PORT ARANSAS — Pat Farley, 62, kicked rocks outside his uncles’ boat-making shop as a 10-year-old, before mustering the courage to go inside — hat in hand — grab a broom and help.
“Uncle Jim and Uncle Fred didn’t have children, and didn’t have to put up with them,” Farley said. “But I hung around, ‘cause my aunts who lived behind the shop were always baking crab cakes or something sweet.”
Now Farley is among historians resurrecting the wooden boat-making his family began nearly a century ago. The Farley’s inboard motor 22-foot slat-hull tarpon boat, constructed for six decades, contributed to the beach town’s reputation as a guided fishing destination, said Port Aransas Historian John Guthrie Ford.
“The Farley boat was a good hook,” Ford said. “It enhanced tourism visibility for Port Aransas with a boat specifically built for tarpon fishing.”
The difference today at Farley Boat Works: you build your own boat with the help of stalwart volunteers working at the Port Aransas Museum’s newly revived boat barn at 716 W. Avenue C. Cost is about $1,000 in materials, and 120 hours of sweat for the 16-foot boats now being built. The museum’s goal is to eventually reproduce the 22-foot variety made by the Farley family.
But you better get on the list.
The first boat launches this month; there are three in stalls being crafted and a wallboard lists six folks ready to begin constructing their skiffs.
“This was an idea whose time had come,” said Rick Pratt, museum director. “It will help tell the story of our amazing little island community, and Farley boats are a major chapter.”
Despite being important over the decades to the island economy, the boats’ basic sleek, launch-friendly design and size still is highly desired today, Pratt said.
Pat Farley’s grandfather, Barney Farley, came to Port Aransas on vacation in 1910 to visit his aunt and decided to stay. The family had roots in Florida, where they began building boats with a patent granted in the 1860s, their family history tells.
Barney Farley aspired to be a fishing guide.
He began rowing shallow skiffs for fishermen to gig flounder for $2 a day, said Pat Farley, secretary of Port Aransas Preservation and Historical Association’s board.
Schools of tarpon rolling in jetty waters prompted white collar workmen building the jetties to hire Barney Farley to take them fishing. His need for motorized boats led him in 1913 to coax his cabinetmaker brother, Charles Fredrick “Fred” Farley, to move his family to the island town to make the tarpon boats.
Within a year Fred Farley established Farley and Son Boat Works, on the water’s edge.
The first 22-foot Farley tarpon boat launched in 1915.
But the operation was fraught with setbacks.
A storm in 1916 destroyed the first boat house, but the brothers rebuilt it to continue operations on the waterfront. Three years later the 1919 hurricane destroyed nearly every structure and boat in town.
The Farley family enterprise grew swiftly after rebuilding inland the second time.
By 1925 most fisherman had a Farley powerboat to tote two or three passengers to catch, then later have photos taken with, their tarpon trophies. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited and fished on a Farley boat.
The family business prospered until the 1970s, when Pat Farley’s uncles retired. Changing times had made lightweight factory-built fiberglass boats desirable.
Despite their absence, Farley boats became a brand for the beach community.
About 10 years ago miniature concrete Farley boats were sold by the local garden club to raise funds. And now dozens dot retail properties as ornamental planters and novelty items.
There are no original plans for the Farley boats.
“Not on paper, that I remember,” Pat Farley said.
He recalls his uncles etching designs in dirt, and drawing on walls for their customers who wanted custom cabin features.
Recreating the boat is possible because the museum found and purchased a 1920s Farley tarpon boat that had been stored in a barn for about 65 years. Officials sought experts to detail the hull’s sideboard and batten construction from that boat in architectural drawings now used to reproduce them.
About a dozen community volunteers are dedicated to helping others build the boats, for the cost of materials. They spent time with two boatbuilding “old-timers” to learn more specific construction techniques.
“If we didn’t tap into it, it would have been lost forever,” said Charles Fisher, one of the volunteers who’s building his own boat.
“It’s always more fun to use something you made, instead of something you bought,” Fisher said. “And using your own piece of artwork gives a lot of satisfaction.”
Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, http://www.caller.com