110 Foot Catamaran Largest Ever Built on the Outer Banks
With the launch of a 110’ catamaran back in July, a new record has been set for Wanchese boatbuilding.
The Outer Banks and especially Wanchese and Manteo have a long rich history of boat building dating back more than 150 years. Wanchese has really become the center of the craft over the past 50 years but in WWII that skill was found at the Manteo Boat Building Company and the many wooden boats constructed for the US Navy, including 13 105’ wooden patrol boats.
But the Hippocampus 2—H-2 for short—is something else entirely. Hippocampus is the genus name for all species of seahorse.
The size certainly sets it apart. At first glance, it may not even look as big as it is. Sitting on the twin hulls of a catamaran, it looks a bit blocky and that can give the impression that the craft is not as large as it is. But it is all of 110 feet.
It’s also aluminum. The modern Wanchese boats use a lot of materials—wood for the longest time, fiberglass for at least the past 40 or 50 years, and carbon fibers are increasingly being used. But an all-aluminum hull? That’s rare.
But form follows function, and for Florida businessman Brian Schmitt who had the boat built, aluminum was the material that made the most sense for what he wanted to do with the H-2.
For Schmitt, what the H-2 represents is a chance to recapture the joy of scientific discovery. Now in his 60s, he and his wife met in grad school and spent the next 30 or 40 years building a very successful business in Marathon, Florida. And as he told a local newspaper, he saw people he cared about work until the day they died, never taking the time to do the things they really wanted to do.
Although successful in business, Schmitt’s grad school experience included studying at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. The Massachusetts research center, at the base of Cape Cod, is considered one of the premier oceanographic research centers in the world. The plan that he and his wife have is directly related to that—they intend to sail the seas, doing research, although there are no plans to publish papers—just looking at the remarkable world around them.
Aiding in that will be the equipment he’ll have with him, including a small submarine, a 26’ boat, and an onboard helicopter pad.
The H-2 is remarkable for its size and workmanship, and how it came to be built in Wanchese is a story all its own.
About six years ago, Schmitt decided he wanted to replace his H-1, the smaller predecessor to the H-2. He had his supervisor for the project picked out, but no decision had been made about where to build it, other than, it was going to be built in the United States.
The supervisor’s secretary happened to vacation on the Outer Banks and chanced upon Wanchese, got back to Florida, and said, “You should check that place out.”
He checked it out and agreed.
The building they found to build the craft has some history of its own. At one time it was the home of Davis Boatworks. Buddy Davis was a legendary boatbuilder who developed what has come to be known as the Carolina Flare, a watercraft with a deep V bow and wide flaring deck.
Perhaps most remarkably, most of the boat was done by just three or four workers.
Rob Ayers was the build foreman on the project. A welder by trade, he gathered with him some people who really knew what they were doing and proceeded to build a double-hulled 110’ watercraft.
It took almost six years to finish the project. Some of the work Ayers’ team couldn’t do. The cabinetry and interior of the boat is beautiful, and all of that work was done by Outer Banks artisans. The work was so good that when asked about it, Felix Herrin, project supervisor, commented that the workers were “artists.”
The H-2 was launched on a hot, muggy day in July. It was a slow process that included a hydraulic jack lifting the ship off the concrete of the slip and gently into the water. Two towboats waited for it in the waters of Roanoke Sound. Towed away from the shallow waters, the H-2 fired up its engines and maneuvered around the point to Wanchese Harbor where final fittings for the boat will be done.