Ride of a Lifetime
When a boater decides to seek out a vessel like no other, he’s smart to rely on experience—both his own and that of a builder like Paul Mann Custom Boats.
In many ways, the world in which we live has become a wishy-washy place. Many decisions are made by committee, if they’re made at all. It has become the same in boatbuilding. Some production builders rely on focus groups to help them make their decisions, and who can blame them? Setting up a production line is an expensive and risky proposition, and to go to all that effort, only to have a new model fail, is just not an option. The agreed-upon route is just good business.
Except that it doesn’t work for everyone. The ol’ bell curve doesn’t account for the outliers—those folks who go their own way and live with the results. I’ve long had a theory that boating by its very nature attracts a personality type that espouses independence of spirit, a resolute character, and a certain decisiveness—in some ways, many boaters are outliers.
I only mention this in light of my visit to see the latest build from Paul Mann of Paul Mann Custom Boats. I got wind of a new boat leaving the shed in Manns Harbor, North Carolina, and I booked a ticket for a trip that I realized I needed very badly. Because now as much as ever, my faith in the good old world is being tested. Speaking very generally, that apocryphal committee’s decisions seem to be taking an inordinately long time, and they are invariably running counter to my own opinions.
Stepping onto the dock at Pirate’s Cove Marina in Manteo, North Carolina, I caught my first glimpse of Caught Up, a brand-new Paul Mann 60 with pearl-gray topsides and cloud-white superstructure and decks. And there, on her flying bridge, was Paul Mann himself, dressed in a cap and fleece jacket against the foggy, drizzly day. He stepped down the ladder and shook my hand, welcoming me aboard just as the clouds opened up. Touching an unseen button, he opened the saloon door, and we stepped inside out of the rain.
We got to talking about how a boat such as the 60 comes together. For starters, she sports a cold-molded hull, meaning the hull is built of wood, specifically okoume plywood in three layers, with clear fir stringers. Building custom boats and working with customers, Mann admits that he hears plenty of questions, requests, and other sorts of owner input. But there’s a reason why his owners end up with him—he makes decisions. “I don’t want to change much from what I know works,” Mann says, referring to the boat’s construction. “I have had no failures.” As we looked at the 60, Mann outlined some of the owners’ specifications, pointed out the beauty of the wood grain here and there, and talked about his love of building plank-on-frame boats and how market demand has moved irrevocably toward cold-molded.
The way Mann builds them these days, the resulting wooden structure is lined with foam and fully encapsulated in resin, creating a rigid, single piece that’s reinforced by structural bulkheads made of plywood.
In conversation, Mann’s pride in his work and his crew is apparent. “If you’re going to put the word custom on your sign,” he says with a smirk, “you’d better be thick-skinned.” Customers each come with a unique set of criteria, and Mann brings his experience to bear on the task at hand. The boatbuilder got his start as a charter captain fishing out of Manteo in 1982, and he has an understanding of what makes a boat ride well in a range of conditions. His customers often remember that Mann’s background and reputation constitute the reasons why they struck a deal with him in the first place.
I made a point of speaking to the boat’s owner as well, and he explained his side of how he happened upon the idea of building a boat with Mann. “We’ve taken our boats to Key West for the winter for years,” he said, explaining that he’d owned a series of production boats prior to the Paul Mann, culminating in a Cabo 45. “The boats would come through on their way to Mexico and other places to fish the winter season—Paul Mann boats and other custom Carolina boats. I was fortunate enough to befriend Capt. Ted Cramer, who was running a 76-foot Paul Mann by the name of Anne Warrick. We had a rain day, and we spent about two thirds of the day going through the boat. He explained to me that he’d been involved intimately in the build and had worked with Paul Mann. He explained to me why he does things certain ways and how Paul came up with great ideas and they worked together.”
If that conversation resulted in this 60-footer, then I want to encourage everyone to strike up a chat with everyone they see on a dock, anywhere. Caught Up is a beautiful boat, with a broad, teak-finished cockpit with mezzanine seating. From the mezzanine one can enter the saloon through the automated sliding door, or climb the ladder to the flying bridge. Beneath the steps at the door is the hatch that allows access to the engine room, and that’s as good a place as any to start.
In this fully Awlgripped engine room, the brightly lit, stoop-height space is laid out methodically, with substantial space around the two beefy, 1,550-horsepower MAN diesels to access anything you need. Mann pays attention to his engine-room layout and sticks to a pretty basic philosophy. “Don’t make things harder than you have to,” he says. “If I can’t put two hands on a pump, it’s in the wrong position.” Engines and attendant cooling and fuel systems, pumps, watermaker, genset, and air-conditioning system—all are placed with easy access for quick inspection and simple repair or removal.
Mann pays close attention to air flow. The Dometic demisters allowed for easy ventilation, and we could feel the outside breeze even sitting at the dock—Mann held up a hand to the breeze. “Feel that?” he asked. “Those MANs will have plenty of air.”
His pride is evident in designing and installing a special manifold for the air-conditioning system that makes it simple to flush the lines, complete with quick-connect hose fittings. As easy as it is to replace air-conditioning system components, that flushing system will help preclude the need for repairs, provided the operation is carried out regularly.
And that air conditioning cranks up the cool in the saloon, where plenums are concealed behind a valance that matches the rest of the beautiful joinery. The entire saloon is finished in teak veneer that conceals numerous lockers to starboard in the saloon and lines the galley to starboard at the forward end of the space. There’s a noteworthy absence of visible locker latches and pulls, and most light switches are concealed. It’s a very clean look.
White ultraleather upholstery on the large L-shaped settee in the aft-port corner is carried forward to a dinette opposite the galley, and to the white overhead. The owner specified double the normal number of light fixtures to ensure that the dark finishes won’t swallow the light.
The boat has a two-stateroom layout, with the master forward and a guest stateroom to starboard. The space for a third stateroom is given over to a combination of laundry room, pantry stowage, and tackle locker with rod racks and shelves.
The en suite master has a custom-size berth positioned with its head to port and angled—I found it difficult to orient myself within the confines of the hull when I entered the room. The head is spacious and far forward. Headroom is generous throughout the interior.
“Paul builds a big boat,” the owner, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall, said of the average-height boatbuilder. “He was kidding me one day, and he said he’s never built a boat for a guy his size—they’re all tall like me.” The stateroom is finished in white, textured wall covering with teak accents for a traditional wood feel without being overwhelming, and it’s consistent throughout the accommodations.
The guest stateroom has a queen-size berth with a twin bunk overhead, all finished in white, with teak accents. The head is also spacious, with a large shower.
“I want plenty of room everywhere on the boat,” the owner said. “I don’t want to have any space on the boat that’s not totally usable and serviceable. Paul’s approach and his design and thinking fit us perfectly.”
Of course, there’s more to a sportfishing boat than just looking good and accommodating guests. She has to run right, and I couldn’t wait to put Caught Up through her paces. When Mann noticed a break in the rain, we cast off lines and ran her out the channel. The three-sided enclosure shelters the bridge, and the engines growled insistently as Mann pushed the throttles forward. She accelerated smoothly and slipped onto plane, and then Mann showed off her handling in a series of S-turns and loops.
I took the wheel and brought her through some similar maneuvers at speed, to feel how the convexity on the running surface softens the ride without giving up the responsiveness and performance necessary for fishing in all conditions. When Mann took back the wheel, he brought her to a stop at idle and rotated her easily within her length at idle.
In the details of a custom build, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. But sometimes you don’t even know you’re seeing the big picture.
“I fished the Mid-Atlantic [$500,000 tournament] 20 years ago,” the owner told me. “We chartered a guy out of the Outer Banks by the name of Capt. Harvey Shiflet. He ran a boat called Outer Limits out of Pirates Cove Marina in Manteo, North Carolina. Capt. Harvey and his mate Dave Peck ran his boat up the coast from the Outer Banks to Cape May, New Jersey. We fished on the Outer Limits in 4- to 6-foot seas for a week, and I thought it was the best riding boat I’d ever been on in my entire life, bar none. Fast-forward to a trip to the Dominican Republic to meet up with Paul and Robin [Mann, Paul’s wife and CFO of Paul Mann Custom Boats] and ride on the boats and fish on them for a day or two. We were hanging around the pool, talking, and I just happened to bring up the deal with Harvey Shiflet all those years earlier. Paul said ‘Hell yeah, I know the boat. I built it.’ I just about fell over. That boat that I had ridden on and fished in the Mid-Atlantic all those years prior was a Carolina custom boat built in someone’s backyard. I had no idea who’d built it and it never dawned on me to even think about that. But darn if that wasn’t one of Paul’s very first boats.”
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Generator: Cummins Onan, 21 kW
Conditions During Boat Test
Air temperature: 59°F; humidity: 88%; wind: 3 knots; seas: flat
Load During Boat Test
1,200 gal. fuel, 200 gal. water; two persons; 4,000 lb. gear.
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/1,550-hp MAN 12-cylinder diesels
- Transmission/Ratio: ZF2070A, 1.763:1 gear ratio
- Props: 33 x 43.5, 5-blade, 105 D.A.R.
This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.