The 1960s ad copy calls this gathering of three Higgins Seafarers a “rendezvous with happy boating,” and what better way to depict America’s first family of pleasure boats?
On the left is the 17-foot Port Royal sport runabout, ready for waterskiing, and in the foreground is the two-tone, 18-foot Mandalay “luxury” runabout. The big boat is the 33-foot Chandleur Sports Cruiser (there was also a Sports Fisherman version), the largest in the Louisiana builder’s fleet.
Built in wood, these boats featured varnished and two-tone painted finishes to go with clean styling. Trademarks of the Higgins brand included left-side steering, a floor-mounted accelerator pedal and an automobile-style dashboard and wheel with a shift lever on the steering column.
Powered with a 109-hp Gray Marine inboard, the Port Royal could hit almost 40 mph–plenty fast for waterskiing. Twin engines (550 hp total) powered the two Chandleur models to more than 35 mph.
That kind of speed was nothing new to Andrew J. Higgins, the man behind the boats. Born in Columbus, Nebraska, in 1886, he had a love for boats that spanned his entire life. He built his first boat at age 12. Higgins ran a small shipyard in New Orleans in the late 1930s, where he built shallow-draft, tunnel-stern boats for loggers and oil drillers, boats that could be driven up onto shore. These versatile vessels soon became the favored landing craft used by the U.S. military during World War II. His shipyard built 20,000 of them. Higgins and his workers, a group that included women and minorities, were honored with Congressional medals for their efforts.
He also built nearly 200 PT boats. The 78-foot model was known for high-powered performance in all sea conditions. From that boat came the speed and agility of the Higgins pleasure boats.
There are only about 200 Higgins pleasure craft left, according to the Higgins Classic Boat Association, an active owners group dedicated to the preservation of these boats. “They drive different, they look different, they are beautifully designed and well thought out,” reads a release from the group. “You’ll know a Higgins when you see it.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2020 issue.