Sportfishing has made amazing strides in techniques and technologies that have let anglers catch ever more and larger fish. But nothing has advanced the sport faster than design developments in the boats we fish from.
The early masters of the sport, Zane grey and Ernest Hemingway among them (see "In the beginning," on Page 70), fished with tackle and from boats considered rough and limited by today's standards. The modern sportfishing convertible, by contrast, is far down the evolutionary trail in terms of functionality and innovation. The convertible is a true hybrid design, and its ability to please hard-core tournament anglers has not gone unnoticed by cruising yachtsmen who enjoy its speed, style and seaworthiness. But the convertible's bluewater forte isfishing, and the more you fish, the more the design both pleases and succeeds.
Convertibles have grown exponentially in size, as well as in critical features that prove themselves every time the boat leaves for the fishing grounds. The flying bridge and helm station are prime examples. It used to be the bridge was for the skipper only; it was where he watched the baits in the wash; kept a lookout for slicks, bird life and tailing fish; and barked orders down to the cockpit. Often there wasn’t even a helm chair to sit in or a fabric top to ward off sunstroke. The bridge also was generally small, unlike a modern design that extends the side wings to the outer reaches of the deckhouse.
Today’s convertibles sport expanded flying bridges with center console helm stations, comfortable pedestal chairs and cushioned lounges where guests can sit and snooze, with built-in stowage for fishing rods and other gear. Air conditioning, refrigerators, freezers, freshwater outlets, stereo systems and clear vinyl enclosure panel vents are popular amenities.
Helm stations offer more insight into evolutionary trends, especially with regard to utilizing space. Carefully designed helms allow for flush-mounted navigation and electronic equipment, thanks to black-box systems, which provide large monitor screens while the brains of the units are safe, secure and dry inside the console. More room is obtained with recessed pockets in the flying bridge overhead for additional instrumentation, information centers and teaser reels.
Closed-circuit cameras monitor the engine room, and satellite communication solutions provide broadband Internet, email, phone service and even high-definition television. Old timers supposedly used homing pigeons before the advent of radios to let their buddies know where the fish were biting . What would they think of todays convertibles?
It used to be the cockpit had only a fighting chair, a beat-up bait cooler and a tackle center. That has changed with the cockpit’s evolution. Where there once was one live well, now there can be several, each carrying its own particular bait swimming in relative solitude with its kin — until the sailfish chime in on what they want for lunch.
Live-bait fishing is incredibly effective, especially for brawlers such as blue and black marlin. However, keeping large bait, such as bonito, relaxed and happy requires more than a big live well. That’s why many convertibles now incorporate tuna tubes — large cylinders with water rushing up from the bottom that passes over the fish’s gills, keeping it ready for prime time. A clever tuna tube installation will feature removable cylinders to double the usefulness of the transom live well/fishbox.
Supplying water to these various live wells requires ingenuity. In the old days, each system would need a separate pump, a separate through-hull intake — with a shut-off valve and an internal strainer — a power source and yards of wiring and hoses. Carrying spare parts was expensive, adding weight and robbing valuable stowage space.
On a modern convertible, you are likely to find a compact centralized seawater system in the engine room that utilizes a single, large, powerful pump flowing water into a big strainer that’s less prone to clogging. From the strainer, the water enters a manifold with shut-off valves. These valves direct the flow to the required locations, including the live wells, refrigeration and air conditioning.
Savvy skippers add a second identical pump to the installation for redundancy. Should the first pump fail, a flip of a switch and a turn of a valve brings the second pump online immediately.
If you’ve ever had a bag of ice melt while hurrying back to your boat from a Bahamian fuel dock, you’ll appreciate another modern convertible feature: the ice chipper. This unit makes crushed ice and is usually plumbed into a dedicated box so it can be shoveled where needed, whether to chill fresh-caught fish, drinks or food. Although you can make ice from the on-board supply in the freshwater tanks, a reverse osmosis watermaker will produce thousands of gallons a day to supply the ice chipper, as well as provide drinking, cooking and cleaning water. Under way, the watermaker keeps the tanks full and even supplies water for the washing machine, which has become a standard item on many self-sufficient convertibles.
Other cockpit amenities have improved the comfort and utility of this area to make fishing more attractive and less difficult. The general layout of many older boats provided fiberglass consoles against the aft bulkhead. In these consoles were usually a bait freezer, a tackle locker and perhaps engine-room access. But in order to maximize the freezer capacity, the console was generally tall, requiring a bit of a leap if you wanted to sit on it and watch the baits while trolling. And without much to hold on to, it could be tricky to maintain that perch when the boat was rolling or slugging through head seas.
Many convertibles now have a bilevel cockpit featuring an observation mezzanine. Comfortable seating with shade and spray protection from the flying bridge overhang keeps observers close to the action, but out of the way of the crew working in the lower cockpit. Beneath the cushioned seating is stowage, a freezer, tackle space and engine-room access.
Taking it up another notch, some convertible owners who spend large amounts of time in the tropics often opt for cockpit air conditioning, which blows cool air onto the mezzanine. It’s no surprise that many boatyards have created a cottage industry installing aftermarket mezzanines in older convertibles.
Many fishermen like to vary their quarry, and being able to shift gears to try a different technique often leads to success. Fishermen who like deep-water drops will equip the cockpit with outlets for electric reels, which also come in handy when kite fishing for sailfish. Similarly, the electric teaser reels on the flying bridge are often pressed into service to winch in mullet or ballyhoo dredges so popular with billfish anglers.
The modern sportfishing convertible is a work of art, one that is constantly reinvented as it adapts to the needs of owners and crew. We have come a long way from the days when a galvanized bucket on a length of rope was the washdown system. Sometimes a seemingly small change represents a significant stride forward, such as blacking out the aluminum pipe in the tuna tower to reduce glare while reading the water.
More than other types of boats, convertibles will continue to evolve and improve because the people who use them never stop looking for ways to gain the upper hand over the fish. Zane and Ernest would be impressed.