"As they say, knowing your boat is a very good thing," says Sheperd.
He stepped up to the 24-foot single-engine pilothouse Sea Sport, built in Washington state, from a SeaCraft Master Angler "powered by a chugging, smoky, balky old 200-hp Mercury," Sheperd recalls. "She was a beautiful little ship, offering all the seakindly performance and stability SeaCrafts are known for. She carried me to a lot of places I had no business going and got me back safely."
In his next boat, he wanted some of the same rugged character, but tempered a bit, with some basic amenities: a stand-up head, little galley, dinette and a sleeping cuddy. A trailerable pilothouse boat fit the bill, and after comparing several builders, he chose the Sea Sport Explorer for its overbuilt scantlings, well-organized systems and complete layout.
"It just seemed like the most well-thought-out craft of all," he says. "And it matched the amenities that had originally attracted me."
In 2001, he found a used model in Bellingham, Wash., at BoonDocks Boats and Motors and bought it for $63,000. It was a "little rough," Sheperd says. And thus was born his endless to-do list, still active after nine years. Here are a few highlights from past projects:
• repair gelcoat nicks, dings and gouges
• interior upgrades, including new headliner, teak batten trim pieces and polyurethane paint on all bulkheads
• electrical upgrades, including a new wiring harness, a battery charging system, an inverter and a battery isolator
• removal of the 216-hp Volvo-Penta KAD42A diesel, a complete strip-down and cleaning, and final refinishing with two coats of primer, 10 coats of Volvo green and two coats of anti-corrosion barrier coat.
"While the engine was out, I stripped and cleaned the bilge, organizing and streamlining some of the wiring runs while making new connections with heat-shrink butt connectors," says Sheperd. "I installed fuel shutoff valves and a bilge crash valve tied in to the raw water intake system - well, you get the idea."
Electronics are next on the list. "I'm running the original suite of then-state-of-the-art components," he says.
Hard Tail has taken him to Block Island, R.I.; Montauk and Sag Harbor, N.Y.; Martha's Vineyard, Mass.; and down Long Island Sound to Greenport, Port Jefferson and Centerport, N.Y. "Offering a comfortable night's sleep at the end of the journey," he says.
The diesel is coupled to a DP-E DuoProp drive. Cruising speed is around 22 to 25 mph, burning an average of 8-plus gph, according to Sheperd. The Explorer 2400 rates well on fishability, too. Sheperd calls the cockpit adequate, well-suited to casting and working fish. "On the troll for tuna with the 'riggers out, the spread admirably mimics that of the big-boy battlewagons," he says. "And it produces fish."
As for handling, Sheperd says he will "fish her anywhere from inshore to 40 or 50 miles out." And on the right days, when the weather forecast calls for relatively flat seas, he'll run farther out toward the canyons in search of tuna.
All in all, the Sea Sport's been a good choice and well worth the work it's taken to get her and keep her in shape. Concludes Sheperd: "The Hard Tail gallantly meets the demands I place on her with as little compromise as possible. She works hard and she relaxes easy."
The lines of the Sea Sport Explorer 2400 spring from its Pacific Northwest-Alaskan heritage, where the boat and builder are well-known among both anglers and cruisers alike. The Explorer hull is solid fiberglass, and construction features resin-infused biaxial cloth. It's a deep-vee shape, with 22 degrees transom deadrise.
The pilothouse is fully enclosed, with a forward-raked windshield and large opening side ports. The wide side decks and recessed foredeck allow for safe movement around the boat, giving anglers the chance to play their catch. The pilothouse hardtop is large enough to accommodate radar, rod holders and stowage.
Down below, the compact layout starts with a forward V-berth for two. Moving aft, the helm station is to starboard, equipped with a pedestal seat, destroyer wheel and room for a full slate of electronics.
The galley, with stove top and sink (with pressure water) and storage, is abaft the helm seat, with an under-counter refrigerator to port. There's a dinette that seats up to four - and converts to a double bunk - to port, across from the helm station, and a fully enclosed head aft, at the pilothouse bulkhead. The compact enclosed head compartment includes faucets and a wand shower.
The Sea Sport name has been known in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska for more than 50 years. The original family business gained a reputation for rugged, no-nonsense boats beginning in the 1950s and '60s, thanks to its series of "Sportsmen" recreational fishing boats, which evolved into the modern Sea Sport lineup featuring pilothouse and raised pilothouse models from 22 to 32 feet.
Sea Sport was recently acquired by the Triton Marine Group, of Bellingham, Wash., and production was halted. But the parent company expects to resume production of Sea Sport boats soon, according to John Lindhout, a Triton Marine vice president. Meanwhile, the Explorer 2400 is readily available on the used boat market, and prices run from around $70,000 to $100,000 and a bit higher.
LOA: 24 feet
BEAM: 8 feet, 6 inches
DRAFT: 3 feet, 3 inches
Weight: 5,500 pounds
HULL TYPE: deep-vee
PROPULSION: single diesel
TANKAGE: 120 gallons fuel,
25 gallons water
BUILDER: Sea Sport Boats, Bellingham, Wash.
This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue.
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