Sport fishing boat hunts in the deep sea
Nereus, a 60-foot Hatteras based at Galveston’s Pelican Rest Marina, is an offshore, sport fishing boat, a purpose for which she is well equipped and aptly named.
“She’s named for a Greek god of the sea,” said Sean Welsh, captain and shipkeeper of the boat.
The god Nereus, honored by seafaring Greeks in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C., held special sway over the bounteous sea life in deep water and was often depicted as half a fish himself.
“His daughters were mermaids,” Welsh said, pointing out the mermaid art adorning the cabin. The paintings are from the collection of the owner’s wife.
Nereus also was known as “The Old Man of the Sea,” and this resonates in the title of Ernest Hemingway’s famous novella, “The Old Man and the Sea.” Hemingway was an avid sport fisherman whose favorite prey was the same as that of the “Old Man” in his story, and of the boat Nereus today — the Atlantic blue marlin.
Large deepwater fish with long sword-like bills, marlin are furious fighters when on the hook. They might take hours to land, providing just the kind of vigorous sport Hemingway loved. The sport has enjoyed growing popularity since the 1930s, and specialized boats and equipment have evolved for it.
Visitors to Cuba today can see the beginnings of this evolution at Hemingway’s hilltop estate, now preserved as a museum, where his custom-outfitted 38-foot boat Pilar has been restored and is displayed under a shed roof.
The differences between Pilar and Nereus are striking as to size and materials. Pilar is a wooden boat with canvas-covered cabin and bridge tops. The basic elements are there.
Most crucially is the “fighting chair” at the center of the low afterdeck, the seat of action in the prolonged battle with a hooked marlin. The back, arm and footrests on Pilar are of wood, in roughly the same configuration as the modern version — like a dynamic barber chair. But on Nereus, only the seat is wood. It’s the only bit of varnished wood outside of her interior trim.
Nearly the same on both fighting chairs is the metal socket in the front of the seat that holds the base of the fishing pole as the sportsman sits astride it to reel in and let run his leaping prey. The seat on Nereus is dinged and chipped around the socket, marks left from the rush to fit the butt of a pole that has suddenly become attached to an angry thousand-pound fish.
Pilar is fitted with a rudimentary flying bridge over its wheelhouse — a pipe-rail enclosure with a horizontal steering wheel connected to the main steering below. Nereus’ “fly bridge” is integral to its superstructure. Equipped with an array of GPS, depth- and fish-finder displays, it’s the main station for steering and navigation.
Both boats are equipped with outriggers to extend the range of their hooks and lures out to the sides. Pilar’s are of wood, Nereus’ far longer ones are of spindly metal, stayed with struts and wire.
Nereus’ most visible innovation is the tall “tuna tower,” offering the helmsman an extensive sweep of the sea and a view down into the clear offshore water.
“We take yellowfin tuna, dorado, wahoo, grouper, tarpon — all kinds of deepwater fish,” Welsh said. Refrigerated fish holds and freezers bring Nereus’ bounty fresh ashore.
Marlin are not taken home for food, though.
“We don’t kill any billfish; we tag them and throw them all back,” Welsh said.
The boat can take its owner and a half dozen guests up to 200 miles out to sea for several days of fishing.
Two generators power air conditioners, refrigerators, freezer, microwave oven, ice makers and other equipment. Her twin diesel engines cruise efficiently at 27 knots, and troll more slowly when the fish are found.
The speed and range provided by those engines is the most significant advantage Nereus has over Hemingway’s boat. But Pilar didn’t need it; her berth in Cuba was much closer to the haunts of the pelagic fish, and a day trip could bring the writer and his guests into the action.
Galveston Island offers rich inshore and bay fishing, but Nereus and his deepwater realm always beckon.