It’s all about the build
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It’s all about the build

Aug 22, 2023

Duffie Boatworks specializes in building custom sport fishing boats. Pictured is Owner and Operator Jon Duffie posing on the 80-foot boat, “Reel Joy,” in the Boatworks’ workshop.

Jeremy Duffie of Bethesda caught the 77.5-pound white marlin in the 49th annual White Marlin Open that won him and his teammates a world record payout of $4.5 million.

He boated the fish on the final day of the tournament aboard the 64-foot Billfisher, the first “big” boat ever designed and built by Jeremy’s brother, Jon, president and owner of Duffie Boatworks.

This was the second tournament winner reeled onto the Duffie family’s Billfisher, of which Jon is both captain and creator.

In 2021, Billy Gerlach, of Jupiter, Florida, broke the Maryland state record for blue marlin after he caught a 1,135-pound blue in the 30th annual MidAtlantic fishing tournament. It was on the Billfisher, and Jon Duffie was on board.

A mount of Gerlach’s blue marlin hangs inside, above the main entrance to Duffie Boatworks, which sits on Route 611 near the intersection with Old Bridge Road.

The building is divided into two tall workshops with folding garage doors. Duffie’s office is central to the building, and borders a wide-open workshop that overlooks each garage.

Pictured is the top and stern of the “Reel Joy,” along with the two other current boat building projects seen from the back of the workshop.

The South garage holds the Boatworks’ three current sport-fishing builds: an 80-footer named “Reel Joy,” a 59-foot boat called “Boys Toy,” and a 66-foot vessel called “American Beauty” that's still in the “cold molding” process.

All are custom designed and built to the customer’s — and Duffie’s — specifications, and each one is built for competitive tournament sportfishing. While beauty is important, Duffie’s main goal is to build boats that are durable and easy to maintain.

“These boats need to be built in a way that you can use them every day, day in and day out, punish them, take them out in the ocean, because you never know,” Duffie said. “You can't control the weather. You can only control what's happening on board the boat.”

Pictured is the bow-side hull of the 80-foot, “Reel Joy’ inside the South workshop of Duffie Boatworks.

As Duffie tells it, his life always led him to being on and working on boats.

“I got into the boat-building business based off of my experiences growing up on the dock. Fishing has been the only job I've ever had,” Duffie said.

Duffie grew up in Montgomery County, but his family had a house in Ocean City and spent much of their time fishing its waters on the family boat.

His father, Jonathan Duffie, taught him things such as boat maintenance and how to navigate with paper charts.

Jonathan Duffie is executive vice president and chairman of Duffie Companies, a real estate and construction company in the DMV, and his brother Jeremy is the third generation president.

Duffie said that after growing up in a construction family, building comes naturally.

When he started working as a mate on Ocean City charter boats, Duffie would offer people help fixing their boats. Many of them started telling him he should do it for a living, Duffie said.

“We took care of the boats ourselves and did all of the work ourselves,” Duffie said. “When you grow up that way it becomes second nature, and then when I started charter fishing, and traveling, and tournament fishing other places, the boats break. (That’s) just what they do, and so you learn how to be self-reliant.”

Whenever the family was having a new fishing boat built, Duffie would go to the boat shop and help. He learned the craft from other masters such as Ricky Scarborough, Paul Spencer, and Bayliss Boatworks, who are all in North Carolina.

“So, after being involved in those projects, I said, ‘You know what, if we ever do this again, I'm just going to do it myself. I want to build my own boat,’” Duffie said.

He started building a small boat in his garage, then around 2015, began constructing a 26-foot center console. During that build he designed the Billfisher.

Duffie eventually built a pole barn to begin construction of the 64-footer, and as he did, people started asking if he would build boats for them.

While building the Billfisher, he and his family began designing the current Duffie Boatworks building, and the company made an official start in 2017.

“My family does everything as a unit, so we're all invested in this (the Boatworks) and this is something that we do together,” Duffie said. “We fish together, we’re in business together, so this is a testament to that. We do it as a team.”

So far, Duffie Boatworks has produced several smaller boats, the Billfisher, and a 70-footer named “Dem Boys.” The shop also does repairs, refurbishing and maintenance in the service yard. Duffie’s backlog of orders includes five boats that exceed 70 feet.

“We're still a neophyte boat building company. We're just getting off the ground. We finished two boats and they've turned out incredible. I think every one is going to keep getting better,” Duffie said.

Each boat takes about two-three years to build, and no two boats are exactly alike. Customers are involved in every part of the process from design through construction, but Duffie said he won’t compromise on certain aspects, including building method, boat bottoms and mechanicals.

“My favorite part of this is the creativity that goes into designing,” Duffie said.

Pictured is the in-progress interior of the 59-foot “Boys Toy.”

To begin a project, Duffie and customers have a dialogue over their wants and needs, then whatever must fit into a boat dictates the size, Duffie said.

About 50 employees working in mechanics, plumbing, carpentry and painting construct almost every aspect of the boat from scratch, save for things like metal fabrication, tuna towers and fighting chairs, Duffie said.

“We're taking a pile of plywood and turning it into a yacht. At the end of the day these are yachts. They’re not just fishing boats,” Duffie said.

To build a boat, the Boatworks cold-molds wooden hulls, instead of fiberglass, then make stringers, chines and keels from Douglas fir and sheaths the structure in Bruynzeel Okoume plywood. Next they fiberglass it and apply different fairing compounds and hydro-primers. After final prime, workers paint the boat.

Pictured is the wood structure that will be used to cold-mold the hull of the 66-foot “American Beauty,” located in the same workshop.

With wood hulls, many boaters worry that water will cause rot, Duffie said. So, to combat the issue, the Boatworks implements fiberglass or composite structures everywhere water is at risk of penetrating into the wood in the vessel.

They use composite materials for the topsides of the boats to save weight, so the center of gravity is kept low at the hull.

“The engineering that's in one of these boats is incredible,” Duffie said. “I mean we really take it farther than most people.”

Designers also use a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) computer modeling program to see the boat’s running trim, resistance curves and speed estimates.

Duffie said he is involved at every level of design and construction and uses his practical boating experience as an asset in design.

“There's guys that know way more about the mechanical, the electrical, the plumbing, the carpentry, than I do, but I have the experience of working on a boat for a long time and running a boat, traveling on the boat, living onboard the boat, so what I feel … what I bring to the table is the boots-on-the-ground experience,” Duffie said.

Pictured, from left, are Tommy Driggers, Zack Baker, Mike Wilkinson and Trevor Mavioglu, who are all employees at Duffie Boatworks, pose near the garage-door entrance to the South workshop, between the cold-mold of the 66-foot “American Beauty,” left, and the 80-foot “Reel Joy,” right.

As the 50th annual White Marlin Open approaches, Duffie said he and his family are again entering the tournament, with him at the helm and the rest of them fishing. He said they are hopeful and that much of catching a winning marlin is luck. Still, he prides himself on making sure that everything within his control is under control, especially boat maintenance and keeping equipment “tip-top.”

“Fishing for some guys — it's the most important thing,” Duffie said. “For me, I love the fishing aspect of it, but I also loved how the boats were put together, why they were put together that way. Who designed it. How it was built. How does it perform? To me, that was as important as the fishing.”

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