Multiple-outboard open boats are taking anglers farther and faster in search of fish
In the Northeast, you have to travel about 80 to 100 miles offshore to reach the canyons - an expanse of the Atlantic ripe with yellowfin, bigeye and albacore tuna, marlin and the occasional wahoo and dolphin. Anglers like Brad Berk, a Niantic, Conn., stockbroker with three children under the age of 7, lack the time to run a big, inboard-powered convertible 10 hours to reach the fish.
"Believe me, if I had more time, I would live out there," says Berk, who is 38. "If it was up to me, I would take my three kids and wife and have a 150-foot boat and park in the canyons. That's the kind of person I am. I live for it. The reality is my kids are too young to experience that kind of fishing. And my wife doesn't like boats at all."
Despite his domestic complexities, Berk still gets to the canyons - in fact, about 50 times in the last three years. And the boat that delivers him is a four-year-old 33-foot Yellowfin center console (www.yellowfinyachts.com), powered with triple 275-hp Mercury Verado outboards.
"I've made it out there, 85 miles, in under two hours on a really nice day, which is incredible," says Berk, who cruises anywhere from 35 to 48 knots depending on sea conditions. "Typically it's going to between 2-1/2 to three hours. I tend to push it because that's what the boat's for."
Berk and his Yellowfin are part of a growing group of boat owners who run outboard-powered open vessels fast and far in the hunt for fish. Until recently, this mission called for a 45-plus-foot convertible with roaring twin inboard diesels. But the development of high-horsepower, 4-stroke outboards and the growth spurt of center consoles have enabled smaller, lighter and less expensive vessels to step up to the task.
Typically between 32 and 40 feet, these boats have a large cockpit, center console with hardtop and windshield and either a slightly raised or flush foredeck. They may also house a head, a sink and a berth in the console. Outriggers are mounted on the hardtop and rod holders line the gunwale tops. A big live well - at least 50 gallons - and large fish boxes are musts. With three engines, the boat typically can be had for between $200,000 and $300,000, while the alternative - the small convertible sportfisherman - will cost around $800,000.
Three's no crowd
These vessels can hold three - even four - outboards. Many a fellow boater has sneered at the multiple-outboard-powered boats, questioning the need for all that gas-guzzling horsepower. But there are reasons - to get the owner and his crew to the fishing grounds quickly, with the comfort of knowing that if one engine quits, the remaining two can still get them home at a decent clip.
"I've come home on two engines 10 times, so I'm really glad I have three," says Berk, who has racked up 650 hours on his Verados. "I love my engines, but in the beginning years they had issues with ethanol, which caused sticking and fuel starvation. On many different occasions we'd be out fishing and one of the engines would die. I could still get on plane with two and go 35 to 40 knots. With twin engines, if one goes out, it's going to take you 12 hours to get in."
Yes, three is much better than two, agrees Paul Jaworski of Sarasota, Fla., who owns a 2007 Hydra-Sports 3300VX (www.hydrasports.com) powered by triple Yamaha 250-hp 4-strokes. "Twice I've had to come back in on two engines, which is a heck of lot better than limping back on one, especially if there's any kind of weather," says Jaworski, a 56-year-old dentist.
Jaworski was cruising from Sarasota south to Useppa Island - about 65 miles - when the center engine began vibrating. "I just shut it off," he says. "It's propped so there's enough power that you can get up on plane and do 30 mph. Rather than turn around and cancel the trip, I proceeded on, and it didn't put a damper on things."
That third engine is vital for Bill Platt, too, who fishes a 33-foot Contender center console (www.contenderfishingboats.com) in the Southern Kingfish Association professional tournaments. "It's an advantage for me," says Platt, 40, whose Contender is powered with three Yamaha 350-hp 4-strokes. "If you hit something in the water and knock out one engine, you can trim up one motor and still run 55 mph - and that's just as fast as all the other [competing] boats."
At 55 mph, the engines burn roughly a combined 55 gallons an hour, which equates to about one mile to the gallon. And with a fuel capacity of 460 gallons, distance is never an issue. Long, fast runs come with the territory, says Platt. His longest sprint was 210 miles from St. Simons, Ga., to a reef off northeast Florida. Remember, that's only one way. Platt, who fishes with his partner Jose Reyes and two other anglers, has also rocketed southwest from Sarasota 180 miles to a fishing spot just short of the Tortugas.
Berk routinely journeys 100 nautical miles - fishing places like Block Canyon, the Dip, Fishtales, the Middle Grounds and Veatch. "We really have no bounds," says Berk, whose Yellowfin carries 525 gallons of fuel. "There are a lot of boats at my dock that will go out to Veatch, but they have to spend a day or two out there."
Sometimes, Jaworski doesn't even want to spend an entire day "out there," he says.
He cruises from 35 mph to 45 mph to springs and ledges in the Gulf of Mexico that hold fish. "My favorite spot is 52 miles offshore and another is about 60 miles away," says Jaworski. "It takes 1-1/2 to 2 hours. I can leave at dawn and be back by 2 in the afternoon. I definitely want to be able to get there fast and come back fast."
Jaworski's vessel can hold 352 gallons of fuel, which suffices for most of his sojourns. However, he's contemplating a 130- to 140-mile jaunt offshore to the Canyon Steps in the Gulf. Like the other vessels, the Hydra-Sports logs around 1 mile to the gallon, which gives him a 315-mile range (based on 90 percent of the fuel capacity). "It's got a good bit of range - 352 is a pretty good amount of fuel capacity for a boat this size," he says. "But I'd like more breathing room. The idea of coming back with 20 gallons in each tank doesn't sound too appealing to me." Jaworski has looked into buying a custom-made fuel bladder or fuel cells to supplement his supply.
Speed vs. space
Platt's Contender is by far the fastest of our fleet, topping out at 74 mph. "If I'm tournament fishing I go as fast as I can safely - and sometimes a little unsafely," says Platt, who resides in the Galveston, Texas, area. "I've been known to run fast and hard - a lot." That explains his nickname on the circuit - Capt. WFO (Wide [bleepin'] Open). Platt throttles back to a mere 40 mph when he fishes for fun.
Berk's Yellowfin holds runner-up honors for speed. At wide-open throttle, the 36-foot 9,500-pounder boogies at 65 mph, he says. "I like to go fast," says Berk. "I like to be the first one there in the morning. I like the ability to go from [fishing] spot to [fishing] spot quickly."
Even carrying the weight of a cabin and its amenities, the Hydra-Sports reaches 55 mph.
Not all owners of multi-outboard-powered boats need to go fast. Ed Easton owns a Tortuga 34 (www.tortugaboatworks.com), a side-console express boat powered with a trio of Suzuki 300-hp outboards. She tops out at 40 knots and Easton cruises at 26 knots. The boat brings him, his family and friends to the Bahamas to fish and dive. In only nine months, Easton has run up 680 hours on the engines. That's no misprint - 680 hours in nine months.
"It's set up as a working boat in the stern - for fishing, diving - and starting forward from the helm and the cooking station, it's very family oriented, with comfortable seating," says Easton, 45, who works in commercial real estate in Miami. "The boat takes the sea very well. It's a wide boat, so it doesn't rock a lot, which prevents the kids from getting sick if it's rough."
Easton may have as many as 12 people on the boat for a run to the Bahamas, he says. "It doesn't feel crowded because it's so wide and has such big seating areas," he says. He took the boat back and forth from his home port on Key Biscayne to Cat Key 15 times in 2009. And he sojourned to Harbor Town, stopping along the way to spear fish and troll for wahoo. His boat actually won a wahoo tournament. "[The Tortuga] can compete with the best of them," says Easton. "We fished against a 72-foot Viking."
The Contender, Hydra-Sports and Yellowfin ride deep-vee hulls, while the 34 Tortuga has an 18-degree deadrise. The Yellowfin and the Hydra-Sports are built with stepped bottoms to reduce drag and soften re-entries. The Tortuga has a modified-vee hull with a beam of 13 feet - much wider than the other three boats, which count on deadrise and a narrower hull to lessen pounding. The 34 Tortuga is actually an old C. Raymond Hunt design, according to Robert Helmick, the builder. "She won't run into the sea like a deep vee but she carries enough lift and we got the CG [center of gravity] right, so she'll go into a head sea decent, but she really shines in a beam and downsea," says Helmick. "The boat was never designed to be a speed demon, but if you fish and dive it gives you great stability."
The Tortuga also shines when it comes to storage space, due largely to its dual-console layout that frees up space for under-deck compartments along the centerline. There's also storage under the port and starboard companion seats between the consoles. And in the cabin, you have three more large compartments. The boat can be built to order. For Easton, an on-deck cooking area was essential for preparing the catch of the day. He has a portable barbecue grill mounted above the sink and countertop area abaft the starboard console seat.
The boat becomes a five-star restaurant, says Easton. "You can cook up some massive, awesome meals," he says. "We had a New Year's party in Freeport and cooked for 50 on the boat. We had fried fish, seared tuna, wahoo piccata."
The Tortuga also has a large V-berth and a head in the cabin, which is air-conditioned.
Jaworski's Hydra-Sports packs in the creature comforts - a genset, galley, V-berth and two overhead bunks and a separate head.
"It's kind of a general-purpose boat," says Jaworski. "It serves nicely for cruising for the two of us, or even another couple and children. It has a nice settee forward of the helm and it's under the hardtop. So it's good as a dayboat. And still it has a nice big cockpit and all the fishing amenities."
Unlike the Tortuga and Hydra-Sports, the Contender offers little for cruising - and that's the way Platt likes it.
"The thing about a Contender is there's not a whole lot of prettiness to it," says Platt. "I don't have a sink; I don't have a shower. I don't have a head," he says. "I don't have all that stuff that's going to break if you're running fast and hard. On the Contender, the less the better - and we have to worry about less maintenance."
Like most rabid fishermen, Platt is particular about the boat's deck design. He believes in a flush, wide-open foredeck and a raised transom live well without an attached seat, even if it folds out of the way. Platt has no need for one of the more popular storage options on a large center console - a foredeck coffin box. "It gets in the way and the boat has so much storage, why spend the money and get a coffin box?" he says.
Berk couldn't imagine fishing his Yellowfin without one, though. His coffin box holds 500 pounds of ice and the entire box lifts under electric power to access storage under the deck. "I have this huge fish hold under the coffin box," he says. "You can fit anything in there. I've had a 250-pound big-eye tuna, six or seven 40- to 50-pound yellowfin, five or six 30- to 50-pound albacore. It's awesome. You could sleep in there."
As Berk's crew catches fish, they're dragged to the bow and placed in the hold under the coffin box. They transfer ice from the coffin box to the fish hold, adding some salt water to create a cold slushy bath for the fish.
Other essential equipment includes carbon fiber outriggers for strength and weight savings, a custom-made tackle center abaft the leaning post and 30 rod holders scattered about the boat. "I'm one of those guys who fishes a lot of lines," Berk says. "I may have 11 or 12 lines out at once."
The boat itself must be safe, of course, and capable of holding its own in rough water.
"To me, the ride is everything," says Berk. "In a three- to four-foot chop, I can go right over it without slowing down - without even blinking. In five to sixes that are a little spread out, it seems we can go 35 knots, especially when it's a beam sea off the hind quarter."
Speed, range and so-called fishability - that's the new breed of multi-outboard offshore runners.
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This article originally appeared in the March 2010 issue.