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Rybovich and Sons Boat Works


John Rybovich, founder of Rybovich Boats

and inventor of the fighting chair.

In West Palm Beach, Captain John “Pop” Rybovich, Sr. and his wife, Anna, started Rybovich and Sons Boat Works in 1919 on the Intracoastal Waterway near 45th Street. After emigrating from Slovakia (then-future, now-former Yugoslavia) in 1902, they settled on Lake Worth in 1912. Henry Flagler allowed no noisy construction during the three-month winter season, so Rybovich, a carpenter and cabinetmaker, bought a boat and took up commercial fishing and repairing boats for others.

In 1918, Rybovich built his first new boat, a sea skiff, and the next year, he bought land in West Palm Beach on the lake. In the 1920s, both rumrunners and commercial fishermen kept him building and repairing boats. Between the bank failures and hurricanes of the late 1920s, the family lost both their home and business. They rebuilt it all, bringing teenaged son John, Jr. in to help, and managed to stay busy through the Depression.

The “Sons” part of the firm was threefold. John, Jr. became president and contributed the fishing know-how, Tommy inherited his father’s passion for fine finishes, and Emil became an expert mechanic. Their stepsisters Ethel and Irene helped, too.

The boatyard became known for several “firsts” that were mostly John’s doing, starting with the fighting chair in 1933. Ernest Hemingway became a family friend in 1934, after he brought his 35’ Pilar to Rybovich for repairs. Although the last two brothers were later forced to sell Rybovich and Sons, descendants started Ryco Marine, and the legacy continued.

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