Love of fishing drove ‘intuitive’ designer

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When it came to building Carolina-style sportfishing boats, many counted on Buddy Davis


Carson R. "Buddy" Davis Jr. was a pioneering builder of Carolina-style offshore sportfishing boats, and some who know that style well consider his 47- and 61-foot models to be among the most seakindly boats of their type ever made.

The Manteo, N.C., native, who built boats that ranged from 28 to 78 feet during a 45-year career in the marine industry, died Jan. 17 at his home in Marathon, Fla., after what his family says was a lengthy illness. He was 62.

Davis' boats were designed and built mainly under two companies - Davis Boat Works, which he founded in 1973, and Davis Yachts, which he formed in the mid-1980s, according to his wife, Barbara Davis, who is 60.

"Through some pretty tough times, Buddy was absolutely a survivor," says Dean Travis Clarke, a longtime friend and the executive editor of Sport Fishing and Marlin magazines. "Even though he suffered some great setbacks in his career, somehow he always came back."

Davis kept bouncing back because his boat designs were sought after and he had a reputation as one of the best boatbuilders around, Barbara Davis says. The family says Davis built an estimated 400 yachts, and they frequently were featured in magazines, newspapers and on television.

Early in his career, Davis built cold-molded boats. The Davis 61, introduced in the mid-1980s, was his first all-    fiberglass vessel. Donald Blount, president of the naval architecture firm Donald L. Blount & Associates in Virginia, says he worked with Davis on every inboard composite boat Davis built.

"As a captain, [Davis] had his views about the hull form and proportions in general," Blount says. "He would start a project by developing a fairly refined set of lines of a boat he wanted to build, and he would bring that to us, along with a general layout, and that would be the starting point. We did the engineering and developed the structures, the laminate schedules, the machinery and tank arrangements."

When he designed boats, Davis focused on ride quality and handling characteristics, Blount says.

"He wanted ride quality and control in both head and following seas," Blount says. "It had to be dry - it had to be safe in really rough, steep waves."

Clarke knew Davis for 25 years and tested many of his vessels. "He was one of the original group of Oregon Inlet charter captains who became boatbuilders," Clarke says. "They went from that tiny town of Wanchese and the Manteo area [of North Carolina] to a global presence. They have boats all over the world. He had an extraordinary reputation for building very seaworthy and smooth-riding boats."

A master at capturing the Carolina look, Davis designed and built boats that were known for sharp entries and dramatic bow flare, Clarke says. His hull designs were all about function, but Davis also brought a level of luxury to the sportfishing boat that had not been seen before, Clarke says.

Clarke says Davis was "a pleasure to be around."

"He was a charming, quintessential soft-spoken Southern gentleman," Clarke says.

Says Blount: "He was very easy to work with. He knew what he wanted in the hull lines. It wouldn't get ugly if we had a disagreement. He was always polite and courteous. We had a long relationship, even after he got out of boatbuilding. He would call here every month or six months."

All of his boats were milestones, but Davis really made his mark with the Davis 47 and 61, Blount says.

"The 47 was one of the best - if not the best - rough-water boat in that size range," Blount says. "The 61 was similar - one of the best-performing boats in a seaway in that class."

The 47 and 61 covered all the bases. "It's not always easy to get ride quality, speed, performance, fishing range and a dry boat in a head sea and a following sea," Blount says. "But he did it."

Davis loved to build fishing boats because he loved to fish, Barbara Davis says.

"He didn't want to be anyplace that didn't have access to a boat," she says. "He loved to go out there and slay the dolphin."

Davis' experience as a fisherman and charter captain no doubt helped him design boats, but he also had "an intuition about what made a good sea boat," Blount says. "It was like he was born with that gene."

Davis was the son of Carson Ralph Davis and "Nonnie" Etheridge Davis and the sister of Anne Davis Creef.

Davis leaves his daughter, the Honorable Amber Davis, 44; his son, Carson Wade Davis, 40; his former wife, Elaina Davis; and two stepsons, Tres Midgett, 37, and Matthew Midgett, 34.

This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue.


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