Phoenix Boats rises from the ashes
Print By Frank Sargeant, The Huntsville Times
on September 22, 2013 at 8:27 AM, updated September 22, 2013 at 8:28 AM

Eight years ago, Gary Clouse was unceremoniously bounced from his executive job at Fishing Holdings, he says because he made a proposal to buy out Stratos and take it private.

Clouse went jobless for about 15 minutes before his mind started to work, then went searching for a boat company to buy. He found it at Tullahoma, Tennessee, where the Bumblebee Boats Company was looking for a buyer.

Phoenix Boats sales director Jeff Hartung shows mold detailing
in the plant outside Winchester, Tennessee.

Today, Bumblebee is no more, and Phoenix is one of the fastest-growing brands in the bass boat business. Clouse's new plant at Winchester, Tennessee--about 60 miles north of Huntsville--cranks out 500 to 600 boats per year and never has a backlog.

"One of the keys to our success has been our great people," says Jeff Hartung, director of sales. "Several major bass boat companies moved out of central Tennessee in recent years and they left a big pool of highly-schooled boat builders behind. We were able to provide jobs for those folks, and they have helped us to build a top quality product from day one."

Hartung said one factor that has allowed them to develop exceptional dependability and long-term value is the gigantic curing room--about the size of a football field--where the temperature is 80 degrees year around and humidity is kept to a minimum.

"Complete temperature and humidity control allows us to control the cure rate of the resin, and that means a boat that's built in January comes out of the mold exactly like one that's built in August," says Hartung. "We keep our boats in the mold for four days, with a slow-curing catalyst that doesn't generate heat the way faster catalyst and resin mixes do, so our boats don't have the ripples and waves in the hull that you can see in a lot of high-volume boats."

The all-composite Coosa-board transom and stringer system is glued into place with Plexus glue, stronger than the fiberglass it bonds and lighter than an equivalent amount of resin.

"We save 50 to 100 pounds per hull with the Plexus, and we can then put it back in where it will do the most good at stiffening and strengthening the hull," says Hartung.

All floors and decks are also a composite, rot-proof material, and all wiring is connected with Deutsch waterproof connectors. The shoe-box deck, molded separate from the hull as in all bass boats, is secured with a flexible sealer, then screwed in place with stainless steel screws. Stainless steel parts including lifting rings are secured with brass nuts rather than stainless to prevent the metallurgic condition known as "galling" when two stainless parts rub together.

"We're basically trying to build the best boat on the market, and we're constantly looking for that next best thing that can make this year's line better," says Hartung.

The company competes with other luxury brands, Hartung said--their 721 model, fully rigged with a 250 Merc outboard and trailer, goes for around $49,000.

He said that the bass boat business is not a large one these days, with only about 6000 sold nationally per year. However, with a solid grip on 10 percent of the market after just seven years, he says Phoenix is well positioned for continued success.

To learn more about Phoenix Boats, visit Phoenix Bass Boats.