Chris-Craft motor yacht takes passengers to far-flung fishing grounds
A vintage Chris-Craft motor yacht has joined Galveston’s fleet of fishing charter boats. At 42 feet, J Hook, formerly Blue Chip, is the largest of the famed boat builders’ vessels, and well-suited for her new role.
The boat can sleep up to six in air-conditioned accommodations below, so its offshore range can be extensive.
“She can go out as far as the Flower Garden Reef for diving expeditions, but with her shallow draft she can also get into great locations around the bay,” her new owner, John Kilgariff, said.
Her name is a play on her owner’s name — he usually goes by “J” — and her function as a fisher: the j-hook is the basic tool of the trade.
J Hook was built in the Chris-Craft yard in Florida in 1969 of thick fiberglass, a new material in the 1960s. As with any new material in the conservative field of marine construction, she was built to higher specifications than later proved necessary. But Chris Smith, who began building boats in 1874, was committed to meticulous craftsmanship and detail in all his products.
In 1922, Smith formed the Chris Smith and Sons Boat Co. in Algonac, Mich. The name was later changed to Chris-Craft, and the company moved to Sarasota, Fla.
Wealthy customers, including Henry Ford, were attracted to the high-end boats. But, in a way, Smith had done for boating what Ford did for motoring. He produced good-looking boats powered by gasoline engines and manufactured on a production line out of standardized components. Smith put power boating within reach of ordinary working people.
Only a few modifications have been made to the boat since her launch in Florida. Her teak decks, with Chris-Craft’s signature white-caulked seams, have been coated in white to reduce maintenance, ensure a watertight seal and, perhaps, provide better non-skid properties. She had been re-engined with twin diesels at some point, but more recently reverted to gas engines.
“She’s kind of a gas guzzler at high speed and larger fuel tanks had to be fitted, but we’re not operating her as a speedboat,” Kilgariff said. “She’ll get us to the fishing ground and back in good time.”
Kilgariff is not a born-on-the-island native; he grew up in Meridian, Texas, near Waco, far from the Gulf. But he and his father made frequent trips here, and moved to the island when John was 17. He graduated from Ball High School, then went to Galveston College for his associate degree in business management. Meanwhile, he was becoming familiar with these waters under an impressive list of mentors.
He learned to sail as a deckhand with Leroy Naschke aboard his schooner Marigo, and crewed under the late Vandy Anderson aboard Texas Seaport Museum’s harbor tour boat Seagull II. There, he learned a lot about harbor history and marine biology, including fish, from Sid Steffens. He even worked as a carriage driver for Steffens, as well as crewing aboard commercial fishing boats.
More recently, Kilgariff served as a deckhand aboard Excalibur, a large crew and supply boat serving the rigs and tankers visible offshore in the Gulf.
“It’s ‘Ship City’ out there,” Kilgariff said. “Going out at night on a delivery is like coming down on Fort Worth.”
J Hook is equipped with generators, ice machines, LED lighting and a full suite of navigational equipment, fish-finders, radar and communications.
“None of that is new, and it has to be replaced with more up-to-date equipment, but it works,” Kilgariff said.