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The Hatteras Yacht, A Step Back in Time

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Good stories always start with a bit of serendipity and end up reminding us of what a small world this truly is! And now that I live in Newport, the yachting capital of the country, this story is even more relevant. Especially when it involves a piece of American boating history — the introduction of the first fiberglass boat, the Hatteras.

The just published book, The Yachts and Ships of Jack Hargrave, has many pages devoted to the Hatteras’ founding, design and production. This welcome addition to your bookshelf benefits greatly from the dedicated and loving research by Mike Joyce (former president of Hargrave Yachts) and Marilyn Mower’s talents as a marine journalist with a skill for story telling!

Jack Hargrave — Photo Credit: J.B. Hargrave Naval Architects archives and Scott and Susan Hargrave.

As regards Hatteras, how a landlocked small town where I once lived, High Point, North Carolina, recognized as the hosiery and furniture capitol of our country, became the centerpiece of the “richest chapter in the development of boating.” My father, G. Nolan Bearden, joined Earl Phillips and other North Carolinians as the original founders of Hatteras Yacht. I was always intrigued with the mounted ad page from Time magazine that hung over the bar in our butler’s pantry.

It was the key pairing of two very dissimilar visionaries (Willis Slane and Jack Hargrave) who led this revolution in power boating. Willis, a fishing aficionado hailing from one of the major hosiery families, was the leader of this American success story that converted the entire boating industry from wood to fiberglass. Even as a young child I was fascinated with Willis Slane’s entrepreneurial spirit, his gruff exterior but warm heart, his “think big” leadership, his eyebrow-raising antics…and the fact that he ate ice cream for breakfast (he had an ulcer). It’s always fun to read the “early days” stories of an iconic product that has taken on mythic proportions in the retelling over many decades. I’ll point out  a few that have fascinated me:

  “Knit Wits,” the name for the very first Hatteras, was chosen by Willis to honor his textile background while winking at disbelievers along the way. In 2013, the company tracked down the original 41′ boat and fully restored her; here she is (below) re-painted in her 1960’s signature white paint with teal trim.

Overcoming naysayers (“plastic” boat ??!”), Willis’ marketing savvy demanded a boat that was not only fiberglass, but married the speed and maneuverability of a sport fisherman boat with the comfort of a sedan cruiser. Willis coined this hybrid a “convertible.”

  At the time, the 41′ Hatteras was the largest boat built of fiberglass, with the biggest horsepower and a one-piece hull. The soundness of Hargrave’s design and the toughness of the construction guaranteed invaluable assistance from incredulous suppliers (like Owens-Corning). Jack and Willis in a popular ad.

Ad reprinted from Motor Boating and Yachting, courtesy Dave Parker.

  While many companies jumped on the fiberglass trend, it was the quality of the robust product that distinguished Hatteras! The big secret as to how they arrived at this product in the early days? Hargrave laid down panels of different combinations of materials and drove his car over each one; the one that didn’t break became the specification for the laminate (in his spare time, Jack Hargrave created woodblock images of his favorite Hatterases for company Christmas cards).

Photo Credit: J.B. Hargrave Naval Architects archives and Scott and Susan Hargrave.

  Although Hatteras has had many owners since its founding in 1959, it is still produced in North Carolina (New Bern, on the waterfront), not far from Hatteras which inspired the name for the company. As the copy line states….”Willis Slane envisioned a fishing boat strong enough to withstand the waves off Cape Hatteras, where his prey of choice, the marlin, grow as big as the swells.” And if you’d known Willis Slane, you’d appreciate that this was not hyperbole.

Having extolled Jack Hargrave’s talents, it was a treat to recently be aboard a most singular yacht in Newport harbor, the MY Renaissance, that was designed by the Hargrave team just last year. One of the few boats out there designed specifically for charter, its well-conceived design details and amenities struck this female as particularly appealing — but just as importantly, practical and livable. I’d be remiss if I didn’t pass this along…

Photo Credit: Chris Emmons

The 116′ Renaissance has double the exterior space of comparable yachts in her size range, with a 10′ bar, dining area and 8 person jacuzzi… all under a hardtop on the flybridge lounge.

The luxurious accommodations are situated on four decks with ensuite guest cabins on the lower level. Four of the five staterooms are identical in size, with king beds easily converted into two singles if needed; the larger master stateroom is located on the main deck with the main salon, dining room and gallery.

The baths are also on the same level with their stateroom.

The wheelhouse is located on the third deck.

One of the many upgrades on the owners “must have” list was zero-speed stabilizers which prevent the yacht from rolling, even at anchor.

Tempted? See you on the water…

Thank you to Churchill Yacht Partners and Denison Yacht Sales for providing Billy Black’s featured image of the 102′ Hatteras “Lady Carmen.”

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

4 thoughts on “The Hatteras Yacht, A Step Back in Time

    1. Hi, fun to hear from you! It was actually your father (no surprise) who got this ball rolling. Ask him for the back story; I just sent this to them.
      xox from Newport, Bettie

  1. How very interesting your connect with North Carolina, Hatteras and High Point families. Brilliant folks that excelled at invention.
    Spoke just yesterday to the charming Kay who is launching more grandmothering x 3 by end of January.
    Lynn and Dick Ziglar
    Winston-Salem and Atlanta

  2. Kate,
    Happy day to u!

    So interesting is this and your Dad’s brainy input. What makes N. C. the amazing state we know and love.
    So happy with your news!
    Xo, Lynn

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