I was a 15 year old mate in 1964 on the “Catchelot” drift fishing boat out of Palm Beach, Fl. when I saw this boat run down Lake Worth Lagoon for the first time. I was mesmerized by it’s overall Deep Vee hull design, it’s bright Pink hull color, it’s bright yellow topsides, and the fact is was running at speeds that were limited to the top offshore race boats of the day. The boat was C.F. Johnson’s new TX 41 Datona Sportfisherman, designed by Jack Hargrave, a young upstart marine architect in West Palm Beach, Fl.
At the time, I knew the boat was as unique looking as it was fast. The hull design reminded me of my favorite ocean racing boat at the time, Dick Bertram’s 31 foot Moppie. My family was into boat racing all of my life, and I dreamed some day of running a Moppie. To watch a 41 foot sport fisherman running down Lake Worth at speeds of well over 55 knots was amazing.
I had heard of C. F. Johnson, “Charlie” as he was known, for several years around the docks. Charlie was an avid sport fisherman who, with a string of auto dealerships, could indulge himself in his passion for big fish and fast boats. Charlie helped launch the Rybovich Brother’s careers by buying four of their new Rybovich Custom Built Sportfshing Boats, including hull #1 a 34′ sports fisherman built in 1949 called the Chevy II.
In 1960, Charlie bought his own boatyard and marina, the “McDonald Boats Works” in Datona Deach Florida, and hired Jack Hargraves to begin to design boats for him.
Being an avid giant blue fin tuna fisherman out of Bimini and Cat Cay in the Bahamas, Charlie became possessed with wining the legendary, unofficial, “Bimini Boat Race”, which had become a tradition in the 1950’s during tuna time (June of each year), at the Bimini Big Game Club. At the Start of each tournament, the sportfishing boats would line up outside of Bimini cut and race to the fishing grounds south off Sandy Cay. The Rybovichs, and the Merrits were dominating the race, and Charlie intended on changing all that. Thus the birth of the TX 41.
It was not until 4 years after I had first seen the TX 41, that I would get the opportunity to fish Charlie Johnson, with his seasoned Captain Jack Stevens, and learned the whole story. As Jack who had run the Tx 41, and Charlie who built and owned it, proudly shared their experiences with it, that I truly learned to appreciate what a fascinating boat it was.
Charlie founded the Datona Marine Engine Corporation, and powered the TX 41 with four 409 Cubic Inch, GM, four bolt main, big block engines turning three screws. The engines had Latham full race super chargers on them and the boat had been clocked at over 64 knots. The outboard screws were used to navigate around docks, and the twin engine V drive – driven center screw was only used for full speed ahead when speed was the “main thing”.
On Sunday June 21, 1964 at 5:00 A.M. with Captain Jack Stevens at the helm, the TX 41 sped away from Biscayne park in downtown Miami, thundered down Biscayne Bay and out Government cut at over 55 knots, headed to New York. Only 31 hours and 32 minutes later the TX 41 had covered the non stop 1257 mile run, as the Boat screamed into New York Harbor and up the Hudson River setting a new APBA World Record for the Miami to New York run. The record set by the TX 41 would hold up for 10 years.
What is even more amazing about the feat, is that Captain Jack Stevens and his crew had to change out an engine’s transmission on the fly off Savannah Georgia. Charlie had the transmission sent out on the refueling tug boat. Capt. Jack slowed to TX 41 to 20 knots, while working in the engine room to change out the gear drive. Otherwise, the record would have been even more amazing.
I never got the privilege to fish the TX 41, but Charlie Johnson’s personal Datona 43, which I did fish on several occasions, was one of my favorite sport fishing boats of all times.
Charlie and Jack were true pioneers in the sport fishing boat and fishing industry. I consider it a great privilege to have fished with them both.
By Capt. Mickey Oliphant