Vela Boatworks Enters the Sportfishing Market with New Catamaran “Gamechanger”
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Some things in life are just meant to be. For Tommy Jones and Blake Kingsbury it was boat building. The two had attended middle school together and were friends all the way through high school but ended up losing touch when they went to college. It was only after running into each other at a wedding about two years earlier that they reconnected. Blake mentioned he was starting a boat building company and asked Tommy—who’s been in the marine industry for years, from being in the coast guard to working as a marine surveyor—if he would be interested in coming on to help build hull #1.
Blake had already started the preliminary design work for the hull and when Tommy agreed to come aboard, the build, and a new company, were officially on their way to becoming real.
The idea to build a boat came to Blake, a dentist by trade and entrepreneur on the side, while out one day fishing with a friend.
“[My friend] He pointed to this catamaran and says that’s probably the best fishing boat and I was like, well, that’s amazing. He said it’s the ride. I didn’t think it looked that good, they all sort of look blocky, but my friend said the ride is so good people don’t mind the looks. Something about that stuck with me.”
Back from the fishing trip, the observation prompted Blake to begin researching the catamaran market and he soon started realizing that there was an opportunity to build in this area.
“I started to ask how much it would cost to design the boat and then we found a way to do that and it just sort of started. It was so much fun designing it, I said let’s just get this thing made. Before you know it, I’d sold all my dental companies except for one and now work full time within the boatworks.”
Work on what would be a 36′ 8″ boat had begun roughly a year and a half ago and, while the hull form was mainly in place when Tommy came on board, the catamaran still had a long way to go turning into a 24/7 project for the men working on it.
“Once we had the hull form built and the deck built then we kind of did everything else on the shop floor as far as ergonomics of the console and the helm seat and the coffin box all of that was built using life-sized mockups,” Tommy says. “We brought in people we knew who were either experienced boaters or offshore fishing guys and asked them what they wanted or what they liked and disliked about their own boats and tried to take that and compile it into our project.”
For Blake, the major focus was making sure that the ride would not only be a smooth one but that the overall look would be more in line with a monohull when viewing the profile from the side.
“We wanted the look to be much more elegant like the monohulls, which we achieved,” Blake adds. “We went with the much more minimalist deck layout and T-Top design to make something new and different.”
The hull was built out of core cell foam in a sandwich construction and is fiberglassed together. As far as the gunnel cap and the hull sides there are no mechanical connections, only one piece of fiberglass, which the men expected would lend toward a stiffer boat.
“You feel like you can drive this thing through the side of a wall, it doesn’t shutter or shake when it’s rough, which is nice.”
Besides the Release chairs, there is no wood, creating an entirely composite construction. As for additional features, there are three 19” Simrad screens and everything save for the bottom paint (Pettit Paint) was done with Alexseal. Except for the cup holders, the hard bearing parts are Gemlux.
The Sea Trial(s)
Despite the uncertainly that COVID brought throughout the year, at the beginning of 2021, the 36’ 8” sportfishing catamaran was ready for the water.
“We had no idea what was going to happen when we put the throttles down,” Tommy recalls. “We had done some computer simulations during the design process so we had an idea that it would work but you never know until you put both motors on it and run it so it was pretty stressful and exciting at the same time.”
But run she did and with the kind of smoothness that would make the two men more than pleased with what they had accomplished. The next few days were spent running up and down Jacksonville’s waterways where they added and took away weight to make sure the boat would be able to handle the open ocean.
With the deck fabricated and glassed-in and the console and helm seat all installed and the gunnel cap on they took it out to the Atlantic.
“We just went straight out of the inlet it was exhilarating. It was rough and the seas were probably five feet but at end of the jetty it was cross up against the wind and the tide was probably every bit of six feet and there were other boats turning around and we just kind of pushed right through it with nothing to hang onto,” Tommy says. “It blew us away with how well it handled rough conditions so that enabled us to bring it back to the shop and finish it up with even more excitement knowing that we’d created something that performed better the rougher it is.”
A Drink, A Boat and Two Names
As with all new endeavors with a future, there is always the question of how people remember those initial accomplishments. In the boat building industry, the name of a great sportfisher or a skilled builder will be remembered for years. For Tommy and Blake, they had to make a decision in both of these areas. For hull #1, it started with a drink they would frequently get while working on the build. The name? Gamechanger.
For the name of what would become a new Florida boat builder, a few more elements were involved.
“Vela means sail in Spanish like from sailboat. It’s also just when you’re in a Spanish-speaking country and catching sailfish that’s what they yell ‘vela, vela, vela’ and it just has a nice ring to it, fishing sail, it looks cool, just a lot of factors,” Blake explains. “It just hit on so many different levels.”
Vela Boatworks was born.
With Gamechanger officially wrapped up and in the marina taking people out for rides to test the waters, Tommy, Blake and the Vela Boatworks crew have their eyes set on a new goal: a 31’ sportfisher. As for changes with the future build? There’s not a lot they’d do differently. They’re happy with how Gamechanger turned out and would like to continue that into the next build.
“Every time you take the boat out you think about stuff you can add. But starting the way we did, keeping it as simple as possible, really is better and there are definitely little accessories we might want to change, but overall we’re real happy with the hull shape and the design of the boat. It’s amazing how it turned out.”