BAHAMAS OUTDOOR NOTABLES: Francis Darville, Long Island, Bahamas, Custom Boat Builder

Francis Darville surrounded by daughters (standing) Molly and Abigail, and sons (on his lap) Charlie and Matthew. Photo supplied by Cathy Darville.

Since the June issue of Coastal Angler Magazine is devoted to boats and motors, we wanted to have a chat with a Bahamian boat builder. The Islands of the Bahamas have a vast history of boat building; it’s been so important to the history and culture of the country. This month, we had the opportunity to interview Francis Darville of Mangrove Bush, Long Island, Bahamas.

CAM: Francis, I understand that you have been building your boats for 14 years. What got you started in the boat building business?

I dropped out of school in grade 10 and started fishing. I bought a boat that needed major repairs, and with the help of a cousin, we totally rebuilt the boat. That was the start of my boat repair business. I did that type of work from ’86 to ’97, then a friend of mine approached me about starting a boat building company. The first mold was purchased in Abaco, and the boat was based on an old Formula hull. It performed well, but it wet too much, so I modified the hull and made the chime wider. I also put it on a negative angle so it reduced the amount of wetting. This design sold very well.

CAM: How did you come up with the specific designs for your line of boats?

In 2003, while on vacation in Maine with my twin 2 year-olds, there was a lot of downtime during naps and early to bed. So I got some paper and drawing utensils and drew my first design, based on many styles and characteristics of boats that I worked on and tested. That’s how I came up with my 25′ modified-V step hull. When I came back to Long Island after the vacation, a winter resident and friend of mine who already owned one of my 17′ boats wanted a bigger boat, one that could offer more stability for his wife, who had hip replacement surgery several years prior. He wanted a boat that he could take out and launch by himself, so this was when I showed him my design and promised him that trailering would be no problem at all, and he would be very satisfied with this new vessel. The next day he came back with the deposit; 14 weeks later the boat was launched, and as predicted, handled exactly as designed and became my 25′ Supreme. The 19′ Reemrick was also designed while on vacation, and combines the suggestions and requests of my fishing customers. It has a 27 degree dead rise with reverse chines and reverse strakes, which gives the boat a very good stable, dry ride. It also has a wider beam and deeper gunnels. The Bonefisher was designed for the local bone fishing community and incorporates many local ideas for storage.

CAM: Why do your boats perform so well in Bahamian waters?

Each boat was designed with a specific purpose in mind, because you cannot get everything in one boat; there are always compromises. You cannot get a good comfortable ride and a stable fishing platform, so you have to give a little on one side of the design to enhance the other side of the design, depending on what the intended purpose is. So a fisherman who is traveling a far distance to get to the fishing grounds, and who is going from shoal to shoal, needs a design that is less jarring on his body. A guy who is spending most of his day trolling would need a boat that is more stable at trolling speeds and gives an “ok” ride. For a bonefish guide, the ride is not important, but the depth that the boat can float over is of most importance. By fishing commercially in the Bahamas for 8 years and being an avid boater, I have a good understanding of the local water and the motion of the ocean!

CAM: Are the boats suitable for “work” such as commercial fishing, as well as for recreational purposes?

Like I said, the boats are designed according to the specified use, so yes, they are used and designed for both purposes. I try to attend the IBEX (International Boat Exhibition) and conferences annually to incorporate the latest materials and processes in manufacturing my boats to maximize strength and durability.

CAM: What prompted you to decide to build a catamaran?

While on vacation in Missouri 4 years ago, we rented a pontoon boat. I liked its characteristics, but not the pontoons themselves. So, like always, I got paper and pencils and started drawing the Cat. The following year, I started building it without my wife’s knowledge, so it has taken me a lot longer to build; 3 years, actually, with many modifications along the way, because the Cat design was new to me and I had limited experience with it. I am proud to say, however, that my little hobby is very rewarding; I have just finished painting the hull and anticipate its debut during our Long Island Regatta at the end of May.

CAM: Why have you chosen to build each boat as a “custom” boat for the customer, rather than just produce a number of the same models and then offer them for sale?

On Long Island our economy is based on a fishing community, and everybody wants their boats just a little differently; bigger ice holds, fuel tanks, some want more floatation foam, others want colored gel coat, some want an inner liner and some just want a plywood floor with fiberglass over it and a gel coat finish. Even where the console is placed, so it would be very hard to sell a standardized boat on this island. To enhance sales, I have to be customer specific.

CAM: What specifically makes Chamcem boats “special”?

The name itself! Chamcem is an acronym. The first letters of my family make up this name; ‘ch’ for Charlie, one of my twin sons named after my father, ‘a’ and ‘m’ for my twin girls Abigail and Molly, ‘c’ and ‘e’ for my wife Cathy and myself, Edward which is my given name, and ‘m’ for Matthew, the other twin boy. But really, they are special because I built them, and I have no formal training or education in boat building and design; it’s all from experience, trial and error and a feel for boats. They are my designs, my ideas and are true originals.

CAM: Did you “copy” any traditional Bahamian boat building designs to incorporate into your boats?

No, like I said, they are all my own. I have had people ask me to copy, or why don’t I copy a specific design, and my answer is always that it is wrong to take others designs as my own, and that I believe in my own work. There’s nothing I love more than trying out new and different designs. CAM: Francis, please share with our readers a little of your background. I was born at the local clinic in Deadman’s Cay, Long Island. I am the 4th child born to Miriam and Charles Darville. I had 2 sisters, but one was born crippled and died at the age of 12. I have 4 brothers and the 1 sister still living. I went to Primary School at Mangrove Bush Primary School for grades 1-6, and then to N.G.M. Major High School until the end of grade 10. In 1991 my sister enrolled me in ICS for drafting, which I completed and received a diploma for. While fishing, I also drew plans for locals on the island. From 1994- 1997, I was employed by the local electrical company and completed additional training and education in Nassau, earning 5 certificates from City and Guilds of London Institute with distinctions. I left this job in 1997, and with the birth of my first set of twins I needed a job that allowed for more family time. Thus began my venture in boat building, and the rest, as they say, is history.

CAM: Francis, thank you very much for taking the time to let our readers get to know a little more about you and the care that you take in building your boats here on Long Island. You are keeping a Bahamian tradition alive. All the best to you and your family!

For more information, or to contact Francis Darville and Chamcem Boat, call (242) 357-1190 or (242) 337-0199; or email: