by Kip Tabb on January 17, 2011
Buddy Davis died last night at age 62. With him, a small piece of Outer Banks tradition passed away as well.
Buddy built boats. He, of course, was successful at other things—raised two children and two stepchildren, at one time probably had 200 people employed—but ultimately he will be remembered for that one thing he did as well anyone else in the world. He built boats.
Boatbuilding on the Outer Banks has a long history, from the simple skiffs and fishing boats that plied the inland waters of the North Carolina sounds to the Carolina flare sport fishing boats that have come to define the look of the Outer Banks fishing fleet. With their sharp keel and flared hull, these are boats created for the strong currents of Oregon Inlet and rolling seas of the Gulf Stream. And it was with this design that Buddy made his name.
He started building his first boats in 1973, but by that time he already had a full career on the water. At 13 he was a mate on fishing boats, and he spent a number of years working for Omie Tillet and Warren O’Neal—the godfathers of the Carolina design.
Buddy Davis 28′ center console design.
At first, Buddy crafted his boats from the same materials and in the same way that his mentors had, but over time he began to look for new materials and new ways to do things. “He was always trying to do it better,” Barbara Davis, his former wife says. “At first they were wooden hulls. Then he started using fiberglass. His designs were a collaboration with (marine architect) Donald Blount.”
“He was using modern technology to make those traditional designs better,” she adds.
Over the years, Buddy Davis Boatworks took a number of different forms—as an independent company, a partnership, subsidiary and ultimately his designs became a part of a New Jersey boatbuilding company. Davis designed boats are no longer built on the Outer Banks.
Buddy Davis 48′ Express.
Yet it is not for the boats that he will be remembered, although Buddy Davis creations carry a grace, beauty and craftsmanship rare in today’s world, for our physical constructs leave an impermanent mark. It is in the building upon tradition and legacy that our true story is found, and it is in that tale that the meaning of Buddy Davis’ life will be found.