Dangerous Waters

We should hope that Mantra, the 88-foot sportfishing yacht from Weaver Boatworks, about to depart Tracy’s Landing for some of the world’s most dangerous waters, avoids the perils of the last Mantra.
    Capt. Thomas Holmes was marlin hunting in that 68-footer off the Seychelles, an island nation 900 miles from Africa’s east coast, when two skiffs closed fast behind him. Powerful skiffs, operated by Somalis with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, are the vessels of choice for pirates plaguing the Indian Ocean.
    Several hundred crew from all manner of vessels are held today in Somali coastal towns. On Aug. 31, a Somali pirate commander trumpeted to the world that he had just killed a hostage after ransom delays.

After being chased by Somali pirates while marlin fishing in the Indian Ocean, Capt. Thomas Holmes looks forward to the launch of his new command, the 88-foot Mantra. The $6 million vessel can cruise at 46 knots and will have armed guards accompanying it on each trip.

    In that part of the Indian Ocean, home to some of the world’s finest marlin fishing, the threat of being highjacked and losing your boat is real. Holmes knows a captain held for six months after his 48-foot boat was sunk. Then the plane taking him to freedom from Somalia was highjacked, and the captain spent another two months in captivity.
    With the skiffs bearing down on him, Holmes made a life-and-death calculation: It’s better to take fire fore than aft, he concluded.
    So he spun the boat around and headed straight at his pursuers. Holmes had figured right. They scattered, convinced that this vessel was no easy prey.
    “Out there, self-preservation is first and foremost,” Holmes said.
    Holmes, 40, a South African native, has been spending most of his time in Maryland overseeing the final work on Mantra. The $6 million vessel is the latest in a series of outsized, cold-molded hull vessels built by Weaver at the Herrington Harbour North boatyard in southern Anne Arundel County.
    And a most remarkable boat it is, and not just judging by the buzz it has created along boat-crazy Chesapeake Bay. Start with $1 million worth of engines — two 2000 Series MTU Detroit Diesels, churning out 2,600 horsepower and cruising at 46 knots (a tad faster if being chased.) The engine room stores backup parts for virtually any repair, a must in the part of the world where Mantra operates.
    Fill it up? You need some room on your credit card to pay for 4,000 gallons of fuel. That’s $16,000 a fill-up.
    There’s the 42-foot-high tower from which to spot fish and a 24-foot tender to handle small vessels going ashore. Expanses of teak are still being finished on the deck of the 16-foot-wide vessel. Inside, gleaming cherry wood, five-eighths-inch carpet and retractable television bespeak luxury. The electronics, including a military-grade infrared camera, are massive.
    The master stateroom, as wide as the vessel, includes a hydraulic bed that remains level in rough seas. And there are plenty of bunks not just for the owner, crew and guests but also for guards who accompany each trip.
    Among the regular crew when the Mantra reaches its destination are Israeli snipers able to amass considerable firepower from the Mantra’s gunroom.
    The South African VIP occupying that hydraulic bed in the master suite, the owner of Mantra, is a security-minded mining magnate who might show up in a T-shirt with holes. He prefers a low profile, and for that reason Bay Weekly agreed not to publish his name.
    The Deale company run by Jim Weaver and family has been around since Weaver, a sportfishing aficionado, built Dream Weaver in the late 1990s. Weaver, who specializes in meticulously built vessels over 60 feet long, has recently been producing Weaver 80 sportfishers.
    In Florida, a Weaver 80, Miss Pat, caught Capt. Thomas Holmes’ eye. Miss Pat was for sale, but Holmes decided to have Weaver build a custom boat to his specifications.
    Sixteen months since construction began, Holmes does not stint on praise for what Weaver turned out.
    “She’s beautiful, and they build them for a couple of million less than others would,” he said.
    Mantra’s is in its final days in Anne Arundel County. Next week, the engines will be fired up and soon after taken for a test run. Holmes and his crew will fish out of Ocean City for two or three weeks, remaining close to Chesapeake Bay in case fine-tuning is needed.
    “We want everything right because we’re not coming back,” he said.
    Then it’s down to Florida, where Mantra will be loaded aboard a ship for the Indian Ocean, where the Seychelles and Mauritius will be its home ports.
    There, Holmes hopes to match the day the smaller Mantra caught six black marlin and a blue marlin. Or the following day, when he caught five blacks and a sailfish.
    Better to catch than to be caught is this boat’s mantra.