Refreshed aesthetics on a proven hull highlight a reboot for the 43 (and the 50).
I’ve always been a disciple of the idea that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That said, I do believe in iterative improvements to any successful design, so maybe that’s why I enjoyed checking out Mikelson’s reboot of its 43- and 50-foot models. To be fair, the star of the show on test day was the Mikelson 43 – Generation II, which was the one we took out for a spin. However, I did take a tour of the 50 later in the day and wasn’t disappointed.
The Mikelson 43 Sportfisher was designed by Tom Fexas for the family-owned company that’s been producing unique fishing boats for nearly 35 years. It first appeared in 1999 and then got a major revamp in 2009 when it was fitted with Zeus pod drives and became the 43Z. The 43 – Gen II was introduced just last year. We tested hull #85 of the overall design and #1 of the refresh.
The thing about Mikelson yachts is we can’t really call them sportfishers or cruising yachts, because they’re hybrids or true convertibles. Initially, Dick Peterson and Pat Sullivan established the company (based in San Diego) to design and build the type of boat they wanted for themselves. It had to fish hard but cruise comfortably with the whole family. Practical met posh, and Mikelson hasn’t looked back in more than three decades.
So what differentiates a Mikelson from other boats on the market? There are a few notable features, starting with the standup engine room below the cockpit sole. With full walkaround access, the engines are easy to maintain from most angles, and the heat and vibration of the machinery is kept aft and away from the living spaces. Also, if the need to repower ever arises, this type of access can’t be beaten.
Adding to the exceptional use of space below the deck is a cavernous utility room under the galley/salon sole. Batteries and fuel tanks take up some of the space, but there’s plenty left for a freezer or a washer/ dryer. One other feature down there — nearly standard for all Mikelson owners—is a Seakeeper 6 gyro stabilizer. Fishing can be fatiguing but a stable platform helps.
The brand’s design keeps the center of gravity low, so with the weight of freezers, fuel tanks and gyro below the sole, the hull rides smoother. The hull is a cored construction above the waterline and is supported by six longitudinal foam core stringers. The result is strong but light for better performance and fuel economy. Mikelson hulls are built in Taiwan but the rest of the vessel is finished out in California, and that includes motor and pod installation.
Another distinguishing feature on Mikelsons is the reverse sheer at the transom that makes backing down on a fish drier and drama-free. Given 13-inch-wide sidedecks, getting from the cockpit to the bow quick and easy. A day head in the cockpit ensures nobody tracks fish guts through the interior. All these clever features make clear how much thought went into designing a practical battlewagon with a touch of luxury.
Mikelson hasn’t embraced digital switching, choosing instead to keep things simple, user-friendly and easily fixable in a pinch. The builder has stuck to a 12v system, eschewing the 24v setup many competitors use. Also, exterior surfaces are fairly utilitarian, which minimizes maintenance. When a boat is always ready to go, it ensures more days on the water and fewer at the dock surrounded by workmen.
Anglers can fish a Mikelson from a fighting chair in the cockpit or from the bow, which has very few tripping hazards. Plenty of good handholds are ready to steady one’s transit in a bouncy seaway. A bait tank with lights and windows is integrated into the transom next to a hinged door that leads onto the swim platform. Forward in the cockpit is a built-in tackle center, and to port and starboard are storage lockers. A sea- water wash-down will keep the muck at bay, and a cockpit freshwater shower provides a nice rinse for passengers coming in from a swim. Two drop-in fishboxes are below the sole, while rocket launchers, outriggers and a lazarette freezer are optional. Rod holders abound.
Another nod to fishing prowess is a molded staircase (optional, a ladder is standard) that leads from the cockpit to the flybridge, making quick transits from the helm to the cockpit safer. Up top, the flybridge is all Mikelson. Twin Stidd chairs form a command pod that includes three Garmin MFDs embedded into a generously proportioned dash. To port is a handy chart keeper and to starboard is a small companion lounge. Just aft is a round dinette. With the chairs turned aft to face the table, eight people can easily enjoy a cocktail here and take in 360-degree views of the anchorage.
Now here’s the kicker. Aft of that round settee is an optional second helm station that affords a bird’s-eye view of the action in the cockpit. During a back-down during a tournament or a weekend excursion, the captain couldn’t have a better vantage point. This station comes in handy when backing into a slip too.
The Mikelson 43 – Generation II is fitted with two cabins below and a semicustom layout on the main deck in the salon and galley. The galley may be tucked into the forward corner or moved aft to facilitate convenient passing of snacks to the cockpit. The chef will not want for fancy tools. Our test model had Fisher & Paykel refrigeration and a Kenyon three-burner cooktop, both powered by a standard 9 kw Northern Lights genset in the engine room.
The interior was fitted out with a matte American cherry finish that exuded a rich feel, and 6 feet, 6 inches of headroom gave the interior a feeling of spaciousness. Anyone led onto a second-gen 43 blindfolded and only introduced to the interior would never know he’s on a tournament-worthy fish boat.
Again, if it works, why mess with it, right? However, not wanting to rest on its laurels (or its successful hull forms) Mikelson refreshed both the 43 and the 50 in the past 12 months. The side cabin windows are frameless and larger than before, the solid glass engine air-intake vent was rerouted and given a new profile, and the accent stripes and window elongation paint were eliminated. The ongoing refinements on the 43 – Generation II (the smallest model in the fleet) and the 50 – Generation II add up to softer and sleeker, more modern profiles that remain true to the Mikelson aesthetic. ABYC- and NMMA-certified, the company describes itself as a builder that’s family-owned and customer-driven and takes client feedback seriously. With these small tweaks, Mikelson refreshed both models effectively, so let’s hear it for incremental change.
Out On the Bay
The Mikelson 43 – Gen II is powered by twin 550 hp QSB Cummins common-rail diesels coupled to Zeus pod drives. Optional packages include twin engines from Volvo Penta or Caterpillar. When the 43 first switched to pod drives, Mikelson touted a fuel efficiency about 30 percent better than with conventional shaft drives, and that paired with a top speed increase of 15 percent. As usual, the Zeus system allows builders to install smaller, more fuel efficient engines. This makes the boat lighter overall without sacrificing performance and with the added benefit of a shallower draft, so owners can fish skinnier waters.
Our test of the Mikelson 43 and its standard Cummins motors and pod drives tucked into hull tunnels was in light winds on the flat waters of San Diego Bay. We came up to speed with minimal bowrise with the hydraulic trim tabs set to auto. With six people aboard and tanks half full of fuel and water, the 43 – Generation II topped out just shy of 31 knots at wide-open throttle. We found a nice cruising speed at 2500 rpm and nearly 21 knots of boat speed as the Cummins diesels burned a combined 33 gph. At 10 knots and in a fairly calm seaway, the 43 showed a 600-mile range. With 200 gallons of optional extra fuel capacity, a buyer, like many Mikelson owners, can head to Mexico for big fishing tournaments.
The nice thing about pod drives is the smooth ride they deliver. The directional thrust makes turns even and drama free as the hull remains stable without digging in or leaning. We spun in our own length using only the wheel, a move that was even easier with the joystick. Docking is a delight with the joystick.
Competitive brands in Mikelson’s space include Hatteras, Bertram and Viking, and each builder is known for something unique. Mikelson is known for building practical boats that excel in fishing tournaments but don’t forget the family when it’s time to cruise, entertain or generally relax on the water in complete comfort.