Yellow Jacket brochure cover

By David Kanally, Southwest Chapter Member, with Bill Mott, Southwest Chapter Member and Event Volunteer

Bill Mott likes boats. Big cruisers and Chris-Craft runabouts are part of his family history. He can drive just about anything that floats. So, when it comes time for the sea trials of the boats we restore in the Wooden Boat Association of North Texas (WBA), we often call on Bill to be the test driver. Back in 2017, we had just refreshed a Yellow Jacket Capri that had come in from one of our members in Idaho. Bill test-drove that thing like he was born in it. 

Bill Mott test driving Yellow Jacket Capri in 2017.

Bill explains why he was so at ease in a Yellow Jacket. “It was at the ripe old age of five, in 1957, when I was first introduced to Yellow Jacket boats. It was a brand new one that belonged to one of my Dad’s friends. I was learning how to water ski, and one Saturday afternoon, our families went up to Lake Lavon together, where Fred was trying out his new toy.”

“We were given a good ride in the boat at a speed, which seemed much faster than the larger Chris-Crafts. I was plopped down on the mud beach and fitted with the smallest pair of adult skis they could find. My little feet were wobbling around in the ski bindings to such an extent that I just could not keep them on. I tried and tried to get up, but failed again and again with great disappointment. That Christmas I got a pair of junior skis and mastered skiing the following spring. I received many rides in Fred’s Yellow Jacket on Lake Dallas during our time there from 1958-1965 and always enjoyed the excitement it provided.”

What Bill didn’t know at the time was that he had caught the Yellow Jacket bug. He continues, “Fast forward to 2017, as the WBA completed the Yellow Jacket that we sold to Jerry Zlomke down near Houston. David Kanally asked me to drive it for him so he could video the boat in action for an eBay listing. I fell in love with Yellow Jackets all over again and had an absolute blast ripping around on Lake Ray Hubbard in it during the photo shoot.”

“Shortly thereafter I elected to get more involved in the WBA shop and helped complete the restoration of a Yellow Jacket that I eventually acquired. I’ve had the boat in the water four or five times since last May. It still puts an ear-to-ear grin on my face every time I get behind the wheel. Here’s a fair warning: If you don’t want to own a Yellow Jacket, don’t ever get behind the wheel of one at speed. They are addictive!”

Yellow Jacket Boats were the product of a rich boating heritage, which began in New Orleans. Yellow Jacket founder, Richard A. “Mac” McDerby, was born in Louisiana on Monday, February 14, 1910. As a young man, he became a licensed commercial captain on the Mississippi, a qualification that enabled him to secure a job with Higgins Industries of New Orleans in 1934. 

Roy Rogers ready to race the Yellow Jacket.

Higgins had developed innovative designs for watercraft that could operate in the shallow waters of the bayou, and serve the burgeoning oil, fishing and transportation industries of the day. Those innovations would lead to the development of the famous landing craft for which Higgins was best known, the craft that brought our troops to the shores of Normandy for the D-Day invasion in 1944.

It was Mac’s job to train thousands of young sailors, soldiers and other military personnel at the Higgins Boat Operators School. By the end of the War, more than 30,000 people had received training designed, delivered or overseen by Mac McDerby.

At Keels & Wheels, Seabrook, Texas.

Following Victory in Europe in 1944, attention turned to the Pacific Theater, and the nation was asked to see the effort through by buying War Bonds. Higgins, with Mac leading the charge, staged a series of mock invasion demonstrations in June of 1945, beginning in Denison, Texas on the shores of Lake Texoma. During his time in Denison while planning the “Mighty Seventh” mock invasion in April of 1945, Mac had the very good fortune of meeting Catherine Conatser. Things apparently went very well, because shortly after the War, Mac and Catherine were married. Mac moved to Denison and opened a marine supply business.

It was from that business that the idea to build boats grew. By 1949, Mac and Catherine’s brother, Bill Conatser, had formed the McDerby-Conatser Boat Company and were building plywood-on-frame boats. Before long, they began building the first Yellow Jacket Boats, using innovative molded plywood hulls from Industrial Shipping in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, designed by naval architect Richard Cole. Yellow Jacket added deck designs, seating configurations and hardware of their own choosing. Almost immediately, they outgrew their downtown location and acquired a site just downstream from the Denison Dam that would become the permanent home to Yellow Jacket Boats. Industrial Shipping exec, Wesley Theakston, would co-locate his own molded hull plant on the Yellow Jacket site in 1956.

Mac invited Roy Rogers to be a partner in Yellow Jacket boats. Roy was the perfect spokesperson for the company, blending his all-American cowboy image with his reputation as a successful race boat driver.

Yellow Jacket Boats produced approximately 20,000 boats between 1949 and 1959, when a failed foray into fiberglass boats caused the demise of the company.

Until his final days, Mac spoke of building wooden boats again one day, but that was not to be. Mac passed away on January 30, 2002, just two weeks short of his 92nd birthday.

Read more at, and in Marty Franz’ book, “Mac and His Yellow Jacket Boats”, available on Amazon.


  1. I own a 1957 Mahone Bay runabout which I look forward to getting out on the water this year. The process used for molding the hulls had been developed during the war and used in the production of the de Haviland DH98 Mosquito, a British twin engined fighter bomber. A number of the The “wooden wonders’ powered by two Rolls Royce Merlins had been produced by de Haviland at their plant in Canada. Thus the expertise under the direction of Wesley Theakston and designed by Richard C. Cole, later of Thunderbird Boats, resulted in the development these innovated hulls.

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