Industry mourns founder of Carolina Skiff

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Terry Stark, founder of Carolina Skiff, died Aug. 15 after suffering a heart attack. He was 68.

Stark told a close friend in an email that he only started the company because he ran out of money while cruising his sailboat around the world. In the email, Stark reflected as a man who was more taken with his time spent enjoying life, rather than working —a contrast to the pace many businessmen set today.

Stark sold his shares of the company in 1998 to local investors and retired to travel the world, longtime friend Wally Bell of Composite Research Inc. told Trade Only Today. Stark began the company in 1982 after two start-ups landed him in Waycross, Ga., in 1991, Bell said.

“It was in Waycross, with the third attempt, that Carolina Skiff finally found its legs,”Bell told Trade Only. “His original work on inexpensively produced skiffs was pioneering in their simplicity of construction.”

Stark spent the last 10 years or so living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where his girlfriend found him slumped over in the midst of making “one of his famous smoothies,” according to John Landon, who was chairman of Carolina Skiff while Stark was there.

The very first Carolina Skiff was designed and built to provide North Carolina fishermen with a better option to the aluminum jonboat at a better price, Stark told Bell in an email last year.

“A Morehead City dealer showed me the jonboat he wanted in fiberglass and gave me an order for 10 boats when I gave him the price: 2X materials cost + $25/hr labor.Custom fiberglass fabricating pricing,”Stark wrote in the email, which Bell sent, in part, to Trade Only. “The product’s always taken more sales [and] market share away from the aluminum boat manufacturers than the fiberglass boat manufacturers.I don’t think the industry ever recognized this.”

By only building and selling fiberglass hulls and accessories, Stark kept it “simple and profitable,”with a gross margin of more than 60 percent on everything he manufactured.

Carolina Skiff got to No. 4 or 5 in terms of market share at the time, and did so within five years, Stark wrote. “We maintained the highest D&B rating throughout my management of the company.Took early pay discounts,”Stark wrote. “Through a 5-year period of growth industry experts say is impossible w/o external financing. Not bad.”

“I bought a tin building and walked in with some drawings under my arm and barely enough money to do the tooling and produce something to sell,”Stark wrote. “Didn’t know much about the boating industry. Never had any intentions of being a ‘boat builder.’ I was setting up an FRP fabricating factory.I did know a little about doing that.The dealers were the boatbuilders, assembling the kits I provided.”

“I only started the company because I ran out of money cruising my 51 Morgan SailBoat,”Stark wrote. “All I ever wanted out of the deal was the money to get back on the ocean.”

“You ask if I feel ‘proud’ about starting CS?”Stark reflected in the email. “Sure, a little.As proud as one could be over a [relatively] successful act of desperation. There’s PC boards on the Moon I designed for Dr. Weber’s Lunar Gravimeter back when I thought going to college was the right thing to do.Not something I think about every time I see the Moon?

“I am a lot prouder of the life I’ve led not working, all the years sailing the Caribbean, waking up doing what I want to do most every day. I’m proud I’m in good health, living the best life I know how to live here in Cambodia,”Stark said in the email. “I’m proud of my Mom and Dad for keeping me off the rocks till I learned to see some of them for myself and learned how to kedge off and fix the leaks from the rocks I didn’t see.I’ve got a lot more in life to look back on to be proud of other than figuring out how to build that silly flat-bottom boat.I even could do that a lot better now if I ever got bored enough.”

Stark’s ashes will be scattered on the Mekong River in a ceremony on Sunday. An online memorial features photos of Stark’s life, largely in Cambodia after his retirement.


8 comments on “Industry mourns founder of Carolina Skiff

  1. Pingback: Industry mourns founder of Carolina Skiff « Parker Business Planning

  2. John Landon

    He will be missed

    a guy that lived life on his own terms

    After cruising the Bahamas, he spent considerable time in
    Guatemala, Honduras ,Cuba, and Thailand before settling in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Good Job Wally and Reagan writing the initial release !


  3. Cindy Kesel Burton

    Thank you for the beautiful video. He was an amazing man and sure was a good friend to my Dad. I have wonderful memories of him and his kind soul. Wish I could have hugged you one good time for being so good to my Dad and for living life without hesitation. You inspire, Terry. RIP, Much love.

  4. tanny stark

    Have read several articles about terry’s death but negated of the details how it happened except that he was found slumped dead in the kitchen and no statement writtenas uttered by his girlfriend. Should you have any other information i would ba very grateful to hear from you. Beg you to email me. Thank you so much and God bless

  5. Jay cae

    I bought a Carolina skiff for their good name I am very sorry to hear about terry’s death. I use my boat for coast guard aux and it been a great boat it’s a 2015 and its stood up to its name. I just wish the dealers that sale the boat stand up to the name because they sure don’t take of there of their people. I am sure would not stand for this.

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