Married thirty years, Lou and Eugenie Marron of Brielle, NJ and Palm Beach, shared a love of the water, an intensely competitive streak, a wicked sense of humor and a consuming interest in finding and catching giant swordfish. Uncle Lou was a successful businessman and chairman of the board of Coastal Oil Company of New Jersey. He maintained a 14-room sea-side residence in Brielle which housed his vast tackle collection of 200 rods and 68 reels (Fin-Nors and Vom Hofes). He was also elected 3 times to fish on the American team in the International Tuna Tournament at Wedgeport, Nova Scotia. They fished all over - the western hemisphere, Iceland, Australia and the Kattegat between Denmark and Sweden, but their favorite location seemed to be the waters off Chile and Peru where they had the best chance of finding the biggest swordfish.
Lou and Eugenie were considered big game fishermen. They both caught big marlin, swordfish and tuna, as well as other species, but their favorite fishing trips were for swordfish. They both had world records for swordfish – Lou Marron’s 1182 pound sword, caught in 1953, was the largest ever caught and his record still stands. Eugenie Marron’s 772 pound sword, caught in l954, was the largest ever caught by a woman and her record still stands. Lou Marron was one of only eleven men and women to take two swordfish in one day. Swordfishing during this time period was a sight fishing effort, baiting a surfaced fish that was not feeding, a very difficult proposition.
Not always easy to find and even harder to catch, the swordfish may come to the surface full of squid and fish, interested only in sunning himself and warming up. If one finally takes your bait, it’s likely that the sword is foul-hooked. If he is hooked in the mouth, his jawbone is so fragile that the hook is likely to pull out. The sword is thought to be the fastest of all fish. Zane Grey’s experience in 90 days off Catalina, California, was sighting 86 swordfish, presenting bait to 75 of them, hooking 12 and boating one that was recorded at 418 pounds.
Eugenie was a skilled fisherman and could hold her own as a boat captain when needed. She was at the wheel of the Flying Heart III and Lou was in the chair when they all saw the fins – fins so large, set so far apart, from a distance they looked like two fishermen in a boat. Eugenie knew the drill - she moved the boat ahead so the bonito bait would troll just below the surface of the water. When the sword grabbed the bait, Eugenie took the boat out of gear. The sword swam 100 feet with the bonito and dropped it. No one spoke. They waited five minutes and the sword hit the bait again. Eugenie moved the boat ahead to take the belly out of her husband’s line. At that point the captain came back to the wheel and took over. In just under two hours Lou Marron had his record 1182 pound swordfish.
While swordfish are in the waters off southern California and off the east coast of the US from the Shinnecock Inlet in Hampton Bays to Martha’s Vineyard and in southern Florida, the finest swordfishing in the world is in the area of the Humboldt Current off the South American coast of Chile and Peru where the swordfish are the largest and most plentiful.
About half the fish caught in the world come from areas of upwelling, places in the ocean where cold water from the bottom moves up to the surface, bringing with it nutrients derived from decomposed sea life that collected at the bottom. The nutrients become food for the smallest phytoplankton which draws larger fish and the upwelling becomes a highly productive ecosystem as the larger fish eat the smaller fish. The system harbors almost every form of marine life from huge marlin and swordfish to baitfish and sardines.
Air currents move across the surface of the water and cause a sucking motion on the water currents. In the Humboldt Current that runs along the west coast of South America, the air currents move across the water from the coast of Chile and Peru and as the water moves up the coast, it is pushed out by the wind, which pulls the deeper, colder water to the surface.
El Nino, the warm water current, comes to the area every few years. The same El Nino that affects west coast US weather and to a lesser extent east coast US weather, disrupts the Humboldt Current’s productivity. Fish abundance and distribution are affected and the changes in the ecosystem have a severe economic impact on the area.
As the Marrons were drawn to the area because they wanted to fish for the biggest swordfish,
they saw the need for the study of billfish that the University of Miami was planning and the MIT study of giant squid nerve fibers. Their last two boats were built around the needs of the studies they participated in and financed.
The Marrons’ first boat was a 30’ used Chris Craft with a 100 hp inboard engine. Other boats that followed the Chris Craft were described as either too big or unmaneuverable or too small to accommodate everything they wanted aboard. The boats were not consistently named, so that the sixteenth boat was called Eugenie VIII. There was a 40’ Wheeler Gulfstream Sportfisherman named Explorer, powered with twin 4-71 GM turbo diesels, that was built two years before the Eugenie VIII. There were smaller boats named Flying Heart and Flying Heart I, II and III. One of the smaller boats had to be extended.
The 40’ Wheeler, built in Brooklyn in 1954 was the boat the W.R. Grace Steamship Line shipped to Iquique, Chile. A wooden boat, the hull was to be sheathed in fiberglass. Wheeler called Lou Marron to say they wouldn’t be able to get the boat done in time. It was winter and the fiberglass needed more heat to cure than they could provide. Lou Marron remembered seeing auto factories in Detroit using heat lamps to cure the paint on cars. He ordered enough heat lamps to get the job done. When he went to Brooklyn to see how the fiberglass work was coming along, there were over 1,000 heat lamps under the hull, lined up so warm air currents would come up to the hull and firm up the fiberglass. It worked. The coating bonded to the hull and the boat was delivered on time. The boat and over three tons of equipment left on time on the Santa Rita for Chile.
Built for fishing and to assist in marine research, the Explorer would be a floating laboratory. It had a 2,500 pound capacity lifting boom, auto pilot, extra heavy towing chocks, a live bait well and a deep freeze.
Several years later Lou Marron saw the need for a bigger boat. His sixteenth boat was built by a New Jersey builder who could work with boat designer Floyd Ayers of Sparkman & Stephens. There were wooden boat builders who never used plans and builders who only worked with plans. Morton Johnson Boat Works in Bay Head built to specs. He didn’t just build the instantly recognizable narrow lap black lapstrake skiffs with his signature side windows, but also built carvel planked boats and sailboats. His Jersey skiffs were a little different than the Bay Head skiffs of Johnson Brothers and Grant Bauer or the boats Hubert Johnson built.
The Eugenie VIII was built to carry six and a crew of three for trips lasting several weeks without stopping at ports for food, water or fuel. Built in 1956, the double planked Philippine mahogany hull with white oak frames every 8”, was covered with plastic reinforced fiberglass. It had to survive long ocean swells off South America, storms off Nova Scotia and still be a fast, maneuverable boat while carrying heavy loads of research equipment and nine people. The 235 hp GM diesels had the fuel economy for a 1,000 mile cruising range.
The Eugenie VIII was a 54’ hull with a 15’ beam. She weighed 20 tons and cost $100,000. In the 1950s the average wooden boat of that size weighed 13 to 14 tons. To get a big heavy boat to turn on a dime and still have the get up and go Lou Marron wanted, Ayers altered Eugenie VIII’s bottom configuration, much like the Carleton Mitchell racing yawl, Finisterre. Thus, the Marrons’ new boat could accommodate the 28 cubic foot of freezer capacity, oversized bunks and assorted electrical gadgets they wanted, even the chrome-railed lounge that could be made up as a double bed for sleeping on the deck on hot tropical nights.
Lou Marron’s record swordfish was mounted by Al Pfluger of Miami, who used parts of the fish (the head, bill, tail and fins) and made a plaster mold of the body. Not aware the original existed; King Sailfish Mounts made a new, lighter weight composite model. The original by Al Pfluger had been on display at the Miami Beach Rod & Reel Club. The new model by King has now incorporated the original real parts with the composite body and the new mount is on display at the IGFA Hall of Fame Museum.