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Old 07-20-2011, 12:12 AM   #1
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Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Camarillo, CA
Posts: 180
California Dive Boats -- the legend of Radon (pictures)

We talk a lot about the fathers of diving, but the discussion on boats recently got me thinking about the pioneers of boats built specifically for divers. I feel fortunate to have gotten to know a little about the Radon history, and I would love to share it with those of you willing to continue reading.

This remarkable boat has been the vessel of choice for both commercial and hard-core sport divers like us for over 40 years. Because so many high volume production boats come from the East Coast, I guess it shouldn't surprise me that the Radon name is unknown to so many. Growing up here in So Cal, I had often seen these boats on days when no other boats were on the ocean, with guys diving places few others ventured. I grew up fascinated by, but completely unaware of, their lore and unsung virtues. Today, I'm a Radon owner (I've owned my custom built "Radon Signature 26" for 11 years).

To be clear, I'm only a Radon customer. I have no financial interest, nor gain any benefits from being a Radon fanboy. I was asked a few years ago if I could help put together the Radon website, and I did so as a volunteer. It taught me a great deal about the boat, the myth, and the family behind what many consider the quintessential diving platform of So Cal.

The Radon story begins in the early 1960 with the Radon family building commercial dive boats in Santa Barbara. The trick to building boats for those who dive the Channel Islands is to make them safe, fast, and range-worthy for long hauls out to the notorious and unforgiving waters around San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands. Some crossings, like the Potato Patch between Cruz and Rosa, were more likely to bust you up (or sink you) than even the wind-swept Santa Barbara Channel itself. Forget about comfort, back then a good boat was one that just got you home. The Radon family quickly became famous for building boats that ran fast and safe when the weather was the worst. How did they do it? There are two things that the Radon family did a little differently...

1) Radon designed a boat that was safe in any weather, and exceptionally fast downhill. This was key to the core of the design and has benefited me and countless others since the 1960s. You see, the Radons figured out that the best way to get home safe in bad weather was to get off the water quickly -- get home fast at the end of the day when the wind is blowing hardest. They understood that here on the West Coast, the off-shore, or eddy winds, that often keep the channel crossing calm just before daybreak, make it relatively easy for any boat to get to the islands in the morning. But in the afternoon, on-shore winds pick up, and the ride home becomes rough -- even dangerous. They realized most of us spend little time running fast into a morning headwind -- we typically stay home if it's that rough in the morning. However, all of us spend time in dangerous following seas. The popular deep-v hull design does not solve this problem, in fact it makes things worse. Although, deep-v hulls make it easier to maintain speed through head-on rough water, this hull design can become dangerous at high speeds in a following sea creating bow-steering that makes it necessary to slow down. So Radon opted for a different hull design (not a deep-v) that has become one of the keys to Radon's success. For 20 years I've owned assorted deep-v boats (18' and 21' center consoles, and 24' and 28' cabin/flybridge), and have experienced my share of white-knuckle rides home from SCI, Catalina, and the Channel Islands. For the past 11 years I've owned a Radon, and I cannot believe the difference. I feel like the laws of physics somehow have been changed. I travel 25-30 knots every morning on the way to the islands (like I always have in any boat I've owned), but now I travel 25-30 knots every afternoon on the way home like I never could before!

2) Radon built every boat as a commercial grade boat to stand unheard of abuse. From the exotic hand-layup glassing techniques, to the use of high-end wiring and control systems, the Radons built boats that would last 40 years of daily abuse -- and many have. From my experience, most production boats are built way less tough than the manufacturer’s marketing departments want you to believe. All the other boats I've owned were at least mildly disappointing in one way or another. In every other boat I've owned, there have always been things that went wrong -- and the source was always some corner-cutting component or build decision that made me say "why didn't they just spend the extra $10 in the initial build so I wouldn't have wasted this trip?". If you're a long-time boat owner, you probably know what I'm talking about -- if you're a Radon boat owner, you probably don't!

Fast-forward 40 years and you'll find Don Radon still making boats from the same core design, using the same commercial-grade build techniques in Santa Barbara. Don is the son of Ron Radon Sr. who started it all in the 1960s. Don Radon has been a legend in the business since his father retired in the 1970s, and someone who has enable countless spearfishermen like myself to enjoy the beauty of our islands safely for years. If you're ever in Santa Barbara, you owe it to yourself to stop by his shop and say hello. He's the quiet, soft-spoken guy usually found working in the molds or running systems checks on the boats.

A few of the things that make Radon boats so remarkable to me include:

1) Every boat is custom made to the owner’s needs – you can start with a basic mold and a blank sheet of paper (I did).
2) No screws hold it together – the entire boat is glassed: top, bottom, and top to bottom connections.
3) Every hold, hatch and opening is fully scuppered, self-draining or sealed. There’s not even a drain plug in the engine compartment because nothing drains there either.
4) The hull is remarkable. The nicest ride in the worst weather imaginable. An impossibly fast, safe downhill ride in a following sea.

In my book, Don Radon holds a special place right at the top of the legend's roster of boats built for Southern California divers.

Below are some photos of a few things that make my custom 26’ Radon special to me:

On the trailer (note front headlights for anchoring at night).

Fully enclosed cabin with sliding windows (the famous Bryant Lum photographing sunset at Santa Cruz island).

The helm with unobstructed view from all three forward-facing windows.

The dinette (it also makes into a bunk).

Massive cabin heater below the microwave (this thing makes the cabin warm and dry in minutes).

Hotwater shower (we hold 50+ gallons of freshwater), and freshwater washdown hose.

Here on the other side of the boat is a saltwater washdown hose (at my feet). Comes in handy on days like this!

6' x 4' gear storage with built-in ice locker below deck. I wanted this to keep as much off the deck at possible -- and easy access to the 150 quart ice locker. I've had a dozen WSB stuffed in that locker -- completely separated from the gear.

More pictures coming up...
Lance Merker
Camarillo, CA

Last edited by Spineshot; 07-22-2011 at 10:02 AM.
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