Press "Enter" to skip to content

Will “Huckins” Survive the Planing Hull Competition?

When I was in high school some of the girls in my class who lived on the water had their own small boats – some had sailboats, others had earlier family boats now outgrown. Other than where they went, the young boat owners had little interest in their own or other boats. I had no boat and when the other girls wanted to talk about makeup, clothes and boys, I wanted to know more about boats – what made some boats run better, look nicer, last longer – and that led me to conversations with boys, which was not my intention, but not a bad thing, either.
This was during the time of wooden boats. I read every used boat ad in the Sunday New York Times and every page of Motor Boating, hoping to see some interesting quotes from sources like Frank Huckins, who wrote “Huck Says” for Motor Boating or I. Dayton Trubee, the New Jersey dealer who would sell his used boats through humorous ads. Huckins’ ads for his boats would sometimes describe his boats as having “soul-satisfying comfort” and Trubee had eye-catching, unusual ads for his used boats.

When I started working in New York City I found a store on West 42nd Street in Manhattan that sold old magazines and caught up on old issues of Motor Boating and Rudder I had never seen. Reading the “Huck Says” columns every month in Motor Boating gave you an insight into the personality and intelligence of a person who could not only poke fun at himself but appeared to have the business end of his boat building company in good order. To have moved from the lumber business to boat building and come up with such an elaborate plan for a planing hull tells you even more about his intelligence.
When you think of all the brands of boats built in the 1920s and 1930s, there were a lot of companies building good boats but today, only Huckins and Chris Craft seem to have survived under the same management. This speaks not only of a product customers think is worthwhile, but also of the owners’ superior management skills.
Some have come back under new leadership. The Rybovich family business only came to life after John Rybovich, an experienced carpenter from Yugoslavia decided the boat repairs he was doing were more lucrative than fishing and his business evolved into Rybovich & Sons Boat Works. One of the family members has restarted the Boat Works that closed after the father died.
The Burger family boat business started by immigrants who came from Germany and moved to the Midwest, had several stops and restarts with different family members but there isn’t one company today that came through all the tough times and stayed together as Chris Craft and Huckins have, doing business continuously for all those years.
Frank Huckins was sure his design for a large yacht that planed would work at a time when all large boats had displacement hulls. With the hull gliding along the top of the water and not digging into the water at the stern end meant fuel economy and more speed with the same power. He called his boats Fairform Flyer Express Cruisers. After completing the first boat with the planing hull, which he sold to a member of the Goodrich family for $15,000, Huckins went to the boat show in 1929 and came back to Florida with orders for six Fairform Flyers. Goodrich became not only his first customer but also a repeat customer and a friend who brought him business.
Mr. Huckins, who started his business in 1928 building the 45-to-55-foot Fairform Flyers, saw how the depression would affect boat building and by 1933 he was building 35-footers using the same construction as he used to build the earlier, bigger boats. He made friends with his customers and they brought him business. He was able to sell his high-quality small boats for $2,000.
The same design for the planing hull was used by the military during WWII. The planing hulls on the PT boats eliminated the pounding and increased speed and fuel efficiency. Other brands of boats building PT boats used the planing design Huckins had developed. Huckins boats moved from wooden to cold molded in the 1960s and to Airex in the 1970s. Airex allowed for greater speed from the same power options.
The only other boat that seems to have the speed and efficiency advantages of the Fairform Flyer is the new Grand Banks. In Grand Banks Passagemaker September 2023 ad they describe their proprietary V-Warp Technology that combines hull design and an all-carbon-fiber superstructure for weight advantage and the creation of a stiffer running surface. Their design shifted the center of gravity lower to keep the boat stable in bad weather. In the picture, you can see the boat is really moving but she’s straight as an arrow in the water. They explain their performance as coming from the V-Warp hull and all-carbon-fiber superstructure. The lower weight of the carbon fiber creates a stiffer running surface while enhancing performance and fuel efficiency. The center of gravity was shifted lower to keep the boat stable. The ad caught my eye – it’s impressive to see a good-sized boat moving fast and doing it in a straight line.
Will this V-Warp Technology challenge the planing design Frank Huckins developed for his Fairform Flyers? Time will tell. There also seems to be someone in Sweden who has invented a way for larger boats to plane but it seems like an attachment to the hull.
Both of the more recent attempts to get large hulls to plane are in their early stages and may never be as successful as Huckins’ design. The Huckins Yacht Company has managed to stay in business through three recessions and conditions that have ended other boat building companies. Consistent good management has kept Huckins afloat – there have always been people willing and able to keep it together.
My own encounter with Huckins came with the 44-foot sedan that at one time had a price of $100,000 I was told. Now, sitting in the back of the used car lot in New Jersey for sale at $4,500, she was in such bad shape the salesman told me before I went to see it that people who had come to look at it were really turned off by its condition. The Huckins name and its shallow draft (2’8”) appealed to me and I could see myself living on it with my dog at a marina. The surveyor and a friend who planned to help fix it up had a closer look and both strongly advised against buying it. There comes a time in a boat’s life, the surveyor explained, when it’s in such bad shape you’d need to be in the boat building business yourself to fix it.
In an interview several years ago with a business magazine, Cindy Purcell, current president of Huckins Yachts, spoke about the trend toward production in boats as similar to cars. She said she was open to co-venturing with someone Huckins could build a line of high-end production boats in two sizes that would incorporate the Huckins’ design while maintaining the capability to build custom yachts. Although this never happened, it’s always a possibility and Cindy Purcell and her husband are keeping things together with repair and refurbishing work on older Huckins and other quality boats.