Highly Polished

S&J's new 54 combines Turkish cold-molded craftsmanship with American sportfishing expertise.

If you have always considered tournament level sportfishing boats as American as apple pie, S&J Boatworks may surprise you. While the name has a good-ole-boy ring to it, its cold molded creations are the product of Turkey-and that's not Turkey, North Carolina! To learn more about S&J Boatworks, I spent time aboard hull number one, a 54-footer, with Scott Lizza, owner and president of the company.

Lizza grew up in a fishing family on Long Island, New York. "For us, fishing was not simply work, it was our life-my family is still in the business," said Lizza. In addition to commercial fishing the family always kept a sportfisherman in Montauk. Lizza spent his spare time offshore chasing tuna, marlin and sharks with rod and reel, all the while dreaming of boats.

In 2000, Lizza became vice president of Golden Yachts and applied his expertise to marketing and distributing new production sportfishing boats. It was while serving at this post that he noticed an increasing number of his serious fishing customers migrating from fiberglass production boats to custom cold-molded designs. While fiberglass or aluminum are most often the materials of choice for custom yachts, serious tournament fishermen still recognize the appeal of cold-molded wood construction. It is light, strong and durable, and purists will tell you that the sound of diesels and wood in the water pleases fish.

There are a fair number of tournament sportfishing boatbuilders that work in wood, but most are small shops. Lizza sensed an opportunity. "I figured that some folks were put off by the uncertainty inherent in taking on a custom project," said Lizza. "Pricing can be hard to pin down and deliveries are often 24 months out."

Lizza began to wonder if there was a way to streamline the process and offer turnkey boats at a fixed price-all he needed was the right yard. He found 3E Shipyard quite by accident while delivering a boat from Georgia. "They needed a hand getting their boat, a new 51 footer, to South Florida-I offered to help," said Lizza. "The boat was beautiful, the craftsmanship was unbelievable."

The builder is based in Istanbul, Turkey, and has been constructing both sail and power yachts since the early 1980's. While the bulk of 3E's effort has been directed at the Mediterranean market, it recently established a beachhead in the United States with its Vicem line of yachts. After visiting the yard, Lizza was convinced that 3E was up to the challenge.

"While they had never built a tournament fishing boat, they had experience building high performance yachts," said Lizza. "I laid out the styling and the arrangement and outlined the performance requirements; they developed a hull form, engineered the structure and managed weights and balance." Lizza conducted the sea trial on hull number one 12 months later on the Black Sea. "As soon as I ran the boat I knew we had a winner," said Lizza.

When I caught up with the 54 in West Palm Beach she was fitted with a new PipeWelders tower and a Murray Products fighting chair. From a dead stop, her pair of 1,050 hp MAN's yielded a maximum speed of 36.4 knots in less than 40 seconds. At 2100 rpm she sprinted along at 33.6 knots. With Hynautic power steering and more than enough rudder she cuts tight turns like a sports car. The standard bowthruster seems unnecessary. While our data indicates a somewhat impatient idle speed, trolling valves are fitted and those fishing live bait will have no problem loitering about at a snail's pace.

Tournament types will find the look and feel of her helm pod and single lever controls familiar. Instrumentation is under glass and there is a full battery of electronics under a clear acrylic cover. A pop-up electronics bay will become standard. Stout helm and companion seating from Murray Products are positioned to allow a view of the cockpit and there is L-shaped seating and stowage forward.

The cockpit is finished with a teak sole and is bordered by teak covering boards. There are two cavernous insulated in-sole fish boxes plumbed with macerators and a transom live well. A bulkhead bait prep center has a sink, freezer and tackle drawers and there is pocketed gaff stowage in the bulkhead. In the future, the rather narrow transom door will be widened.

The 54's hull is built in conventional cold-molded fashion. Khaya mahogany is used for the planking and for laminating the frames and bulkheads. The exterior of the hull is sheathed with E-glass cloth. The superstructure is built of plywood and sheathed with E-glass cloth and epoxy as well. All exterior surfaces are faired with epoxy filler and finished with Awlgrip.

The engineroom is accessible from the cockpit. Because of the 54's generous horsepower and low profile things are rather close-however, service points appear accessible. Hatches in the overhead can be removed if necessary, which should allow excellent access through the saloon sole. Fuel is carried in four stainless steel tanks outboard and forward of the engines. A 17.5 kW Onan generator in a sound shield is positioned abaft of the engines.

While the 54's arrangement and décor can be tailored to a client's desire, it is Lizza's goal to standardize the program. "Our (design) specification includes pretty much everything except tackle, tower and electronics," said Lizza. "By defining and managing the project from the start we are able to control costs. Indeed, the 54's $1,111,940 base price is competitive with a number of production fiberglass offerings."

Lizza currently has orders for three 54s and a 66, and plans for an 86 are in the works. A new production facility in Turkey is currently under construction.