The owner of the new 95-foot Jim Smith Marlena, Sam Gershowitz, has been known to build a big custom sport-fishing boat or two. He's one of those thoughtful creative people who enjoys the process even more than the end result. But every boat he's commissioned has been significantly more advanced than the one before it, with better ideas, notable improvements and yes, increased speed. So it is with his newest hull, a 95-foot enclosed bridge sport-fishing yacht by Jim Smith.
I joined the crew aboard this mammoth, fighting lady in the late afternoon. Sam - ever the consummate host - served dinner, exquisite cigars and 80-year-old Armagnac at the six-seat mezzanine dining table. Since we planned to head to the canyons some 80 miles south of Montauk Point, New York, where the boat summers at its Star Island Marina home, we needed to leave at midnight to reach the Dip by sunrise.
We lugged along at a conservative 21 knots through the darkness and pouring rain, which severely decreased visibility. Marlena, while very capable of much higher speeds, moves quite comfortably at slower velocities as well.
I grew up fishing these same Northeast canyons and have always marveled that after traveling so many miles offshore without seeing a soul, you're suddenly greeted by a mini city of like-minded fishing boats.
Trolling spreader bars and daisy chains for tuna at 8 knots beam-to the 4- to 6-foot-high seas would be uncomfortable on a smaller boat. The Jim Smith displayed a modest roll moment, but with transitions so gentle, you don't even need to hold on. I noticed some turbulence in the wake, both surface and subsurface, but it all disappears by the third wave back. After a bit of trolling with no luck, we tried chunking for a change of pace. Marlena drifted directly beam-to very comfortably.
Cruising between fishing spots, Capt. Terry Day from Louisiana ran Marlena at 32.5 knots, burning 92 gph at 2,060 rpm. At day's end, the ride back proved exceptional - we were flying along at 33 knots. In calm water, a hard-over turn at 30 knots scribed a fairly wide arc. Dropped back to 25, the turn sharpened. Marlena backed down at 6 ½ knots in perfect control. When fighting a fish, the boat spins nicely when the rudders are used in conjunction with the gears, and as soon as you engage the bow thruster, the spin rate increases by about a third. For a 95-footer, I have to say this boat pivots pretty darn well.
Overall, the design of the cockpit is superb. Even ice management is easy, with just a one-lever turn required to transfer ice from the Eskimo dump to the fish box. As you'd expect, the huge cockpit provides plenty of work space. The rain on the way out exposed one minor glitch (that will surely be remedied quickly). I'd like to see the water trough along the coach roof extended, so the rain (and spray) that runs off the trailing edge doesn't pour onto the passengers/seats on the mezzanine. An easy fix - it's just one of those "bugs" that comes with every new boat. I will say that the Jim Smith didn't display a single significant glitch, and when you consider all the advanced systems in a vessel this size, and then the fact that it was tested in rough seas, not discovering a single major problem is sort of miraculous.
Smith builds the cockpit gunwales at exactly the right height. The radius curves on the covering boards provide a perfectly comfortable leaning post while fighting a fish. Three in-gunwale rod holders on each side drain into the scupper channel, as do the additional holders in each transom corner. Six more are mounted across the mezzanine rail and on the flybridge railing - so you can bring as many rods as you can carry!
I particularly liked the rod and reel storage in the engine room companionway. No need to break the butts and rods apart; just give them a quick wash and let the heat from the engine compartment dry them for you. Also, a cabinet at the top of the engine hatch (starboard side of the mezzanine) houses numerous Plano tackle boxes, so you just bring out what you need for the particular type of fishing you are doing and store the others down below.
Marlena sports the longest riggers that Rupp makes - 46-footers. Thank goodness for hydraulics - I'd hate to try to deploy or retrieve them manually! While there is a ladder that goes from the mezzanine to the enclosed bridge through a hatch, both owner and crew have deemed it superfluous and use only the interior stairway. Gershowitz has already started the design phase of his next Jim Smith - a 105-footer - and it will not come with the exterior flybridge ladder.
The overhang boasts engine and thruster controls to both port and starboard. Another set resides in the cockpit. I feel the skybridge concept growing on me. Many boats don't have the length to pull off the added height without looking awkward. I can't say that of this 95-footer. Visibility from this vantage point is excellent and you don't need to scale a precipitous tower leg! The sky-bridge comes with standard helm and companion seats, with loads of settee seating in front of the helm console and a Venturi windshield that works great. You'll find nothing but LED lights aboard Marlena, including the molded-in spreader lights on both sides of the hardtop, as well as fore and aft.
I rarely sleep belowdecks on a sport-fishing boat while underway for several reasons: Most situate your head aft in the berth, and I don't like sleeping with my head lower than my feet. Also, it's usually pretty noisy. Neither became a problem on Marlena. You'd hardly know you were underway in the queen berth of the guest stateroom - it's deathly quiet. Except, of course, when the bow thruster engages. In fact, the Jim Smith 95 proved to be extremely quiet everywhere while running - inside and out.
The interior of this boat qualifies as tasteful but not ostentatious. Its namesake (Marlena - also known as Mrs. Sam Gershowitz) decorates every boat they've built, and her interior design skills have been enhanced by elegant conservatism along the way. Unlike so many expensive yachts (especially European ones) where the crew members are considered second-class citizens, Marlena crew quarters (for three) are located in the forepeak: captain's cabin to starboard with a sizable double and full twins for the mates to port. They share a large head with shower.
As you'd expect, there is a vast amount of storage space aboard this 95-footer. My assigned guest cabin boasted a queen-size berth and private head with shower. The master stateroom, amidships and down a level, provides twin heads and a shared shower.
The gargantuan salon features a formal dining table that seats eight. Opposite, a galley stretches fore and aft with an additional banquet dinette that can seat two more guests. In fact, there are an unusual number of places aboard where people can sit at tables and talk. I love how huge the windows are throughout the living quarters, and how much they contribute to ambient light.
A semicircular staircase leads up to the enclosed flybridge where the Stidd helm seat sports ostrich-skin upholstery - very nice. You'll also find a wet bar to starboard, and an L-shaped settee port, both sporting shaved granite counters.
Marlena constitutes one of the largest cold-molded boats I've ever been aboard, and it works perfectly with a sound, substantial ride and excellent performance for such a large vessel. In profile, many boats with enclosed and skybridges look like they've got afterthoughts mounted atop the boat. They look out of proportion. This boat has enough length to pull it off beautifully.
Outside LEDs can cycle through blue, red and white, while interiors are just warm white. And don't be fooled by all the powder-coated railings they are really all painted with Awlgrip and couldn't be easier to maintain. If they chip, all you need to do is touch up the paint - unlike repairing powder coating.
Jim Smith has come a long way from the pure rocket ships it used to build. Marlena is beautiful, performs exceptionally well and rides like a dream. It shows what can transpire when a knowledgeable owner and crew and a talented builder and designer all come together.