When I was 12 years old, my father bought a 53’ Huckins and so from an early age I began
to appreciate the unique qualities and beauty of the best hand-made custom boat builders. I
am now 46 and a licensed captain living in Destin, FL and a couple of years ago I began my
search for a smaller, classic sportfisherman that I could afford. Unsurprisingly the first boat
that caught my attention was a Huckins Atlantic 44 that was listed by Huckins and was at
their dock in Jacksonville, FL. I called to schedule a visit and spoke with Sara Gielow, who I
have come to think of as Cindy and Buddy’s Renaissance Lady as it seems she is capable
of doing anything and everything short of designing and building the boats. The Atlantic 44
was not the right boat for me, but the opportunity to meet the people at Huckins, learn
something of the amazing history and see their workmanship in person was well worth the
trip, and as it turns out meeting Sara was the game-changer in my quest.
Several weeks after my visit, I came across the listing for the Rybovich 44, which is now
LEEWARD. It was berthed in Miami Beach and the asking price was a realistic reflection of
how much work she would require to put right. Having seen firsthand the craftsmanship and
capabilities of Huckins, I called Sara to ask if Huckins would be interested in the restoration.
The answer was yes, and furthermore, she said she would be in Miami the next week on
other business and would be glad to go look at the boat to see if it would be a good
candidate for restoration at a reasonable cost. The answer was yes.
Fast forward, Sara acted as my broker and negotiated a purchase price below the asking
price subject to a satisfactory survey by one of Huckins preferred marine surveyors. She
came back to Miami to meet me for the survey and sea-trial and then arranged for a captain
they worked with to accompany me to deliver the boat to Huckins.
After the arrival of the boat at the yard, the work started almost immediately. It began with
me meeting with the service manager PJ Rogers and the head of each discipline at the yard
carpentry, mechanical, electrical, paint, etc. Subsequently, a detailed document delineating
the agreed upon work and equipment upgrades complete with itemized estimates was
created, and each month, as the items were completed, a very clear accounting statement
was provided to substantiate the progress payments.
When we acquired the boat, the tower had been cut off at the hardtop. Huckins removed the
old half tower and restored the existing hardtop, removing a centerline hatch and installing
two new hatches on port and stbd sides for better air flow on a nice day. A beautiful custom
tower and Rupp outriggers were installed. A second mini hardtop was built and installed
above the upper station along with new wiring for lights.
The helm console was in need of a major reinvention as it was abnormally tall and
overloaded with electronics from the 90’s. Huckins came up with a great redesign lowering
its’ height and adding built-in mahogany drink holders, phone storage with additional storage
and the electrical panel on the back and last, but not least, a comprehensive array of
state-of-the-art electronics were installed (as well as on the bridge).
The teak cockpit coverboard was replaced and a swim platform was added. The cabin was
totally refit with new wallpaper, headliner, paint, teak cabinet faces, and a teak and holly
sole. The topsides and hullsides were painted and brightwork refinished. All new upholstery
on the interior and exterior along with exterior covers replaced the old and Makralon
premium polycarbon was added to enclose the bridge.
The original fighting chair was restored, re-chromed, and brought back to life. An Eskimo ice
maker and water maker was added. New thru hulls, bilge pumps, batteries, battery charger,
toilet and plumbing were installed. The fire system was upgraded and ZF Controls and new
steering was installed at helm and bridge.
Finally, the high-performance Cummins QSM11 635 hp engines which were in good running
order underwent a thorough inspection and comprehensive maintenance.
The boat was sea trialed mid-Nov. with 4 technicians onboard. The boat performed
beautifully reaching full RPM and it could well be the first time in history that a sea trial went
perfectly after a year-and-a-half-long restoration. I was ecstatic, the boat really gets up and
In summary, the absolute professionalism of everyone at Huckins and the extraordinary
quality of the final product has made this undertaking a joy.
When one walks into the main shop at Huckins they behold a 20-foot-long declaration from
Frank Pembroke Huckins, hand painted in large letters on wood that says it all, “IN THIS
PLANT WORK THE MOST SKILLED YACHT BUILDERS IN THE WORLD.”
Postscript: From the outset I wanted the boat and the new tower to resemble Jimmy Buffet’s
44’ Rybovich. The icing on the cake was when, after the renovation was complete, someone
walking the dock inquired, “Hey, is that Jimmy Buffet’s boat?”…Mission accomplished!
-Lee McGriff IV