Do you want to buy a used fisherman? Five tips for not taking “duds”


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used fishermanSome consider them “demodé.” But those who love fishing and boats know that they are timeless. We are talking about fishermen. A philosophy, rather than a type of boat (traditionally with a central wheelhouse, high bow and low stern bulwarks). Whether because of the fact that design is moving toward more “all round” boats, or because of the (sometimes absurd) bans on fishing in the Mediterranean, the market for fishing boats has shrunk somewhat in recent years.

Francesco Foppiano, owner of FF Boatworks, a great expert on classic and fisherman boats

This translates, above all, into a drastic reduction in second-hand prices: it is the right time to buy a fisherman, perhaps aiming for great classics such as those churned out by American shipyards (Bertram, Hatteras, Viking, etc…). But in order not to take “duds,” these boats need to know how to choose them.

And here comes to our aid Francis Foppiano, who despite his young age (37) is one of the leading experts on classic American boats and owner of the FF Boatworks, a company specializing in refitting American boats and restoring vintage boats (among its latest works are the boats of the famous classic car collector Corrado Lopresto).

Foppiano teaches courses in Evolution and Restoration of Classic Boats at the Faculty of Nautical Engineering in La Spezia, has traveled assiduously to the States to discover the secrets of fishermen and has the most well-stocked library in Italy on the subject. With him, we have compiled a list (valid for all boats) of five tips to consider when you are buying a used fisherman.(Pictured at the top is a 1987 Bertram 37 restored by FF Boatworks).

When buying a used boat, check that it is as true to the original design as possible,” Foppiano began. “It is often the case that fishermen have been remotorized, or rather, overpowered. As long as they are remotorized with new motors similar in architecture and power to the original ones, it is okay, but be careful to get it right by respecting sizing and torque curves. Not only will the boat sail away from its optimal trim, but more power generates more strain on the hull structure and structures, so as these boats are no longer very young, the risk of breakage is greater.

So: if the hull turns out to be remotorized with ‘more horsepower,’ inquire whether structural adjustments have been made to the hull and axles. When they asked me to put more powerful engines on an old Hatteras 53 (which is now apparently the fastest in the world: it does over 33 knots when by design it should do 18), I had to reinforce the whole engine room and re-laminate the bottom of the hull.

However, 4-stroke engines with simple architectures are definitely to be preferred, as the old 2-stroke Detroit Diesels are thirsty as well as noisy and may soon end their careers due to stringent anti-pollution regulations.”

If they are trying to sell you a boat that strays very far from the original design, you need to be careful: a large series boat, such as a Bertram 31, made in thousands, can withstand modifications without committing a ‘crime.’

In contrast, a mini-series built hull, or even a custom one, is usually much more “refractory” to substantial modification as it risks distorting the style and forever altering the witness of an era. All this would result in difficult resaleability.

Speaking in automotive terms, a vintage custom-built car should be left as faithful to the original as possible; with a Fiat 500 you can also indulge in a wide variety of interpretations.”

Watch out for the hard top: especially if it has been added as a retrofit. If it has been added-as is often the case especially on small boats-the boat’s center of gravity will be shifted upward.

What does this mean? That when the boat is stationary it will increase roll, and that when you are sailing, as the speed increases it will decrease the portion of the boat that is submerged and thus drastically reduce its stability.

Fishermen have the characteristic of sailing tacked, as this solution allows them to hold a steady course when sailing with the sea at the stern (conversely, a trim that is too “tacked” risks losing control).

But since these boats were born for sport fishing before recreation, they are born devoid of the ‘fashionable’ stern beaches. These add a lot of weight to the stern, because they can weigh as much as 300-400 kilograms and moreover cantilever (and perhaps come with the ever-present 200-kilogram stainless steel gangway), varying the trim and not allowing the hull to efficiently harness the full power of the engines.

So if you were planning to modify the boat with a stern platform, think twice and do some preliminary calculations. And if, on the other hand, you are buying the boat thus modified, consider with an expert whether it is not worth removing it.”

“You want to buy a fisherman: the data sheet talks about certain speeds, you try it in the sea and at ‘throttle’ it goes much less fast than it should go. ‘The engine is old, tired,’ you may be thinking, ‘who knows how much I will have to spend to remotorize the boat.’ Mind you, often it’s not just about the engine.

It may be a problem with the choice of propeller: find out if the owner before you had the propellers modified, perhaps unloading them to make the engines reach maximum RPM or to reduce vibration, without taking into account the fact that as the blades increase, efficiency decreases. Or-and this is the most common case-you will simply disembark all unnecessary weight (extra batteries, utilities, unnecessary accessories, cabin modifications you can do without) to save weight. Know that 400 pounds less corresponds in an average-sized boat to about a knot more. It is not little“.

Eugene Ruocco



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