A short 20 minutes northwest of Augusta, Ga., lies one of the south’s hidden treasures—beautiful Clarks Hill Lake. At least that’s what the folks in Georgia call it. It’s Lake Thurmond to some South Carolinians, but that controversy is probably best left for another story.
This story is about a boat. A seriously nice, extensively customized boat.
Any boat owner who has customized his vessel knows that designing and producing custom items on a "one-off" basis is a daunting (and expensive) endeavor.
Turns out being a mechanical genius and owning your own machine shop helps.
James “Buzzy” Mims began working at Murray Biscuit Company as a high school kid. Cleaning up and sweeping, the usual stuff. One day he was enlisted to be a mechanic’s helper—carrying parts, handing out tools, cleaning machines, etc. It soon became apparent that Buzzy had a significant amount of natural mechanical acumen, an uncanny knack for looking at broken things and knowing exactly what was needed to fix them. He could look at the way a machine was built and operated, and if there was a way to make it better he'd just "see it" in his head.
Take that kind of God-given talent, add a good portion of work ethic and a full measure of honesty, and you have the perfect recipe for a successful entrepreneur.
As the years rolled by, Buzzy climbed the ladder from shop cleaner to mechanic’s helper to mechanic to shop foreman in charge of all the equipment at Murray. When a machine went down, Buzzy was in charge of getting it back on line. That usually meant outsourcing parts, but one day Buzzy said, "I can make the part we need."
That day changed Buzzy's life, and although no one could possibly have known at the time, Clarks Hill was from then on destined to one day be home to a beautifully customized vessel named Sea Ya Later.
On His Own
In 1975 Buzzy founded his own business, Richmond Industrial Machine, to make parts for machines in the baking industry. Before long, he graduated into custom designing and building entire machines for some of the largest bakeries in the world (think Kellogg’s, Nabisco, etc).
One spring day in 2008 after Buzzy and a friend finished a couple-hundred-mile afternoon Harley ride, they swung by the lake for a short cruise on his friend's houseboat, the Dixie Cricket.
The hook was set quick and deep.
Within a few months Buzzy bought a shiny new 16- by 68-foot Lakeview. It was a beauty, but the problem with being a self-made engineer with an active imagination and a respectable income is that nothing is ever cool or slick enough out of the box—you just HAVE to jazz it up a little.
And jazz it up Buzzy did.
And I'm not just talking about the little everyday things, like the extra 25-gallon tank supplying purified water to the fridge and icemakers (which make enough ice to keep the rotating three-pitcher daiquiri machine running non-stop all weekend), or the water refill assist system that fills all tanks in sequence without flipping valves in hard-to-reach places, or the button you push to change the engine and generator oil (insert one hose in full container and one in empty container, and voila!), or the eight-battery pure-sine-wave inverter system, or the device that sends Buzzy a text message if the power goes out or if there's water in the hold, or the flip-out beach ladder on the underside of the bow.
No, I'm talking about REAL customization that adds class.
Not much says class like hardwood floors in a house, so why not put them in a boat? Unfortunately, the first ones Buzzy had a flooring company install weren't quite up to snuff, so he ripped them up and installed a better grade himself. Next, he replaced the stock kitchen countertops with inch-thick solid granite to complement the floor.
Buzzy had some 150-year-old black walnut wood squirreled away, torn from an old antebellum mansion years ago. What better use than a custom ship’s wheel on the lower helm? Of course it couldn't be ordinary, so Buzzy designed it in 28 separate pieces, milling each out of a different section of the wood on his CNC machine (what, doesn't everybody have one?) to produce an elegant look with grain and color variations. The end product did not disappoint.
Unfortunately, the standard black instrument panel just didn't look right next to that gorgeous wheel. No worries, there was enough 150-year-old walnut to make one of those, too. The result is a captain's helm that makes even the saltiest dog salivate.
The larger stern swim platform Buzzy designed, built, and installed nicely accommodates the storage of a jet ski while still leaving ample walking room. Of course, when one is off enjoying a ride on the ski, who wants to see an unsightly set of rails on the swim platform? A little number crunching told Buzzy that if a winch was installed at the correct location and height, just one rear roller should keep the ski a tidy two inches off the deck when fully cranked in. (Looks like about an inch and three-quarters to me. I think he missed it a bit.)
Underwater LED lighting below the platform adds atmosphere to sweltering summer evening swims. Just be sure to avoid those zipping down the water slide, especially since Buzzy raised it an additional four feet higher to increase the WAHOO! factor.
A vessel of this stature shouldn't be without thrusters. Problem is, those pesky things produce a little drag while underway, right? No problem. Buzzy fabricated his own thruster system with hydraulics that lift out of the water at the touch of a button.
On the upper deck is an auto-tracking HD satellite system so those who prefer NASCAR over nature can watch TV while underway on any of the numerous flat screen TVs onboard. The 48-inch TV on the top deck swings up into a lockable enclosure Buzzy designed so it's out of the way when not in use. When the crowd really wants serious visual entertainment, the projection TV system and 12-foot pull-down screen are just the trick.
Cruising around the lake on the luxurious Sea Ya Later ushers in serenity that's hard to find anywhere else, unless you have to actually PILOT the vessel, which means you can't fully enjoy the company and the experience. Buzzy has that covered: just enter the desired destination into the automatic pilot system, and sit back and enjoy favorite friends and bountiful beverages while the Sea Ya Later dutifully tracks her course. The occasional one degree “bump” on the handheld remote may be needed to correct an ever-so-slight wandering, but that won't even make you spill your drink.
Of course it's always prudent to keep a watchful eye on Mother Nature. Sea Ya Later is equipped with its own real-time weather radar reaching out 24 miles to warn of impending squalls.
Buzzy’s latest project was a bow enclosure to make the front deck more comfortable in the coldest and hottest times of the year. He designed and built the walls himself (are you surprised?), sandwiching one-inch-thick aluminum tubing and insulation between painted aluminum sheets. Each wall panel was individually fabricated to size, the windows milled out and carefully bolted into place. All important hardware (doors, handles, hinges, etc.) was, of course, fabricated in-house. There's nothing else like it on the lake.
Did I miss anything? Probably, but since any more would make us mere mortals even more green with envy than we already are, we'd better stop there for now. Besides, Buzzy says we're about to the leave the dock for tonight's sunset dinner cruise, so...Sea Ya Later!