Knit Wits, the first Hatteras

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Illustration by Jim Ewing

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It’s known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” the area off North Carolina’s storm-tossed Cape Hatteras where the cold Labrador Current meets the warm Gulf Stream. These nine miles of notorious waters — Hatteras Shoals, Inner Diamond Shoal and Outer Diamond Shoal — mark the resting place for more than 2,000 vessels.

And that’s where Willis Slane wanted to fish. So the builder put together some ideas for a rugged sportfishing boat — using a new material called fiberglass — found a young designer named Jack Hargrave to draw up plans, and got down to it. The result was Knit Wits, the first Hatteras, a 41-footer launched in 1960 and recognized as one of the most influential recreational boats. She was an early “convertible” — a sportfishing and family boat — and a pioneer of fiberglass construction. Her seakeeping and “fishability” quickly became legend.

Built by skilled craftsmen far from the sea in High Point, N.C., Knit Wits was trucked to Morehead City for launching, and Mrs. Slane christened her with the traditional bottle of champagne. A pair of 275-hp Lincoln V-8s provided the power, and the fiberglass hull was built to take what Diamond Shoals could dish out. In fact, Hargrave and Slane would pound on hull sections as they were being laid up, and if there was any movement, more laminates were added.

Hailed as the “largest plastic production-built power cruiser,” the Hatteras 41 Convertible (Slane coined the term) Yacht Fisherman stole the scene at the 1962 New York Boat Show, commanding $650,000 in orders. The Hatteras name went on to dominate the fiberglass sportfishing market for decades.

Said designer Mark Fitzgerald in a Soundings article on the most influential powerboats of all time: “Willis Slane and Jack Hargrave teamed up to change our vision of fiberglass boats forever.”

Late last year, Hatteras employees completed a refit of Knit Wits, and the 53-year-old boat that started a legacy was displayed at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

February 2014 issue