Dixie County Advocate, Thursday, April 27, 2000
The Gainesville Sun, Monday, May 1, 2000
Taken from the Dixie County Advocate, Thursday, April 27, 2000
Freedom Craft Opens In Cross City
Airboats and Boat Hulls Primary Focus of New Enterprise
By: Sidney Dosh, Jr., Staff Writer
For Freedom Craft Fiberglass co-owner, Roy Skinner, the name of the company says it all - FREEDOM. Although Roy is consigned to a wheelchair, he is certainly not completely handicapped. And, from his perspective, he will be even less handicapped when he takes the reins of his own personal, soon-to-be competed Freedom Craft airboat. As the captain of an airboat, his legs will not be an issue. Roy can hardly wait to enjoy a race across the flats along the coastline of Dixie County.
Skinner opened the doors on the new 5,000 square foot Freedom Craft plant on March 1st. The operation currently has two employees, Mr. and Mrs. Fiberglass. Employee's Mike Pearce and Donna Dingman are not married, but they are an essential ingredient in Freedom Craft's plan to build an airboat hull that will attract buyers from all over the US.
The company will soon be featured in an U.S. Airboats magazine article and plans to develop an Internet web site to attract customers nationwide. Their timing may be just right as an interest in airboats is on the increase. Although there is about 10 hours of training required to become proficient in operating the craft, the time is well worth the enjoyment derived from streaking across grass, shallow water, flats, creeks, and even muddy water.
Airboats have become more than a recreational or fishing vehicle. They are the ATV of the water and are beginning to attract everyone in the family. New boats can range in price from $18,000 to over $50,000 with CD players, fish finders, ship-to-shore radio, and a variety of other comfort and luxury accessories adorning the more pricey models.
Freedom Craft hulls, which range from 12 to 22 feet in length with an 86" width are uniquely crafted and available with a special Kevlar inner layer. "Not only will you get a superior ride with this hull, you won't have to worry about a log or some other obstacle busting up the hull," Skinner said. "We refer to our hull as "bulletproof" since it uses the same material used in bullet proof vests. Also, our hull is designed so that it won't take on water from backwash. The design is perfect for any airboat enthusiast, but families will really love this craft."
Freedom Craft also offers fiberglass repair, flat boat hulls, v-hulls, and airboat accessories. The company also fabricate or refinish a boat with a camouflage design and the design will be an integral part of the fiberglass coating, which prevents fading or peeling.
When Skinner's airboat is fully rigged, a 650-700 hp automobile engine will power the craft. The special hollow blade propellers will also have a special Kevlar mix. The propeller's custom fiber design will operate more efficiently and with less noise than conventional propellers.
While this is the first boat-manufacturing venture for them, they have been around boats and fishing all of their lives. Skinner is a resident of Dixie County and has enjoyed boating and fishing along the Gulf Coast.
The owners and employees of Freedom Craft welcome visitors and will give everyone a first hand look at their superior fiberglass process. The plant is located about 2.5 miles west of Cross City on Horseshoe Beach Road (CR351), just past the the Knight Sawmill.
Taken from the Gainesville Sun, Monday, May 1, 2000
From love comes Freedom
By KAREN VOYLES, Sun staff writer
This spring, Roy Skinner opened Freedom Craft Fiberglass, Inc. outside Cross City to build and repair flats boats and airboats. Skinner said Mike Pearce and Donna Dingman are already turning out two to four fiberglass boats a week, and they can all see a need to double the size of their operation within a year.
One man's passion for airboats turns into a successful business.
CROSS CITY -- An airboat ride was all it took for Roy Skinner. One quick spin to see what it felt like to have so much air rushing past his face. A short ride to see how this watercraft could be maneuvered into places that are inaccessible by traditional boats or on foot. The realization that only the bottom of the boat touched the water so no manatees or other creatures below the surface would be injured by a prop.
"That's all it took for me," Roy Skinner said. "I knew I had to have one of my own."
Skinner was so taken with airboating that he not only designed one for himself, but he and his partner, Gary Richardson (former partner), have opened their own manufacturing business. Since they started in early March, Freedom Craft Fiberglass, Inc. has been turning out 12-foot to 32-foot (22-foot) long fiberglass boat hulls at the rate of two to four a week.
Skinner is a paraplegic and has used a wheelchair since 1982 when he fell working as an iron worker. His own airboat has been modified to accommodate his electric wheelchair.
"It's just really the reverse of the tie-down system I have in my van," said Skinner. "I can just back into this one instead of going forward like when I am driving my van."
The route Skinner took to get to Dixie County and taking the first ride started years ago. After his accident at the nuclear power plant in Crystal River, he wanted to continue hunting and fishing. Skinner moved to Dixie County, where a four-wheeler made it possible for him to hunt in the relatively flat woodlands. In time, he opened a machine shop to give him something to do. When a buddy suggested he might have even more to do, he tried fishing from the raised deck of an airboat. And Skinner was hooked.
He quickly realized what a great view he had and that an airboat was a perfect watercraft design because he could operate it with hand controls.
It didn't take Skinner long to come up with the design to accommodate his chair, and someone he could give a first airboat ride to -- Richardson. At about the same time the two men realized there was a demand for custom airboats and durable fiberglass hulls, Central Florida boat builder Richmond Kennedy was looking for someone to buy him out. Freedom Craft was formed and the Kennedy designs were purchased.
The first steps included putting up the freedom building two miles outside of Cross City on the road to Horseshoe Beach and hiring veteran body builders Mike Pearce and Donna Dingman who work exclusively on fiberglass boats.
"The first thing you learn about fiberglass is that it's itchy and makes you want to scratch, but once you get over that, you are a glassman," Pearce said.
Some of the new boats are hauled next door to be rigged as airboats, while others are sold as empty shells. A few are customized and rigged so completely that their new owners can just drive in, hook up the trailer and head to the Gulf of Mexico or the Suwannee River or a nearby catfish pond.
Things are going so well for Skinner that he, Richardson, Dingman, and Pearce are already talking about where to build a second, 5,000-square foot building and how to find experienced help.
The easiest part of all this so far has been coming up with the name. "We call it Freedom because airboats give you freedom to go places and see things you couldn't otherwise," Skinner said.
Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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