“I remember it very clearly, like it was yesterday,” says F&S President John Floyd recalling hull no. 1. “There wasn’t a week that went by that we weren’t up here seeing the project take place.” Floyd, who has taken up the boat building mantle from his uncle, Jim Floyd, the founder of F&S Yachts, was around 17 years old at the time the 59-foot Fin-Ally, came to life.
That first boat, however, was years in the making. It was an undertaking that Jim had carefully researched before deciding to fully commit. Jim, a native of Delaware and a woodworker by trade, began his building career as a master carpenter and cabinet worker who also fished off his 23-foot SeaCraft by Carl Mosley and Bill Potter. It was this vessel that made him interested in seeing if he could scale up the design into an offshore fishing boat. This engineering would eventually create the longitudinally stepped variable deadrise bottom on the future boat.
The Sea Toy
Jim and his brother, John’s father, had been fishing well before John was born, plying the waters off North Carolina on the Outer Banks. One of the men Jim fished with was Kenny Simpler, the original S in F&S. At the time, Simpler, who now owns F&S hull no. 3, had two Ricky Scarboroughs, one being the 51’ Scarborough that Capt. Dean Johnson ran for well over a decade. It was on this boat that John caught some of his first fish and developed his love for offshore sportfishing.
“Eventually, my father partnered with a couple of friends and they built their own Scarborough, which was the original Sea Toy, and it just continued to grow. My uncle started to go along with my father and for a while he was a full-time mate out of Hatteras.”
John’s father eventually sold his interest in the Sea Toy before he and Jim decided to build a 38-foot Scarborough. Once Ricky built the hull it was trucked up to Chestertown, Maryland where it was finished by the two men.
The Floyds’ Frenzy
“By that point the addiction had really set in,” John says. “That was in the late 80s and then it just continued to the early 90s. My uncle was a full-time mate, and my father would be captain, and they would rent charters out of Hatteras Inlet.” Jim still had a busy career building residential homes but was spending more time at the Scarborough shop in Wanchese learning the art of cold molding as well as the process of making a jig and laminating a hull. He began to experiment with resins and glass fabrics looking for new materials to add strength to the hull without unnecessary weight. John estimates his uncle spent a good 10 to 12 years learning boat building techniques before getting started on hull no. 1.
“The primary thing that he wanted to accomplish was to take that fish-raising, amazing ride and tracking ability that the SeaCraft hull had and translate that into a large offshore fishing platform. That was his goal,” John says. “Jimmy’s goal was to take that and scale it up and show the world what could be done with those longitudinal steps as opposed to a traditional lifting strake pressure creating hull. It’s a completely different hull, very radical engineering. People look at it and instantly you can see there’s something very different about it.”
F&S Begins the Fin-Ally
Jim began with a scale model around 1992-1993, making a number of refinements on it before he sent it off for tank testing. The company still has the original letter from the naval architect who did the testing, with the results coming out very positive. Work finally began on hull no. 1 in late 1995 in a pole barn that had been put up behind a friend’s house on the Delaware River in Delaware City.
“He didn’t have access to the crew, it was a very small staff, shop conditions were brutal,” John says. “He didn’t have access to the CNC machine, so all the jigs were hand drawn and cut with a jigsaw out of a piece of plywood. It was a very meticulous process; it was very challenging. He put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into those boats.” John remembers his uncle being at the shop all day, then coming over to their house for dinner before heading out again to go back to the shop where he would work until 10 or 11 at night.
The Foundations of F&S
Still, there were techniques used that F&S continues to utilize, like pulling monofilament lines off the transmission to double check the computer simulations. Thinking back on his own involvement with that first boat, John admits because he was so young it was hard to appreciate the project his uncle had undertaken. But coming from a family where character building was an important part of life, John spent many hours and days in the makeshift shop helping work on the boat.
“I spent one whole summer where I felt like I didn’t do anything but sand. At the time it’s very difficult to look at it as anything other than labor, but obviously, when I look back now, it’s incredible to see what I was able to learn. It was dirty, it was loud, it was always hot, it was very, very hard work. It’s just one of those things you need time to reflect on to appreciate just how much you really learned.”
The Fin-Ally Finally Launches
In 1998 Fin-Ally was complete and ready for a sea trial. John was now 17 and one of the first people able to experience how the boat rode on the water. With hull no. 1 finally splashed, she was ready to fish up and down the Atlantic coast with her owner Kenny Simpler, who kept her for about three years. Today, Fin-Ally continues her journey along the Eastern Seaboard with current owner Capt. Andy Siegel. “The biggest thing for me is that Fin-Ally isn’t just out there but that the boat is beautiful; it continues to really stand out decades later,” John says. “For it to be as nimble and as fast and as well handling as it is given how long ago she was built, that’s not something you typically see with these custom sportfishing boats, not at that age.”
Not only is Fin-Ally a continued presence on the water but she set a precedent for future F&S builds. As one of the most revered names in sportfishing, it’s hard to believe that F&S Yachts has been building boats for less than 30 years. However, it didn’t happen overnight. For Jim and his team, the boat building process was a long haul.
“It was a grind and even though you have one boat out there, that doesn’t make it easy, especially back then. You really had to hustle to get people interested, even to sea trial. It was very different back then and the guys that built custom boats like Ricky and Sunny, they had a group of repeat clientele, and it wasn’t this constant, it was a very hard circle to break into, especially when you’re building them up in Delaware.”
F&S Looks Back
John is of the opinion that it all rested on getting people on the boat and having them experience the ride and performance, noting that the boats usually sell themselves once that happens. He remembers going to boat shows with Jim as well as tournament after tournament to show the boat and get people on board and interested.
Thinking back, John believes it was around hull no. 6, the 63-foot Bandelero, when the company really came into its own and found a footing with design. Since John has come on board, he has recognized the importance of maintaining the building heritage that the company is founded on.
“I would never want to see F&S become a place where we’re just molding pieces and creating the same boat over and over,” John says. “A lot of the construction process, the fun there, is the traditions, doing things like our whisky plank and having clients just be so involved in the build and really making it about the individual. It’s their boat, we’re building it for them.” To build any boat from scratch is an amazing accomplishment, and F&S Yachts is now recognized as one of the world’s premier sportfish builders.