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Putting together the ideal fish boat

After six decades as a professional capt., Jerry Hill knows a thing or two about how to outfit a vessel

Putting together the ideal fish boat

After six decades as a professional capt., Jerry Hill knows a thing or two about how to outfit a vessel

Capt. Jerry Hill of Gloucester, Mass., and Key West, Fla., has been a professional skipper and businessman for six decades. During that time he’s seen about every kind of vessel imaginable. Over those many seasons he’s built up a fleet of five large party boats sailing out of Gloucester for everything from half-day fishing to whale watching. He’s also owned commercial fishing boats to chase lobsters or drag the bottom for cod and other groundfish.

His latest business venture is a 100-foot catamaran, the Yankee Freedom II that makes daily trips from the SouthernmostCity to the Dry Tortugas. Jerry was 72 when he went to the bank for financing for that boat, which he now chalks up as a financial success.

Given his nautical credentials, one would expect his private boat to incorporate many ideas gleaned from much trial and error.

Last Boat IV was built to take Jerry and friends on multiday fishing trips, heading to the Bahamas and Cay Sal Bank from Key West or the Dry Tortugas, laying over at FortJefferson in between fishing days or just dropping the anchor offshore in calm weather, the boat sporting all amenities.

She is a 42-footer, the hull fabricated by Wesmac Boat Builders in Surrey, Mass. They also installed the rudder and engine before the boat was transported over land to an aluminum shed in Bradford, Mass., where master carpenter Joe Arsenault, Jerry and two others worked on it for three winters.

Last Boat IV is powered by a Caterpillar 3406E, an engine Jerry says he found very serviceable on his party boat fleet. The Cat develops 800 hp, and at a hull speed of 9 knots burns 4 gallons per hour plus 1-1/2 gallons for every knot over 9. At 17 knots she’s burning roughly 22 gallons per, and has the ability to make 21 knots or throttle back for economical cruising on the 300-mile, one-way trip from Key West over to Yucatan.

Fuel capacity is 600 gallons in three 200-gallon tanks, one between the stringers, two port and starboard of the first. The center tank is split in two while the others are single units; all three fuel levels are measured by a Tank Tender monitoring system with gauges up at the helm station.

Also at the helm is a Northstar 952X chart plotter that holds fishing or cruising waypoints as well as providing phantom Loran to fish “old” numbers. The unit displays the position of the vessel on charts that show bottom contours, which enables precise anchoring on the edge of a good fishing location. Other aids include a Furuno FCV-292, 10-inch fishfinder with Sitex Loran mounted atop as backup to Northstar; Furuno radar, Motorola M200 VHF; Simrad AP 20 Autopilot plus a tried-and-true paper graph fishfinder that shows bottom characteristics not available with his other equipment.

The skipper also has at hand a cell phone in a holder, hailer with speaker/receiver to talk to whoever’s on anchor detail at the bow or fishing from the stern. An engine computer keeps the engine running as clean as possible, manages fuel economy, and provides a history of usage. Also near the wheel are two manual levers that can be pressed (only after engine shut-down) to flood the engine compartment with CO2 to put out a fire.

A temporary helm chair was installed, which will be replaced in a year with a larger model that has a small freezer underneath. On the side of the helm-station console is an electrical panel with Plexiglas strips over switches to keep passers-by from accidentally turning them off.

Below-deck is a 100-gallon freshwater tank along with a watermaker capable of turning 200 gallons per day of seawater into drinking water. Jerry uses a Northern Lights 8.5kW generator only at night for the A/C, battery charger, water heater and watermaker. The Mermaid A/Cs are under the steps leading to galley and in the cabin. To increase air flow while sleeping, a hole was cut into the flooring for an output hose down to the galley.

The galley has a Kenmore microwave with three-burner gas range from Force 10 Marine that can run off battery, and is designed with shock absorbers to accommodate the rolling motion of the boat. The refrigerator can run off either 12V or 110V.

Last Boat IV is equipped with three 8D batteries connected so they can be all harnessed if needed. Battery No. 1 starts the engine; No. 2 for the house lighting; and No. 3 for whatever else is needed. LCD lights are 12V, and scattered throughout the boat along with four red lights (in the head, galley, cabin and cockpit) for night vision.

While Jerry and crew may be many miles from home, they need a good night’s rest. The forward stateroom has a master bed with comfortable mattress from a custom builder in British Columbia, as do the two berths in crew quarters. Draw curtains are used rather than doors because the latter take too much of a beating in long distances in any kind of a sea. All the furniture came from various marine houses or RV suppliers that specialize in a more rugged type of product. Before lying down to sleep, tired anglers can enjoy a hot shower in a head where water drains past a teak floor, another of Jerry’s preferences.

Many of the boat’s add-ons were custom-built and installed, with Jerry and Capt. Joe supervising the project from Day 1. If he has to anchor in a lee some night far from a boatyard, he knows the layout of the whole boat and all wiring, able to repair most any gremlins that might occur.

Finishing out the fishing end of the boat are six cockpit rod holders, an ice box large enough to hold enough ice for a week, overnight fish storage and a saltwater washdown fed by 1-1/2-inch hose with plenty of pressure to keep the sole clean of gurry.

Capt. Jerry is now 77 years old, still on the go and apparently with many ports of call still to go. If you ever have the good fortune to know a man like this, pay close attention to what he says. After 60 years on the water, he knows of what he speaks.

Tim Coleman has been fishing in the Florida Keys for more than 25 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island and Florida.