Nestled on the banks of the Bradenton River is a boat yard filled with various small boats in all stages of completion. Six builders are at work on different projects. The yard is not in business to create a profit, but rather to foster the passion of the craftsmen working there to tinker with their creations and make “the perfect boat.”
Owner Dave Lucas opened up his three-acre Lucas Boat Works to five carefully selected people (read good friends) to set up shop and work on building crafts of all kinds. In order to qualify, they must not be concerned with money, as profit is not a factor. All are retired thousandaires.
Dave always had a passion for boats, and when he retired from being a Marine Biologist he took his knowledge of boats and tinkering to a whole new level. With his house on one side of the property and the boat works out of sight of the house on the other side, he can exit his home, stroll to the work sheds and enter every man’s dream of power tools and beautiful wooden boats.
Entering the workshop, you are greeted by the smell of sawdust. There are Melonseed sailboats being built and modified while other classic hulls are being converted into motor launches and custom fishing craft. In the midst of these wooden beauties, a boat trailer is being converted into a wood and aluminum teardrop camper. Photos and sketches of hulls and boats are tacked to workbenches. On nearby stands, those images take form through various kinds of lumber.
Each of the six craftsmen are free to build whatever he desires, or just sit and do nothing at all if that is more the order of the day. All are intent on finding the perfect design and figuring it out as they go via trial and error. The quality of the work is proof that they are all very good at what they do.
Each builder is ferociously independent, so much so that there is a sign hanging above one work area that reads “Don’t even think about helping me” in red (said to be written in blood). Dave says the sign is there because they all want to work without others coming over and telling how best to do something or giving other unwanted advice.
These six work together very well – there to help when needed but stay out of the way when not. Dave explains, for example, that a couple of the builders are allergic to epoxy so he and the others jump in and help get the glasswork done when needed.
Each of the six tends to have a particular style. Molds and forms are used for many creations but innovation and trying new things seems to be the mantra.
Recently there have been boats built using foam strips instead of wooden strips resulting in extremely light hulls that are surprisingly strong when layered with glass and epoxy.
There have been Melonseeds and kayaks that have been built and tested. There is even a “top secret” hull being built for an upcoming unnamed Florida race that is billed to be “the ultimate boat for this specific race.” It is all very hush-hush, but they are all quite proud of their new creation.
For some of them, the passion to build exceeds the desire to use their creations. Dave took me past the workshops to an area where completed boats are stored. He pulled tarps off one stunning example of craftsmanship after another. Some of these boats have only seen the water for a few hours before being set aside while other projects are undertaken.
The final part of Dave’s tour was his dock where two unique and classic beauties were tied up. The smaller of the two, named Chelsea, looks like a miniature but prettier African Queen. A launch powered by a re-engineered lawnmower engine with an outboard lower unit, this boat is Steve’s (one of the builders) commuter craft that takes him to and from the shop each day.
The other craft is Helen Marie, “the perfect boat” according to Dave. Unlike other boats in the back lot, this one gets a lot of water time. Built with knowledge of what he wanted instead of formal plans, this boat was created by stretching out one of Dave’s favorite hulls, the Melonseed, and building a pilot house and cabin that fit his and his wife’s needs perfectly.
It is powered by a hidden 20HP Tohatsu with a custom rudder molded and attached to the outboard. This boat sports air-conditioning, a fridge, icemaker and a generator. Sipping fuel at hull speed, she has a 500-mile range. Everything has been thought out and tweaked. The captain or passenger can even attach dock lines while sitting in the pilothouse.
Many might agree that he has built the perfect boat – and the perfect boat works.
When the day is done, the yard becomes known as Lucas Boat Works and Happy Hour Club as builders and friends gather in the gazebo in the center of the property to enjoy a beverage while watching the sun set over the Bradenton River.