Sportfish Shootout

Custom with a Cause

Capt. Steve Dougherty October 26, 2015

In only its short existence, sport fishing has seen some truly incredible innovations and developments in tackle and equipment that have propelled anglers to impressive catches once considered unimaginable. However, among all the revolutions, the modern day sportfish yacht is likely the single greatest influence propelling blue water fishermen to truly impressive feats by enabling them to fish distant waters previously unreachable.

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Photo: Ray Matthews

Brilliantly engineered and outfitted with state of the art engine rooms and helm stations, full galleys with modern amenities, multiple staterooms and heads, massive cockpits and three-story marlin towers, few things in life are better than the sleek and sexy look of a sportfish yacht blazing a trail on the hunt for trophy game fish.

…the modern day sportfish yacht is likely the single greatest influence propelling blue water fishermen to truly impressive feats…

While many of Florida’s widespread fisheries lend themselves to center consoles and 360 degree fishability, there’s something to be said about a self-sufficient sportfish yacht that has the range and seafaring abilities to fish distant waters many miles over the horizon for extended periods of time. With modern day sportfish yachts when you find the fish you don’t have to leave. Outboard powered center consoles have also benefited from technology advancements and when Roy Merritt created the first 37, he would have never imagined the day when anglers would be racing around in center consoles longer than the historic and legendary Caliban. However, while outboard powered boats once had the upper hand in speed, sportfish yachts powered by modern, lightweight turbo diesels have caught up in a big way and builders are introducing 90 foot behemoths that can reach cruising speeds in excess of 40 knots! With the performance game a level playing field, and the clear advantage of a heightened vantage point, extended range, and comfort in favor of the big boat fleet, it’s clear that sportfishers are the ultimate offshore battlewagons for anglers in it for more than the afternoon bite.

If you’re in the market to purchase a new or used sportfish, life is good and there’s really no bad decision. It all boils down to your personal preference, budget and availability. When it comes to production versus custom sportfish, there are several substantial differences that will greatly sway your opinion depending on your end goal.

One of the major differences between custom and production builders is the construction technique. Production boats like Hatteras, Viking and Bertram are manufactured using 100 percent fiberglass hand laid in precision crafted hull molds. While the initial investment in cost and design to tool a sportfish hull and the many associated molds is immense, once a mold has been perfected hundreds of hulls can be created from the same footprint. This helps maximize efficiency and line time, which translates to lower labor costs, which is transferred to the end buyer with a reduced price point. And while most production manufacturers offer a level of semi customization, selection is often limited in the choice of various finishes, hull colors, power options, teak packages and stateroom layout.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, custom builders like Spencer, Merritt, American Custom, G&S and more create one-off dream machines from the keel down, as the hull is built on a jig upside down. Hand crafted throughout the entire process, custom sportfish boats were once over-built plank on frame designs, but are now cold molded to eliminate weight and increase interior space. The design of any custom sportfish is first developed on paper or a computer, where the owner can input a long list of wants and desires. As long as it doesn’t compromise the integrity or the aesthetics, you can have it your way. A jig for the hull shape is CNC crafted out of wood or steel to ensure absolute accuracy. From here the cold molding technique starts with the keel, stringers and deck beams laid on the jig, followed by sequential layers of marine grade plywood laminated with high tech polymers and the finest resins to meld the entire hull together. With such a labor intensive process it’s easy to see why it takes longer and costs more to build a custom yacht, but buyers benefit from the complete customization of the layout from stem to stern.

When looking at custom sportfish boats, especially those crafted in coastal Carolina, you’ll immediately be drawn to the eye-catching tumblehome. With the design of these boats, the tumblehome at the waterline is wider than that at the top of the sheer or gunnel, which can only be accomplished through a custom build. With production builders using molds, it would be impossible to pop a one-piece mold out of a plug where the top of the mold is narrower than any point below it, causing the fiberglass mold to be stuck in the plug. While both construction techniques are time-tested and safe options for crossing long stretches of open water, many believe that custom creations provide a softer ride as the wood construction better absorbs shock compared to 100 percent fiberglass yachts. It’s a feel you have to experience for yourself.

You might be under the impression that placing an order with a custom builder would be the ultimate option for anyone looking to purchase a new sportfish yacht, but it isn’t always as it seems. While some custom builders work on two or three boats simultaneously, others only produce one vessel at a time, and all take a year or more from concept to completion. The largest sportfish models recently debuted can take upwards of three years to produce!

Although the most prominent production boats like Hatteras, Viking and Bertram are atop the competitive level across fisheries worldwide, most choose to go the custom route because they can have the cockpit, bridge, staterooms and salon, and fuel and water capacities designed exactly for the way they want it. When money is no option, there is no better choice. When it comes to resale value, since production builders release new year models, your old boat will depreciate significantly. On the other hand, that one-off custom boat will hold greater value since there’s nothing else like it in the world, but it will certainly require a greater up front investment.

Whether you enjoy the sleekness of Florida built boats like Merritt, Whiticar, Tribute and Jim Smith, the Carolina flare of sleek sportfishers like Davis, Paul Mann, Spencer and Bayliss, or the lack of guesswork involved in purchasing a production yacht, you can sleep well knowing you’re riding in one of the most advanced fishing machines ever developed. From craftsmen working in 660,000 square foot facilities to improvised backyard sheds, the expertly crafted modern sportfish yacht is an amazing breed. Game fish beware!

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