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Merritt 37

Illustration by Jim Ewing

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Allen and Buddy Merritt, boatbuilders and fishermen out of Pompano Beach, Florida, are honored by the International Game Fish Association not only for their great accomplishments and contributions to the sport but also for their “remarkable boats.”

Sons of legendary South Florida charter skipper Franklin LeRoy Merritt, the brothers introduced the Merritt 37 in the late 1950s as their first semicustom boat, designed and built to pursue their passion: fishing. As it turns out, the design set a standard for no-nonsense fishability that makes it sought after even today, six decades after its creation. As the IGFA put it, the Merritt 37 “has no equal.”

It certainly caught fish — legendary marlin and tuna — in places as disparate as Bermuda and the Hawaiian Islands, Newfoundland and Venezuela. Along the way, the boat helped popularize sport fishing as a world-class pursuit.

The original wooden hulls were Alaskan cedar on mahogany frames, fiberglassed over inside and out. The open bulkhead “express” design created a large cockpit, ideal for both private and charter fishing. She was fast, left a clean wake and was easy to handle — qualities that still count today.

Driven by his passion for fishing, Buddy came up with a host of equipment innovations, with the 37 often serving as a test bed. He took a cut-down sailboat mast, put a seat and rope controls near the top, and created the first tuna tower. He ran a fishing line off the stern on a Calcutta pole — behold, the centerline outrigger. Other innovations included the tuna door, the rocket launcher and, eventually, cold-molded construction.

Legend has it that one day young Buddy found a $5 gold piece while fishing. He used it to buy his first boat, starting him and his brother on their Hall of Fame careers. It was a lucky day for sport fishing. (Buddy Merritt died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1971 at age 53; Allen is 92.)

Today Merritt’s Boat & Engine Works builds its custom and semicustom sportfishing boats at the same site the company has occupied since the 1940s. The family-owned business also includes brokerage, marine supplies and yacht insurance. Roy Merritt, Allen’s son, is the company’s current boatbuilder and CEO.

October 2014 issue