Waterfront: From the Ashes
My name is Duke, I’m 16 years old and live in Jupiter, Florida. I was first introduced to boating by my uncle on a 22 Sailfish and ever since then I’ve been hooked. Once my dad and I got seriously into fishing, we bought a 37 Bahama. In my opinion, Bahama builds some of the cleanest, best riding boats around. But, I remember, clear as day when I saw my first true sportfisherman, a 31 Bertram. I believe it was a charter boat and she was old and beat up, but there was just something about the clean lines of the bridge and the big diesels. Through the years, my dad and I would go to boat shows and talk to the folks at Viking, and some of the owners of custom boats, built by legendary builders like Bayliss, Merritt and Rybovich. I think over time my dad saw I was obsessed with sportfishermen and how they were built. A multi-million-dollar, fifty foot sporty did not make sense for my family for a variety of reasons, including cost—but smaller, older boats from Bertram, Prowler or Blackfin, did.
This is what led my dad and I to research the “perfect sportfisher.” Of course, we looked at the big names, but one day while scouring Facebook Marketplace in 2019, I came across a different type of pocket sportfisher. She was a 1985 29 Phoenix out of Boca Raton named Flying Fish. She had a nice interior and the engine box profile was extremely low. In addition, the boat was from an estate sale for only $3,000! This is where the adventure of our sportfisher started to take shape. We brought Flying Fish back to Jupiter, and my dad and I dove in headfirst. We started raising her from the ashes by stripping the interior. The first six months of the build were extremely fun; we were making tons of headway. We had planned on re-powering the boat from the beginning but when taking out the motors we encountered our first “hiccup.” It turns out we had found the Achilles Heel of these old boats: Rotten stringers! This was a definite setback, but the dream of the perfect sportfisher could not be killed. We looked for a about a year and a half for a solution, but the unfortunate truth was, the price and man-hours of new stringers were outweighed by finding another solid boat.
This led us to more adventures on Facebook Marketplace; we went and looked at about a half dozen 29s with no luck. Each one of them had the same weakness of rotten or semi-rotting stringers. Then one day in early 2021, while driving home from checking out a 29 Phoenix in Tampa, I found a 1990 29 in Clearwater, Texas. We called the gentleman who owned the boat and I remember the exact conversation between him and my dad.
Dad: Hey, I’m interested in your 29 Phoenix.
Owner: Oh yeah, how can I help you?
Dad: Are the stringers solid?
Owner: Oh yeah, they better be. I take it fifty miles off the coast all the time. It’s a kick-ass boat, man. I rebuilt the generator and rebuilt the diesels. I just need the money.
Dad: OK, if it’s everything you say we should have a deal. My son and I will be there at 8:00 tomorrow.
That night my dad and I got home, grabbed clothes and flew to Clearwater. The whole ride there I was thinking, “please God let there be solid stringers.” When we arrived, the boat was amazing. Dependable motors and solid stringers. The exterior definitely needed some work and she desperately needed upgrades, but nothing as massive as a stringer project. We brought the boat back to Jupiter. This time, the 29 was going to be a winner. For the past several months my dad and I have made several modifications all while fishing it three- to four-times a week. So far, we’ve painted the whole boat, put on a new teak transom, redid the interior and made countless other modifications. Nowadays, we run her three to four times a week, and my dad and I say to each other every trip: “Wow, what an amazing boat.” The rugged interior, diesel dependability, the great ride, the fuel economy and a draft of just over two feet makes it, not perfect, but perfect for us.
Lately, I’ve been contemplating, why doesn’t everyone have one of these? I believe the main reason is simple: most owners in today’s market are buying new. If you look at the modern boatbuilders of today there are no economical sportfishers under forty feet. That is the reason why, when you look at charter fleets there will be mostly center consoles and large sportfishers. The people that do buy these smaller sportfishers, like my dad and I, are forced to buy older boats.
Which leads me to my question: What killed the perfect boat? If you look back, there was once a time where marinas around the world were littered with 28 Bertrams, 29 and 32 Blackfins, 27 Seacrafts, 32 Prowlers, 30-foot Chris-Crafts and, of course, my beloved 29 Phoenix. Ever since I was four years old and I saw my first boat, I have wanted to do one thing—build boats. Maybe one day I will be able to bring back this era in boating. When I look into the future, I believe the idea of a pocket sportfisher will come back.
I think the future perfect sportfisher should be about 30 feet in length and have a deep-V similar to the original 31 Bertram. The boat should also have prop pockets and a draft of no more than two and a half feet. The bridge should have front seating like the 32 Blackfin. Also, with the modern compact diesels, I think we can eliminate the step seen in the 29 Phoenix and 28 Bertram and create a completely flat deck all while still competing with the speed of many center consoles, and maintaining the capability to take water over the bow no problem, like the original sportfishers from the 60s. I believe a new modified sporty would not only be an incredible boat with an incredible ride, but a new icon that will be seen on every coast around the world.
Who’s with me?
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