TBF: Before you bought Hell's Bay, it seemed the company was just hitting its stride. However, the company had slipped into bankruptcy and was having some issues. What attracted you to the brand and what did you determine to do differently to obviously turn the company around?
CP: In 2003 I was involved in other businesses and was diagnosed with Lymphoma cancer and the diagnosis was not good. It looked like I would be a short timer so I got out of the different businesses I was in and focused on treatment. Fortunately, the treatment worked and I ended up with a clean bill of health. I had worked in startups in the past and wanted to invest in a company that was already put together. I'm a 100 ton licensed captain and live in Orlando so, even though this is a 40 minute commute, it sounded like a good opportunity.
At the time, the company was headed toward bankruptcy and I tried to work something out then to come in, but it didn't work. Then I chased it into bankruptcy and bought it at auction. I had done my homework, so I knew what the issues with the company were. There was never a thing wrong with the boats, but there were some things at the top that could be fixed.
TBF: Flip Pallot and Tom Gordon were involved early and I’m assuming they left before the company ran into trouble. How did you convince these guys to come back?
CP: Flip was one of the original owners of the company, but several of the original owners couldn't agree on the direction, so they sold it. Flip still comes into the shop and gives out ideas on how to make improvements. He loves boats and how they are built. As for Tom, he worked his way up through the company and bought the mold for the 16 foot waterman and struck out on his own. When I bought the company, it made sense for him to come back to Hells Bay.
Part II: Boat Building
TBF: Tell me about the boat building process. How long does it take to build a Hells Bay skiff and how many do you produce a year?
CP: We have a staff of about 20 people. If we start a skiff and work straight through, it takes about three weeks. However, we have a big slate of orders so if you order a boat it will take about six weeks to build.
TBF: I was looking at some used boats online, and one thing that comes up is rebuilding a boats stringers, which I confess I had to look up. Hells Bay uses components that don’t rot, so is this something I would have to worry about on a Hells Bay boat?
CP: We don’t ever have to rebuild stringers. Everything is a composite so you never have to worry about a stringer rotting. Many boats still use wood, and a lot of it. If sealed properly, water won't get in. But once it does, the wood rots and you end up with a lot of trouble.
Part III: The Hells Bay Boat
TBF: For someone looking to buy a skiff, what sets Hells Bay boats apart from your competitors?
CP: Hell's Bay doesn't compromise on ANYTHING. We use the best available materials. You can always cheapen things up, but we never take short cuts by using cheaper materials or cutting corners. You won't see raw glass on a Hell's Bay, everything is sanded and finished. Places on the boat you will never see will get a good finish. This is a better way to build it, giving the owner another layer of protection. Yvon Choinard, owner of Patagonia, was once asked why he doesn't make a product you could buy at Wal-Mart. He responded, “Lots of people could build a cheaper product. We build it the best way we can and we never skimp on quality."
TBF: Tell me about the new Neptune and Biscayne fit into the picture and round-out your lineup.
CP: The Neptune is an 18 foot boat designed around a 150 HP engine. It's a fast, far reaching tournament boat. It flat flies. For it's size, it's also a great poling skiff. It has a12 degree deadrise and drafts 9-10 inches. The Biscayne is a 26 foot boat and it's not as wide or big. It is designed around a 70 HP fourstroke Yamaha. This boat is the ultimate permit boat for the lower keys. Very poleable and very maneuvarble. But the V-hull gives it stability and maneuvrabilty.
The Marquesa is a stable with a v hull. The Guide ride's well but is more polable and the Glades Skiff is an 18 foot boat that, with 2 anglers drafts 2-3 inches.
Part IV: Buying a skiff
TF: So for me, my plan/dream is a Marquesa. I have two kids that I want to get into fishing. I live in the mid Atlantic and want to fish the Chesapeake Bay, pole the Potomac for carp, bass fish in some of Virginia, Stripers on the Susquehannah River, and trailer down to Virginia Beach and North Carolina for redfish and False Albacore. However, I don’t see a lot of skiffs around here. Am I crazy or ahead of my time!!
CP: Absolutely, I've fished the Bay many times and it has a close and sharp chop, but not huge waves. The Marquesa is a great boat for these conditions and is perfect for kids.
TBF: Who is the average Hells Bay customer?
CP: There is no sterotype. But anyone who buys a Hells Bay skiff is very passionate about shallow water fishing. In fact, anyone who is a true enthusiast will eventually ends up in out boat. You won't find someone who is looking to stick their toe in the water, who also plays a lot of golf or who does other sports. You will find the enthusiastic outdoorsmen who knows that equipment is important in a Hells Bay.
Part V: Hells Bay Odd’s and Ends
TBF: Flip Pallot is one of my hero’s in saltwater fly fishing. What’s it like to be able to work with Flip and some of the other greats like Chico Fernandez and Andy Mill?
CP: Everyone who is on our pro staff is a true gentleman. Each has a different flavor. Each is a genuine person and not a celebrity. Flip underestimates his own star power. Deep down, he is just a great guy to fish and hunt with. He's a true outdoorsman. He’s got a thousand stories and is happy to share his knowledge with you.
One funny story about Flip is that he still believes guava forks are the best forks for push poles so he will go out and fit his push pole with a hand made fork. He's a great guy and great gentleman.
TBF: Along these lines, what Hells Bay Skiff does Flip fish?
CP: Flip fishes the Glades skiff. He likes the tiller steering and doesn't like to fly on the water. Flip is an observer and he likes to take in the scenery. What you see in the shows is what you get. Chico is the same way. Flip and Chico are good friends. They are both such great guys, but they're like the odd couple. Their personalities are very different. Flip likes country music, Chico is a Jazz officinado.
TBF: You hear of people who merge hobbies with professions and they get no time to actually do what they love. So how often do you actually get to get out on the water and where do you like to fish?
CP: More than I should!! I have the luxury of calling it R&D. (Doesn't that kill you guys)
TBF: Do you have a model that you frequently use and what fish species do you usually go after?
CP: When it comes to boats, I have luxury of picking the right tool for the job. If I'm fishing the chop, I'll go out in a Marquesa. If I'm fishing very skinny water, I'll take out a Glades Skiff. I don't have a particular species that is my favorite.
TBF: Last question: What does the future hold for Hells Bay?
I hope you enjoy this interview. What a great company. If you're in the market for a new skiff, be sure to get a Hell's Bay!! A big thanks to Chris and Wendi Peterson for taking the time to make this possible.