March 19, 2022
Charlie Long headed offshore from Lewes, Maryland, his excitement tempered by apprehension. It was the first hunting test for Ironclad. Towing his aluminum layout boat behind his 26-footer (See Boats and Blinds, Going Big..and Long, November 2017 WF) he navigated 7 miles to the shipping channel.
"We were targeting sea ducks," Long said. "It was slow going because I was being careful in Delaware Bay. Some spray accumulated, so I pumped it out with the bilge pump. I didn't hunt, only watched as the scoters decoyed right in despite calm conditions that usually mean poor shooting. None of the guys were used to hunting in layout boats. But they had plenty of opportunities and wound up with good bags of surf and black scoters. They absolutely loved it and said Ironclad was incredibly comfortable and stable."
The hunters, Charlie Long, Ken Carpenter, Chris Honeycutt, Nick Hurst, Travis Wheat and Rich Breckenridge, also used Phillip Peacock's 2004 War Eagle 2072 for a tender as a precaution (See Boats and Blinds, Divers Drop in at the Tiki Hut Blind, September 2020 WF).
"I used homemade grapnel anchors to set up the layout boat and set out three dozen scoters and a dozen longtail decoys," he said. "The 3-knot current and a tidal range of 6 feet are tricky enough, but the slightest wind makes orienting the boat to the decoys dicey."
A resident of Townsend, Delaware, Long has hunted waterfowl since he was five. Now 45, he is a boilermaker and event photographer. During a sea duck hunt, he sets several dozen Tanglefree scoter and longtail floating decoys. When he hunts divers, he sets out 12 to 15 dozen bluebill, canvasback, ruddy duck and bufflehead decoys. He loads his Benelli Super Black Eagle with Federal Black Cloud 2s and BBs.
The Boat Build
He had been stockpiling components to build an aluminum layout boat because he loves hunting divers. Finally having enough spare time, he welded it together with a spool gun MIG welder.
While Long did not use another layout boat as a pattern, he hunted from several over the years. He also received advice from Jake Reidnauer of Point Blank layout boats in Pennsylvania, with whom he hunted occasionally.
"I wanted a low-profile, streamlined layout boat without the typical hump," Long said. "I wanted plenty of room, so I used the biggest guy I hunt with, Chris Honeycutt, as a model. He is 6-foot six and weighs 310 pounds. I made templates with graph paper and tweaked them during the building process. It had to be a two-man layout boat because I don't like two-boat set-ups. Another hunter fired his third shot at a duck that was heading toward me. I was in a second layout boat and he was so focused on the duck, he almost shot me."
Beginning with the boat upside down, Long welded the basic skeleton of 3/4" square aluminum tubing and strengthened it with C-channel aluminum sections, two 6-inch skis and two 6-inch gunwale shelves. The internal deck or floor was added, then the top and bottom hull. The hull and floor are 0.060-5052 aluminum sheet.
The boat was stood on end, bow-down, and U.S. Coast Guard-approved two-part expanding urethane foam used to fill the gap between the floor and the bottom hull—first the sides, then the stern and bow. The floor was left open until the bow foam was added. The floor and bottom hull were clamped together to keep foam from oozing out, ensuring any voids were filled. The floor was welded, then the boat was turned for welding the top. The foam makes the boat so quiet it is comparable or quieter than fiberglass layout boats.
Built to Last
Ironclad is 13 feet, 10 inches long, 8 feet wide and weighs 350 pounds. With its deep-cycle battery, bilge pump, VHF radio and accessory outlets, the weight approaches 450 pounds. The cockpit opening is 5 feet wide and 4 feet long, with a round stock brace dividing the cockpit in half and an adjustable, padded backrest. Hunters sit inside the 7-foot long, 4-foot wide, 4-inch-deep box with 15 inches of heel-to-toe height. It has four handles and 24 slots for Long's homemade aluminum silhouette decoys along the perimeter. Tying eyes are centered fore and aft and it has two towing bridle eyes projecting beneath the bow corners.
A 4-inch aluminum sheeting coaming is made in three sections, protecting both sides and the stern of the cockpit. It is attached with piano hinges, with the corner openings covered by canvas riveted in place. Long is going to add a watertight cover to prevent rain and spray from entering the cockpit when the boat is stored or towed.
During one of Ironclad's first runs, its bow dipped at low towing speed. The boat filled with water, but was so stable that Long walked on top, flipped the bilge pump on and continued with the hunt. (The CSS Virginia, built on the recommissioned wooden hull of USS Merrimack, was not as fortunate, sinking in a storm off Cape Hatteras). To solve the problem, Long welded aluminum sheet between the skis and bottom and foam-filled the space. Now, the boat skims along like a johnboat. When he builds another layout boat, he will omit the skis. Other than that, the proof is in the gunning.
"The last hunt of the 2020-21 season was at Maryland's Chester River," he said. "We had nine hunters and set out 15 dozen diver decoys. The canvasbacks didn't show, but everyone had their bluebill limits before noon."
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