The Knight Brothers, Their Boats and Other Jobs
Tales of Island Life: November 2023
A previous issue of Tales of Island Life includes the story of earlier history of the Knight family in Florida. Click here to read the article.
George Knight, the son of Joel Knight who had settled near the Peace River in Port Charlotte, came to Boca Grande in 1906 to work on the railroad trestle that was being built at the north end of the island. He and his wife Francis subsequently served as caretakers of Journeys End for the William H. Johns family. There they raised six children. Forty years after George’s arrival, two of his sons, Francis and Johns (named for Mr. Johns) would begin their boat building business.
In 1989 Johns told the Beacon that he had been in the South Pacific during World War II. “After we came home from the war,” he said “there wasn’t any work. There weren’t any jobs so we had to make our own jobs. So me and my brother Francis started the business in 1946-47.” First they did repair work but eventually they started building boats. Their first boat was 32 feet long and Johns Knight Jr. told a History Bytes group in 2015 that it was named the Mary. Mary is Mary Knight Vickers, Francis’ daughter and a now-retired library assistant at the Johann Fust Library.
The Knights built their boats with plans they devised in their own heads. They’d already had a family history in Florida that exceeded 100 years. Their father had been a fishing captain in Charlotte Harbor. They’d spent their lives in the area. They felt they knew what a good boat for the Florida waters was. Johns Sr. told the Beacon that “we designed and built boats from the beginning that would outperform anything we knew of for size and horsepower.”
Johns Knight Jr. describes the Knight Brothers boats design as a deep V entry midship to prevent pounding in waves and a more flattened shape toward the stern that adds lift to the boat and leaves clean not choppy water between the boat and the rooster tail with no need for trim tabs. The boats were also flared at the front so water moved out away from the boat. He adds that the sizes they built ranged from 18 feet to 55 feet.
Francis Knight eventually left the business and later Johns was joined by his three sons, Thomas, Eugene and Johns, Jr. The Knights built their boats from slab lumber which they milled then steamed, clamped and cooled over and over until they had the form they wanted. The steam was created by burning wood scraps in a box with a pipe through which the steam flowed. As boatwrights they used a feeler gauge and fitted the wood to a ten thousandth of an inch so that when the boat was launched it was quickly water tight. Johns Sr. told the Beacon that he was proudest of building the Moonraker a 35-footer, “because it’s been one of the most important parts of this business. It’s been a charter boat, a salvage boat, a tug boat, a pleasure boat. We’ve done everything in it.”
At the 2015 History Byte, Captain Robert Johnson attested not only to the maneuverability of the Knight’s boats but the skill of the Knights in running their boats. He said the port pilots were always very happy when the Knights were running the boats that took them out to a vessel that was entering or leaving the port. This same skill was evident in their rescue and salvage work. At one time they did salvage work from St. Petersburg to Key West. The Knights think they may have saved more than a hundred people whose boats were in trouble in Boca Grande Pass and the general area.
The Knights built many boats that have continued to fish in local waters as well as other parts of Florida. Some of their boats are the Knight Brothers, Knight Brothers II, Moonraker, Casuarina, Faithful II, Mondongo Lou, Lacey (the old school boat), Mary (their first boat) and others. In 1989 Johns and Virginia Knight sold their boat yard property to the Gasparilla Inn and retired. In 2000 Johns Knight Jr. and his son Eric built 28 foot fiberglass boats in Placida. Johns Jr. still uses one named Knight Brothers.