The press is fond of asking centenarians their secrets to long life, and the answers often include no booze (or maybe just a nip a day), but you never hear: a life building boats. For Curt Whiticar, who established a solid reputation building wood sportfishermen, spending long days in a boatshop certainly didn’t hurt. He died in Stuart, Florida, last March 7, of congestive heart failure and kidney problems. I was fortunate to visit with him and his son John, who then, in 2007, was managing the boatbuilding division of the Whiticar Marine Group (see “Whiticar,” PBB No. 104).
Born in 1911, Curt Whiticar was the oldest of Addison and Kate Whiticar’s three sons. Addison was a former commercial fisherman in New Jersey who began taking his family to winter in Florida around 1917. Of course they had to fish, shipping their catch of Spanish mackerel and bluefish back north, iced on trains, to the Fulton Fish Market in New York City. When tourists began asking to go along for a day’s fishing, the charter concept was born. The Whiticars made Florida their permanent home in 1926, five years after Curt Whiticar built his first boat, a flat-bottomed rowboat of white cedar. A graduate of the Bliss Electrical School in 1930, he found work with Western Electric during the Great Depression. In his spare time he read Skene’s Elements of Yacht Design and schooled himself in the principles of boat design and construction. He must have gained his father’s confidence, as in 1937 Addison commissioned him to design a twin-engine 36‘ (11m) fishing boat utilizing mahogany planking on oak frames. Her name was Gannet, with what Curt called a “compromise” between a round bilge and V-bottom. John Whiticar says it had a hook in the bottom to help it get up on plane “because they didn’t have trim tabs, and had only marginal power.”
Others followed, but only for the family until 1954 when he sold the 28‘ (8.5m) Quickstep to an outlier. All were conventionally constructed plank-on-frame until 1976, when he built his first cold-molded hull. Curt Whiticar had no interest in fiberglass, though as the years passed, the cold-molded hulls were sheathed inside and out with fiberglass. The 77-footer (23.5m) I saw under construction in the shop had four layers of ½“ (12mm) mahogany planking, four layers of 1808 glass on the inside, and one layer of glass between the first and second layers of mahogany. On the outside the crew had vacuum-bagged two layers of 13-oz/sq-yd (440-g/m2) Kevlar.
By the time of his death, Whiticar had built more than 60 boats, noted for their sharp entry and enough deadrise (17° for the 77) to handle choppy seas. Though he officially retired at age 75, he maintained a bench in the shop and made daily appearances, sometimes to fix something, other times to teach an employee how to do something “right.” The month before his death he was inducted into the International Game Fish Association’s Captain and Crew Hall of Fame.
Oh, and asked his secret to longevity, Curt said, “Good genes, hard work, exercise, moderation, and an afternoon nap every day.”