Imagine a place where you can haul in a record-size snook in the morning, drop baits for a number of reef species after lunch and then raise a trophy sailfish in the late afternoon, all within a 15-mile boat ride. You might think this sounds like a piscatorial fantasyland cooked up inside some angler’s scale-riddled brain, but this place is real. Welcome to Florida, fishing lovers.
This 500-mile-long uber-peninsula has sprouted many storied fishboat builders over the decades, including Bertram Yachts, Merritt’s Boat & Engine Works and John Rybovich & Sons. These days, boatbuilders abound from coast to coast and it’s difficult to find one that doesn’t offer at least one fishing machine. Among the companies that make reputable boats today are the manufacturers featured here, each building on Florida’s storied angling past to create cutting-edge craft.
MAVERICK BOAT GROUP
Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boat Group in Fort Pierce, was born to fish. From the time he was a young lad casting around the sweetwater ponds surrounding Winter Park, Florida, through the years he fished and traveled South Florida as a Xerox salesperson, Deal has always had a keen focus on angling. Today he lends that experience to the boatbuilding outfit that includes Pathfinder, Hewes, Maverick and Cobia brands.
As he was making rounds for Xerox, Deal in his spare time became obsessed with fishing the backcountry and skinny waters around the Keys and Everglades. Along the way, he found a Maverick flats boat that needed a lot of love, fixed it up with the help of boatbuilder Mark Castlow and eventually bought the molds and company name. Some years later, he acquired the Hewes brand and retooled that line, too.
In the late ’90s, Deal found that his two skiff brands were meeting headwinds in some of the markets he wanted to occupy. This is when the idea for Pathfinder, and the bay boat concept, was hatched. He worked around the hull of a 21-foot Maverick that had a great bottom, but was too big for poling. And with that, the bay boat design so popular with anglers today was launched.
The Pathfinder 2200 hit the market with a bang, quickly outselling the Hewes and Maverick brands. The current Pathfinder lineup includes models from 20 to 27 feet. The newest boat, the 2700 Open, was a response to market demand for bigger boats. “There’s definitely a trend toward bigger boats in just about every segment, and that includes bay boats,” says Maverick Boat Group Vice President of Marketing Charlie Johnson. “We can’t build them fast enough.”
Another brand came onboard in 2005 when Maverick Boat Group purchased Cobia from Yamaha Marine. Today, Cobia has a well-regarded reputation for its build quality, hull design, performance and fishability, offering both center and dual console designs. Johnson says the company has its largest center console to date on the drawing board, a 40-footer.
Between all four brands, the company now churns out as many as 1,500 hulls from its two state-of-the-art factories. Johnson, who brings a lifetime of fishing experience to the team, says a new factory has allowed the group to better fulfill demand. “We were under-building when we only had one facility. That was especially true for the bigger Cobias. Now we can expand distribution and introduce bigger boats.”
The company is proud of the boats it builds and that shows. Among the technologies employed by the group is VARIS (vacuum-assisted resin infusion system), which uses a vacuum to evenly distribute resin throughout the hull and deck laminates, creating a stiff but lightweight hull.
“We’ve always been known for our build quality, but I think every bit as important to our success has been our understanding of what anglers and family boaters really want,” says Johnson. “The boats are hassle-free and make days on the water better. I believe people can see that when they get a chance to spend any time on board. Plus, they run great.”
How does a builder of fishing boats establish credibility in Florida, one of the toughest proving grounds for any manufacturer? “You have to be versatile,” says Shane Kwaterski, director of dealer development at Everglades. “Think about all of the pelagic species and styles of fishing here. You can kite fish on the East Coast, deep drop on the West Coast, then head for the Keys for inshore fishing or high-speed trolling offshore.”
Everglades of Edgewater gained its foothold in the competitive center console market soon after it opened for business in 2001. The company’s founder, Bob Dougherty, gave it an edge over its rivals. He had spent 30 years at Boston Whaler, and while there played a key role in developing the builder’s foam-filled unsinkable hull. When he left Whaler, he continued to evolve the concept, eventually filing a patent for RAMCAP, which he brought to Everglades.
It’s a method of composite boatbuilding where the foam in the foam/fiberglass sandwich is machined as a separate part, rather than injected between the laminates. The result is a solid, single-piece hull that doesn’t give. “We use a lot more material because of the way RAMCAP is assembled, which is why the hull can handle rough water,” says Kwaterski.
Kwaterski still remembers his first experience running an Everglades. A delivery captain at the time, he had been hired to take a 295cc from Port Everglades, Florida, to Ambergris Cay in Turks and Caicos. He logged 30 hours on the engines in three days. “I put that boat through hell and high water. Had it been another brand, I would have had to fix gelcoat cracks upon arrival. But we were able to hand over the keys with nothing to repair. It’s one of the most overbuilt boats on the planet. There’s no replacement for displacement.”
That ride is a constant on all boats from Everglades, which today builds center consoles, dual consoles and cabin models from 23 to 43 feet.
The company—now owned by a private equity firm in Chicago— builds about 300 boats a year from a production plant that recently expanded. “Demand for our boats is strong. You should expect to see a lot more from Everglades in the next few years,” says Ben Cast, the company’s president.
“More” includes new models, such as the 235cc that debuted this fall, and an expansion of the dual console series. New boats will have the signature features of the brand, including the look. “When you think about boats built in Florida, a common element is style. One of the largest markets for center console fishing boats has always been Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. Flash and flair matter to these consumers. They want the best boats and want to look great running one.”
While Everglades has plans for growth, it won’t become a high-production builder. Rather, the company will continue to make premium boats for customers it defines as
experienced and affluent. “We make one of the most expensive fiberglass production boats out there, and we don’t shy away from that,” says Kwaterski. “The boats demand the investment in terms of engineering and materials. In return we offer things like a lifetime warranty on the hull.”
Everglades owners, it seems, feel the higher price tag is worth it. Cast says these boaters have a real passion for the sport. “They’re active, outgoing people who want to enjoy life. Owning a boat is one way they activate and express that.”
When the Jupiter 31 debuted in 1989, it didn’t draw a ton of attention. But in time, the center console found its following. Boaters who regularly made runs across the Gulf Stream from Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas took notice of the 31, as there were often a couple at the docks. They recognized in the Jupiter a blue-water boat with a good, clean-running deep-V hull, a solid build and pretty lines.
Among those boaters was Carl Herndon, a presence in the marine industry who had been president of Bertram before starting Blackfin Yachts. Having taken an interest in the outboard market, he saw an opportunity in Jupiter. So, he and a venture capital firm bought the company and moved the molds to a factory he owned. He took the production numbers up on the 31 and built the brand out.
“There are still people who say the ride on that 31 is the best they have ever experienced,” says Bryan Harris, president of Jupiter Marine, now based in Palmetto, Florida. Herndon is the CEO.
The 31 is no longer in the line, but its replacement, the Jupiter 32, is based on the same Donald Blount-designed hull. “It too has proven to be a great rough-water boat, and it too goes back and forth to the Bahamas, where Jupiter has always been a major player,” says Harris. “Even when Hurricane Dorian hit, Jupiter owners were running supplies over. There’s always been a close relationship between our owners and residents of the islands.”
The Jupiter line has grown to include models ranging in size from 26 to 43 feet. Most Jupiters are center console designs, although they are multipurpose and no longer just for fishing. That makes sense, since Jupiter, like many Florida-based builders, helped drive the trend toward the fishboat built for the family too. “Twenty years ago, if you weren’t driving a center console boat, you were sitting on a bucket. Today, these boats are really comfortable, even luxurious, and Florida builders had a lot to do with that,” says Harris.
Jupiter has a good deal of competition in the sportfishing market segment, but among the brand’s assets, says Harris, are the lines. “Our boats are classic. We’re not trying to invent a new look or change the world. It’s minimalist, with plenty of attention to detail. That’s our DNA. The challenge is to stick with what got us here, yet incorporate new technology.”
New for Jupiter in 2021 is the 40 CC that’s scheduled to debut at the Miami International Boat Show in February. It’s modeled after the beamy Jupiter 43.
Jupiter intends to remain a boutique builder, with a relatively modest production volume: Today, the company makes about 100 boats a year. Says Harris, “We don’t intend to be the biggest, but we want to be the best.”
Ken Clinton, president of Intrepid Powerboats in Largo, knows a thing or two about boatbuilding. He should, having climbed his way up the ladder over the last 30 years from line worker to president of the company. Today, the semi-custom builder has a 19-model lineup that includes center console, walkaround and crossover-style boats ranging from 20 to 47 feet. The company is known for pushing the envelope and being first to the market with many industry-changing innovations.
The builder has seen several changes in ownership over the years, starting out as Super Hawaii Intrepid in 1983 under Japanese ownership. “Our first boats were the 26 and 30 Open models,” says Clinton. “Following models were variants of the first two and included a 30 Open Cuddy, 26 Walkaround and a 23 Walkaround. All the boats were powered with outboards. We’ve always been an outboard-focused brand.”
Intrepid is a factory-direct builder, customizing each hull according to the needs and wants of the buyer. “Not many of our boats are exactly alike,” says Clinton. “Some people want different seating arrangements, custom paint schemes and upholstery and more. If they want it, we will do our best to deliver. We don’t like to say no.”
That keenness to customize means Intrepid has a long history of innovation. “We were the first to do a cockpit diver door back in 1995 and were the first to introduce 35-inch outboard shafts,” says Clinton. “We were among the first to paint outboards to blend in with the boat’s lines, and we even engineered and built our own engine controls for our first quad-outboard-powered boat. If manufacturers couldn’t provide us with what we needed, we did it on our own.”
Today, the builder has a variety of boats in its lineup that includes walkarounds, center consoles, cuddy hybrids and even a flats boat. Clinton says his customers are widely varied in how they use their boats, but that most fit a certain mold. “We find that many of our customers want to fish hard with their buddies on Saturdays and then spend Sundays with the family at the sandbar or run to a waterside restaurant.”
Intrepid uses the latest boatbuilding technologies, including composites and vacuum bagging, and Clinton is proud of the company’s in-house design team. “We’ve been using resin infusion for years. It allows us to produce a rigid, lightweight hull that performs. That means we can push a boat with less horsepower more efficiently and the hull will literally last forever.
The latest additions to the Intrepid lineup are the 409 Valor, a walkaround/cuddy-style boat with a unique forward lounge area, and the 438 Evolution, an express-style angling machine with lots of deck space and a belowdecks setup with a stateroom, galley, V-berth lounge, and head with shower. As for the future, Clinton says, “We’ve got some exciting new models on the way, and demand this year has been off the charts. We’re looking forward to the future.”
This article was originally published in the December 2020 issue.