Driving the Knit Wits

Unmistakable—thanks to her jaunty flybridge, white paint and teal trim, the 41-foot Knit Wits, the first Hatteras ever built, pulled up to the dock at Pier 66 Marina in Fort Lauderdale where we waited to board her. Thanks to a full restoration by the Hatteras factory team in 2013, she looked just as fresh and feisty as the day she launched in 1960—over 60 years ago.


With Hatteras factory Captain Erik Leyden at the helm, we headed down the ICW and out Port Everglades Inlet, smiling as just about every other skipper on the water gave Knit Wits an admiring glance or wave. As we turned to run south in the broad Atlantic, I climbed up to the flybridge, took the wheel, and opened up the throttles. Running at 17+ knots through the sea with the wind in my hair and the Stars-and-Stripes ensign streaming back over the transom, I felt like I was driving a piece of American history.


In fact, I was—Knit Wits not only is a part of Hatteras Yachts’ history, but also of the history of the U.S. boating industry. Most Hatteras Yachts owners and fans know the story of how Knit Wits was born—largely because High Point, N.C., hosiery manufacturer Willis Slane, an avid offshore angler, was frustrated by the rough sea conditions off Cape Hatteras that kept the local wooden sportfishing boat fleet at the dock. Slane, who had visited the Cristaliner Corporation in Miami and seatrialed a 27-foot race boat made of fiberglass, believed he could build a larger fiberglass sportfisher. Although many people thought he was crazy, with the backing of some of his textiles industry colleagues, he set out to do just that. Slane hired young naval architect Jack Hargrave, who later proved to be a genius yacht designer, to draw the 41-footer’s lines and after a period of intense R&D, completed construction of the boat in just four months. Knit Wits was the first boat over 30 feet to be built of fiberglass.


After her launch, Knit Wits caused a sensation that ultimately helped convert the entire boating industry from wood to fiberglass. She is a pioneer that provides a direct link between the wooden boats that sailed the seas for millennia to the new fiberglass hulls being resin-infused with advanced construction technology at the Hatteras factory today.


As innovative as she was, however, Knit Wits was “overbuilt” due to the fact that Slane and his team did not really know how many layers of fiberglass were required to make her hull seaworthy. “It’s a solid hull; solid as a rock,” said Capt. Erik. As a result, she feels like a much bigger boat. Knit Wits has been repowered many times over the years (today she runs on twin Detroit Diesel 6V-53TIs), and her interior and topsides have undergone several refits, but her fiberglass hull has stayed as strong and true as the day she first launched.

We put Knit Wits through her paces in the Atlantic. She stayed very stable in sharp turns at speed, and with a half tank of fuel and three people on board, in 1-foot seas, she topped out at about 20 knots at 2400-2500 rpm. Not bad for an old gal, I thought. Yes, her helm is devoid of modern-day electronics, and she has no fancy recirculating live bait well or mezzanine. But Knit Wits, which will be on display at the Hatteras Yacht Sales Center in Fort Lauderdale for the foreseeable future, is just the way we like her – a living piece of history.