure and top are all carbon fiber. So, you have Kevlar for the toughness, carbon fiber for the stiffness and you can build these boats real strong and real light. The boats we build now will still be around 100 years from now…if you want to keep putting engines in them. They are not going to wear out.”
“What do our customers want…I have a simple answer…they want it all!” says Merritt. “All the things you think you did right…you still learn a lot by doing things wrong. Our latest project that’s out on the water right now is a 77. We think this one is pretty good. Michael Peters did the bottom design and the boat is just an animal. A real mover and a goer.”