Indulge in a daydream for a few moments. Imagine winning the Powerball jackpot and pocketing a cool $160 million after taxes. You’ve taken the wife to Hawaii, and bought her a Mercedes-Benz, a diamond necklace and a kitchen Emeril Lagasse would envy. The kids are a lock for Harvard. Time to treat yourself, right? The fishing boat of your dreams awaits. But where exactly do you start?
Obviously, style is the first consideration, plus performance and handling. Yet if money is no object, shouldn’t the cockpit be the focal point? After all, that’s the heart and soul of any serious fishing boat. To help make your task easier, I asked four experts to describe their most important qualifications for the perfect cockpit.
“We customize each boat so we’re able to mix and match popular features,” says Gary Davis of Jarrett Bay Boatworks. “If you see something you like, we can build it to fit your needs. We don’t recommend getting too specialized, however. A more universal design allows greater flexibility for travel or different styles of fishing.”
Davis, who grew up in his grandfather’s North Carolina shop, has spearheaded Jarrett Bay’s new construction projects for the past 14 years. The mezzanine level is the most popular design feature in cockpits now, Davis says. This raised bench that nestles against the salon bulkhead offers several advantages, including observer seating and dedicated storage. In addition, an extended overhang from the flying bridge provides shade and better visibility.
“The mezzanine layout is really a big improvement in cockpit design,” says Capt. Ronnie Fields, skipper on Big Oh, a 63 Scarborough based in Jupiter, Florida. “Our guests can stay back there like they’re sitting on a couch but still easily get to the rods on the strike. You can build in storage compartments and drawers for bait, terminal tackle and tools so your guests don’t have to move. Easy access and clean — with nothing to stub your toes or knees — that’s what I really like.” After beginning his career as a mate at age 15, Fields spent a couple of seasons with the Madam and Wild Hooker globe-trotting mothership operation in Cape Verde, the Azores and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
“A cockpit has to drain quickly too,” Fields adds. “When you’re backing down on a hot fish, that’s important. In St. Thomas, for example, where it can get rough, if the cockpit is slow to drain, you end up with coolers floating around. Then they flip and dump all your rigged baits. That makes for a real mess.”
Ralph Torres, vice president of SeaVee Boats for the past 16 years, agrees. A self-bailing cockpit offers greater safety and easier cleanup, he says. And a single-level deck provides better footing. When he designs a new model, Torres pays special attention to cockpit dimensions. Miami-based SeaVee currently builds five production center console and convertible models ranging from 29 to 43 feet, with outboard- and inboard-power options.
“Freeboard heights are important in terms of handling fish and working the cockpit,” Torres explains. Ideally, the distance from the sole to the top of the gunwale should be 23 to 27 inches. From the waterline to the top of the gunwale in the aft cockpit, the distance should measure between 31 and 35 inches, Torres says. He is also a firm believer in toe kicks for stability. A gunwale that’s the proper height lets you lock your knees under the covering boards during long stand-up battles, and sliding your toes underneath the kicks provides stability and comfort.