Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett has impeccable taste in boats. Look no further than 2018’s Surfari, Buffett’s 48-foot sailboat with an open-concept deck layout by naval architect Ted Fontaine. Other boats that have graced Buffett’s docks include a 42-foot Rybovich Express, a Cheoy Lee 33 and a Cheoy Lee 48.
Though Buffett has a penchant for sailboats, he’s also an avid angler. Now in his 70s, he’s discovered that he likes to get to the bite and back without spending hours motoring, according to his captain, Vinnie LaSorsa.
“We were in the middle of deciding whether to repower and fix up the Rybovich, but Jimmy was looking for something faster,” LaSorsa says. “Plus, the refit was going to put our only fishing boat out of commission for six months.”
So, LaSorsa started noodling other ideas. “I had a few fishing friends with Freeman Boatworks power cats who loved them, but Jimmy wanted a pilothouse-style boat versus an open center console,” he says. “We asked Billy Freeman if he was interested in building a pilothouse model, but he declined because the company was so backed up with orders.”
After a little detective work, LaSorsa discovered that Freeman Boatworks had built a 33-foot pilothouse model. He tracked down its owner.
“I found the boat at Outer Banks Marina in Wanchese, North Carolina, but the owner was not interested in selling,” he says. About a week later, though, the owner called back and said he’d found out his son was going to be a parent, which meant he was going to lose his fishing partner. He agreed to sell the boat to Buffett.
LaSorsa took the Freeman 33 Pilothouse down to Merritt’s Boat and Engine Works in Pompano Beach, Florida, where it was repowered and refitted between August 2017 and January 2018.
“We put 750 hours on that boat the first year,” LaSorsa says. “I remember one day we were fishing the CIA grounds south of Montauk, New York, when a friend called and told me the bite was on at the Coimbra wreck. It only took us 55 minutes to get there. That trip would have taken two hours in the Rybovich. That’s when Jimmy decided we should look into a larger version of the 33 Freeman.”
While Billy Freeman still was not interested in building a pilothouse boat, the company did agree to sell Buffett the hull, deck and cap for a Freeman 44.
“We had it all sent down to Merritt’s Boat and Engine Works, where we planned to have the pilothouse added, the boat finished and the engines installed,” LaSorsa says.
Merritt’s took delivery in January 2019 and finished the boat that July. Roy Merritt, who runs the yard, says his team designed the pilothouse and had a mold made at DCMC in Sarasota, Florida.
“The boat has four 300-hp Yamaha F300s and can top out at about 50 knots and cruise comfortably in the low 40-knot range,” he says.
Painted seafoam green like the rest of Buffett’s boats, the Freeman 44 Last Mango has a sleek sportfish look, but also the aggressive stance for which Freeman’s hulls are known. In the pilothouse and below, Buffett kept things purposely simple.
“The only things Jimmy asked for were power opening windows for the port and starboard sides of the pilothouse, shock-absorbing seats, and a SureShade power awning for the aft cockpit,” LaSorsa says. “The boat will shuffle between the Northeast and Florida, depending on the seasons. Jimmy is pleased with how the project turned out. This boat will get a lot of use.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue.