When Jack Nicolas, Jeff Burton, or the owner of the Royal Bank of Scotland need handcrafted fighting chairs for their mega-yachts, who do they go see? Savannah local Sam Peters and his crew of craftsmen.
There is a fresh aroma of fine wood with a hint of epoxy inside the noisy shop at Release Marine. To the left of the door, skilled artisans are cutting and sculpting raw wood stock that will soon become some of the finest, most coveted furniture in the world.
To the right, there is a large inventory of finished products—an assortment of gleaming, highly complex and sculpturesque chairs. But they’re not dining chairs or parlor chairs or even office chairs. These are fighting chairs—the elaborately equipped seats that sport fishermen use to land the biggest trophies of the sea, a feat that always involves a fight. That’s the appeal. That’s the thrill. That’s the sport.
It’s a sport for owners of large, expensive fishing boats, yachts and, of course, the always coveted mega-yachts. Some are tournament competitors. Others just love the sport. “Most of these guys are trolling for billfish or they’re live baiting for them,” says Matt Hecht, the vice president who oversees manufacturing. “What we’re doing is really geared for them.” For the uninitiated, billfish is a category of species distinguished by their long, swordlike bill. The most popular are marlin, swordfish and sailfish.
It all began in 1968 when John A. Peters Jr., owner of the Savannah Distributing Company, started Custom Marine (later Release Marine) as a hobby project. A sport fisherman himself, Peters began making fishing boats. “Savannah is so far away from the Gulf Stream; there was a need for a smaller, faster boat that could travel quicker,” explains Sam Peters, son of John and current owner of the company. “Dad was one of the pioneers in building an offshore boat that was very fast and fuel efficient.”
The market was changing. Whereas before, smaller boats didn’t venture far from shore. The advancements in design and increased speed changed all that. Custom Marine was making small fighting chairs to go on their Release 26, but there was suddenly a demand for small fighting chairs to go on these smaller boats that were now going after much bigger fish.
Written by Clark Byron
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