Podcast 009 – Bill Womack of Beetle Inc
"It didn't take me long to realize...We didn't buy just a wooden boat shop. We bought a historical icon. We bought the Beetle Cat" -Bill Womack
The outside of the building was a pretty standard office-type looking building. I balanced on a snow bank to get a photo of the old wood sign. The wind was again whipping through my fleece jacket and I was anxious to get inside. Once inside, I was transported back in time. The woodwork inside the office looked as if I had just boarded an old ship. Beetle Cat paraphernalia adorned every wall and cabinet. A nice woman greeted me as soon as I rounded the corner and I could see Bill Womack sitting in his office talking on the phone. Beetle Inc has been building incredible boats since the whaling days of New England. Judging by the beauty of the office and the history of photographs on the walls, the tradition was being thoughtfully preserved. I spoke to the woman (Michelle Buoniconto) at the Catboat Association Show so we chatted it up a bit while we waited for Bill to get off the phone.
Eventually, Bill stepped out of his office and gave me a good looking over. He is not particularly tall in stature, but in confidence and intimidation, he seemed 6’4″ to me. He said a quick hello and motioned for me to move into the conference room. We both sat down and the conversation went something like this:
Bill – (In a thick southern drawl) So what’s this all about? What are you all about?
Jed – I travel around New England interviewing boat builders and sharing the stories of them and there business.
Bill – OK. Well. Shit. What exactly is boat building to you?
I was thrown for a loop here. I knew the history of Beetle Inc. I knew of previous owners unwillingness to adopt fiberglass. Judging by the wonderful aroma of cedar that filled the office, the business I was presently at, and Bill’s traditional giant mustache that continued all the way off his cheeks to the back of his neck, I knew there probably wasn’t a single thread of fiberglass in this place. My mind raced. Should I say what he wants to hear? Nah. I got here being myself and expressing my opinions, I should probably stick with that route.
Jed – Absolutely fiberglass. And wood. It is all boat building. I think the differentiation between the two is that with fiberglass, the “art” of it ends mostly when the design is completed. With a wooden boat the art continues throughout the entire build.
Bill looked at me out of the corner of his eye almost to see if I believed what I had actually just said. I confidently nodded in assurance and I think the only person more impressed with what just came out of my mouth more than Bill was me. I mentally patted myself on the back and awaited his response.
Bill – Well Jed, I agree and that is a great way of putting it.
Bill and I spent the better part of the next 2 hours chumming around like old buddies. He spun his yarns and I attentively soaked them all up. We toured the yard, the shop, and spoke to the builders working on some new Beetle Cats. If it wasn’t for the other commitments in my life, I could have spent the whole day there chatting. Bill has a wealth of great stories and a fantastic southern way of looking at things.
At the end of our interview, Bill graciously offered me any Beetle schwag I wanted. I offered to pay, but he insisted. I left there with a Beetle ball cap, the Beetle Cat DVD, and a future invite to the Beetle Inc Christmas Party next winter. This interview was yet another one for the HBW Hall of Fame. It is not just because of my obsession with catboats and the truly artful Beetle Cat, it is because Bill Womack is a fantastic guy with a fantastic tale and a fantastic way of telling it. I am already looking forward to a second interview at Beetle some day.
Thank you for reading!