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The Quiet Innovators in Boating (Part 6)

In this Part 6 and final segment of The Quiet Innovators, I want to briefly introduce six more individuals who are widely and universally respected, and each of whom has produced hundreds if not thousands of boat designs.

Each of the following individuals has left an indelible mark on the industry, and on me personally, with at least one standout powerboat design that has stood the test of time and is even perhaps considered an icon in the powerboat market.

These boat models are universally well known, even if the people below who designed them are not often recognized outside of the industry itself.

Mark Ellis

Having summered in the spectacular Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence River just east of Lake Ontario, Mark Ellis was drawn to boat design after apprenticing under eminent naval architect Philip Rhodes at C. Raymond Hunt Associates. In 1970 at 25-years of age, he took this knowledge to C&C Yachts in Oakville, Ontario where he helped design some of the finest and most beautiful sailboats of all time.

In the mid-1970’s, Ellis left C&C and set up Mark Ellis Design. He very soon became famous for his Nonsuch 30 cruising catboat design, a line which expanded into different sizes, eventually becoming icons in the sailing world. He also “penned” the highly regarded Niagara 35 line of sailboats.

Among many other power boats, cruisers, and yachts he has designed including Legacy and Bruckmann cruisers, what power boaters will know him for is the Limestone 24 which he designed specifically for Canadian department store magnate Fred Eaton for his cottage use on Georgian Bay.

Nonsuch 33 sailboat
Nonsuch 33

The Limestone 24 was sterndrive powered and had a sizable cockpit, a V-berth, head, generous freeboard, and bow flare to handle the waters of Georgian Bay. It was named after the limestone rock that forms Georgian Bay. This design quickly morphed into the Limestone 20 for Medeiros Boat Works, who marketed it under the Medeiros brand name for years.

Then after some years in limbo, Limestone boats were resurrected by the new Limestone Boat Company in 2021 with headquarters in Collingwood, Ontario and production facilities in White Bluff, Tennessee. It currently produces two 20-foot Limestone models with several more in the planning stages.

Art deFever

Often referred to as the godfather of the modern pleasure trawler design, deFever himself calls them offshore cruisers as that is what they are designed to do. Since the 1950’s, it is estimated some 4000 deFever designs from 32 to over 200 feet, including some sailboats and sportfishermen, but overwhelmingly trawler designs, have been produced in yards literally all over the world. DeFever says he took the long range comfortable cruising features of the commercial tuna trawlers he designed and applied those to a pleasure boat design.

It is interesting that perhaps one of his most famous designs and one that doesn’t carry his name, is the 46-foot Alaskan trawler that he designed for American Marine (famous as builders of Grand Banks trawlers). The Alaskan line from 45 to 49-feet has developed almost cult-like status among trawler aficionados. Art deFever died in 2013 at the age of 94.

Ken Smith

Since I mentioned American Marine above, I cannot move on without mentioning Ken Smith who was hired in the early 1960’s by American Marine specifically to design a 36-foot, single diesel engine, long-range trawler. The result was an icon. Between 1965 and 1998, literally thousands of 36 Grand Banks have been sold throughout the world and have attracted higher than normal prices on the used boat market. The Grand Banks lineup expanded over those years to range from 32 to 49 feet with the Grand Banks 42 being considered perhaps the best all-round design. Grand Banks currently offers three series of newer designed yachts up to 80-feet.

Ed Monk Sr.

His boatbuilding career started in 1914, but it was in the early 1930’s that Ed Monk Sr. set up his design office in Seattle, Washington in the Pacific Northwest. Over the years he designed thousands of pleasure and commercial boats up to 150-feet which were built by some of the best yards in the Pacific Northwest including Tollycraft.

But perhaps his crowning achievement, at least the one he is best known and remembered for, is the 36 Monk Trawler, which has been built by many yards around the world and of which hundreds have been built. This boat satisfied the public’s demand in the gasoline shortage years of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s for an economical single diesel engine cruiser with excellent live-aboard conveniences at a reasonable initial cost. Ed Monk Sr. died in 1973 at the age of 79. His son Ed Monk Jr., also a naval architect, took over his father’s design business.

Tom Fexas

Like most designers, Tom Fexas grew up with boating in his blood and spent much spare time sketching boat designs. In 1965, he worked on design elements of Ohio Class submarines for General Dynamics in Mystic, Connecticut. After-hours was devoted to yacht design. In the early 1970’s he set up Tom Fexas Yacht Design and went at it full time. Perhaps his most remarkable achievement, and at least the one he is most remembered for, is the 1978 introduction at the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show of his stunningly gorgeous and most memorable design -- the Midnight Lace.

The narrow beam, low profile, black hulled Midnight Lace was the modern iteration at that time of the east coast rumrunners, commuters, and excursion party picnic boats of the 1930’s and '40’s. It started a trend in what became known as “Italian Styling” and became and remains an icon. It was picked up at the time by the prestigious Cheoy Lee yacht builders and became a series for them. Tom Fexas died in 2006 at age 65.

Ocke Mannerfelt

Founded in Sweden in 1978 after Ocke’s successful career in international sailboat racing, Mannerfelt Design Team, headed since 2006 by Ocke’s son Ted, has accumulated a remarkable 23 UIM World Offshore Racing Championships. Boat design projects have included concepts, one-offs, and production models from RIBs to runabouts to cruisers.

But perhaps Mannerfelt is best known for his revolutionary B-22 “Batboat” offshore racing design which evolved over the years into several classes of racing, including its own separate offshore class with models up to the B-29. I had the thrill of a lifetime in the late 1990’s while at Volvo Penta’s coastal testing centre outside Gὂteborg, Sweden.

Ocke Mannerfelt himself was there with his Volvo Penta powered 24-foot Batboat and, knowing my interest, offered me a ride. It was a ride I will never forget as we were strapped into four-point harnesses and helmeted and went out in almost wild and frothy two-footers. We spent the ride mostly airborne. A very tender boat made the ride that much more thrilling. I will never forget the most accommodating Ocke, his driving talents, or his revolutionary boat design.

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