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Brothers take on all building challenges

Family-owned, Florida-based B&D Marine's first project is a 39-foot semicustom sportfisherman

Hull No. 1 from B&D Marine is like no boat you've likely seen on the water or at your local dealership. It's not custom, but it's the next best thing.

The Billfish 39 is a semicustom sportfisherman built by B&D Marine of Fort Pierce, Fla., the first model from its Billfish Boats line.

While hull No. 1 is a walkaround, B&D owners Brandon and Damon Vernese say they'll build anything from a center console to an express-style sportfisherman based on the Billfish 39's deep-vee hull.

"The Billfish 39 can be anything you want," says Brandon Vernese, who is 35. "We designed the boat around being able to do that. If someone wants an express ... we can do that."

B&D started building the first Billfish 39 on spec, but quickly found a buyer. Matador has triple Evinrude outboards, a custom tower and a full complement of custom live wells. It's designed to fish for wahoo and grouper from Tavernier, Fla., to Cay Sal Bank, Bahamas, but the semicustom nature of the Billfish 39 means the model could work anywhere.

"It's a very versatile design," says Brandon. "For tuna fishing and striped bass fishing up north, the walkaround version could work perfect up there. You have protection for those long runs out to the canyons, but you can still work the whole boat like a center console. ... We also have drawings for it as an express and a center console, too. With both the walkaround and the express, you're out of the weather."

On board Matador is a stack of Billfish literature proclaiming: We Are the Future of Custom Boat Building. "We made a bold statement and that's what we intend to do," says Damon, 34. "We're motivated, we're young and we're going to build this company."

Meeting the challenge

The crew from B&D Marine at the Miami International Boat Show, from left to right, Damon Vernese, Antonio Boule, Brandon Vernese, Jaimee Hartnett.The brothers' enthusiasm for the project was palpable as they showed the boat on the first day of the Miami International Boat Show in February. They had just explained how the 39-foot semicustom sportfishing boat they build is designed to accommodate twin outboards, triple outboards or twin diesel inboards when a prospective customer stopped to ask some questions.

An avid fisherman, the man said he saw the Billfish 39 online and decided to check out hull No. 1, Matador, in person. He was particularly interested in a center console with a single diesel inboard.

Damon gave it a couple of seconds of thought before responding: "We can do it; it would be a fun project," he said before rattling off a couple of quick ideas for single-inboard application, like fitting it with twin rudders and designing a propeller pocket.

What's more, the brothers say, they find the complexity of diesel installations appealing as it plays to their strengths. With a passion for fishing and boating, they find the challenge of building boats - and solving problems - "fun," explains Damon.

Beginnings

The brothers have a passion for boatbuilding, design and technology, and they have been working with composites for half of their lives.

Damon and Brandon gained hands-on design and construction experience building custom composite trailers with their father beginning in their teenage years, before going into business for themselves, transitioning into the marine industry and eventually founding B&D Marine five years ago.

"We're young, but we've got a lot of experience," says Brandon. "We've been working with composites since I was 17 and he was 16. We've got years and years of experience building molds and [the Billfish 39] is an example of what we can do."

Brandon and Damon are the owners while their sister, Jaimee Hartnett, runs the office as manager. Shop foreman Antonio Bouie is the fourth member of the team.

"Twenty-five percent all the way around, that's how we look at it," Brandon says of the foursome. "Antonio's been with us since we worked with our dad - since he was 18. He's our right-hand man and he's like a brother to us."

Since opening its doors, B&D Marine has built custom sportfishing boats for private clients; built molds for other boatbuilders, including the 27-foot Blue Fin for Blue Fin Boats of East Falmouth, Mass.; rigged semicustom sportfishermen for Strike Yachts of Perry, Fla.; designed propeller pockets for the Strike 37; and handled rigging for Ocean Master Boats of West Palm Beach, Fla. They build custom hardtops, consoles, live wells, rocket launchers and tackle centers, too.

Out-of-the-box boats

The construction schedule of the Billfish 39 is stout. The hull is hand laid with vinylester resin and S-glass fiberglass reinforced with seven layers of Kevlar in the keel and two layers of Kevlar in the hull sides and vacuum-bagged PVC foam coring. Damon started drafting with CAD software while in high school and now designs boats using SolidWorks 3-D software.

The use of modern materials and techniques helps set Billfish boats apart from many custom boatbuilders, according to Damon. He says he doesn't think traditional cold-molded wood construction applies to the new generation of outboards, which crave lightweight boats for a faster and more efficient ride.

"We're just bringing new ideas into custom boatbuilding and we're not afraid to try different things," he says. "There's a lot of tradition in [custom boatbuilding] and a lot of people are afraid to get outside of the box."

While the Billfish 39's hull is popped from a mold, the superstructure is truly custom, built from temporary molds into a solid one-piece unit, according to the brothers. All fiberglass work has a lifetime warranty.

"The way we build the boats, everything's tied in together from the tower down," says Brandon, who says the boat delivers a solid ride with no rattling. "And we build every boat as if it were our own, so I can sleep at night."

Half the price of custom

Matador's owner lives in Michigan and wants to simply come down to Florida, fish the boat and spray it down when he's done - the cabin, which sleeps four, is entirely finished gelcoat for this reason. Less time spent working on the boat, Brandon says.

"It's built around the concept of low maintenance and high quality," says Brandon. "We use today's materials to build a fast boat that'll last a lifetime."

B&D worked closely with retired boatbuilder Bill Knowles, formerly of Knowles Boat Company of Stuart, Fla., to design the Billfish 39. Knowles, says Damon, has designed and built a lot of great walkarounds through the years including the Knowles 40. Damon praises the walkaround for its safety.

"This walkaround gives you the ability to fight the fish and it gives you comfort for those long runs," Brandon adds. The brothers plan to continue working with Knowles on new designs.

As outfitted, a walkaround like Matador carries a price tag of $435,000. Similar custom boats can come in around $1 million, says Brandon, who handles the sales side of the business. B&D will remain competitively priced with production boats by employing a small, efficient group to build the Billfish 39. The goal is to build three or four boats a year, Brandon says.

Innovations such as the My Billfish Web site, where the builder posts photographic updates of a customer's boat under construction, are a key part of the business model.

"MyBillfish.com is a place where I upload progress pictures daily," says Jaimee, who adds it's particularly beneficial for long-distance customers. "It's nice for them to be a part of the process, even though they're far away."

SPECIFICATIONS
LOA: 38 feet, 8 inches

BEAM: 11 feet, 3 inches

DRAFT: 2 feet, 6 inches

DISPLACEMENT: 8,250 pounds

TRANSOM DEADRISE: 22 degrees

HULL TYPE: deep-vee

TANKAGE: 380 gallons fuel, 50 gallons water, 11 gallons waste

POWER: twin diesel inboards, twin outboards or triple outboards to 1,050 hp

SPEED: 58 mph top, 42 mph cruise (with triple 300-hp Evinrude E-TECs)

BASE PRICE: $299,000 (with twin 350-hp outboards)

CONTACT: B&D Marine, Fort Pierce, Fla.

Phone: (772) 460-8559.

www.billfishboats.com

This article originally appeared in the New England Home Waters section of the December 2010 issue.

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