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Designed for fishing, Built for pleasure

Panga-style fishing boats similar to those used all over the world by subsistence fishermen are turning up in Florida waters, though the U.S. version has been refined to satisfy American tastes and demands.

Panga-style fishing boats similar to those used all over the world by subsistence fishermen are turning up in Florida waters, though the U.S. version has been refined to satisfy American tastes and demands.

The distinctive narrow-beamed, high-bowed, sharp-entry Panga hulls are known in many countries for their rugged construction, stability and fuel-efficiency, but Rob McDaniel, president of Panga Marine Corp., of Sarasota, Fla., says his U.S.-built boats are “as cosmetically and structurally different from those stripped-out Pangas as casting rods are from bamboo poles.”

McDaniel, 69, ought to know because he owned one of the stripped-out originals and fly-fished from it in the Yucatan, where he kept it at a fishing lodge.

Built by Imemsa in Mexico, it was “a fine, rugged, very basic boat, but it was just a hull,” he says. “You put a piece of plywood on the floor, set two six-gallon gas tanks on it and threw on a 60-hp Yamaha.”

McDaniel says he saw a U.S. market for the boats one day after he flyfished for bonefish in 12-inch-deep flats in Yucatan’s ChetumalBay, then motored offshore to the Chinchorro Bank to dive for lobster.

“We ran 25 miles offshore in the same boat that we had been poking around with in the flats,” he says.

In 2001 McDaniel, a lawyer by profession and avid fly fisherman, started importing Imemsa-built Panga-style boats, then built his own modified versions for a time in Guadalajara, Mexico, and 2-1/2 years ago began building them in Sarasota.

The U.S. versions have a finer finish, cored hull, built-in fuel tanks, positive flotation, self-bailing cockpit, no plywood in the transom, a modified V-bottom to handle more horsepower, hull liner (in most models), decks, center console, plus features for anglers like bait wells, fish boxes and pop-up cleats.

Yet, he says, the boats remain true to their roots. They are “plain and simple,” fuel-efficient, stable and handle rough seas, he says. They also don’t demand big engines. Typical of the genre, McDaniel’s boats have a sharp entry and V-hull forward that segue into a concave running surface aft. Together they deliver good sea-keeping, along with stability, efficiency and smaller horsepower requirements, he says.

The 18-foot Islamorada revs up to 35 mph with a 90-hp outboard, and the 28-foot Aventura gets 2.8 miles per gallon at a cruising speed of 26 knots with a pair of 175-hp outboards, the company says. The “28” has a 240-gallon gas tank and 500-mile range.

McDaniel builds two 18-foot models, two “22s” and the “28.” Mote Marine Laboratory recently bought the tough, rough-water Aventura for red tide research in the Gulf of Mexico. Mote plans to use it to deploy and recover battery-powered, remote-controlled vehicles called Slocum gliders that patrol 15 to 30 days at a time sampling water and analyzing it for the Karenia brevis algae that causes red tide blooms.

“When these [gliders] say, ‘Pick me up,’ we’ve got to go out and pick them up, whatever the weather,” says Peter Hull, Mote’s marine operations vice president. He says he and McDaniel went out in a “28” in heavy weather after a cold front came through, and “we were very impressed with it” in the rough seas.

McDaniel says the World Bank commissioned the original Panga design in the 1970s to provide an economical, seaworthy boat for Third-World commercial fishermen. The bank financed the design and molds, then distributed them in Latin America and elsewhere. He says Japanese outboard builder Yamaha partnered with some of the builders to set up the plants, which helped grow the market for its small outboards.

Cost of a Panga Marine boat, hull only, ranges from $13,900 for an 18-foot Niente without hull liner to $49,900 for the 28-foot Aventura.

At least one other builder, Panga Fishing Boats, of Miami, also builds a Panga-style boat. The Miami company offers a 14-, 17-, 22-, 27- and 32- footer. Panga Fishing used to import its hulls from Colombia and finish them in Miami, but company spokesman Reuben Rhodes says the boat is entirely U.S.-made now, refined for the U.S. market and meets industry-certification standards.

That has driven the price of its Panga up. Prices range from $4,000 for a 14-foot hull only to $66,000 for boat, trailer and twin 150-hp outboards, but Rhodes says demand remains strong. “People used to buy it for the low price,” he says. “They were real simple boats. Now it’s for the efficiency.” He says a 150-hp outboard is sufficient to power a narrow-hull 27-footer. “You can fish all day and spend less than $50 on gas.”

There is no single Panga style anymore. “It has evolved according to the skills of the local builder and the needs of local fishermen,” McDaniel says. His Panga Marine style has evolved to satisfy the needs of U.S. anglers, but he says, too, that it has drawn interest from towboat operators and marine patrol officers, who like its sea-keeping and fuel-efficient hull.

“I see a market there, as well,” he says.