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Innovators in Boating - The Meloon Family & Correct Craft

Pine Castle Boat & Construction Company Cruise Boats in the 1930’s
Pine Castle Boat & Construction Company Cruise Boats in the 1930’s

The mid-1920s real estate boom in Central Florida must have looked appealing to the Meloon family living in Ossipee, New Hampshire -- a rural area of forests and lakes halfway up the border with Maine.

In 1924, Walter C. Meloon, known as W.C., moved with his wife Marion and three young sons, Walter, Ralph, and Harold from Ossipee to Pine Castle, Florida, now a suburb south of Orlando on a cluster of small lakes northwest of Orlando International Airport.

Seeing an opportunity, in 1925 instead of investing in real estate, W.C. started the Florida Variety Boat Company in Pine Castle with the objective, “To Build Boats to the Glory of God.”

A Meloon ancestor way back was involved in the creation of the first US Coast Guard under the direction of President George Washington, but aside from that and the fact that W.C. had built his own family a boat, W.C. didn’t personally have a history in boat building. True to its name, the Florida Variety Boat Company offered a variety of boats from skiffs and runabouts to race boats and sailboats.

In 1930, the company changed its name to Pine Castle Boat and Construction Company. All three sons worked at the company with their father at various times and in various capacities while attending school but it was Ralph, the middle son, who much later became the “face” of the company and eventually devoted 90 of his 100 years to the company.

The Meloon Family

Times were tough during “the dirty thirties” but the Meloon family toughed it out. Since boat sales were slow, they organized boat trips, tours, and excursions on local lakes to bring in revenue. W.C. was promotion-minded, and in an effort to promote boat sales he even experimented with Aqua-Gliding in the early 1930s. In 1936, he heard a radio advertisement promoting “the correct heel for your shoe” and was so taken by its impact and meaning that his Pine Castle Boat and Construction Company began building boats under the brand name Correct Craft -- implying that it was the correct boat for you.

That same year, W.C. was the first to install a tow pylon to accommodate the growing sport of waterskiing. Officially originating in Minnesota in 1922, waterskiing spread swiftly as an exhibition sport and became a nationally recognized competitive sport with the formation in 1939 of the American Water Ski Association (AWSA).

One of the first tourist theme parks, Cypress Gardens opened in 1936 in central Florida offering waterskiing shows and eventually becoming known as The Water Ski Capital of the World. It entertained soldiers during the war and over 50 world water ski records were set there. Ralph Meloon drove the very first water ski boat there and Correct Craft became closely associated with Cypress Gardens providing tow boats for its renowned ski shows.

The Correct Craft Titusville Boat Plant ran from 1942 to 1955

In 1942, as the United States devoted its massive manufacturing capacity to the war effort, Correct Craft purchased an additional boat building facility in Titusville, Florida to manufacture boats for the U.S. government. Near the end of the WWII, Correct Craft, among other builders, was asked by General Dwight D. Eisenhower to build 400 boats in 15 days. Being one of the only companies to achieve this target significantly boosted the image and reputation of Correct Craft.

Following the war, the economy was booming and pleasure boat sales expanded rapidly. Correct Craft expanded its lineup from utilities, runabouts, and small overnighters right up to large cruisers. The 1949 lineup included 16 models from a 15-foot utility boat to a 32-foot cabin cruiser. In 1950, a 14-foot Atom 25 plywood utility was added at a selling price just under $1100 dollars. The addition of swim platforms became a Correct Craft first in 1952 while the lineup was growing to include large cruisers right up to 50 feet.

In the mid-1950s, the U.S. Government once again contracted Correct Craft to build 3000 assault boats for the Korean War. Once again, the company ramped up production to meet the quotas and timelines. Unfortunately, government bureaucracy of the worst kind left Correct Craft with 600 boats that the government wouldn’t take or pay for. The result was financially catastrophic.

The company entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection where it remained until the mid-1960s. Once released from bankruptcy, the Meloon’s, in an almost unprecedented and unheard-of practice, pursued each and every creditor who may have lost money on account of the bankruptcy and repaid each the full amount owing. During this period of uncertainty, the Titusville facility was closed in 1955. W.C. retired this same year to become CEO and oldest son Walter O. Meloon took over as company president.

Meanwhile in 1957 in South Florida, Leo Bentz designed and built the first fiberglass Ski Nautique which was touted as the first tournament inboard water ski boat. Bentz subsequently offered to sell his company to Correct Craft. W.C. Meloon had no interest because his own boats were of wood construction and he “had never seen a fiberglass tree!”

Bentz approached W.C. again in 1961, and this time, based on the surging interest in both family and tournament waterskiing, Correct Craft purchased the Ski Nautique fiberglass molds, tooling, and the brand name. The cost of the purchase was one free boat with three years free maintenance for Leo Bentz. This first Ski Nautique model was sold for $4,500 including a trailer and would set the stage for the dedicated inboard-powered waterski, wakeboard, and wakesurf boats for a growing niche market.

1956 Correct Craft 26′ Biscayne Sportster and 16′ Rocket Skier

1961 also saw Correct Craft becoming the first boat builder to incorporate hull bottom tracking fins to prevent the water skier from “pulling” the flat-bottom ski boat from side to side as the skier maximized their arcs behind the boat. The Meloons worked hard and travelled the world promoting water skiing using their tournament tow boats.

Utilizing innovative marketing, they sold boats at heavily discounted pricing to top professional skiers as well as tournament organizers and show producers. The Ski Nautique quickly gained a reputation for its excellent slalom and trick wakes. In 1967, the Correct Craft Ski Nautique became the first official inboard-powered tournament ski tow boat.

The company never looked back. The invitational Masters Water Ski Tournament for elite athletes at Callaway Gardens outside Pine Mountain, Georgia is recognized as arguably the world’s most prestigious. Held annually in May every year since 1959, and now including wakeboard competitions, Correct Craft became associated with it in 1975 and is now a title sponsor.

The year 1977 saw Nautique create its own in-house professional water ski team to produce exciting shows to promote the boats. The Barefoot Nautique was introduced in 1979. It was designed to accommodate a rigid side-mount for barefoot skiing. Produced from 1981 to 1989, the Ski Nautique 2001 featured the first redesign of the entire boat. Named the 2001 since it was introduced in the first year after the Nautique’s 20th anniversary, it became not only an iconic model but an instant marketplace success.

The 1983 Bass Nautique was an attempt to enter the fishing market but was not particularly successful. On the other hand, the specially designated limited production 1986 Silver Nautique became a collector’s item. By 1990, more major redesigns of the deck and hull bottom included a much wider beam. By 1993, Nautiques had all-fiberglass hulls, floors, decks, and stringers.

The next iconic Ski Nautique -- the 196 --- was introduced in 1997 with a redesigned industry-leading Total Surface Control (TSC). TSC incorporated nine changes to the hull bottom to produce a customized wake specifically to enhance slalom, trick, and jump skiing. The 196 became an industry benchmark over the next decade and beyond.

In that same year 1997, Correct Craft recognized the fast-growing sport of wakeboarding with the introduction of the Air Nautique which featured a proprietary Flight Control Tower which was the first manufacturer-supplied wakeboard tower, and fillable ballast tanks. Total Wake Control was introduced in 1999 to the Air Nautique and the revolutionary Smart Pod dash control panel in 2000. Meanwhile Ski Nautique incorporated the second-generation improvements to the Total Surface Control hull design.

Nautique’s 40th anniversary in 2004 saw the introduction of the Sport Nautique SV-211 which was claimed to be the industry’s first “crossover” boat. The Hydro-Gate shifter to the right of the helm provided control and change in transom-mounted “trim” plates to create customized wakes “on the fly.”

Oldest brother Walter O. Meloon died in 2005 at age 89. After having hired top executives from outside in the early 2000’s as opposed to utilizing a Meloon family member and after burning through four CEOs in the previous five years, Correct Craft hired Bill Yeargin in 2006 as President and CEO. This proved almost exponentially productive as Yeargin brought with him a similar passion as the Meloon family along with skilled management techniques.

In 2008, the Meloon family sold its stock in the company to Ambassador Enterprises, a private equity firm that invests “in for-income and for-impact markets seeking financial, cultural, and eternal returns, resulting in better people, better communities, and better lives.” Ambassador Enterprises became sole owners of Correct Craft including Nautique.

The Correct Craft company celebrated the production of its 200,000th boat in 2009. A year later in 2010 it celebrated its 85th anniversary of boat building with its introduction of the Ski Nautique 200 -- the replacement in open or closed bow for the venerable 196. Water skiing still played a huge role in the company and this new 200 amassed some 19 world water ski records over the next decade.

By expanding the sport, Correct Craft would expand the market for its boats. To that end, in 2012 it acquired Aktion Parks which included the Orlando Watersports Complex operating boat and cable water skiing and wakeboard activities for the public. The following year, Aktion would build the 90-acre Miami Watersports Complex and later still, the Elite Cable Park at Auburndale, Florida, about half way between Tampa and Orlando.

At this same time, the stunning all-new and somewhat revolutionary Super Air Nautique G23 and then the G25 were released with new hull designs plus the Nautique Surf System (NSS) of ten settings to control the WAVEPLATE and the Nautique Configurable Running Surface (NCRS) to allow customization and fine tuning of the shape, size, and steepness of the wave on the user’s preferred side of the boat and ideal both for wakeboarding and wakesurfing.

2015 was huge for Correct Craft. While Bill Yeargin remained CEO, Greg Meloon, great-grandson of founder W.C. Meloon became President following many years in management within the company. The Pleasurecraft Engine Group, which included inboard engine suppliers Pleasurecraft Marine Engines (PCM), Crusader Engines, and Levitator Performance Airboat Engines had been acquired in late 2014. Bass Cat Boats which included Yar-Craft Boats was acquired in early 2015.

In June, 2015, Correct Craft acquired majority ownership of California-based ski boat competitors Centurion Boats and Supreme Boats. That same year 2015, Correct Craft introduced the innovative and award-winning Super Air Nautique G23 and G25 with new hull designs, new styling, and new technology. The new technology included LINC touch with Helm Command intuitive vessel control, JL WaveFront speakers, Nautique Surf Switch, and Nautique Surf Select App for the Pebble Smartwatch. This allowed the surfer to change the wave size and shape while riding the surf behind the boat. These new boats became the first industry towboats to offer Direct Injection engine technology through the company’s newly acquired subsidiaries.

The next few years saw Correct Craft zero in on niche portions of the watersports market with the introduction of the Paragon series of luxury models along with some sportier and some crossover models. In 2016, it acquired SeaArk, an aluminum fishing boat company, Bryant Boats in 2017, makers of family runabouts, and in 2019, Parker Boats, builders of 18 to 29-foot center console and walkaround offshore fishing boats.

The 2024 Super Air Nautique G23 Paragon

In 2018, NMMA Hall of Fame Member and industry icon Ralph Meloon died at age 100. In that same year, Correct Craft created a subsidiary, Watershed Innovation to harness the best ideas and innovative solutions from the most talented personnel from all its companies plus universities and outside research centers and to address challenges in the industry and to stay ahead of trends.

After running a prototype for a few years, Nautique partnered with electric propulsion specialist Ingenity to create the all-electric breakthrough GS22E in 2020. It featured up to three hours of normal watersports fun with a possible recharging time as little as 90 minutes. In 2022, Correct Craft acquired Indmar Marine Engines, one of the largest suppliers of inboard engines to other watersports boat builders. In late 2022, in line with Correct Craft’s vertical integration philosophy, it acquired Pacer Marine Engineering of Fort Lauderdale, makers of electrical components and wiring harnesses.

“Building a culture of people who care about the people and world around them is a core pillar of our success here at Nautique Boat Company.” With this principle in mind, Nautique Cares was launched in 2007 as an organizational initiative sponsored and run solely by the employees at Nautique. Interested employees donate their vacation time to participate in activities which assist those less fortunate in many different parts of the world.

Currently, Correct Craft’s Nautique lineup includes eleven Super Air Nautique models from 20 to 25 feet in three series; G, S, and GS. In addition are the Ski Nautique 200 in bowrider and the Nautique in closed deck configuration. As outlined earlier, the Correct Craft family includes eight boat manufacturers, four engine manufacturers, Aktion Parks, and Watershed Innovation.

“Making Life Better” has been added to and has become a part of the company’s motto. It is easy to see how fitting that is.

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