From fishing to cruising

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Talk about character. These three Gulf of Mexico shrimpers, tied up along the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, Florida, exude it. Today’s trawler yachts can trace their ancestry to these commercial boats, which fished with trawls. Large conical nets, trawls are especially effective for shrimping, an industry that grew — along with oyster harvesting and cod fishing — to become one of the major U.S. fisheries.

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By the 1880s, steam-powered trawlers were plying the Gulf, replacing sail-driven fishing boats, and new techniques and equipment were marked improvements on the old. The otter board, for example, kept the mouth of the net open as it was dragged through the water, maximizing the catch. And outriggers allowed these new-generation trawlers to drag multiple nets.

As shrimp boats evolved through the 1900s, trawlers came to have a large, open aft end where the trawls were handled and a pilothouse forward from which the boat was run and the work managed. Below deck was a large hold for storing the catch — Litopenaeus setiferus (common shrimp), Farfantepenaeus aztecus (brown shrimp) and Farfantepenaeus duorarum (pink shrimp).

In the 1950s and ’60s, naval architects began to look at America’s regional fishing vessels as the basis for a new kind of recreational boat — a comfortable, seaworthy long-distance cruiser with a rugged “salty” look. The shrimper was a natural. Designers added creature comforts to the roomy interiors where the catch would have been stored, powered them with an economical single diesel and gave them an abundant fuel supply for a range measured in thousands of miles.

Seakindly trawler yachts have been a hit with cruisers and liveaboards alike, and it’s not difficult to see the DNA of their workboat relatives.

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue.