We arrived at Block Island Sound about 7 a.m. on what would have been a fine morning to try out a boat, had we not been too plastered to walk just three hours earlier. But duty called, and with bleary eyes and pounding heads we climbed aboard our trial boat, immediately impressed by how much bigger it seemed than its actual size.
“Ain’t you the guys from the magazine?” hollered a fellow about the size and shape of an Amana upright freezer and standing at the head of the dock. “What are you doing in that boat? Ain’t you here to test mine?”
Realizing our error, my fishing buddy Melvin Shtupner and I climbed back out of the big express and followed Wendell Futt, president of the fledgling Tautog Boat Works, to the boat we’d come to profile, still on its trailer.
“Nice boat,” I muttered to make Futt happy, since this 21-foot center-console looked pretty much like any other. I volunteered to do the launch; if there’s one thing I can do, it’s launch a boat in my sleep. The first thing I learned about the Tautog 21: It fills up with water way too fast. I told Futt of my disappointment, and I sincerely hope Tautog will make the bilge drain-plug hole a lot smaller on future models. After a couple hours, we got some help and pulled the boat back up the ramp, drained the water out of the bilge, launched the boat – this time with plug in – and were on our way.
We cruised out the short channel until the water deepened. “Hang on!” I said and pushed the throttle forward. As the outboard, a single 150-hp HooverRam-150 (from Hoover Vacuum’s new Outboard Motor Division) coughed to life, the bow rose to what seemed 45 degrees and hung there. Seconds turned into minutes, and I expressed some concern that I had no idea where I was headed because I was unable to see anything more than clouds.
“No problem!” Futt yelled enthusiastically. “Mel – come on up here!” and the two of them climbed up to the bow, which gradually came down (just in time for me to swerve around a buoy I’d have otherwise hit dead on). At first this apparent design flaw concerned me, but Futt pointed out logically enough that usually on a boat the size of a 21, you take a couple buddies anyway, so just have ’em sit on the bow when you start out.
The Tautog took the bay’s chop pretty well, but my partner wasn’t impressed. “Not the driest boat I’ve ever been in,” Shtupner said as he pushed water off his face; like the rest of us, he was completely soaked. But what open boat does offer a bone-dry ride in a sharp, 1-foot chop? The bone-jarring pounding occurred only while under way, and except for that, this Tautog impressed me with one of the best rides of any hull in its class.
Pushed to the 5,200 redline, the Tautog hit just over 20 mph. If it weren’t for the slow speed, this would be as quick as any 21-footer I’ve been on. I would like to see a larger fuel tank; at 20 gallons, the Tautog 21 offers a maximum range of only 30 miles. But with a few portable tanks or a drum strapped to the deck, she’d have all the distance any canyon fisherman could ever want.
When drifting, the broad hull rides abeam to amidships with a roll moment of two minutes in a beam sea, even though it always comes stern-to with passengers athwartships or amidships.
The Tautog backs down like a charm, though I was surprised at how quickly the cockpit filled almost to the gunwales after I accidentally slammed the throttle down full in reverse. I’d like to see little arrows pointing forward and backward on top of the throttle lever to help remind the helmsman which way to push it.
No 21-foot hull raises fish better than this one. Within minutes of lines out, our small spoons had been found by some feisty snapper blues, and we boated several of the tough 2-pounders.
This exciting stand-up action gave me a chance to assess the Tautog’s design as a fishing machine. The cockpit had so much room that we were able to maneuver around Shtupner, who’d fallen fast asleep on the cockpit deck. When things slowed, I figured the bluefish had gone deep, so I tied on a heavy 4-ounce jig. I would like to see thicker acrylic on the big center-console window, since I found this one shattered all too easily when I slammed my jig into it on the first back-cast.
You can tell the Tautog has been designed by fishermen for fishermen: It’s capable of carrying up to 40 rods, according to Futt. He explained that the two bungee cords hanging from the bow railing on each side of the boat can accommodate up to 20 rods each. I’d like to see at least a couple rod holders on gunwales or somewhere in the boat, but beyond that, I’ve never tested a boat with better rod storage.
The single fish box in the bow is so large it could store a human adult. I know this because Shtupner left the cockpit deck after a bluefish flopped onto his face, and he crawled into the fish box. I’d like to see a drainage system of some sort, although Futt’s feeling is that all one need do is “sprinkle a little baking soda in the fish box – then you don’t need no overboard drain.”
The ergonomics of this boat’s helm station are as good as I’ve seen. If it came with any gauges, they’d be right on the console face and in plain view. While the helm seat did send me crashing to the deck when it cracked, I don’t think that would happen with a smaller helmsman. In fact, except for its falling apart, this helm seat is one of the finest I’ve ever had the privilege to test.
Every hand-laid Tautog hull uses three layers of uni-axial genuine fiberglass chop, and all spaces are filled with Styrofoam “peanuts,” which the manufacturer claims work every bit as effectively as balsa or Divinycell coring. This hull is truly bullet-proof.
Unfortunately, it’s not shoal-proof. In an interesting design innovation, the manufacturer has mounted the Tautog’s trim-tab controls on the transom instead of on the console. Toward the end of our morning out, I had gone back to adjust the tabs, since they were a little sticky. I left Shtupner at the helm, but he dozed off, and, at just under 20 knots, the Tautog 21 ran dead onto a rocky shoal.
As Futt called in a mayday to the Coast Guard, I couldn’t hide my disappointment at the amount of seawater pouring into the Tautog. I really felt that running into rocks at that speed should have made a much smaller hole through the hull. Nonetheless, the Tautog is one of the best boats I’ve ever sunk in.