Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding busy with its 400th boat

In the 1970s, the Cape Fear Pilots Association in Southport, N.C., ordered its first pilot boat from Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding. With the order this January for a 52′ pilot boat from the Cape Fear pilots, Gladding-Hearn, Duclos Corp., Somerset, Mass., will be building its 400th boat and 80th pilot boat. 

The shipyard’s first pilot boat was built in 1967 for the Delaware pilots. That was a single-screw steel boat, said Gladding-Hearn’s Peter Duclos. “It was a beautiful little boat with a schooner hull — a long, deep keel —a large, slow turning prop and a house way aft. Mr. Gladding was a very good classic boat designer. I would take one anywhere in the world — but at 10 knots.”

It wasn’t long before pilots needed more than 10 knots and by the early 1970s the speed had been pushed into the 15- to 18-knot range. Then looking for an even faster hull, Gladding-Hearn joined forces with C. Raymond Hunt Associates in 1978 to build their first deep-V hull, again for the Delaware pilots. Now Gladding-Hearn is building pilot boats capable of hitting the high 20- to low 30-knot range.

The new 52’×17’×4’8″ boat for the Cape Fear pilots is a St. John’s-class pilot boat designed by C. Raymond Hunt, but it won’t be running in the higher speed range. “They are quite comfortable running at 20 knots,” Duclos said, though it will have a lot of features not present on those early pilot boats. 

The exterior handrails will be heated to prevent ice formation and the wheelhouse roof will have a boarding platform. At the stern, a davit rotates from side to side above a recessed platform. If a pilot falls in the water, a crewman can hook him up to a line from the davit and hoist him aboard with a two-speed sailboat winch. 

Inside the 52-footer, the design calls for three Llebroc pilot seats and a helm chair. “They are a little plush, but they are comfortable and on a rough day you won’t be worried about landing on the deck,” said Duclos. “Pilots have realized these aren’t luxury items, it’s a safety issue.”

Otherwise, the cabin will have a couple of bunks, a small galley and a head. “They don’t have a lot of facilities [ashore]so they will be spending much of their time aboard the boat, even when they aren’t taking a pilot to or from a ship,” Duclos said. 

The engine room will have a pair of 470-hp Caterpillar C-18s matched up with Twin Disc MG-5114A-7 quick-shift gears turning 5-bladed nibral props. That power package should push the 52-footer to 23 knots. 

A Northern Lights 9-kW genset will be used mostly for air conditioning. Delivery is planned for later this year.

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