A True Custom Builder

Bill Schwabe and Roy Barnes started out as competing charter captains on the same dock in Swansboro, North Carolina. Both men wanted to push the envelope and build lighter, faster boats. They leased a shed from Gillikin Brothers Boat Yard, and began experimenting with the new epoxies and materials available. Their first effort, a 61-footer named White Lightning, launched in 1998, blew past her competition with a top-end speed of 43 knots. Lightning Yachts was born.

“There are a bunch of boatbuilders out there, and we are trying to distinguish ourselves by being at the top of the heap in both quality and technology,” Schwabe says. “Being a true custom builder, any size or configuration is possible. In addition to the projects currently on the shop floor (a 20-foot all-composite flats skiff, a 32 walk-around, and two large convertibles, a 63 and a 64) we are currently finalizing the design of a 90-foot long-range sportfisher and a 38-foot picnic/day fisher with the new Cummins/Mercruiser Zeus drive system.”

Lightning combines the Carolina traditional cold-molding building process with the most state-of-the art materials they can find. “We are continuously experimenting with new materials and techniques used in the aerospace industry, adapting them to sport fish boat construction,” Schwabe says. “We were the first in our area to use of the lightweight composites now considered standard, and we want to stay on the cutting edge of technology.”

The company seeks to build the lightest possible boat, while still keeping it strong enough to handle rough conditions. A new design for a 63-footer will push the 50-knot speed barrier, Schwabe says. To achieve those speeds, Lightning Yachts plans on reinforcing key structural elements and conduct stress and load analysis. They also use naval architects to help integrate of all the ship systems, manage weights and balances, and get the highest performance out of the hull.

“The extensive use of lightweight composites allows our boats to reach competitive speeds with less installed horsepower, and while that may mean a slightly higher cost for the hull, much smaller (and less expensive!) engines can be used, offsetting the difference. Because of the smaller engines, operating expenses on our boats are dramatically lower. Our 61 weighs 49,000 (full of fuel, water, and gear) and can cruise at 30 knots, burning 60 GPH.”

Lightning prefers to remain a small-volume custom builder and produce true one-off boats, tailored to the individual customer, Schwabe says.

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