PROFILE: Bob Dougherty: The Man Behind Everglades Boats
To some, Dougherty is synonymous with Boston Whaler. To others he is known as a pioneer working with fiberglass, as an award-winning designer and builder of top quality fishing boats, and as the man who revolutionized the boating industry by inventing the Rapid Molded Core Assembly Process.
Today he and his son Stephen Dougherty design and build 16 models of Everglades Boats, fine luxury family fishing boats with "unparalleled performance."
Bob Dougherty has been designing, creating and building things since his youth. He studied Industrial Arts at an all-boys high school in Boston and graduated from Boston Teachers College, now part of the University of Massachusetts, earning a degree to teach what he knew best, Industrial Arts.
"I put myself through school," said Bob Dougherty, who worked at the Brunswick Manufacturing Corporation in Boston making medical oxygenators and prostheses from plastics and other materials. "We made artificial eye sockets, joints, heart valves and a host of other medical parts."
Dougherty said the eyeballs, which fit into the sockets, were hand-painted and laid in a big box next to his work station. "It was hard to concentrate with all those eyes looking at you," he said. "I finally found a towel and covered them."
"I did work for some very famous people," said Dougherty with his characteristic chuckle. "I made hip joints for Arthur Godfrey and the artificial eyes for Sammy Davis, Jr. and Sandy Duncan. I didn't meet them personally, I only met their eyes," he said, his own eyes twinkling.
During his brief teaching experience, where he was mistaken as a student the first day on the job at age 21, Dougherty continued to work for Brunswick. He earned $12 per day and knew he was never going to make much money in the teaching profession. Obtaining a Masters Degree would only add $200 per year to his coffers, "which wasn't worth it."
By then, he was "bitten by the romance of fiberglass" and in 1958 started making and selling water skis and small boats made from the new material. In 1960, Dougherty went to work as Chief Engineer for Dick Fisher who, with Bob Pierce, built the Boston Whaler boat.
"Dick manufactured a 13-foot fiberglass boat," said Dougherty. "The company had 23 employees and built ten boats a week when I joined him. I designed them, but Dick Fisher coined the 'unsinkable' slogan."
The list of Dougherty's achievements during his 30-year career at Boston Whaler included, in part, designing the hulls for all "Classic Whalers" and creating the rapid product development, making production a "repeatable process." He was promoted to Senior Vice President of Product Development and Engineering and helped grow the business from 23 to more than 880 employees.
During his time at Boston Whaler, he met Barbara, the switchboard operator. After their marriage, Barbara continued to work at Whaler, with plans to quit on a Friday, one week before the due date of their son Stephen. Thursday night she went into labor and missed her last scheduled day on the job. "Dick said to me, 'Bob, you owe me a day's pay.' He never forgot it and reminded me for years." Another chuckle.
But the ownership of Boston Whaler changed hands a couple of times during his tenure and at age 60, Dougherty was fired in 1990 by the man who was then Chairman.
Dougherty still has a soft spot for Boston Whaler. "I helped make that company," he said. "The Chairman told me I was too old, underworked and overpaid. I told him, 'I'm going down the street and start a new business.'" And so he did.
Teaming up with his son Stephen, Bob began building an 18-foot fiberglass boat which became the foundation for Edgewater Power Boats. With a group of outside owners and investors, they designed and built boats for the next five years.
The father and son duo left Edgewater, stopped manufacturing their own boats and began building hard tops and small fiberglass parts for other boat builders. Wanting to improve the product by creating the lightest weight and most durable hard top, Bob Dougherty invented the Rapid Molded Core Assembly Process, RAMCAP. This innovative, patented process landed RJ Dougherty and Associates contracts to make hard tops for Pro-Line, Whaler, Edgewater, Mako, Stamas, Correct Craft, Grady-White and Sea Ray to name just a few.
In addition to hard tops and parts, they were manufacturing a private label 14-footer for Edgewater Power Boats using traditional methods. Bob Dougherty looked at the boat on one hand and the RAMCAP hard tops on the other hand and envisioned building a boat using the RAMCAP technology.
Bob got his pencil and paper on the drafting table and started designing. When applied to a boat, the RAMCAP process allows the fiberglass skins to be assembled around pre-molded foam, unlike the traditional process of injecting the foam core between the hull and the deck.
Together he and Stephen made it work, building the Edgewater 14, which won the National Marine Manufacturer Association Innovation Award in 1999.
"We got back into building our own boats, but this time with the RAMCAP," Bob Dougherty said. "We started with shallow-water or flats boats, but they didn't do so well and we went back to a V-hull. We tried a 20-foot bay boat, then cut it, added four feet in length and a low gunnel. It's the best selling boat we have and I'm glad I built it."
When the Doughertys put themselves in direct boat manufacturing competition as Everglades Boats, some builders pulled their tops and took back their molds. The decision cost the hard top division a great deal of revenue. "They did not get the molds back with the RAMCAP technology, however," said Dougherty.
The new 24-foot design was introduced at a boat show and resulted in immediate sales, which doubled for each of the next three years. Then the 29-footer was added to the fleet. Everglades Boatsand Bob Dougherty again won the prestigious NMMA Innovation Award in 2002 and 2005 for these new boats.
Bob's love affair with fiberglass is still going strong, more than five decades since his nautical career started, as he continues to draw and design the Everglades Boats hulls.
"You start with a blank page and a few months later see this product of your imagination running through the line, supporting people, making people happy and keeping them safe," stated Dougherty in 1974, and his axiom remains true today.
"Plans are now digitized on the computer," said Bob. "But they are still drawn by my hand first, right here in this office." Once the hull design is complete, the rest is up to Stephen Dougherty, who has always liked to build things and being creative.
"He got into it by being next to me for so many years," said Bob. "He sat next to me from the age of two while I worked on molds. He loved to play with wires and one time he took a flashlight apart to see how it worked."
Now Stephen holds the patent for the Hydraulic Window on Everglades Boats. "All our Center Consoles have the sliding window," he said. "We offer very few options because we automatically include what boaters and fisherman want."
Bob and Stephen hold afternoon brainstorming sessions during the above-deck design process. "We always start out with our wish list," said Stephen. "We look at each challenge as an opportunity. We trudge through that and build something that's never been done. We were the first to put a hard top on a center-console small boat, for instance," he said. "We put our heart and soul into our product and we don't build sinkable boats."
Everglades Boats currently builds 16 models from 21 to 35 feet. The new 355CCX features an expanded hard top and is designed with no support legs in the back for easy movement from the fore deck aft, a huge advantage when reeling in the big one.
The company remains a family affair. Son Robert Jr. and daughter Laura work with Bob and Stephen at the custom-built, 111,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in Edgewater, Florida. Daughter Gale lives in California. "Our kids grew up on boats," said Bob Dougherty. "They all swim, fish and know how to dive."
Bob Dougherty grew up in a family of teachers and quotes his mother, who often said, "There are three kinds of people. Mothers, fathers and school teachers." Another chuckle. Asked if he walked five miles to school in the snow, Bob laughed and said no. "It was one and a-half miles to the elementary school and I walked it every day," he said. "But, I walked home for lunch every day, too."
From that background, Dougherty learned "old school principles" where you put in a full day's work, do your best and treat everyone fairly, and it shows in his work. "Here at Everglades, our employees are like an extended family. We know their spouses and their children," he said. "I see the 'old school principles' come through when we complete a boat and every single person takes pride in ownership of what they helped build."
With a sharp pencil and a blank piece of paper, Bob Dougherty continues to draw new, innovative hull designs. "Retire? Heck no, what would I do?" he asks with one last chuckle.