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February 28, 2012

F&S 66

The F&S 66 is truly a complete package — a hull of a boat.

Carolina and Florida builders grab the lion’s share of notoriety for constructing custom sport-fishermen yachts; however, Delaware craftsmen are a group to be reckoned with. Among the notable builders is F&S Boatworks, a family business owned by Delaware native Jim Floyd. His crew, which includes his son Tim and longtime friend Joe Bonvetti, recently delivered the newest launch, the gleaming 66-footer Ay Caramba, to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“My whole goal was to build the strongest, best-riding cold-molded boat,” Floyd says. Years back, Floyd and a buddy were getting beat up on a rough ride home when he turned and said, “I’ll build you a good boat.” In 1997, after 10 years of development and multiple scale models, his dream — a variable deadrise, longitudinally stepped V (see illustration) 59-foot hull — rolled out of the F&S barn.

Ay Caramba offers up a four-stateroom, three-head layout on this now tried-and-true running surface. This yacht exudes comfort on practically every level. The seas unobtrusively slide beneath her hull from whatever quarter they appear, and she boasts an interior elegance that is simultaneously functional and stunning.
   
The boat, moored at Club Nautico de San Juan near her 56-foot sister ship, Doña Lucy, would be my accommodations for an overnight stay, thanks to F&S sales manager Roger Casellas. The opportunity to bunk aboard the vessel allowed for more hands-on time to inspect the builder’s attention to detail and see things that are sometimes overlooked during a typical day test. Even better: the fresh dredges and ballyhoo sitting in the cockpit waiting for our sea trial.

“The wind was westerly for the last few days, but today it’s northeast, steady at 12 to 18 knots with nice 5- to 7-footers,” Casellas said. Sporty conditions, but perfect for a test.
   
He was right, but it wasn’t until the throttles of the potent 1,925 hp CAT C32s were pulled back from 1,800 rpms and 32 knots — the beautiful thing about fishing out of San Juan is that it’s a few short miles to the grounds — that the wave heights became evident. Ay Caramba handled the big, cresting, beam-to/starboard forward-quartering seas so well, when we put the lines in it was a surprise how high up I was looking at the turmoil from the teak-soled cockpit.

Fishability

The 66-footer trolled calmly; it didn’t roll, buck, slosh or tip, no matter what direction we were going — up-sea, down-sea or beam-to. The slow fishing, 3 a.m. wake-up call and 80-degree heat took its toll, however. After enjoying a tasty Cuban sandwich, I could hear the cushy, air-conditioned mezzanine seating calling my name, and a power nap ensued. The large overhang for the mezzanine created a welcome shade from the hot Puerto Rican sun.

Custom means that the builder installs what the client wants. Knowledgeable owners, with the time and resources to invest in these projects, have a standard equipment list on these builds. This is certainly evident in the cockpit area.

Teak adorns gunwales as well as the finely finished aft bulkhead. Fish boxes are appropriately large with ice dumps, the mezzanine steps hold a tournament supply of frozen or refrigerated baits, and other storage areas contain terminal tackle, lures and cold beverages. Gaffs find their place in hidden side cabinets under the gunwales. An outdoor grill slides on rails out of sight when not in use. Release Marine supplied the in-gunwale rod holders and fighting chair: the riggers are Rupps. All snaps, swivels and retrieval lines are within easy reach of the cockpit deck.

A pair of dink dorados popped me up with a jolt, taking the circle-hooked baits for a quick ride before pulling off. With our time up, I climbed the bridge ladder and turned the 66 toward the harbor to find sea heights similar to our departure. I was, I thought, ripping along at a comfortable 30 knots, but Casellas would have none of it. He pushed the throttles up to just shy of 2,100 rpms — near 37 knots — and Ay Caramba blasted through walls of quartering Caribbean Sea. She never launched, and as I braced for that inevitable fall off into the proverbial hole, it never came. Each landing felt as though it was cushioned on air.

Construction
The hull design is an adaptation of a Carl Mosely ocean racer with an early ’60s vintage. Floyd says that this patented bottom helped create SeaCraft boats.
 
“I grew up on SeaCrafts and said, ‘One day I’ll build a big boat with this hull.’ When the patent ran out, I adapted it to work on a big sport-fish boat. We made minor changes to the original for scale on a bigger bottom,” Floyd says.

F&S is proud to promote their boats as overbuilt and use a thicker stringer system found on boats twice their size. The layup uses three layers of half-inch Okoume plywood on the bottom, with an extra half inch from the forward engine room bulkhead aft, giving more strength to the machinery and stress points of the boat. The bottom is covered with two layers of biaxial cloth and a Kevlar skin.

“The bottom is done in three panels on each side of the solid keel, each at a different angle than the next,” he says. “This adds lift for the hole shot, allows for a soft head-sea ride and beam-to stability. Closest to the keel, the bottom panel is sharp, [the] next not as sharp, then [there’s] a much flatter section allowing for stability. The steps allow air to get underneath for greater efficiency with less horsepower,” Floyd says.

“I refuse to downgrade the size of the stringers. They are solidly built and are the backbone of the boat,” he says. The oversize stringers are produced from solid-laminated, vertical-grain clear Douglas fir.

Matthews Yacht Design computerizes the process of creating the specs for the jigs and superstructure. Mosely — now in his late 80s — still consults on the latest F&S designs.

Ay Caramba’s flying bridge is somewhat smaller than other 66-footers I’ve recently reviewed. Floyd likes for the overall look and the silhouette of his convertibles, including Ay Caramba, to be rounder and futuristically raked, which cuts down on size but increases visibility; you have full view of the cockpit and bow from the helm. There’s still more than seating and storage up above. The Palm Beach hardtop and tower sport the new style curved pipe that flatters the builder’s design concept; Costa’s enclosure kept the wind-blown sea at bay.

“We wanted to establish a look different than the others. The forward flare was cut down a bit; our design is adapted from some of the other Carolina-style boats and created the look we wanted. I like lots of tumblehome and believe a rounded transom performs better backing down,” Floyd says.

Indeed, backing down at 7.5 knots, the water pushed off — rather than over — the transom, and the momentum in reverse had minimal vibration with no chatter from the ZF gears, Veem props or any hatch or appendage on the vessel.