Walter Voss’ handcarved model of what he thought would make the perfect hull shape for a small, fast and manveuverable sport-fisher, was lofted into a set of plans by Len Broadhurst, which spawned some of the most succussful big-game boats in the world. (Courtesy Gamefisherman)
In the summer of 1958, at the ripe age of 14, I saw a small — about 2 feet long, if my memory serves me — hand-carved, wooden half model of a hull. The captain for whom I was working that summer, Fred Voss Jr., was known to one and all as Little Fred. In reality, he was a big, strong man, and in my memories, he’s a giant. The day I first saw that model, Voss had driven me to a shed in Oakland Park, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, where we met up with his uncle, Walter Voss, who had carved it.
Walter was one of three Voss brothers (Fred, Walter and Gilbert). I knew Fred Sr. and Walter; both were noted Florida charter captains, known for their skills in the bluefin tuna fishery in the Bahamas.
I also knew of and would later study under Dr. Gilbert Voss. Gilbert Voss became a famous marine scientist and one of the world’s top experts on squid. Salt water was in the blood of the Voss family.
Walter Voss carved the model into what he considered to be the perfect shape and size for a boat to compete in the prestigious Bahamas tuna fishery. He was building a boat from the model in that shed outside of Fort Lauderdale. When Voss finally pulled her out of the shed, he named her Dream Girl. Nobody could have guessed at the time the impact that this little boat and its pretty shape would have on the world of big-game sport fishing.
|Dream Girl’s small footprint and minimal wake encouraged builders like Gamerfisherman’s Mike Matlack to follow suit and build smaller, quicker boats like French Look (Bottom) that could spin easily and accelerate quickly from a dead stop. (Courtesy Gamefisherman)|
It was imperative that Dream Girl be fast, capable of running at high speeds in rough and choppy seas, in order to get to the lead in a fleet of sleek, fast boats. All of these tuna boats, many of which were built by Rybovich or Merritt, competed for the lead position so that they could present the first bait to the schools of giant bluefin tuna swimming by.
In the spring, the tuna would surf the waves created by southerly winds in the Straits of Florida, on their way to the feeding grounds off New England and Canada. Some of the tuna would even cross the Atlantic Ocean to the fjords of Scandinavia — a fact uncovered by early tagging programs off Cat Cay. One tagged tuna made it all the way across the Atlantic to Norway and was recaptured just 32 days after being tagged in the Bahamas — an amazing feat of speed, strength and endurance.
Because the migrating tuna avoided fishing boats and the white water of their wakes, Dream Girl needed to produce a minimal wake with very little white water. She had to be quick and agile, able to spin on a dime and accelerate almost immediately to planing speed, because no boat could, or can to this day, back up fast enough to get to the drop-off along tuna alley before the racing fish could get back to deep water and cut the line on the sharp coral along the edge.
Upon completion, Dream Girl could fight and catch the world’s largest and strongest game fish, on both light and heavy tackle, in some of the shortest fight times imaginable.
As incredible as the boat turned out to be, Voss was not a boatbuilder. He did not possess the necessary skills to make line plans from the model, and then “loft it” out full size on the floor of the shed. For this, Voss turned to a friend named Len Broadhurst.
Broadhurst’s lines and offsets, which he developed from the model, translated into a boat measuring 39 feet, 10 inches in length — and in today’s world that turned out to be a magic number.
|Dream Girl (Courtesy Gamefisherman)|
Since a standard shipping container is 20 feet long and 8 feet wide, a globe-trotting angler who builds a cradle to ship his boat as deck cargo to remote and exotic destinations will pay more — 50 percent more — to ship a boat that’s longer than 40 feet than he will for a boat that’s just under 40 feet.
In the years following the launch of Dream Girl, untold numbers of giant tuna and marlin, as well as numerous world-record catches, would come on boats made from newer copies of Broadhurst’s plans.
Roy Merritt even told me that Broadhurst’s plans had a major influence on the designs of the 42- and 43-foot Merritts, which have very similar bottoms.
Sea Baby and Hooker
The next time I saw a Dream Girl-type boat under construction was in June of 1968 in Cairns, Australia. After collecting squid and octopuses in the Antarctic Ocean for Dr. Gilbert Voss as a graduate student at what was then called the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, I decided to spend several weeks traveling around the South Pacific to warm up a bit.
|French Look (Courtesy Gamefisherman)|
After docking in Brisbane, I hitchhiked up to Cairns to visit Capt. George Bransford. Bransford, a Fort Lauderdale charter captain, had heard stories of giant marlin along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. Seeking a shot at a big marlin, Bransford moved to Australia and built a small, single-screw charter boat he called Sea Baby. He soon set the big-game fishing world buzzing, with catches of huge black marlin, including three over 1,000 pounds, along the outer edges of the Great Barrier Reef.
As a boy I’d met Bransford several times in Florida and Bimini, and when I called him, he invited me to dinner at his home. As I stared, wide-eyed, at his photographs of massive black marlin, he said, “I’m building a new boat and won’t have time to train a deckhand. Why don’t you stay and fish the season with me?”