Destin fishing family pays tribute to Buddy Gentry and the G&S Boats legacy

It was a family affair of sorts as more than 250 members of the fishing family of Destin came together Saturday evening at Harbor Docks to pay tribute and honor the legacy of G&S Boats.

G&S Boats, which was started in 1973 by Buddy Gentry and Steve Sauer, built boats for almost 50 years. Sauer passed away in May of 2018 and Gentry retired recently, but their boats are still on the water and can be found around the world.

“Destin has never been known for exporting anything,” said Charles Morgan, founder of Harbor Docks restaurant on the harbor.

“We’ve imported a ton of tourists, but worldwide we have exported these G&S Boats to countries all around the world to exotic ports that I’ll never get to visit,” Morgan said. “And in all of those places, they know about Destin. It’s a wonderful quiet form of publicity.”

G&S boats can be found in 16 countries from New Zealand to Morocco.

“And it’s all because of two guys that built one boat at a time … 45 years … very quietly, never advertised, never boasted. They just built great boats,” Morgan said.

Morgan himself has had three G&S boats over the years but now has just two, the Papi, a 58-footer, and the Hey Baby, a 30-footer. The Hey Baby was the original 100 Proof.

Over the 45-year span, Gentry and Sauer and their crew built 52 boats.

On Saturday night, 13 of the 52 boats were backed in at Harbor Docks. Photo boards of the many vessels built by the two guys were on display around Harbor Docks, as well memorabilia such as T-shirts, hats, visors and stickers were for sale.

Boat owners, captains, deckhands, friends and family showed up for the legacy party and swapped story after story and bragged on their G&S boat.

“I can’t believe this many people showed up,” Gentry said as he mingled through the crowd. “I didn’t think this many people cared.”

Retired charter boat captain and Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis said he put his time in on G&S boats over the years.

“I have about 6,000 to 7,000 hours at a minimum,” Jarvis said, naming off a half dozen G&S Boats he’s worked on over the years. “Anybody 35 years old or older that has fished in Destin has spent time on a G&S. I don’t see how they didn’t because they were so prolific.

“And what a great place to hold the celebration … right where it all got started,” he added.

Gentry and Sauer built their first boat, a 30-footer, in the parking lot next to Harbor Docks where Gentry and his family lived.

“We decided we would build small boats first, that way our screw ups wouldn’t be so expensive,” Gentry told The Log in an interview last year. “We built 15 of those little boats.”

The first big boat the two built was the Mollie, a 48-footer. Capt. Todd Allen bought the boat from Capt. Royal Melvin in 1993 and renamed it the Big John.

“It’s been good,” Allen said. “It’s a G&S."

G&S built two more Mollie’s. The second is still in Destin but has been renamed the Papi and docks behind Harbor Docks. The other, which still bears the moniker of Mollie, a 66-footer that is ran by Capt. Jeff Shoults.

“It’s incredible,” said Shoults, who has been at the helm of the Mollie for 11 years. “When we first started designing it and building it, we never really understood what we were going to have when we got it finished.

“I think we have the perfect fishing platform,” he added.

And the best thing about the Mollie, Shoults said, is it will go 50 miles per hour.

With the big boats, and the ability to back down on the big fish, G&S made a name for themselves. The boats hold more than 90 world record catches.

The biggest boat G&S ever built was the Destiny for Capt. Kelly Windes. The 72-foot party boat is still in service at Fishing Fleet Marina.

Over the years, G&S moved from Gentry’s parking lot to Benning Drive in Destin until they even outgrew the building.

“We used to have to take a wall off the building down to get the boats out,” Gentry told The Log last year.

They would trailer the boats down to the old concrete plant on Joe’s Bayou and launch the boats.

“I would have nightmares the night before a launch,” Gentry said at the party, noting he worried about boats turning over, but they never did.

In 1999, they moved the business to Freeport on the bayou where they had easy access to the water to launch their finished products.

The last boat G&S put on the water was a 52-footer named the Adios.

Gentry and his wife, Clara Bell, live just west of Freeport.