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Fishing & Boating May 24, 2012  RSS feed
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2012-05-24 digital edition

Farley boat tradition lives on

By John Guthrie Ford and Rick Pratt


Volunteers build a skiff in the recently restored Farley Boat Works shop in Port Aransas. In business from the early part of the 20th Century to about 1970, Farley Boat Works produced many vessels of a particularly local design and those crafts came to be known as Farley Boats. Volunteers build a skiff in the recently restored Farley Boat Works shop in Port Aransas. In business from the early part of the 20th Century to about 1970, Farley Boat Works produced many vessels of a particularly local design and those crafts came to be known as Farley Boats. The formula for a successful business is the capacity to supply the circumstance of demand. About 100 years ago in Port Aransas, Charles Frederick “Fred” Farley found himself blessed with that combination. The business was boat building.

Soon after the turn of the century, Farley, a skilled wood craftsman and boat builder living in Alabama, received a message from a brother in Port Aransas. He described Port Aransas as a sport fishing village that lacked a powerboat for tarpon fishing in the choppy sea conditions of the Aransas Pass. Fred’s brother said a boat builder could make a living providing marine product to the local boatmen (as fishing guides are called).

So, Fred moved to Port Aransas. In 1915, he opened the Farley Boat Works. Little did this master boat-builder know that he was also opening a new chapter in Port Aransas history.

The all-wood boats that Farley and sons Jim and Fred Jr. produced became legendary—the icon of the grand tarpon era. Many a VIP fished aboard Farleys, from the author of the definitive tarpon book of the day to an American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Fred’s other son, Don, was one of the boatmen distinguished by guiding the President on the famous 1937 tarpon trip.

The boatmen wanted a fishing machine that had relatively low sides to facilitate landing the hard fighting tarpon: Farley boats had low gunwales. They also wanted a product that could handle choppy water: Farley boats smoothed out rough water with a hard chine (angular vs. rounded hull design) having an aftward center of gravity.

Other than marine motors, Farleys were powered by Ford, Chevrolet and Chrysler automobile engines, often provided by the customer for cost savings. Farley Boat Works had locations southeast of the Coast Guard station, just off Mercer Street, and on Avenue C. The works ceased operations circa 1975.

Last year, the PAPHA acquired the old Farley Boat Works building on Avenue C and renovated it.

The plan is to revive the operation so that Farley boats will once again roll out the front door. This will provide the opportunity for local youths to participate in a craft of their forefathers. The new boat works will also turn out skiffs (rowboats) characteristic of the watercraft the boatmen first used during the tarpon era.

When you see a Farley launched in the next few years, know that you are watching the revival of a piece of history near and dear to the fishing segment of Port Aransas -- and Aransas Pass, and Ingleside, and Rockport, and Corpus Christi, and San Antonio.