The first Huckins launched in 1928 — talk about a bad time to start a business — but the name achieved real prominence in the 1940s, when the company was contracted to produce two squadrons of PT boats for the U.S. Navy. Built of the carbon fiber of the day — triple-planked mahogany and plywood — these lightweight craft were part of the Navy’s gasoline-powered mosquito fleet of hit-and-run torpedo boats.
They proved to be a real bargain for the government in terms of tonnage sunk, with the PT boats sending Japanese warships hundreds of times their displacement to the bottom of the sea. On the other hand, the cat sometimes got the mouse because these boats had to get so close before they could launch their torpedoes that they saw the rust on their targets’ topsides.
PT boats had only their speed, maneuverability and the skill of their skippers for defense, being easily sunk by light arms. A 25mm or light machine gun bullet could pass completely through the boat with scarcely any change in velocity. The boats were especially vulnerable because diesels of sufficient power density (horsepower-to-weight) had not been invented, and the PTs were gas-powered with big fuel tanks.
In addition to their lightweight wooden construction and fire-breathing V12 gas engines, the thing that made these 70- to 80-footers so fast was their nearly flat hulls. The deep-vee hull hadn’t been invented, so the ride in moderate seas was hard on the crew, especially at the 40-plus-knot speeds these boats were capable of in favorable, light-load conditions. But this was wartime, and Frank Huckins’ Quadraconic hull was the best around in terms of ride quality and seakeeping.
In any event, personnel comfort and fatigue were secondary to sheer speed, a view that PT boat crews very likely shared as much as the Navy strategists and procurement people. After World War II, Huckins resumed building boats for civilians, turning out hundreds of wooden and — starting in the 1970s — foam-cored fiberglass boats.
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March 2014 issue