Mann vs Fish
Fishing sails on Cancun’s Isla Banks in varying sea conditions proves to be a showcase for custom builder Paul Mann’s latest launch.
Text and photography by Capt. Ken Kreisler
It’s a slow start. Two knockdowns and a small bonita. The little tuna relative slips the hook close in on Blood and, with a whispered Spanish expletive, he decides to go inside and play solitaire on his small laptop. “I loss 23 games,” he would say in his pleasant, pidgin-English and smiling later as we made our way back to Enrique’s Dock on Isla Mujeres when the day was done. “Y’can’t even beat yourself, can you there Sangre,” Capt. ‘Butch’ Cox grinned as he gave Blood a fraternal tap on the shoulder before heading up back to the bridge from the salon of Alina, the 58-foot Paul Mann-built sportfish we were fishing on. Later in the day, Blood would also drop a ‘cuda as well—not so much his fault as a quick look at the frayed and bit-through line would testify to—.and once again, retreat to the cabin to do battle with the electronic deck of cards and a memory chip that would just not give any quarter.
The day had dawned with muscular gray clouds instead of sunshine, remnants of a deep-troughed front that swept across the Yucatan last night leaving behind enough wind to get the sea up. Alina slides over a big wave, a bit bigger than the heave we were running in before setting out our lines at the first sighting of a flock of sea birds descending from up high, obviously with something else in mind here besides being avian and enjoying floating back and forth on the thermocline. For a moment the horizon aft disappears as the massive, broad-backed shoulders of the wave rolls away. The single side band crackles. Roberto, one of two mates on Alina today, his already walnut-hued skin now a bit browner from fishing in the Mexican sun for the past week ever since the boat arrived at the dock after her shakedown trip from Mann’s Harbor in North Carolina, with leisurely stops in Wrightsville Beach, Savannah, Palm Beach, and Key West before topping off her 1,354 gallon fuel tanks and making the poke across to Isla Mujeres.
Alina’s proud owners are Eric and Patricia Mansur, and home is the island of Aruba. “This boat,” Eric says as he looks out the large salon windows at the rolling sea on our way to the Isla Banks. “Is a dream come true for us. We had it built for our family as well as being a hard-core fishing platform so it serves two functions.” And while Eric made sure his custom Mann had all the necessary fishing amenities—gated tuna door, a pair of 41-foot, triple spreader Rupp Tournament Riggers, Release Marine fighting tuna chair, fresh and salt wash downs, cockpit, mezzanine, and fish box drains, bait well, Eskimo shaved ice maker, four teaser reels, and mezzanine freezer compartment among a long list of must-haves—it was his wife who insisted the interior would be up to her standards of comfort and luxury.
“I was involved in everything inside; the three stateroom, two head layout, the colors of the wood finish and the fabrics, and even the kind and shape of the moldings and trim,” Patricia commented as she led me through the design process. “Paul had fabricated a foam mock-up of the inside; exactly where everything would be so I could actually see and feel the layout. That was a wonderful experience in realizing the final product.”
Roberto looks up at the bridge from the cockpit. “Norte” he says to us as he nods to Cox. Haphazard, another boat out fishing in the area as well, has called us in. But Alina has something else aboard that sets her apart from any other Mann boat here or anywhere else in the world today—there are presently six altogether in Isla at the moment. Paul Mann is one of our anglers.
There was never much doubt that Mann would first be involved in charter boat fishing and then make his mark in the DNA pool that is the exclusive enclave of that particular ‘hot spot’ of North Carolina’s famed Outer Banks boat captains and builders: Originators Omie Tillet and Warren O’Neal, long considered the creators of the Carolina style along with their protégés Buddy Davis, Sunny Briggs, John Bayliss, and Randy Ramsey among a fine cadre of others. It would be as if one lived between Mozart and Beethoven with Da Vinci and Michelangelo residing across the street and not having something rub off. Indeed, I was on one of Mann’s most recent masterpieces.
“I started mating on charter boats when I was 18 and by 20, had my captain’s license,” he says. “All of us that ran boats usually helped boat builders build boats during the winter for some income and something to do. That’s how the whole Carolina thing began. Fishermen building boats for fishermen. I built hull #1 when I was 28 years old and when that first person came along and asked me if I could build them one…well, so there it goes. When someone comes to realize one of my cold-molded, custom builds, they finally know what they want. Fishability and the capacity to run and perform well is a given on a Paul Mann.” In addition, Mann is now known for his interiors with the 81-foot Georgia Girl, topping over 60 entries and winning the Cabinetry category and grand prize in the seventh annual Veneer Tech Craftsman’s Challenge™, one of the most highly respected and well-known craftsmanship competitions in woodworking.
During the early years, Mann carried all he had learned to the next level and admittedly says that boat building came relatively easy to him. “I was always a pretty savvy carpenter and found that if I could see it, I could build it. More to the point, I was really interested in boat design and especially the bottom; why and how it does what it does. I’ve been building my hulls for some 25 years now and they have performed very well because I’ve been able to keep tweaking them to get the boat to do what I want it to do,” Mann says. “A fine entry, less exit, and a spray rail design that is sharper and wider to keep the water on the water is what I’m looking for.”
Alina is a cold-molded, jig-built boat with three layers of quarter-inch acumi plywood and fiberglass between each layer. Once the hull is constructed, the outside is glassed with two layers of 17 ounce on the outside. Down the center, where the keel would be on a plank-on-frame boat—Alina has none—the area is routed out and nine layers of 34 ounce are laid in there. After that, the outside is glassed over and the boat is flipped and totally encapsulated inside, as well as the sides, with several layers of 17 glass as well. Then the structural bulkheads go in, set on top of a high density foam after which everything is tabbed in with three layers of glass.
My full day aboard Alina, from sunrise to after sunset in conditions that ran from big rolling swells to rain to spotting a waterspout to running in cresting seas convinced me he has figured things out pretty well. At no time during our run out or getting back to the barn, especially when dealing with substantial quartering seas, did Butch need to pull her back. We maintained a steady 25/27 knots through the slop—topping out at about 30 while racing the sunset—and when coming off big waves, Alina landed softly with no pounding or slamming. “The true Carolina boats run best with the weight aft and we depend on our tabs to push the boat over. Then, when we burn our fuel off, you don’t have use the tabs,” Mann commented as he and I sat in the salon during the morning run. “And my engine rooms? Well, I’ve got one way of thinking on that topic: Y’gotta be able to get two hands on anything you’re liable to be working on.”
Another 10 or 12 miles and we spot Haphazard running down on a big gathering of birds, her ‘riggers tick-tocking back and forth in the beam sea. Butch throttles down and a dazzlingly white, jade-tinged swell of water promptly rises against the transom and just as quickly disappears with a muffled hush, replaced by the reassuring thrum of the boat’s twin 1,000-hp C-18 Caterpillar diesels. Roberto and Rob Belcher, the other mate, immediately work at getting our gear in the water. Butch has already lowered our ‘riggers and within a matter of moments, he swings Alina’s bow a bit to the west and starts looking for cutting fish. We have birds, just a few at first and then more and still more.
We run six lines out; our port long ‘rigger drags a dredge, a veritable double school of goggle eyes, what with the umbrella-within-an-umbrella configuration, while the starboard one flicks a line of pink squid just across the surface of the rolling ocean. Our short lines are baited with ballyhoo as are the pair of flat, gunwale transom rigs. “We got cutters,” Mann says, as Butch had already turned the boat, almost prescient to the call out.
The fish are indeed right on top; quite a few by the quick count of their familiar dorsal fins and bills now cutting and slicing back and forth on the dark surface water as they herd the bait ball in closer and tighter. The birds dip quickly and then faster as the leavings, and those whole fish that are still alive, rise to the surface. The whir of the hard-top mounted electric teaser reels on the bridge comes to life as the dredge and teaser lines come in, allowing Eric, Mann, Roberto, and Rob to work the four rods in the ample cockpit.
The engines drone down a hundred rpm or so and the boat moves off a bit to starboard as the anglers reel in, drop back, and change positions, rods expertly maneuvered in a veritable danza de los Pescadores, to avoid getting caught up with one another. Roberto’s line suddenly goes tight as does Mann’s. Eric picks up and drops a fish. Rob clears his rod, gets it set in the holder and stands by to assist the others. Roberto’s line is now slack as well and he quickly puts up his rig, waiting to see what will transpire. Mann’s fish is on. The other fishermen move back into the cockpit to rebait, allowing Mann and Butch to now maneuver the fish dead astern.
As last man standing, Mann gains some and quickly loses twice as much. Then he loses even more. The line starts to straighten out. The fish jumps twice and again before stripping out more from the dancing rod tip and reel. Alina throttles up in reverse and one of those big seas crashes into the transom. For a moment, a shimmering veil of water leaps up into the air. Mann gets the fish in closer and leads it over to the port side where Rob, gloves on, is ready to grab the leader. A jump or two close in, and with a subtle and expert flip of the leader, the fish slides back into the water.
That’s how it would go for the rest of the day out on the Isla Banks. We’d get into the fish, lose them, and find them again. Yours truly managed to bring one to the transom as did the rest of us in the cockpit. Sometime during the day, Blood had whipped up his interpretation of a Philly Cheese Steak, Isla Mujeres style and the salon talk on the way back was rife with the kind of camaraderie that comes with the territory; of being out on the water on a fine boat with old and new friends. We caught and released some and we got released as well.
Alina would be staying in Isla for a while until heading over to Curacao for an upcoming tournament. From there, she heads home to Aruba until fishing South American waters for yet some more competition and more after that. The Mansurs and their Alina are now part of a prestigious community of Paul Mann custom boat owners that has as its many attributes, all the confidence and pride that a well-designed and well-built boat brings.