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Skipjack- Taking it to the Limit, Part 2

Continued from last week’s Skipjack Boats History Part 1:”Skipjack – Taking it to the Limit

By the late ’70s the offices and the production facility had grown to more than 48,000-square feet to accommodate more boats at different stages of construction. Skipjack had grown to its peak during this period. Even with a workforce approaching 50, Skipjack was unable keep up with the demand.

Skipjack boats history

They rolled out several thousand boats to anxiously awaiting customers from the busy factory in Costa Mesa, but the team’s hard work failed to satisfy the demand. Beginning in 1977 and continuing through 1979, in order to satisfy the increasing interest in the 28-foot model and 24-foot fly-bridge models, Cole agreed to grant Wellcraft Boats a license to build those two models in their plant in Sarasota, Florida and sell them as an adjunct to their production.

As the years faded into the 1980s, Skipjack had established its reputation as one of the most popular, well-built quality trailerable offshore fiberglass fishing boats available on the Pacific Coast.

Business continued to be brisk as several more models were added to the mix – first the 25-foot Fisherman in 1982 and a Fly Bridge in the second half of the decade. Adding to the growing operation were the upgrades for dedicated owners re-powering their Skipjacks after thousands of hours at sea.

Other eager boaters and avid fishermen sought used Skipjack boats which were rugged enough to fish for whatever was biting in the waters off Southern California, yet still small and manageable enough to trailer to Baja as they came on the market. Buyers were quite willing to pay top-dollar for the timeless nautical styling and solid construction they offered. They often returned them to the Skipjack facility for upgrades, sprucing them up after years of use requiring an entire department dedicated to providing services for previously owned or upgraded boats.

Meanwhile by 1988, after going a 100 miles an hour with his hair on fire for over 22 years creating one of the most successful small boat businesses in Southern California, Cole decided to accept an offer of purchase from a small group of investors who assumed operation of Skipjack immediately.

Following the sale, he went off to play in his beloved Baja – fishing, exploring and just basically kicking back, catching his breath while the monthly checks from the new owners regularly appeared in his bank account.Cole had leased a small palapa-covered cottage at the famous Rancho Buena Vista Hotel with Ted Bonney, manager, as his next-door neighbor years before. “It was ideal; the electricity and water both came through my place so I was always sure to have utilities.” Cole commented recently, chuckling, “Right behind my place was a landing strip and hangar large enough to store my Skipjack.”

“It was a sweetheart deal! For eleven months he kicked back and fished around his beloved Baja. Then, while in Mulege I checked in with the gal in the office and casually asked if the checks were being deposited. She informed me that the group had quit sending them the month before,” said Cole.

Rejuvenated by his brief retirement, Cole was soon back at his desk in Costa Mesa in the thick of Skipjack business raring to go with new designs and ideas. Like a high-stakes poker player on a winning streak, he doubled down in his third decade of boat building. He laid down a pair and what a pair it was!

In 1991, Skipjack introduced a 26-foot Fly-bridge Model that many declared was one of his best. As one reviewer put it, “Jack’s back and has developed another break-through … a 26-foot fly-bridge model that not only fishes the ocean well, but is also extremely pleasing to the eye.”

This was followed in 1992 with its sister, a 26-foot Fisherman that was spawned by public demand. His second pair elevated Skipjack into the cruiser category with first a 30-footer and then a 35-foot prototype that Cole cruised in Southern California waters.

This one attracted the attention of well-known So-Cal angler Ron Johnson, who purchased the first of four that Cole built. Today, Johnson and his crew aboard the 35-foot “Showdown” are a familiar sight on the grounds when the bite is on.

In 1993, Cole and company sold the business to “Singmarine,” a group of Singapore Chinese, but continued as a consultant for 10 years. During that period, he assisted in the development of several models, which were ultimately discontinued.

In 2000, according to Jim Crutchfield, Skipjack Boats, owned by Singmarine, continued and expanded the company’s commitment to quality. Singmarine also builds the Pacific Seacraft line of sail and powerboats, including the impressive 40-foot trawler they build for Nordhavn.

In 2003, Nick Adams, Hesperia, owner of Unlimited Products which manufactures lightweight auto parts, old hoods, and doors fabricated in fiberglass, acquired Southern California’s most popular and well-known sport fishing boat manufacturer “Skipjack Unlimited” and produces these highly regarded craft through its marine division.Today the models range from the 262 Flying Bridge model to the 368 Flying Bridge. Now they are only built to order.

Cole still has a small office and shop in Costa Mesa where he dabbles. In 2005, he introduced what he called a new boat with a break-through design – a 22-foot trailer boat that could be built in three different styles.

When I visited his shop in a single-story commercial building consisting of many offices and shops recently, his front door was open. As I walked in I could hear a bench sander in the back and the shop area reeked of fiberglass and glue odors. There, among the many projects in various states of completion stood Jack, intently sanding a wood frame. He looked up, smiled, turned the machine off and invited me into his office. He motioned me to a chair, plopped down in a canvas deck chair and said. It all began in 1945…

Several footnotes to the Skipjack era:

During the period Cole managed Skipjack, over 4,000 boats were delivered to avid boaters from California to Alaska and beyond. Some, I suppose you could say, were for all the wrong reasons. According to one DEA Officer’s report, “They became known in Southern California as the vessel-of-choice for marijuana smugglers, able to carry bulky loads at high speed. A used Skipjack with trailer could be purchased for about $30,000 but could make millions. It was the modern equivalent of the Prohibition-era rumrunner’s launch.”

Even today, five decades later, Skipjack generates enough interest to support an impressive number of online forums and threads devoted to all things Skipjack.


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Gary Graham, the BD Outdoors Baja Editor, has more than five decades fishing experience off of Southern California and the Baja Peninsula. From light tackle and fly up to offshore marlin fishing, Gary has experienced all facets of this fishery. He's set several fly-fishing world records and in his first year as a member of the Tuna Club of Avalon, he received more angling awards than any other first-year member in the club's 109-year history. He's been involved with many California angling clubs and is the Baja California Representative for the International Game Fish Association. 
Gary's a conservationist as well as a writer and photographer. In addition to two books on saltwater fly-fishing, hundreds of his articles and photographs have appeared in publications around the world. Graham has devoted his life to finding new fisheries and developing new techniques — all of which he shares through his guiding, speaking, photography and writing.