Clark Sound Boats: Local boats built by local boys
By Ford Walpole
Brand new in the world of exciting and well-built custom boats, Clark Sound Boats has made the perfect craft for fishing and exploring the Lowcountry’s waterways, filling a unique niche in a crowded industry. Owners Brooks Oswald of James Island and Gordon Jenkins of John’s Island point out that their boats are specifically designed for the waters of our coast.
Like so many Lowcountry treasures, Clark Sound Boats is steeped in history and tradition: The Oswald name has been a part of Charleston’s marine industry for the past half-century. In 1973, Brooks’ father Lindsay began repairing propellers in his backyard on James Island before opening his current shop on Signal Point Rd. in 1978.
Lindsay recognized an unusual entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic in his son early on. When Brooks was ten years old, he found a surplus of Renken Boat brochures, which Carl Renken had placed in the dumpster. “Brooks climbed in there and brought those brochures home, and I said, ‘What in the world are you going to do with all those brochures?’ Brooks replied, ‘Daddy, they have pictures of boats, motors and girls in bikinis! I’m going to sell ‘em!’ And he did — he walked around the neighborhood and sold those booklets for a quarter apiece. When Mr. Renken heard about it, he said, ‘Tell that boy to come see me when he’s old enough to go to work!’” Lindsay laughs.
“Brooks is a lot like a red ant,” Lindsay goes on. “If he hits a brick wall, he’s going to keep looking until he finds a crack in it. I am really proud of him — and his wife Rosa, who goes to work every day and has a mind like a computer. One of my proudest moments was looking at a TV news story about the industry in South Carolina. It was something to see the president checking out a Freeman Boat with a tower that Brooks had built and knowing everything had been built right here in S.C.!”
As a young teenager, Brooks began welding in his father’s shop. “That boy can weld anything except a broken heart or the crack of dawn!” Lindsay says proudly. His brother Drayton was already established in Oswald Propeller, so after he finished school, Brooks set out to find his own way into a similar venture that would also complement the family business.
“When I was 19, I bought my first offshore boat, a 23-foot Formula from Joe Sproles. I got interested in building leaning posts, T-tops, fuel tanks and poling platforms. Paul Aimar and Charlie Sirisky really taught me a lot about welding aluminum,” Brooks says. He fabricated a T-top for the Formula, and his first business, Oswald Props & Tops — which continues to thrive to this day — soon took off.
“Drayton handles all of the shipyard work at Oswald Propeller, and I repair propellers up to six feet in diameter,” Brooks says. “When I got started, I went through a bunch of boats,” which included “redoing a 37-foot Scottie Craft from the ground up. I have always had a passion for wanting to build things, so I just jumped in headfirst!”
Naturally, Oswald’s interests eventually turned to building his own boat. “I got with Ted Bullock, who had worked with Mark Bayne at Sea Island Boatworks,” he says. “Ted, Jim Nolan, James Sireci, and Michael McDermott counseled me and [they] all really helped with the design and putting together the jigs of my first boat. We built the wooden jig at Mark’s place,” then located in Mount Pleasant.
“I was going to build the boat out of wood, but I remembered that I was good with aluminum, so I decided to build an aluminum boat, and everything just sort of trickled up from there,” Cast & Blast Boats — Brooks’ second business — was born.
Gordon Jenkins, Oswald’s lifelong friend and hunting and fishing buddy, owns a cabin on the Ashepoo with Brooks and Lindsay. He recalls testing that initial aluminum boat: “Brooks called that first boat the Tadpole. We spent the weekend riding around in that boat with a bottle of Crown Royal. We ran around Otter Island and put that boat in every condition we could think of. We even ran it aground,” Jenkins laughs. “Afterwards, Brooks took the Tadpole back to the shop, cut it up and rebuilt the whole thing!”
“I built a boat around what we were using it for,” Brooks explains. “Paul Speights and I went marsh hen hunting one morning, and we caught some redfish afterward, so he helped me come up with the name Cast & Blast.” The 17-foot, 750-pound, custom flats boat, which offers a poling platform and plenty of storage, is not a jon boat in any way, shape or form, but the craft’s six-inch draft eliminates the need for both a jon boat and an inshore boat — this boat does it all.
At one point, 13 dealerships carried the Cast & Blast. Now, the boats are sold exclusively factory-direct, primarily because most customers prefer to customize their own boats. Brooks has a 40-horsepower engine on his own boat, and it will run 35 to 36 mph. Gordon hung a 90-horsepower on his, which easily reaches 55 mph.
“My Cast & Blast is a plated boat, not a stamped boat,” Brooks explains. “Plated aluminum is thicker gauge, an eighth of an inch, which is the same grade as the military uses. No wood is in the boat, and it has a 12-degree deadrise throughout. It is built for saltwater with lots of storage,” Oswald says.
“That boat must have a mile of weld in it!” Jenkins adds. “I have had two Cast & Blast boats, and I know I will never be without one!”
“Eventually, I wanted to also build a bigger boat, so I went back to fiberglass,” Brooks says of his ever-evolving craft. “I started building molds for a 24-foot boat. I developed a passion for building boats, and I wanted to build a simpler, cleaner boat.” Jenkins became a partner with Clark Sound Boats, Oswald’s third business, and the two built a factory in Walterboro.
The partnership — uncharted waters for Brooks — has worked well. “Gordon is good with sales, which frees me up. I’m an old shop dog, so I like to stay here and build stuff!” Oswald says.
“We built this boat for our needs, which include very shallow water,” Brooks continues. “I wanted to be able to go in my own tidal creek on Clark Sound. The boat drafts less than 11 inches of water, so we can use it inshore and in the ocean. Our boats are full-infusion boats, a method that reduces weight and increases strength. Clark Sound Boats allow full accessibility to the bilge and pumps, so you can get to everything to work on it. It’s just a simpler, cleaner vessel. I wasn’t trying to follow another company and build your typical factory boats.”
To succeed in the competitive boat-building world, “you have to find a way to do things differently and build a better boat,” Gordon explains. “Other brands focus on high production, and they build a high weekly volume of boats. We prefer to focus on quality rather than quantity. Our hulls are more custom. We pay more attention to the fit and finish on the back end.
“Clark Sound Boats are just built differently.” Jenkins declares. “They ride differently. It is a simple, clean, easy boat. Simplicity is often overlooked in many models of newer boats. We think about the things that bother you when you take your wife and family to the beach, the stuff that just makes sense — besides when you are using your boat for fishing. We are building a high-end boat from the perspective of the poor man, and we pay attention to the way he wants to use his own boat. These boats represent where we come from and who we are, and I am proud of that!” Jenkins declares.
You can find Clark Sound Boats in a growing number of dealerships: Clark Island Marina on John’s Island, Jacksonville Boat Sales, Paradise Marine Center in Gulf Shores, Alabama and Saltwater Marine in Wilmington, North Carolina. “Our second model will be out in about five months; it’s the same hull with a different setup, which includes forward seating and a different cap,” Brooks says. “We eventually plan to offer some larger models and up to six different options.”
For more information and to order your own boat or aluminum marine accessory, check out the websites and social media pages of Clark Sound Boats, Cast & Blast Boats and Oswald Props & Tops.
Ford Walpole lives and writes on John’s Island and is the author of many articles on the outdoors. He teaches English at James Island Charter High School and the College of Charleston and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.