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Industry mourns South Florida boatbuilding pioneer

George M. Irvine Jr. died Nov. 13 of a heart attack at his home in Fort Lauderdale. He was 89.
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George M. Irvine Jr.

George M. Irvine Jr.

George M. Irvine Jr., a pioneer in fiberglass hull construction and a leader in the fabrication of hardtops and tuna and marlin towers for sportfishing boats, died Nov. 13 of a heart attack at his home in Fort Lauderdale. He was 89.

Irvine developed an 11-acre marine complex on the New River that now includes four businesses he bought or started — Pipewelders Marine, High Seas Technology, P&R Canvas and Billfish Marina — and Hatteras Yachts and Cheoy Lee dealerships, both lessees.

“He was an absolute icon in the marine industry,” said his son Edison, who worked for his father for 13 years before going into the marine business on his own.

George Irvine started the marine and recreational division at Owens Corning Fiberglass Co. in the late 1950s, setting out to sell boatbuilders on the advantages of molded fiberglass over wood for hulls, Edison Irvine said.

His father did not make much headway until he visited Hatteras Yachts in High Point, N.C., which was looking for a hull material to withstand the daily battering its sportfishing boats took as they pounded through waves in Oregon Inlet, N.C., the home port of many Hatterases, the younger Irvine said.

George Irvine helped Hatteras develop its first fiberglass yacht and many after that, eventually joining the company as executive vice president, a post he held until 1972, Edison Irvine said. At Hatteras the elder Irvine designed and built the longest production line in the industry, which still is used today at the company’s plant in New Bern, N.C., Edison Irvine said.

After leaving Hatteras, George Irvine was named president of Chris-Craft Corp., which at the time operated 17 plants worldwide and employed 1,800 people, his son said.

“When he left to do a world tour he was gone a long, long time,” Edison Irvine added.

At Chris-Craft, George Irvine created a new line — a 42, one of the fastest production boats of its era, a 46 and a 55 — and built an innovative two-piece mold for the 74 motoryacht that was the biggest boat mold until that time.

In 1977 George Irvine was looking to buy a company of his own and found one in Pipewelders, which he bought out of bankruptcy, Edison Irvine said. Starting with 16 employees, he grew the company to 270 and established branch operations in the boatbuilding and sportfishing centers of New Bern and Wanchese, N.C., and Palm Beach, Edison Irvine said.

George Irvine bought neighboring Hurricane Marina in 1983 and renamed it Billfish Marina, and he went on to establish High Seas Technology, a marine electronics company, in 1990, as well as P&R Canvas.

Edison Irvine said his father retired from active involvement in the business three years ago, although he retained the title of chairman and kept a hand in overseeing the company’s finances. Pipewelder’s president is Trey Irvine, George’s other son.

“He had a good life,” Edison Irvine said. At the time of his father’s passing “he was still sharp as a tack, still getting around, still driving.”

In addition to Trey and Edison, Irvine is survived by former daughter-in-law Katherine, daughters-in-law Jill and Tamara, and grandchildren Ian, Whitney, Dierdra, Edison Jr. and Aubry.

Gathering for a memorial service will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Fred Hunter Funeral Home, 718 S. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. The service will start at 11.

The family requests that donations in George’s name be made to the Marine Industries Association of South Florida in lieu of flowers.

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