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What’s behind the new wave of uber-luxe sportfishing vessels?

8 December 2022• Written by Julia Zaltzman

The American market is driving demand for a new wave of sportfishers as owners look to combine the pastime with superyacht levels of luxury.

The waters off the east coast of the United States are alive with fish. And not just any fish. Large pelagic apex predators, such as sailfish, bluefin tuna, grouper and kingfish, all of which thrive in the oceans around the Florida Keys and Florida’s gulf coast. Nearby, blue marlin and bonefish abound in the balmy waters of the Caribbean and Bahamas. As water temperatures cool in November, big game fishing season heats up, and the diehard sportfishing enthusiasts’ playground is officially declared open.

Sportfishing is more than a time-honoured hobby in the US, it is a serious lifestyle choice. But now, committed and passionate fishermen who typically venture out with like-minded companions are taking their families along for the ride. In addition to exploring further, they are demanding more from their boats, including speed, comfort and space.

The hull is turned on Royal Huisman's 52 metre Project 406
Credit: Tom van Oossanen

Coupled with an uptick in sales in the past year, next-level sportfisher designs have begun to emerge signalling a sign of the times for the typically overlooked sector. According to data provided by BOAT Pro, the sportfisher sector showed 133 per cent growth in 2022 with 26 projects on order or in build entering 2023, most of which are tipping the scales in length.

“There is a lot of interest in sport fishing boats right now, and we’re talking 65 feet and upwards, which just a few years ago was unheard of,” says Randy Ramsey, founder and president of Jarrett Bay Boatworks, a North Carolina custom boatbuilder that has a 19.5 metre and 20.7 metre boat in build.

Third-generation boatbuilder, Michael Rybovich, agrees. “The 20-metre-plus sportfishing boats that are being built today offer comfort, space and speed. It's important for a lot of boaters to get where they want to go fast and is a significant element to what’s causing this uptick, along with a strong resale value.”

Jarrett Bay's Jaruco

In October 2022, Jarrett Bay announced the commission of a high-tech 27 metre custom sportfish with a full tower and open bridge. Currently under construction and bought by repeat owners who are upgrading from their 20.4 metre, it is the second Jarrett Bay 90 to be built, following the delivery of Jaruco in 2017, which taps out at 39 knots. Singled out for her ultra-strong and lightweight titanium propeller shafts, Jaruco was the first sportfish boat to be recognised as a finalist in the 2019 BOAT International Design & Innovation Awards in the Game Changer category. “It’s fair to say that Jaruco was the most technically advanced sportfisher boat ever built,” says Ramsey. “It had the world’s first titanium crop shafts, which saved nearly 2000 pounds in weight. For every 10,000 pounds of weight reduction, we increase the boat’s speed by around one knot.”

To drive performance and efficiency, Jarrett Bay shallowed up the shaft angle with V drives and reduced weight with carbon fibre skins for the hard tops in the tower, as well as a carbon fibre cockpit, fuel tank and cabins. The result was a boat that is 50,000 pounds lighter and six knots faster than anything in her class. “All of our owners want speed,” says Ramsey. “Some of it is competitiveness, but mostly it’s about reaching preferred fishing grounds or changing course more quickly.”

The cockpit on board the Viking 90

Routinely travelling to fishing grounds 100-plus nautical miles offshore, sportfishers require long range, large fuel capacity and seaworthiness. The most popular length for daytrippers sits around the 10 metre to 12 metre mark, but the appetite for sportfishers twice that size points to a more seasoned owner who, rather than tying up behind their home in south Florida, is looking for a boat that can safely journey deep into the Pacific or beyond.

“We have a lot of customers that are fishing primarily in Central America – Panama and Costa Rica are the hotspots now,” says Rybovich. Similarly, the Pacific Rim countries, such as Brazil, are on Ramsey’s radar, as well as the “explosion of sportfishing in Japan”.

Lanakai is a 39 metre sportfish yacht delivered in 2017

Since Viking released renderings of its new 90 series in August 2022, the American builder has confirmed an impressive 10 sales with the first hull yet to hit the water. The 90 takes its design cues from the Viking 80 and 92, the latter being its most popular model to date, with 21 models delivered in seven years. It proved that a sportfishing yacht of that size could win consistently on the tournament trail, however, production ceased when an international mandate introduced in 2019 required all yachts with a loadline length over 24 metres to be fitted with new exhaust-treatment technology, called Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR). With engine manufacturers indicating they wouldn’t be SCR compliant until 2022, Viking put all its efforts into the 90, which has a loadline length of 23.2 metres.

It matches a lifting-strake design with a refined driveline and advanced propulsion systems. A 922 litre live well makes it well-suited to serious anglers, while a full-beam master stateroom, a sky bridge helm with companion chairs and a guest lounge combines the style of a superyacht with sportfishing DNA. Something that Rybovich’s III Amigos has in spades.

At 28.5 metres, III Amigos is the largest boat built by Rybovich to date. Possessing all the classic exterior hallmarks of a traditional sportfisher (sharp deadrise forward that reduces as it goes aft with a stable platform at slow speeds), its custom interior by yacht designer Patrick Knowles is anything but.

III Amigos from Rybovich

“You won’t see many first timers buying a boat of III Amigos’ calibre,” says Rybovich, whose American shipyard currently has a 25 metre, 21 metre and 19 metre in the sheds. “That comes with a love of the sport and the ability to know what you need and what you don't. It takes time and, probably in most cases, several boats before you get there.”

With a bespoke dinette styled to match the owner’s customised Ferrari, which in turn was styled after one of his homes in Key Largo, III Amigos is a hybrid conceived for the entire family. “The owner’s design brief was clear,” says Knowles. “He wanted a fish fighter with an interior akin to his Feadship.”

Knowles penned doors that are two and three quarter inches thick with zero profile. There are hand-selected marble bathrooms and a backlit onyx bar with custom stools made from alligator hide and polished stainless steel inlay. “You wouldn’t see anything like that on a typical sportfisher,” he says.

Uptight was delivered as a mothership to a sportfishing fleet

Of course, it would be wrong to think this new breed is in any way confused, says Knowles. “When outside, he didn’t want anything to suggest it was not a 100 per cent pure-blooded sportfishing boat. When inside, he didn't want anything to impact the superyacht experience.”

It is a vision shared by the owner of Cantiere delle Marche’s new explorer yacht, the Darwin 106 Uptight, designed and equipped to fulfil the owner’s wish to have a large, family superyacht on which to enjoy months-long fishing expeditions. Her profile is typical of an explorer with a forward set superstructure but it is only upon second glance that you notice the swim platform is atypically enclosed to create a fishing cockpit with a fighting chair and other sportfishing paraphernalia. 

“The entire family love fishing and own a fleet of smaller sportfishers, so originally they wanted a mothership,” says Maria Roberta Morso. “That idea evolved into a large sportfisher that facilitates incredible fishing by day and relaxing in comfort by night.”

Heesen's Project SkyFall has been described as a “sport fisherman in yacht disguise" with fighting chair, storage for 40 rods and a top speed of 37 knots

At 52 metres, the world’s largest sportfisher, Project 406, currently in build at Royal Huisman, takes the merging of two genres to new heights. Designed by Vripack, the six-deck creation commissioned by a die-hard sportfisherman keen on sharing his passion with his family has given life to a first of its kind.

Though perhaps a one-off build, Project 406 paves the way for owners drawn by the prospect of global exploration on a superyacht built for big game fishing. More than anything though, it underlines how sportfishing in all its forms is stepping up to the evolutionary plate.