I first heard about the mysterious skiff shortly after moving to Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, in 2001. My neighbor at the time told me how, as a teenager, he and his friends would tear around the waters of Buzzards Bay in a fleet of sleek 12-foot runabouts of unknown origin. These boats, he told me, were very different from the ubiquitous 13’ Whalers, which they routinely bested in every race thanks to the 12-footer’s ability to carve through the steep chop of Buzzards Bay. Where these skiffs came from, and what happened to them, my neighbor couldn’t say.

Photo/BoatingLocal, Tom Richardson

In the ensuing years I picked up more scraps of information on the unusual boats. One person told me that they were originally used as unmanned “drones” for some sort of secret military operation in the 1950s. The designer? None other than C. Raymond Hunt, creator of the revolutionary deep-vee powerboat hull.

Although I never encountered one of these boats, occasionally, while navigating through Mattapoisett Harbor, I’d catch sight of a speedy craft bearing a familiar set of lifting strakes as it skipped across the chop and wonder if it might be a surviving member of this long-lost tribe. Yet nothing came of it.

Chance Encounter:

Photo/BoatingLocal, Tom Richardson

Nothing, that is, until I happened to be driving through town when a truck towing a gorgeously finished skiff pulled out of a driveway as I was passing. I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw a deep-vee stern disappearing down Rte. 6. Could it be?

I noted the address, and a sign—Babbitt Woodworks. A phone call the next day opened a new window into the legacy of Ray Hunt and the fascinating boating community in which I live.

The owner of the skiff I had seen was Jim Babbitt, an accomplished woodworker and longtime boater who’d grown up in the Marion-Mattapoisett area. He confirmed that his boat was indeed based on the skiffs I’d heard so much about and which were built to serve as radio-controlled drones for a Marion-based company under military contract. While it’s unclear if the boats ever saw “active duty,” the used hulls, rather than be destroyed, eventually found their way into the local boating community.

Dream Boat Realized:

Photo/BoatingLocal, Tom Richardson

“I remember seeing the skiffs in Marion when I was a teenager,” recalls Babbitt. “Local kids would race them in the harbor. I made a vow that I’d own one of those boats some day. It took me 50 years, but I finally managed to get one!”

At 13’ LOA, Babbitt’s Grey Goose is a foot longer than the original skiff and features a slight curve and camber in the transom, but still incorporates all of the wave-cleaving performance of Hunt’s deep-vee design. He purchased the bare hull from local builder Jim Broadwater, whose shop on Mattapoisett Neck is less than a mile from where the original 12’ drone hulls were laid up by Allan Vaitses back in the 1950s. Broadwater is building the 13-footer, called the Harbor Road 13, on a custom basis and currently offers it in a single-seat version similar to Grey Goose, as well as a tiller-steered model that can carry several people. He also sells bare hulls to finishers like Jim Babbitt.

Head Turner:

Photo/BoatingLocal, Tom Richardson

Babbitt’s Grey Goose is stunning, as you’d expect from a master woodworker. The topsides and trim are finished in rich sapele wood that draws stares wherever the boat goes. Indeed, Babbitt is lucky if he doesn’t have to spend half an hour telling admirers about its history prior to launching. “I’ve had folks follow me all the way from the highway to the ramp,” he laughs.

Grey Goose is rigged with a 40-hp Yamaha 4-stroke, which provides a top-end of around 35 mph, but Babbitt says she can handle up to 60-hp. Weighing in at around 400 pounds, the boat is equipped with a small fuel tank installed forward of the helm, as well as trim tabs to help tweak the ride. “I built her heavy,” Babbitt explains, “to help her handle better.”

Photo/BoatingLocal, Tom Richardson

The benefit of that additional weight was evident when Babbitt put Grey Goose through her paces for the accompanying video. True to her Hunt heritage, she quickly jumped on plane and was soon slicing solidly through the chop outside Mattapoisett Harbor. As the former owner of lightweight, flat-bottomed aluminum skiffs, I could appreciate the comfortable ride Babbitt seemed to be enjoying, especially running up-sea. I could also see that the boat was very nimble and cornered extremely well, while the flared bow and chines kept the operator dry at speed.

Overall, Grey Goose looks and performs like a scaled-down version of the classic Hunt-designed Bertram 31 and Hunt 25—which of course she is, to some degree.

“And she’s a lot of fun to ride!” Babbitt adds.

For more information on Babbitt Woodworks, contact (508) 758-4599. You can check out their website by CLICKING HERE.

For information on the Harbor Road 13, contact Broadwater Marine Services at (508) 758-9235; email jimbroadwater@comcast.net.

 

Photo/BoatingLocal, Tom Richardson

 

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