Oftentimes, good things spring from unspeakable tragedy. No one could have foreseen that the devastating attacks on our country on Sept. 11, 2001, would bring the boatbuilding community together in an effort to aid victims of 9/11, and yet that’s exactly what happened. In January of 2002, dedicated custom boat owners Steve and Cheryl Roy, owners of Hipkneetized, and Dr. Harry and Cindy Shuffelberger, owners of H. T. Hook, debuted an invitational fishing tournament specifically for custom boat owners, to raise money for 9/11 victims and their families. The team recruited Capt. Skip Smith for some guidance and help running the tournament and hosted a field of 24 boats at the inaugural event at Chub Cay.
Now, 11 years later, the Custom Shootout continues to give. Since its inaugural event, the tournament has raised in excess of $600,000 for various causes and charities, including breast-cancer research, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, 9-11 Fallen Heroes, the IGFA and others.
From the very beginning, the event enjoyed an enormous amount of support from the boatbuilding industry. Custom boatbuilders like Roy Merritt of Merritt’s Boat and Engine Works, Dominick LaCombe of American Custom Yachts, Rich Scheffer of Tribute Performance Boats, Mark Willis of Willis Marine, John Vance of Jim Smith Boats, and Mike Rybovich of Michael Rybovich & Sons Boatworks all joined in to recruit boats and help sponsor the event. At that initial event, a parade of custom hardware — eight Merritts, three Garlingtons, two Americans, two Ryboviches, a Tribute and a Hines-Farley, just to name a few — headed out the pass.
Builders, including Paul Spencer of Spencer Yachts, Randy Ramsey of Jarrett Bay Boatworks, John Bayliss of Bayliss Boatworks, John Whiticar of Whiticar Boat Works and Jim Floyd of F&S Boatworks, have made a point to have a presence at the tournament and fully support the event. All of these builders have had a tremendous impact on the event, with most of them having at least one boat in the friendly competition. This gives the builders a chance to showcase, and the owners and crews a chance to tour, some of the finest sport-fishing boats on the water in a side-by-side comparison.
American Custom Yachts has been a huge supporter since the tournament’s inception, and president Dominick LaCombe says the atmosphere is good for the industry.
“The Custom Shootout provides a great venue,” he says. “It’s more of a friendly get-together between custom boatbuilders and owners than a fishing tournament. The event gives builders an opportunity to compare their vessels in a spirit of friendly competition. The fishing is just a bonus. Plus, the charity aspect allows the boating community an opportunity to give back. The committee does a tremendous job hosting a fantastic event every year, and American Custom Yachts is proud to have supported the shootout from the very beginning.”
Since there was very little to do on Chub Cay for those left ashore during the fishing days, Roy and Smith began fielding requests from the sponsors to relocate the tournament after the second year. The pair checked out several facilities, studied the fishing reports, and decided on Harbour Island in the Bahamas. After the first tournament in Harbour Island, Roy’s wife, Cheryl, who was the heart and soul of the tournament, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Roy passed the reins to Smith, who now runs the tournament, and from that point forward, the event’s proceeds have been donated to breast-cancer research.
The tournament enjoyed eight successful years fishing from the lovely little island off North Eleuthera. Harbour Island Marina, Valentines Marina and Romora Bay Marina all hosted boats and events. Harbour Island’s idyllic Bahamian charm, first-class restaurants, locally flavored night life and world-class beaches made for great days and festive evenings on the island.
As the tournament grew, it became increasingly difficult to accommodate all the anglers and crew for the Custom Shootout events, so an even larger venue was necessary to showcase the builders and house the activities. When considering a new venue, Smith first looked at the best fishing available at that time of year in the Bahamas. The Abaco Islands have put up some great fishing for blue and white marlin, as well as sailfish, wahoo and dorado in the spring. After a thorough search and with the input of the tournament committee, the Custom Shootout moved to Boat Harbour.
The Custom Shootout is unique in that it is not a one-man show. Smith uses a dedicated committee of boatbuilders and sponsors to help guide the tournament; however, the greatest input comes from the participants themselves. Smith sends out a survey to every owner and captain after the event to poll their opinions and gather data on every aspect of it, from the points and scoring system to the quality of the food and accommodations. Smith attributes this attention to the participants’ wishes as the key to these successful events.
From the time the boats arrive until they depart after the tournament ends, you’ll find Smith walking the dock, clipboard in hand, talking with owners and crew, making sure that if something is amiss or needs to be addressed, he can react promptly.
A dedicated rules committee attends to any fishing situation that may arise, and an incredible volunteer staff, led for many years by Tina Church, makes the event a welcoming one. Every morning, Church and her helpers deliver breakfast sandwiches to each boat. At the end of the day, after fishing, as you pull into your slip, they greet you once again with fresh Bahamian rum punches! What a great way to end a fun day of fishing: enjoying tropical delights while visiting with your dock partners and reliving the day’s fishing events.
Randy Ramsey, president of Jarrett Bay Boatworks, has attended the tournament for several years and has a great outlook on the event: “The feel around the docks during the CBS is unlike any other tournament I attend. The camaraderie among the owners, crews and boatbuilders is unique. Each person there belongs to an exclusive club that fishes the finest sport-fishing boats in the world. Skip and his team do a great job of making everyone feel welcome and providing a fun atmosphere. The events are outstanding, and I know the boatbuilders who attend enjoy the custom boatbuilders’ night. It is always a pleasure to have the time to spend with them, and this gives us all a chance to catch up on not just boatbuilding, but also fishing and our families.”
The Big Time
Over the past 10 years, the Custom Shootout has grown to be the best-attended tournament in the Bahamas, with more than 40 of the finest custom boats on the water fishing. This past year, the tournament was held once again at Boat Harbour in the Abaco Islands to take advantage of the rich and expansive fishing grounds and the larger facilities at Boat Harbour Marina at Abaco Beach Resort. The capable crew at Boat Harbour, led by well-known host Kevie Thomas, did a great job every night providing good food and friendly service.
The fishing proved once again that the Abacos have some of the best fishing the northern Bahamas have to offer. This year’s winner, Wave Paver, a 61-foot Garlington captained by Jason Parker, caught two blue marlin, four white marlin and a sailfish to take top honors — with bonus points for a grand slam. The second-place boat, Plane Simple, a 57-foot Spencer captained by Jimmy Worley, caught three blue marlin all at once in an amazing tripleheader and added another four whites. The third-place boat, Bear Trap, a 57-foot Spencer captained by Ed Dwyer, caught one blue marlin, two whites and a sail. A total of 99 billfish were caught in the tournament’s three days of fishing.
With the mix of excellent boats and top-notch crews, the Custom Shootout offered plenty of billfish action, along with excellent wahoo and dorado bites enjoyed by all at the fish fry. The varied species provided great fishing action over the tournament’s three days, with most boats catching something every day. Regardless of how the fishing turns out each year, the cornerstone of the Custom Shootout continues to be its commitment to philanthropic causes, with the larger, custom-built sport-fishing boats and the thrill of offshore fishing being used to raise needed funds.
Smith expects the Custom Shootout to maintain its relaxed feel as a get-together for owners, builders and sponsors, who can use it as an opportunity to share fishing time with each other and their families with some of the best professional crews in the business. “You don’t leave fish to find fish, and the same goes for the tournament; it’s my job to try and not mess it up,” Smith says.
With input from the owners, crews, builders, sponsors and the committee, it’s a sure bet that the Custom Shootout will continue to flourish and enjoy many years of meaningful success aiding and promoting research for breast cancer and other worthy causes.