Some people feel born and bred to do a job, but for Cindy Purcell hers is also a labor of love. At age two she began accompanying her father, Kenneth Archibald, to the Huckins family boat yard, which her grandfather, Frank Pembroke Huckins, had founded in 1928. She was encouraged to play in the yard, and by age 10 she had her own boat, joined her father on sea trials and learned everything she could about boats, boat building, yard operations and management.
Then along came Buddy Purcell. They married and moved to Fairbanks, Alaska. But in 1970 they returned to Jacksonville, Florida, where Cindy would earn her stripes in the Huckins stock room. A year later, Buddy, who was working for a metallurgical engineering firm, joined Huckins in the paint department, and then the carpentry and mechanical departments, before moving to inventory control.
Huckins Yacht Corporation is now in its 90th year, and together Cindy, as owner, and Buddy, who became president in the early 1980s, oversee all facets of new construction and servicing of one of the oldest family-owned, custom-yacht builders in the United States. Today, Huckins builds fiberglass composite construction sportfishermen and cruisers from 36 to 90 feet and continues to use the Quadronic hull design that Cindy’s grandfather invented in 1928.
Almost 50 years after they returned to the yard on the Ortega River in Jacksonville, Cindy and Buddy continue the rich heritage of building and maintaining Huckins yachts.
First memory of being on a boat: When I was about 5 years old, my father bought his first used Huckins. It was a 28-footer, one of only three that Huckins built. I was so excited that I jumped all around on the seats only to find out that I was jumping in seagull poop. My father restored the boat, and no more seagull poop. Buddy’s first memory is being tied down to the engine box on an open boat in the Gulf of Mexico as his father took him fishing off the Texas coast.
First boat you owned: When I was 10 years old my father said that he would build me a boat if I could swim across the St. Johns river. From where we lived it was a mile and a half across and my dad followed me in a row boat. I swam across, and he built me a 12-footer in our garage. He powered it with a Kiekhaefer Mercury 22-hp outboard and because the Mercury was built late in the production run, Mr. Kiekhaefer had my name engraved on both sides of the motor. Buddy’s first boat was his father’s 1951 22-foot Chris-Craft.
Last or current boat: Buddy and I currently own Fairfly, a 1951 Huckins Ortega 40, but I run and sea trial all kinds of boats for the boat yard, and it’s fun to see the differences. The boat that I enjoy running the most is my waterski partner’s MasterCraft. It’s exhilarating to get out early in the morning to ski.
Favorite boat you’ve owned: The 16-foot inboard mahogany ski boat that my father built for me when I was 16 years old. I kept that boat until a couple of years after Buddy and I were married. We then sold it to a fellow in the Navy, Robert Newman, and bought a fiberglass boat because I was tired of refinishing the mahogany. Some years later I met his son who worked for Cummins, and he told me that his father still owned the boat. I asked him if they would bring the boat to Huckins’ 85th anniversary, which he did, and I got to ski behind it once more. It needed some varnish work and I offered to personally refinish the boat for him if he left it with me. (I’m just a glutton for punishment.) Robert still uses the boat twice a year to take paraplegics and quadriplegics skiing. I have been to the lake with him several times and it is a heartfelt experience. Buddy’s favorite boat was a 1952 34-foot Huckins named Cap.
Your dream boat (to own or skipper): We already have our dream boat, our 1951 Huckins Ortega 40. The next dream would be new engines.
Most rewarding (sailing) experience: When I was about 12 years old, a sailboat in front of our house turned over. He wasn’t very far out, so I swam. I helped him get the sails down and right the boat. In exchange he took me sailing. I learned that he was an admiral in the Navy and that he knew my parents. Many years later he came to my wedding and told that story.
Your scariest adventure aboard: We were taking a new 60-foot Huckins north for the Annapolis boat show and left the boat yard for Charleston, South Carolina. It was a beautiful day on the ocean and everyone was enjoying the trip. We were ahead of schedule, so we decided to go on to Georgetown, South Carolina. As often happens, it’s not one thing that creates a problem, it’s a series of things. About an hour after we passed the inlet at Charleston, the wind started to pick up and we found ourselves in the teeth of a pretty good storm. It wouldn’t have been dangerous, but then the port engine sputtered and died. We decided that it might be bad fuel. We had dual fuel filters so we switched to the other filter, but still couldn’t get the engine started. By this time it was really blowing hard and we were afraid that we were going to lose the other engine. We decided to anchor to ride it out. We managed to get the anchor out, but the rode didn’t get into the chock and was chafing across the bow. On one engine, and with the waves bouncing us around, we couldn’t get enough slack to correct the situation. About a half hour later the rode parted. The only option was to head out to sea and south toward Charleston, and hope the other engine wouldn’t quit. All this time we had been on the VHF calling a mayday on channel 16. It seemed that the Coast Guard was doing something “official” and didn’t want to come get us. I finally contacted an admiral friend of mine (not the sailor admiral) and he put the heat on for them to head out to us. In the meantime, we stayed as far from shore as we could in case we lost the other engine. By now we had broken the mirror in the forward head and the interior was a shamble. About 3 a.m. the Coast Guard cutter finally showed up and after several tries got a line to us. We were thankful to be alive, and on the way in we were all comatose on the bridge deck.
Your most memorable experience aboard: Many summers cruising the Bahamas with friends on the Huckins 74 Brighthour, snorkeling, fishing and lobstering. On one of those trips, anchored in the middle of nowhere, Buddy stood on the cover board after dinner, fishing with light tackle, with no light except for the stars.
Longest time you’ve spent at sea without setting foot on land: A week at anchor in the Bahamas, in the middle of nowhere. Over three weeks, we would only touch shore to provision.
Favorite nautical book: For Buddy that would be Small Boat Repair by Robert M. Stewart. He worked with him at Huckins and Buddy says he taught him so much about boat building.
Favorite nautical cause you support and why: St. Johns River Keepers. They are conscious of all of us who enjoy the river.
Favorite quote about the sea: It’s not a quote. Just have respect for the sea.
This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue.