By Dave Ferrell
I’ve been lucky enough to poke my head into some pretty famous boat sheds over the years. Every time I do, I come away with a greater respect for the art of boat building and the men who create these incredible fishing machines. You’ve got to have more than just a little bit of confidence to take a man’s money and build him an ocean-going condominium that can withstand all the challenges and forces that come with going to sea. These vessels have to perform at the highest levels and still look good doing it; ugly boats don’t sell no matter how well they ride!
With one of the biggest and most revered names in sportfishing, it’s hard to believe that Spencer Yachts has only been building boats for 21 years. In a place known for building some of the best custom sportfishing yachts in the world, Paul Spencer built not only an incredible legacy in a very short period of time…but some truly remarkable sportfishing boats along the way. Like a lot of the custom builders in North Carolina, Spencer’s trip to the boat shed started with a life at sea, running a charter boat.
“The reason I set out to build a boat was that I was a charter boat captain that needed a new boat…and I couldn’t afford one,” says Spencer. “There was a guy in our area, Capt. Buddy Cannady, who would build a boat, use it for a year or two, and then sell it. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s the way to do it!’ That was my plan. So, I sold my old charter boat that I’d had for ten years that my father-in-law built and got started. I had a few ideas, and I hired Mike Lohr, a guy that could draft, and we sat down and drew the boat together. I built that boat as if it was going to be mine…with intention of selling it somewhere down the road.”
That first Spencer boat, the Biopsy, has remained an active charter boat for the last 21 years.
“We changed some things…it didn’t have the traditional look. We mingled some styles and didn’t give the boat as much flare as a Buddy Davis,” says Spencer. “I only ran it for a summer before someone wanted to buy it. It performed really well, so I sold it.”
Spencer’s plan seemed to be working perfectly. After seeing the Biopsy, the Springs family from South Carolina asked Spencer to build another one. That boat, Spencer hull number 2, turned out to be the Anticipation.
“I actually ran that boat for a couple of summers and we just had phenomenal luck on it. We took it to Ocean City, Maryland and won the White Marlin Open, we won the Pirate’s Cove tournament, we just had some phenomenal success on that boat,” says Spencer. “In the middle of the success with that boat, someone asked me to build another one. By the third year I had too many people wanting me to build them a boat…so I couldn’t charter fish anymore. I had slid into the boat building business.”
“Those first two boats were extremely influential in everything we did,” says Spencer. “We changed things, even on the first one, that made it look different and ride different. We just thought it performed really well. Biopsy wasn’t super appointed…it was kind of just plain and simple. The second one was more involved and by the third and fourth they were really sportfish yachts…they weren’t just boats.”
Those first two boats were jig boats built out of Okume plywood and cold molded, which at that time was a relatively new way to go about building a sportfisher. “A lot of people were still doing frame and plank then, and we used some composite materials that other people weren’t using in some places in the boat. In each boat, we used more and more (composites) to be more efficient in terms of weight. By the third boat we knew we could use cored material instead of plywood for decks, bulkheads and stuff like that.”
“We did change some things in the bottoms on those two boats,” says Spencer. “We added some different things that changed the shape of the bottom and we thought they made the boat ride well. We always keep our boats sharp up forward. I grew up where we had to go 40 to 50 miles each way every day, so we incorporated that into our boats. It’s a sacrifice; you lose a little room…but you gave up some of that room in the bow to make a great ride. If you need more room, make the boat longer not fatter…I’ve always leaned this way.”
A quick look at any of Spencer’s builds, including the first two, reveals a true passion for the art of boat building. “It was extremely rewarding to see that finished product when they were done…and it’s still that way today. I love boats. It ain’t all about going out and making money. You’ve got to have that passion. If you don’t, you’re probably not going to be as creative as you should be,” says Spencer. “There’s always a way to make them a little better. I’m always looking for a way to tweak it little bit…how can we make it just a tiny bit better.”