When ABS canoes
first appeared on the market in the mid-1970’s, Blue Hole, of
Sunbright, Tennessee, produced their famous OCA sixteen-foot ABS
canoes trimmed in aluminum. It was known as one of the most durable
of canoes and used for solo and tandem runs on about every river you
can think of. Later they produced the Sunburst I & II, and the
Starburst. In 1990 Blue Hole went out of business.

decided to replace my old Sunburst. Fortunately the Blue Hole
Company was resurrected in 1993 by John Williamson, who bought the
assets including all the molds. They have been producing the OCA,
Sunburst II, Starburst, and recently the Sequel (eleven-foot play
boat). I checked with local dealers for a Sunburst but they were
sold out.

called the Blue Hole factory, and found it would be several months
before they molded any because the equipment was busy making OCAs.
John said he wanted me in a Sunburst, so he would look around and see
what he could find. While I was looking for a good used one, John
called to let me know he had some leads. A few deals fell through,
but finally he found a guy who bought one of his first boats and
stored it. It had faded a bit but had no scratches. I made
arrangements to pick it up at the factory.

Blue Hole Canoe factory is in a spacious warehouse in Gordonsville,
Virginia, about 20 miles from Charlottesville. Pete Peterson met me
there, and John gave us a tour. They had been molding OCA canoes the
previous day, and the last one was left in the mold to protect it
from dropped objects.

also showed us his new Royalex ABS blank sheets. He said that about
10% of the boats molded by all companies making ABS canoes are
rejected due to problems in the ABS sheets. Extra ABS strips
(patches) are added by Uniroyal at strategic points to make the boat
more durable. Different companies have different specifications for
the patches. He thought the ABS patches were causing the problem
with the boats rejected.

calculated that the outer ABS layer thickness could be increased
across the entire sheet and the ABS patches eliminated, resulting in
an increased weight of only about a pound per boat. The Uniroyal
people were skeptical, but after looking at it, they tried it.

the change, Blue Hole has produced 400 boats without a single
rejected sheet. It looks like John’s theory was correct. Maybe all
boats will go to this sheet design.

asked John how he came to acquire Blue Hole. He was taking a college
course requiring students to write a business plan. He remembered
the enjoyment of paddling his OCA, so he decided to write a business
plan based on the Blue Hole Company. After a few phone calls he
learned Perception had purchased all the old Blue Hole assets. He
talked to Bill Masters of Perception, visited their factory, and
wrote his plan.

he heard that Perception was giving up the warehouse space housing
the Blue Hole equipment. He wondered if it would be possible to buy
the equipment. An offer was made and accepted, and John’s college
course became more than just a paper. We asked how his professor
liked his project, and he said his professor is now his accountant.
I bet John got an “A” in the course.

to John Williamson for going out of his way to help me. Call him,
540-832-7855, if you will be in the area and want to see the factory.

From “The Paddler”, newsletter of the Carolina Canoe

by Paul Ferguson

The Eddy Line, December 1997