Jimmy Buffett has impeccable taste in boats. Look no further than the 2018 launch of Surfari, his 48-foot sailboat with a unique, open-concept deck layout designed by naval architect Ted Fontaine and built by Pacific Seacraft. Other boats that have graced Buffett’s docks include a 42-foot Rybovich express and a couple of Cheoy Lee sailboats.
An avid angler now in his 70s, Buffett likes to get to the bite and back without spending hours underway, 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,” says LaSorsa, who looks after the singer-songwriter’s fleet. “Plus, the refit was going to put our only fishing boat out of commission for six months.”
LaSorsa got to thinking. “I had a few fishing friends with Freeman Boatworks power cats, 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 sleuthing, LaSorsa discovered that Freeman Boatworks had previously 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, LaSorsa says, the owner called back and said he 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 to Merritt’s Boat and Engine Works in Pompano Beach, Florida, where they repowered and refitted it 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.”
Buffet’s 33 Freeman garnered a lot of attention, and while Billy Freeman still was not interested in building a pilothouse boat, the company agreed to sell Buffett the hull, deck and cap for a Freeman 42.“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 of the boat in January 2019 and finished it six months later. “We designed the pilothouse in-house and had a mold made at Marine Concepts/Design Concepts in Sarasota, Florida,” says Merritt’s Boat and Engine Works owner Roy Merritt. “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.”
With a sea foam green hull like the rest of his boats, Buffett’s Last Mango has a sleek sportfish profile but also the aggressive stance Freeman hulls are known for. In the pilothouse and below, Buffett kept things simple. “The only things Jimmy asked for were power opening windows for the port and starboard side of the pilothouse, shock-absorbing seats and a SureShade power awning for the cockpit,” LaSorsa says. “The boat will shuffle between the Northeast and Florida, depending on the seasons,” he adds. “Jimmy is pleased with how the project turned out. This boat will get a lot of use.”
This feature originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Soundings magazine.