Made in TCI

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howard-and-boatNorth Caicos Boats are built on-island, for the Islands.
By Howard Gibbs ~ Photos By Cheryl Gibbs

The Turks & Caicos Islands have a long history of boat-building—combining the use of native materials, plans created in the minds of the local builder and lots of hard work and ingenuity.The end result is the colorful island sloops that are unique to the Turks & Caicos Islands.
North Caicos resident Howard Gibbs bears a similar passion for boat building; a dream that he recently turned into reality with the opening of North Caicos Boats in Bottle Creek. Here is his story.

I started North Caicos Boats because I have long held a passion for building a boat that is both beautifully crafted and strongly constructed. My wife and I have lived in the Turks & Caicos Islands for over 10 years. We love the beauty and peacefulness of North Caicos. We especially like to explore the uninhabited beaches on the out islands, fishing on the way there.
I wanted to build a boat that “fit” these Islands, so I started listing the features that are most important. Shoal drafted, so I could follow bonefish into the shallowest of water. Steady, so I could stand on a poling platform or up on the bow to cast my line. Lightweight, so I could travel for hours on a couple of gallons of fuel. Strong, so I could travel safely on a rough sea. And finally, blessed with a hull design that would slide through the water, providing a comfortable ride with a minimum of spray.
There is already a proud heritage of boat building in Turks & Caicos. The colorful island sailing sloop is beautiful to behold and should continue to be built by the talented local boat builders. But I ask, “Why stop there?” Fiberglass boatbuilding could also find a useful place here.
North Caicos Boats is a new company, but my experience and training as a boat builder goes back many years. It officially started when I entered an apprenticeship program in the 1960s with Merle Stevens Dry Dock in Miami, Florida. It continued in the Florida Keys, where I learned from fellow Key Largo Islander Willy Roberts, well known for his classic back country skiffs, as well as other craftsmen. I have built sailboats, small skiffs and large boats. During this time, I developed an eye for evaluating boat hulls for their performance capabilities, combining boatbuilding products so they set properly, spray-painting hulls at the correct rate and volume, and learned the many boatbuilding skills that are needed to create a professional product.
I recall the introduction of polyurethane paints such as Awlgrip and Imron in the 1970s. It was the first photochemically nonreactive paint available to boatbuilders and repair yards, advertised as “the sun won’t chalk, peel or change the color of the paint.” I attended a training class to learn the application techniques. It was extremely important to understand the proper mixture and volume of paint and how to use the spray gun equipment so that the paint was applied correctly. But the end result was well worth the effort. Before polyurethane, the topside marine paint only lasted for a couple of years due to sun damage. Boats painted with Awlgrip or Imron stand up to the sun for years and years.
For several years I operated a 53′ fishing charter boat out of Whale Harbor in Islamorada, Florida, which I had built in the 1970s. We offered deep sea fishing trips for the day or overnight. My boat caught the eye of 20th Century Fox film agents looking for a charter boat for the movie they were making in Miami. The chose my boat to be the Manta Four in the movie, “Cocoon Two, The Journey Back.” I was also hired to prepare the boat for the movie, using my skills in a very unexpected, but interesting way.
One of the first decisions I made for North Caicos Boats was choosing the hull design for my first production boat. The delta deadrise hull that I selected for the Shearwater 16 model was one that would deliver on all my criteria: shoal draft, strong, steady and fuel efficient. It is so important to choose a hull design that will perform well in the environment where it will be used.
The next step in fiberglass boat-building is building the mold of the chosen hull (“making a mold off the plug”). This is the most difficult aspect of the whole process. The surface of the original hull, or plug, must be as smooth as glass before you create the mold of it. Any irregularities or blemishes on the surface can prevent the mold from separating properly from the plug when it is time to pull them apart. In some cases, both the mold and the original boat hull are ruined when separated. This is where experience really pays off.
Many things have to be put in place to be able to build a boat. All the supplies, resins, fiberglass materials, cleats, lights, wiring, steering gear and paint (just to name a few items) must be available. This can be a challenge on North Caicos. It can sometimes take days, weeks and numerous phone calls to facilitate the transport and handling of items from Miami to Providenciales to North Caicos, and finally to the site of North Caicos Boats.
To get equipment and supplies from Provo to North Caicos presents some unique challenges. When items arrive in Provo, we pay the duty, arrange transport to the dock, then onto a boat to North Caicos, weather and sea conditions permitting. Sometimes transportation and fork lift service must be arranged on North Caicos. One incident comes to mind involving a new boat trailer I purchased in Miami. The trailer was sent on a pallet, wheels off, completely disassembled. It arrived at the deep water port in North Caicos in the late afternoon. I was quite dismayed to find the trailer in pieces on the ground. I gathered the few tools I had in my jeep and prepared to assemble the railer. I was even further disappointed to discover no instructions had been sent with the trailer. As day turned to evening, I worked furiously to put the trailer together, using one hand to slap away sand flies while the other hand assembled. I would not leave here without it! It was dark before we had it together.
Back to creating the mold . . . if the surface of the plug was correctly prepared and the mold-making supplies correctly applied, the mold comes off the plug easily and cleanly. The mold is now ready for creating exact replicas of the original boat hull. Knowing how to lay up fiberglass on the mold, where to apply resin at the best thickness and how to build the supports of the future boat are just a few of the decisions to be made as the new boat is built.
Many marine supplies are needed to finish a boat for sale. North Caicos Boats has some extra items on hand for sale to the general public. Resin and fiberglass have been popular, especially so just before the lobster season. We are affiliated with a major catalog sales outfit in Florida and can order just about any marine supply for someone needing them.
There is a large interest in boatbuilding already here in the TCI. It makes sense to me to develop a commercial business that could provide a livelihood for those interested and skilled in the trade. We live on islands, surrounded by beautiful seas. I believe there could be a market niche for producing fiberglass boats designed to travel well on these waters.
I would like to see North Caicos Boats grow into a company that exports boats to other countries. But at a minimum, NCB could provide custom built skiffs to TCI residents without the cost of travel and shipping from the States. And, our customers will have the opportunity to select deck and hull colors, the layout of the interior seating, the location of live wells and other choices that can be made while a boat is being put together. Here in the Islands, our customers can select a boat model that fits their needs and wallets.
As our business progresses, I envision starting an apprentice program for young people truly interested in learning the skills of fiberglass work. These skills could lead to a lifelong profession in building or repair, or simply help to work on their own boat.
I have started with a 16′ boat called the Shearwater 16. It is ideal for two persons, but can easily handle up to four. My next production boat will be a 21 or 23′ model, built more for the open seas than the shoreline and flats. These boats could also be customized to meet the needs of anyone looking for a boat of this size, perhaps even outfitted as a government patrol boat. And, the price would be very attractive.
The regattas that we have today are a joyous event for all. The colorful island sloops take a considerable amount of time, money and skill to build. Because they tend to have different sail areas and length on water, the largest boat with the largest sail tends to win the race. If a mold for a fiberglass sailboat was made, a class of sailboats could be produced for racing that was equal in basic design and sail. Then, the skill of the sailor would be the most important factor in who crossed the finish line first.
Boatbuilding, in whatever form, is an activity that complements tourism. Its history should be preserved and the building and racing of island sloops should be encouraged. But having custom fiberglass production boats, built here in the Turks & Caicos, available to residents and visitors alike, is another worthy endeavor that could ultimately make it easier for everyone to enjoy the exquisite turquoise waters surrounding us.


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Dewan Kalliecharan
Aug 6, 2010 10:09

Att. Mr. Howard Gibbs

Can you let me know the cost of the smallest boat that you build., I am intersted in a 22 feet or 28 feet
fiberglass . I do not wish to have a cabin but would use a convertable top.,
Do you mould a style similar to a design called ” the pirogue” ., it is very popular in Trinidad.
It is moulded in trinidad by Bowen marine and Calypso marine.
I am a resident of toronto /Canada but freguently visit provo.

I would be also grateful if you can give me a contact for a couple of marinas in the provo/grace bay area
to enable me to find out mooring fees and or storage fees.


Jan 23, 2011 10:59

what kind of boat is that in the picture with you?

Bob Veverka
Apr 18, 2011 10:37

My wife and I were recently in the Turks and Caicos for a month, went to North Caicos overnight.
Everyone I met there, they thought I was you. I guess we look the same, an old salt that likes to fish.
I stopped at you house but you were not home, saw the boats you are building, beautiful lines !
Hope to get back out there someday to fish.
Bob Veverka

carol ann collins
Feb 5, 2015 6:00

Are you the Howard Gibbs who built Raven in approx. 1974?

Steve Gibbs
Feb 13, 2016 10:20

I watched Howard grow as a boatbuilder here in Key Largo as he not only built boats at Glander Boats but sailed the family’s 41-foot Rudy Choy catamaran around the Keys and through the Bahamas.
Howard inherited boat building skills and the motivation to build boats from our Dad, Howard Gibbs, Senior. I am Howard’s brother and still marvel at the skills he has that I do not have. We went in different directions career-wise, both of us successful at what we do, but I will always admire Howard’s skills, work ethic and downright determination to build the best boats on the planet.

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Aysha Stephen is Grand Turk’s newest artistic sensation, renowned for her iconic “Cool Donkeys” paintings. Her creations are quite the hit with visitors to TDB Fine Arts Gallery. It recently opened within the Turks & Caicos National Museum on Grand Turk and is dedicated to showcasing art “Made in TCI.

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