The Challenger Returns
I still can’t believe it’s been 16 years since I went down this road! I guess life has a way of throwing you curve balls. Even our best plans get derailed when family and work take a priority. At least that’s what I tell myself when I look back. I had to begrudgingly put my Challenger restoartion on hold as I devoted all my spare time to raising my family and starting a business.
Luckily life has come back full circle and I have recently been able to get back on track. Thankfully my son has developed a love for fishing! I was afraid there for awhile because he wanted nothing to do with it early on. My weekends were spent at the baseball fields and not on the flats. I have a soft spot for my kids and I sacrifced accordingly so that they could pursue their interests.
My son’s new found love for fishing has been the perfect kickstart needed to dust off the Challenger and finally restore her to her former glory. The two of us have begun where I left off so many years ago. Turns out that life knew what she was doing! Restoring the boat has become one of those Father and son projects we all dream about.
We have been making steady progress as our goal is to have her back on the water in time for summer. In the meantime I enjoyed looking back at some of my older posts from when I first bought here. I will post a progress update soon but in the meantime I thought it would be fun to share some of the old posts again.
What better way to do that then to kick it off with a little history of the Happy Mon…
I first got the itch to find a classic flats boat to restore from my good friend and fly fisherman extrordinaire, Will Campbell.
Will is a fellow car nut and flats fisherman who piqued my interest with his enthusiastic stories of vintage flats boats, particularly the Challenger. Listening to him talk about how incredible it would be to have a classic, vintage skiff among a sea of mass-produced boats really inspired me. I’ve always been a sucker for custom, vintage cars so why not a boat?
I began to search the web for anything I could find related to Challengers. I hit pay dirt one day while reading the Florida Sportsman fishing forum.
One of the forum’s members had just finished his very own Challenger restoration and posted a build gallery. Once I saw those beautiful images I was hooked! I knew that was the boat for me.
I immediately began to scour the ads and the Internet for any Challengers for sale. As luck would have it, I found out through Will that Jody Moore’s Challenger was for sale.
Jody’s boat was known as a Perfection Challenger. It seems that sometime during the late 1970’s to early 1980’s a company named Perfection bought the rights to reproduce the same original classic Challenger that was first made in the 1950’s. I believe it is the same exact boat and hull design.
Now I am by no means an expert on this subject. I barely even come close to scratching the surface of understanding the historic timeline of these boats. So don’t hold it against me if I have recounted anything less than perfect. I’ll do my best to relay the legend as it was told to me,
The Challenger holds a significant place in flats fishing history because it is thought to be one of the very first flats skiffs. Originally constructed in Biscayne Bay as a runabout, several local upcoming guides such as Flip Pallot, Lefty Kreh and Mark Sosin recognized it’s potential as a shallow water fishing machine and began to buy and modify them for flats fishing.
The boat quickly gained popularity among many guides and flats fisherman for it’s incredibly shallow draft and performance. Not only did it easily pole and track across the Biscayne Bay flats, the Challenger’s unique round chine design allow it to get on plane in extremely shallow conditions. One simply had to turn the helm hard over and the boat would literally “roll up” on its’ side and get on plane.
The Challenger was ideally suited for flats fishing and was even more at home in the Florida backcountry.
If the stories I heard are correct, the popularity of the Challenger led to a few companies trying to expand upon a good thing. I believe it was Flip Pallot who took the Challenger hull and attempted to widen it. The result of this effort was known as the Wind River Skiff. I wish I knew more about these particluar skiffs and what happened to them but I’m afraid I don’t have any more information
As you can tell by some of these older photographs, Challengers have very graceful lines and a beautiful flared hull. The classic lines and proportions of the hull mixed with the teak spray rails are what originally drew me to the boat.
Most of the Challengers I’ve seen have teak spray rails fastened to the boat. I have been told that these were a necessity on the round chine hulls to cut down and deflect the water that would otherwise run up the hull sides and create an uncomfortable spray.
The Challenger that I purchased from Jody was a side console model. Although the Challengers came in a variety of different layouts, the side console was, in my opinion, the most beautiful and functional. Although I’m sure there are plenty of tiller owners who would argue otherwise.
Jody bought the Challenger from the original owner Toby White and named her Happy Mon. If you read Florida Sportsman magazine you have undoubtedly enjoyed many of Jody’s excellent articles. I can only imagine the adventures and the fish that she has seen in her time.
I originally bought the Happy Mon from Jody back in May of 2004. I immediately began the long, tedious process of restoring her but I had to relegate her to the sidelines when my first son was born in later that same year.
Being a father took priority over everything else and the restoration went on hold for almost a what has now been 16 years. I was able to work things here and there but I wasn’t able to devote enough time to finish it.
My main motivation for buying the Challenger and undertaking this project was to have something special to pass down to my son when he’s older. Some of my best memories of my childhood are when my parents took my brother and I fishing. I hope someday he looks back on our time together fishing the same way.
God willing, my son and I will have a lifetime to build our own special memories on the Challenger’s decks. Hopefully we’ll be able to see her hit the water and catch some fish soon!