Navigating the Sea of Life
Clearing the sometimes closed CSX railroad bridge in Jacksonville, we entered in a wider (and shallower) section of the St. Johns River closer to the Ortega River and our final destination at Lambs Yacht Center.
Lainey, our daughter works in Jacksonville. We were hoping to meet up with her when we got tied up to the dock. However, as we were arriving, she was leaving. She was working as crew on a Huckins yacht helping to take it a rendezvous further south on the St. Johns River. The sight of 15 or so Huckins coming under the Ortega Bridge was entertaining. We could hear them requesting the bridge tender for an opening on VH CH 9 (the bridge hailing channel in FL) so we knew we were going to have to wait a bit. We slowed down to watch these beautiful boats form a progression.
Frank Pembroke Huckins of The Huckins Yacht Company began building custom boats in 1928. He invented one of the first planing hull forms. A planing hull is one that while underway rises above the water so that no significant amount of water is displaced once beyond a certain speed. Our Fleming has a semi-displacement hull. Hull # 1 of this Huckins was sold to David M. Goodrich of the well-known B. F. Goodrich Rubber company. It sold for $15,000. We have hull #45 of the Fleming 55. Boat builders often refer to hull number rather than the year a boat is built.
The late 1920’s and early 1930’s doesn’t sound like a great time to start building yachts with the economy starting to go awry. The company was contracted by the U.S. Navy to build two squadrons of PT boats. Patrol, Torpedo boats were meant to be small, fast and expendable armed with torpedoes and machine guns. Forty three PT squadrons of 12 boats each were formed in WWII. Huckins Yachts was contracted by the U.S. Navy to build two squadrons of PT boats.
These lightweight boats were able to serve the Navy well as they sent many Japanese war ships with hundreds of times their displacement to the bottom of the ocean. The bad thing about these boats is that they had to get very close to the target before launching the torpedoes making them very vulnerable. A 25mm machine gun bullet could pass completely through the boat. A stray bullet could easily pierce the fuel tanks where the gas was stored. Diesel engines with enough horse power had not been invented at the time. It was dangerous duty to be assigned to a PT boat.
Another great feature of these boats is that the Quadraconic hull invented by Frank Huckins provided a much more comfortable ride for crew members. This comfort appealed to many of the sodiers but became a selling point as well after the war when civilians began requesting Huckins build their personal water craft. Perhaps the most famous PT boat is the PT-109 skippered by LTJG John F. Kennedy. PT-73 was featured in the TV show McHale’s Navy which ran from 1962 to 1966.
The Huckins boat yard is situated on the Ortega River very close to our destination at Lamb’s Yacht Center. We have always enjoyed walking over to Huckins to see these beautiful boats. There is also quite a contingent at Lamb’s that we enjoy seeing.
Once this lively group of boaters had cleared, we called the Ortega River Bridge tender to request an opening. The always friendly tender graciously opened for us and we were bound for our slip at Lamb’s.