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Just yesterday: Better-built barbours

Herbert W. Barbour opened his New Bern, North Carolina, boatyard on the Trent River in 1933, building and repairing small commercial vessels. It was a modest operation, catering to the local fishing fleet and harbor craft. Few could have foretold that decades later Barbour and his company would be hailed as a “vital force” that was “important to the economic landscape of coastal North Carolina.”

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Barbour Boats won a Navy contract to build rescue boats, then built wooden minesweepers during World War II. The company had grown to employ 1,200 people, and after the war it built tugboats for the Coast Guard and ferries for North Carolina’s Department of Transportation.

But Barbour is perhaps best known for the pleasure craft it built — 16- to 21-foot powerboats with “lapstrake planking, quality mahogany and mahogany plywood, and the finest chrome over brass hardware.” There were open and cabin models, inboard- and outboard-powered, designed for water-skiing, fishing and cruising.

There was the 15-foot Vacationer Deluxe, a no-frills runabout with wheel steering and a windshield. The sportier 16-foot Silver Clipper had an outboard in a well, a split forward seat and a mahogany deck. The Silver Clipper series also included a pair of cabin models and a 22-foot hardtop fishing boat that the company said was “roomy, rugged and smooth riding.” The 19-foot Cruiser had a cuddy with a pair of bunks below and a forward hatch, and the skipper sat on a pedestal seat behind a wood-framed windshield. Prices ranged from about $3,000 to $8,000.

Herbert Barbour continued designing and building boats until he died in 1957 at age 75. An obituary in Boating magazine hailed Barbour for his “craftsmanship, hard work, love of his trade and business sense.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue.


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