By Ben Ellison
|The electronics were awesome, but the most intense processing was going on between two ears.|
Hey, that guy in the picture intently playing his first billfish, mate poised to help if needed, is yours truly! And I won the battle on my own, despite the 20-pound-test line we were using. The white marlin was tagged and released and is probably now prowling the Caribbean, our brief relationship long forgotten. Not me; I cherish the moment, as well as this opportunity to brag about it, justified because—you guessed it—electronics were involved.
Despite my inexperience at big-game fishing, I realized that folks who are serious about it are usually also darn serious about any and all tools that offer them an edge. Nonetheless, two long days aboard a well-run battlewagon opened my eyes to how truly sophisticated sportfishing electronics have become. That was Simrad’s goal in sponsoring this press event off the Mexican port of Isla Mujeres, and it worked. The experience also underlined some larger truisms about electronics that any boater, fisherman or not, can appreciate.
Let’s start with my shocking discovery that our crackerjack skipper had two excellent chartplotters at his disposal but wasn’t using either for charting. Given where I boat, the wickedly convoluted coast of Maine, and how I boat, with a life goal of poking my bow into every nook and cranny, knowing where I am relative to the cold stone dangers is very important. This fellow had different priorities (and was working in clear, simple waters). He purposely did not have a chart cartridge in the port-side CP33 so that he could best see the several seasons of fishing tracks and catches he’d carefully accumulated (above). Every time we hooked up, he marked the spot (and also wrote an entry into his log, both for backup and to create a database of further information about species, conditions, etc.). To starboard the ten-inch screen on the CR44 was devoted alternately to watching for bird activity on radar or to a data display (inset above) featuring an acceleration/deceleration graphic that the captain found particularly helpful for setting trolling speeds and maneuvering around fish.
The man had a plan, and man, did it work. While the cockpit crowd fought tail-dancing sailfish after marlin after wahoo after tuna, I mostly took in the skipper’s bravura bridge performance. While driving and working the aforementioned plotters, he was still almost always the first to spot a fish nosing our baits, and he was on top of the two high-end acoustic devices that were the real focus of Simrad’s show.
One was an EQ60 dual-frequency sounder, and the other a SL35 searchlight sonar, reportedly the first to be installed on a sportfisherman. Both systems are PC-based and displayed on large, high-resolution (1,024x768 pixel) screens. You wouldn’t know it from Simrad’s yacht products, but the company has been developing its own commercial-grade PCs, custom keyboards, and software for some time—and it even offers its own brand of monitors. In fact this trip, and supporting these particular machines, was a day at the beach for acoustic product manager Mike Hillars, who spends a lot of time in far-less-friendly waters helping professional fish harvesters learn even more complicated gear like trawl-mounted sonars and pingers that plot net positions in 3-D. Hillars taught me that Simrad’s acoustic devices have been all digital for almost 20 years, another tech fact that the company seems oddly shy about.
This article originally appeared in the August 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.