Industry mourns Owens Yacht mainstay


John B. "Jack" Owens, who had been a principal in the family-owned Owens Yacht Co. and later established a real estate firm, died Saturday of heart failure at his Naples, Fla., home. He was 96.

Owens’ father established a custom boatbuilding business in 1925 on Spa Creek in Annapolis, Md., that built about 20 boats a year. After his death in 1933, the business passed to three of his sons: John B. Owens, Charles Owens Jr. and Norman Owens, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Owens graduated from Annapolis High School in 1933 and earned a pre-law degree from St. John's College four years later. In 1936, he and his brothers purchased 8 acres on Bear Creek in Dundalk, where they built a state-of-the-art industrial plant.

They adapted the auto industry’s mass-production methods to boatbuilding. Their first major new product was a 32-foot Owens Cruiser that gained the attention of the public and press at the 1937 New York Boat Show.

When World War II broke out, the company shifted production from pleasure craft to landing craft for the Army when it received a contract to build 2,500 Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel, which Owens supervised.

After the war, Owens and his brothers returned to producing the classic 40-foot Owens Cutter. They switched from building wooden boats to fiberglass vessels in 1957 and developed a line of Owens Flagship V8 marine engines.

They later expanded to facilities in York, Pa., and a plant in Indianapolis, where they built 800 boats a month. Another 500 were constructed in Dundalk.

In 1961, the company was sold to Brunswick Corp., with Owens staying on as president of Brunswick's Owens Boat Division. In 1964, Owens left Brunswick and joined his two brothers in a new venture, Trident Corp., a family-owned real estate company that managed properties remaining from the sale of Owens Yacht Co.

An expert and competitive yachtsman, Owens, who was a member of the Gibson Island Club, won many racing trophies. He also wrote two books: “Cruising Fun for the Family” and “Cruising Guide to the Chesapeake Bay.”

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. March 9 at St. James' Church, 5757 Solomons Island Road, Lothian, Md.

Surviving are three sons: David Owens of Ruxton, Peter Owens of Paia, Hawaii, and Andrew Owens of Orlando, Fla.; three daughters, Christine Sands of Paia, Amelia Sullivan of Pacifica, Calif., and Elizabeth "Birdie" Owens of Key West; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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