An Islamorada boat repair company is preserving a piece of Keys history by completely overhauling a skiff once owned by baseball great and fishing enthusiast Ted Williams.
S&S Performance Marine is building around the original hull of a 16-foot, 6-inch Nova Scotia-brand hull the legendary Boston Red Sox left fielder brought to the Upper Keys from Maine sometime in the mid- to late-1960s.
"We're saving a piece of Keys history and in the end, it's still cheaper than buying a brand new skiff," S&S owner Erik Shisler said while taking a break from working on the vessel outside his shop at the Islamorada Marina at mile marker 80.4.
Williams, who died in 2002 at age 83, reportedly brought six of the skiffs to the Keys.
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"And this is one of them," said Jim McLaughlin, whose father Mano "Mac" McLaughlin and his dad's friend and brother-in-law Don "Din" Hawley owned the vessel with Williams. They named the boat the One-Third.
McLaughlin and Hawley, like Williams, are indelible figures in Upper Keys fishing history. Hawley, 92, and Williams started the Islamorada Gold Cup Tarpon Championship in the 1960s.
Hawley said once his old boat, which is now owned by his nephew Jim, is finished, it will bring back memories to any of the old guard still living in Islamorada who see it.
"All of the guides who were around then and are still alive will remember this boat," he said.
Geno Baker, an S&S renovator, said Williams and other Keys flats fishermen quickly took to the Nova Scotia hulls because they were easy to pole and handled ably in any condition.
"They were seeing it would do what they were going for," Baker said.
That's one of the lasting impressions Hawley has of the vessel.
"Everyone loved them because they were so easy to pole and rode well in rough seas," he said.
McLaughlin said he's going to power the boat with a 60-horsepower Evinrude outboard engine.
The One-Third is almost ready to head back into action, but getting it seaworthy again was a big job. Shisler said his team's been working on it off and on for about a year and a half.
"I'm hoping to have one boat ride before I go back home," said McLaughlin, who spends the summers in Colorado.
The only original pieces left of the vessel are its cedar, double-planked hull and the rails on top of the gunwale. But aesthetically, it's an exact replica.
The rest of the boat was too dry-rotted to salvage, but Baker said the composite foam replacing the old wood means the One-Third is now built to last.
"It's a lifetime boat now," Baker said. "All it's going to need is a paint job every now and again."
Williams played for the Red Sox from 1939 to 1942 and 1946 to 1952 and 1956 to 1960 (the gaps were due to his military service as a U.S. Marine Corps pilot during World War II and the Korean War). For his career, he hit .334 with 521 home runs, 1,839 runs batted in and 2,654 hits. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966.