Supersize My Sportfish
Some angling enthusiasts aren’t just pursuing granders—they’re building gargantuan game-fishing machines.
Not that long ago, a 70-foot sportfish seemed unimaginable. But with each passing year, wanderlust anglers kept demanding more accommodations, which led to longer lengths, more beam and more systems. The idea of using a mothership to ferry a fishing boat out to the world’s best spots dissipated as crews could now get to remote areas on their own bottom. The once unthinkable superyacht sportfish became reality.
Imagination leads to innovative design, and anglers like to dream big. Fantasies of pulling on giant billfish from the far-corners of the globe have spurred the pens of yacht designers for decades, but a new build looks to top them all. Plans for a 171-foot sportfish are taking the unimaginable and laying the foundation for the world’s largest sportfishing yacht, pushing the envelope to unheard of lengths.
Such an unbelievable vessel is about to become reality. One very determined fisherman has commissioned a builder in the Netherlands to construct the vessel, which is expected to launch in two years. The idea of building a yacht that can carry typical fishing boats as tenders is nothing new. A handful of deeply passionate anglers have turned to superyacht shipyards to ensure their boats are as capable of raising fish as they are of crisscrossing oceans in luxury.
The owner of the 171-footer, however, wants to take it a step further, building a large-scale sportfisherman so he can pursue the biggest game fish while enjoying the amenities of a large-scale, voluminous ocean-going yacht. Code-named Project 406, this gargantuan vessel is underway at Royal Huisman—a choice that has taken a number of people by surprise.
Since the 1950s, Royal Huisman grew a steadfast reputation for building schooners. Project 406 is only its second power superyacht. However, the builder views the six-deck, all-aluminum sportfisherman as being right in its proverbial wheelhouse. Although it’s bound to a confidentiality agreement preventing the revelation of too much at this time, the yard points out a few facts. First, its roots are in fishing; the company was established in 1884 to build wooden vessels for the local fishing fleet and did so for decades. Additionally, its half-century of experience with aluminum and its familiarity with custom schooners—restricted-volume hulls that require complex engineering and systems—lend advantages. In a statement, Royal Huisman acknowledged that Project 406 “[appears] to be well outside of the comfort zone of some yards.” However, “with the benefit of expert advice,” the owner brought “fresh opportunities for creative problem solving.”
Bart Bouwhuis, the creative director of Vripack, the naval-architecture studio behind Project 406, calls her “a sportfisher on steroids.” His team, however, is bound to an NDA as well. Generally speaking, though, he says it’s crucial on super-sized fishing yachts to maintain the proper mood for those perched in the mezzanine and those working the cockpit. “On a ‘small’ boat, you have more of a dynamic atmosphere,” Bouwhuis says. “When you have a big boat, it becomes massive; it drains the energy. Ultimately, the objective of a big sportfish is not to be the biggest, it’s to scale up. So, if you scale up the size, you also scale up the functionality. And the functionality is very much about the experience.”
Typically, Bouwhuis continues, a sportfisherman up to, say, 50 to 55 feet is hyper-focused on fishing. However, “When you go bigger, to 70, 80, 90 feet, then I think you’re creating a proper balance between the yachting lifestyle and fishing,” he says. “But to enhance that further, on a 45- or 50-meter, then you can establish a true blend of luxury yachting and sportfishing.” Thus accomplishing his sportfisher on steroids. “It’s literally on steroids—and on steroids not just by exploding [size], but adding more luxury-yachting lifestyle.”
Not all giant fishing machines look like a sportfishermen, though. The 194-footer code-named Project SkyFall, currently under construction at Heesen Yachts, looks more like a traditional motoryacht. There are two reasons for this. “One of the main benefits of the sportfisherman profile is to gain more height, useful for spotting fish, birds or activity, within a given length,” her captain says. “SkyFall is so big generally that we have enough of that height already.” He continues, “The other side is that using a traditional layout still offers all the deck space and internal volume that a sportfish profile would reduce somewhat.”
As non-traditional as she looks, Project SkyFall will actively fish upon delivery in 2023. “The owner enjoys trolling for all game fish, and also jigging for grouper and the like,” the captain says. “We are prepping a worldwide fishing cruise that will connect a path to the hot zones of fishing, at the peak time for each area.”
Getting there won’t be a problem, given her expected light-load top speed of 37 knots from four MTUs totaling 22,000 hp. Her cockpit, meanwhile, will include 40 rod holders, six tuna tubes, four nearby MFDs and a wing station. Additionally, it will have “fishboxes big enough for two people to lay in them comfortably for an ice bath.” The fighting chair will sit on a rail system to move from port to starboard as anglers battle a hot fish. When the action’s done, a seawater spraying system will auto-wash the deck. Oh, and the livewells have color-changing lights that pulse to the music.
As to why the owner chose Heesen, the captain says it came down to it being “the go-to yard for building a fast aluminum superyacht with Dutch quality—and on a Dutch schedule.”
Interestingly, Thom Conboy, who heads up North American sales for Heesen, says the yard has fielded increased inquiries from serious anglers. “We’ve had more come in because of him,” he says, with “him” being Brooks Smith, the owner of yet another Heesen, the 180-foot Vida delivered in 2019. Vida is a mothership for Smith’s growing fleet of sportfishing boats, all christened Uno Mas. A serious—and quite successful—tournament angler, “he’s one of the best,” Conboy says. (Smith also recently formed a partnership with well-known custom sportfish builder Mark Willis who owns Willis Custom Yachts.) Not only can Vida fuel and fully support the fishing boats, it can also fully support Smith, his wife and his fishing crew. “Everyone can come on board and dine together,” Conboy says, adding that it’s akin to what offshore-racing yacht owners often do.
While Conboy acknowledges that Heesen built a 105-foot sportfisherman named Karyitis back in 2005, and that the yard rose out of Striker Boats, a sportfishing builder of large aluminum boats in the 1970s, he believes that serious anglers want an authentic sportfishing yacht, “a whole different animal” than a superyacht. Regardless, those owners might be intrigued by a first-ever event coming to New Zealand’s Bay of Islands in 2022. From February 11 to 13, the NZ Superyacht Fishing Competition will host yachts 78 feet and larger. A sister event to the annual Millennium Cup superyacht regatta, it’s as much about camaraderie as it is competition. “We wanted to provide motoryacht owners and sailing-yacht owners with something different in New Zealand,” says Stacey Cook, the NZ Marine Industry Association events manager and export manager. “We wanted to give them something they haven’t experienced anywhere else in the world, really relaxed, Kiwi-style.” The Bay of Islands is home to record-setting marlin, swordfish, yellowfin tuna and more, famous since Zane Grey wrote about the region nearly 100 years ago.
Perhaps not that long from now, someone else will write about superyacht sportfishermen and make them famous. As Bouwhuis says, “We entered a whole new world.”