You could buy a rehabbed, repowered Merritt 37 or Rybovich 36 to get the look and layout provided by Ocean’s 37 Billfish. Of course, 50-year-old wooden boats require more love and money than even a nut like me is willing to expend, the joys of boating and fishing notwithstanding. And joy is what the 37 Billfish evokes. Its gently tumbling transom, the line of the deckhouse, and its deceptively slinky sheer are joys to the eye. Its performance and nimbleness are joys to tournament anglers. The layout, marked by the lack of a cabin bulkhead, provides seamless passage between cover and comfort and the action in the cockpit. And during a blustery run, any skipper will experience joy in leaving the flying bridge and running this head-turning fish-raiser from the lower helm, under the protection of the deckhouse.
Subject to Objectivity
The 37 Billfish may recall the spirit of the day fishing boats developed by the South Florida innovators. But make no mistake, this boat is contemporary in construction, rigging, and propulsion. The deckhouse windows are frameless, glued into molded rabbets, and so can move with the structure. They won’t leak like the framed windows of yore. The stringers are a grid, female-molded as a single fiberglass part with gel-coated surfaces. This has the advantage of eliminating the hinging that can take place when stringers are stick-built from separate parts, ensures that all loads are distributed throughout the entire stringer grid, and provides a slick white exterior finish that, coupled with the white bilge paint, makes the engine room bright. Leaks, drips, and rust stains are easy to spot. This grid is glued in using Plexus. Such chemical bonding makes for quicker assembly than traditional fiberglass tabbing, which helps Ocean deliver the boat at such a good price.
Engine access is wide open. Enter the deckhouse and lift the port and starboard lounges. Well balanced on robust hinges, they’re no chore to lift. Now step down and stand upright, feet in the bilge, head in the open air. This is a more pleasant position from which to change a filter or check a fluid level than the skippers of those old classics ever had. They’d be lying belly down on the sole, arm stretched into the airless dark of the 3″ gap between engine and hatch cutout, feeling for a fitting that can’t be seen. More to the point, it’s superior to the engine access offered on modern sportfishing boats, where you have duck-and-crouch access at best or are forced to lie across a pair of hot motors at worst. Things that are easy to maintain get maintained.
Bonding of all submerged metals is evident, and wiring terminals are heat-shrinked, a double whammy against corrosion. Wiring and plumbing are run through nylon grommets where they penetrate bulkheads to prevent chafe. Batteries are under the step and are easy to service. Your Racors are on the bulkhead. Aft in the lazarette is the bilge pump, labeled fuel manifold, and trim tab reservoir, all easily accessed.
All in all, this careful rigging made the twin 473-bhp Yanmar 6LY3-ETP diesel inboards look happy as a pair of clams. They probably would have been ecstatic had their raw-water intakes been fitted with internal sea strainers. Internal strainers are optional, and I’d suggest them for the added protection and ease of winterization they provide. Nonetheless, these motors (the only choice — to lower costs) accelerate the 37 Billfish with authority. Grab the levers. You’ll power to a 37.4-mph top speed lickety-split. Wheel it around. The 37 Billfish turns with crisp precision. Need to maneuver on a fish? This boat swings its transom as though mounted on a jeweled pivot, which is surprising when you consider that the props reside in pockets. Pockets reduce its draft to a creek-behind-the-house-friendly 2’6″. Many boats with pockets don’t respond well in reverse. But the 37 Billfish’s pockets are shallow, just 4¾” deep above the strut (less at the prop), and incorporate a thrust outlet aft, so the push can exit the transom and let you spin on a fish.
**The Great Wide Open
Some may balk at the lack of a cabin bulkhead, citing structural concerns. By way of reference, many commercial craft, working everyday in the roughest weather, lack full four-sided deckhouses. Lobster boats come to mind. Remember, a convertible’s bulkhead is swiss-cheesed with windows and doors. So don’t worry.
Instead, enjoy the benefits of the 37 Billfish’s open deckhouse. Where the salon would be on a convertible, the 37 Billfish offers comfortable, low-maintenance lounging, big enough for the whole crew. It’s out of the cold, out of the hot, and out of the rain in a way that an express boat with a hardtop and canvas, such as Cabo’s 35 Express ($451,152 powered like our test boat), can never hope to be. In fact, not having to deal with acres of canvas is a plus. Compared to a convertible, such as Cabo’s 35 Flybridge ($487,635 also powered like our test boat), where crew often seek the climate-controlled salon and then miss a fish because they were watching a video, the 37 Billfish’s layout keeps everyone aware of the action. Of course you can get an express with a tower and a second control station, but only one person will be able to join you while running from up top. Running from the 37 Billfish’s center pod flying bridge helm, you can surround yourself with a gang. Dockside, after weighing in and enjoying a sundowner with friends in the open deckhouse, skipper and mate can retreat to the wood-paneled lower cabin, done in cottage style, where a full head, forward stateroom, and large galley await. Bravo, Ocean, for a timeless boat, suited to so many boaters.
EXTRA POINT: Unlike competitors’, the 37 Billfish’s transom door has no top gate. Instead, it’s fully framed, strengthening the transom.