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October 12, 2001

The 43s - Where Are They Now

Built for Long Island tuna fisherman Don Stott, the famous Cookie Too was the last 43 ever built.

The inspiration for the 43 was the 42-foot Hopalong, built for Fletch Creamer and Capt. Buddy Landers in 1965. At Hull No. 13, it was the longest boat Buddy Merritt had built at the time. The boat went on to become the Black Bart, owned by Bart Miller in Kona, Hawaii. This was the boat that caught the famous 1,656-pound Pacific blue marlin, the boat that won the 1975 Hawaiian International Allison-Yellowfin Tuna Tournament with a 2,000-point lead, and the boat that became the first to land more than 100 blue marlin in a season off Kona. The boat today is called Huntress.

In 1968, Roy Merritt took the jig for the 42 and refined the deckhouse to make it more attractive. The result: the first 43-footer, the Caliban, which helped Allen Merritt win seven out of 11 Cat Cay Tuna Tournaments - more than any captain in history. The boat was later sold to Ralph Gilster who called it Xiphias. This was the boat on which Capt. Barkey Garnsey first made a name for himself, and that mate Larry Martin caught the 1,282-pound all-tackle Atlantic blue marlin record from in 1977. Today the boat is owned by William Spolar and called Cat's Meow.

In 1969 the Caliban II was built for Capt. Buddy Merritt. This is the boat he ran to Newfoundland in 1969 and the boat from which the one-day record of 16 giant tuna was set. When Buddy died, the boat was sold to Helen Grant, who called it Quail. Fishing with Capt. Billy Ridgeway and Bill Staros, she dominated the Bahamas and Palm Beach tournament scene through the 1970s and '80s. The boat was later sold to a series of owners including Charles Cippola who called it CMC. Today, the boat is known as the Live Wire.

Built in 1971 for Roy's grandfather, F.R. Merritt Sr., the next 43 was called Caliban III. The boat was later bought by Dan Braman and renamed Lisa. Tom Ott of Boca Raton now owns it.

George Scheigert was the first non-family member to commission a 43, the Jane S, which he took delivery of in 1974. That same year, the Sansouri was built for Chris Weld. It was later sold to Capt. Joe Lopez, who named it Prowess. Today the boat is called the Buddy Boy.

Also in 1974, Merritt built its last frame boat for Dinny Phipps. Called the Fighting Lady, it was captained by Gary Stuve. The boat was later sold to Joe Lopez and named the Prowess, and in turn, led Maudi Lopez to her 1,073-pound Atlantic blue marlin record in 1982 off St. Thomas.

In 1975, Jo Jo Del Guercio took delivery of a new 43. A cold-molded hull, the boat included a lengthened deckhouse and raised sheer that improved exterior lines, interior layout and overall balance. The boat also had the first rocket launcher, an idea of Del Guercio's carried out by Merritt. The boat was equipped with a set of Cummins VT 370s, which have been called "the perfect match" for the boat. With this boat, Del Guercio caught a record 106 giant bluefin off Cat Cay. Following Del Guercio's death, it became the Ansong, Ship's Cafi and, most recently, Cici II. As the Ship's Cafi, the boat set a record for capturing the most white marlin in a day, a feat accomplished in 1983 off La Guaira Bank, Venezuela. The boat also caught the first 1,000-pound blue marlin off Venezuela with Capt. Ron Hamlin.

Texan Pat Welder's Cinco W, completed in 1976, went on to become the Sidney H and the Sheria III with Capt. Wink Doerzbacher. Today the boat belongs to Joe Motta of North Palm Beach, Florida, and is called Lil-Liz for his two daughters.

Well-known sailfish tournament angler Pete Benoit's Snee Kee Peet was completed in 1976. Briefly owned by Len and Marsha Bierman, who caught her 100th blue marlin off Bimini aboard it, the boat later campaigned as Mike Saragusa's Bootlegger. Keith Carroll, who won back-to-back Stuart Sailfish Club Light Tackle Tournaments on it, also owned it for a while.

Newt Belcher's 1977 Belama became John Temple's Mickey Finn and is now the Rookie.
Dinny Phipp's second 43, the Fighting Lady, was completed in 1978. Over the years, the Fighting Lady did a lot of traveling, including pioneering trips up jungle rivers in Belize. Today it runs the Northeast tuna grounds.

Built for Long Island tuna fisherman Don Stott, the famous Cookie Too was the last 43 ever built. Fittingly, Capt. Cookie Murray and his brother, Paul, lived up to the Merritt legend by tying Buddy's record with 16 giants off Gloucester, Massachusetts. The boat was sold to Johnny Morris and today runs out of Islamorada.