Doubling Down in Homer and Beyond: The F/V Double Down by Brix – For Big Dan’s
Story by Troy A Buzalsky
Photos by Brix Marine
“When your ideas on paper become a reality, you can’t help but get excited…Exactly how we envisioned it,” were the words reverberated by Dan Spies in early March 2022 when the 50-foot Brix Marine catamaran named the F/V (fishing vessel) Double Down was splashed for its first of several sea trails. Dan Spies, AKA “Big Dan,” commissioned the custom build in August of 2020, and the rollercoaster ride associated with the build is, “Finally at the finish line,” laughs Spies (pronounced Speez).
Big Dan’s Fishing Charters and Lodge is entering its sixth season serving the Kenai Peninsula, including the waters of Homer, Seward, and the Kenai River. It is owned and operated by Captain Dan Spies and his wife Sarah, who Dan refers to as “Boss Lady.” They offer saltwater and freshwater fishing including their coveted, overnight multi-species charters.
Being a full-service operation, Big Dan’s also hosts the Riverfront Lodge that sits strategically and scenically on the lower Kenai River with convenient canal access. In fact, his lodge is a stone’s throw from my go-to Kenai River section: the Big Eddy hole. The lodge features four private cabins that each sleep five- to seven guests comfortably and include a kitchen, shower/bathroom, and most importantly, enough freezer space for the biggest catch
Being a riverfront lodge means there’s easy access for fishing from the property, which is especially popular when the sockeye and silvers are running. For even more variety, Big Dan’s can coordinate sightseeing and destination fishing via area aviation providers. In other words, if you’re looking for a Kenai Peninsula adventure, Big Dan’s has you covered.
When Big Dan’s Fishing Charters took delivery of the F/V Game Changer in 2019, their 12-passenger, 42-foot ACI-built catamaran quickly earned its name. It opened up overnight fishing trips out of Homer while netting Big Dan’s an excellent reputation for getting his anglers into big fish and big limits. The F/V Game Changer was designed with quadruple 425 HP Yamaha outboards…That’s a whopping 1,700 HP, with a comfortable 35-knot cruising speed. “I don’t believe in giving boat rides,” explains Dan. It’s no secret that such power will get the captain and crew to fishing grounds faster while the catamaran hull guarantees a smooth ride compared to a comparable-sized monohull. Overnight fishing adventures can travel over 100 miles to productive fishing grounds, and for Big Dan’s Fishing Charters this includes the Barren Islands, Augustine Island, Cape Douglas, and Kodiak’s Afognak Island and its surrounding waters; primarily untouched fishing water.
With thriving success running two saltwater vessels, the F/V Game Changer and the F/V Blackjack, and two Willie Predators serving their clients on the Kenai River, Big Dan and Sarah decided it was time to up the ante…or double down and build a boat like no other. In fact, the design and planning started as soon as they took delivery of the F/V Game Changer. In August 2020 they signed on with Brix Marine to build the F/V Double Down, with a focus on comfort and luxury, while still serving as a fishing machine. The official build commenced on March 1, 2021, with a one-year build schedule slated.
Since 1991, Armstrong Marine has crafted rugged aluminum catamarans and workboats, initially in Canada, and then from its current location in Port Angeles, Washington. In November 2020, Armstrong Marine USA rebranded its name to become BRIX Marine, broadening and diversifying its selection and capability of welded-aluminum boats while still building exceptional custom boats. BRIX Marine is now part of Bryton Marine Group, the largest builder of welded-aluminum boats in North America.
Currently BRIX Marine designs and builds welded-aluminum catamarans, monohulls, landing craft, and Naiad Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats that are recognized in the industry for quality craftsmanship and innovative design. BRIX has over 500 boats under their boat-building umbrella and have been recognized by Workboat and Forbes magazines. Fun Fact: BRIX is defined as the scientific measure of sweetness in liquid, so metaphorically speaking you can expect a sweet-riding boat!
With BRIX Marine as the boat builder, and Captain Big Dan, a home builder by trade as the master designer, it’s expected that the F/V Double Down will not only turn heads with its sexy good looks and one-the-water performance, but it will also turn a few heads as they’re guided into the landing net or gaffed or harpooned and loaded though one of three gunnel or transom doors. “The F/V Game Changer served as the template,” explains Dan. Immediately after taking delivery of the F/V Game Changer Big Dan started his concept drawings and new ideas for the F/V Double Down, and once the initial sketches were crafted the plans changed at least a dozen times. “That’s the contractor in me,” laughs Spies.
The 50-foot by 18-foot BRIX F/V Double Down catamaran was designed with a single purpose: to be the best, fastest, and fishiest boat in the Homer fleet and comfortable in 5- to 8-foot seas. And although fast, cruising speeds of 30- to 35 knots are the norm. “You don’t drive it like you stole it,” exclaims Dan. The goal is to get anglers into action as fast, safely, and efficiently as possible.
“Big Dan’s team runs a focused, top-shelf fishing experience,” explains BRIX Marine Managing Director Perry Knutson. “The F/V Double Down is a one-of-a-kind charter vessel that was designed to help Big Dan’s raise the standard yet again for anglers in Alaska. The partnership between our companies on this project really stands out in the finished product.”
Building a monster-sized catamaran is no small task, and very few boat builders are capable or qualified to tackle such a build. However, BRIX makes the job look easy. Pre-build elements include the design/draft phase, where the BRIX designer/drafter creates 2D and 3D modeling of the vessel, parts, and components, including marine systems, weight studies, and overall plan review. From there the build starts like a jigsaw puzzle, with marine-grade aluminum cut to perfection by a BRIX CNC operator. It’s then systematically assembled and Metal Inert Gas (MIG) and/or Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) welded by BRIX aluminum fabricators and certified welders, with painstaking quality assurance at every step in the process.
When building a catamaran, the hull and the house are built separately and then strategically joined together. To keep Captain Dan in the loop, BRIX sent weekly pictorial updates every Friday, so no matter how busy Dan and Sarah were, they were kept in the loop. From a timeline perspective, the F/V Double Down’s hull and pilot house were mated in August of 2021, some five months and thousands of man-hours after “breaking ground.” The dream that started with a napkin and crayon started to look like reality! “We’ve been anxiously waiting for this,” exclaims Captain Dan. “It’s so exciting to see the boat come together with a company [BRIX] that continues to show the most outstanding professionalism.”
The F/V Double Down is design-built and truly a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. The 50-foot by 18-foot footprint creates copious tactical deck space that includes a 30- to 36-inch full walkaround cabin and a fishing dance floor that’s a whopping 12 feet by 18 feet, making angling easy and enjoyable. To create a unique and pleasurable space, the boat’s bow includes a full lounge, complete with an 11-foot cushioned couch with functional coffee-type tables with built-in drink holders. Imagine the wind in your face, a drink in your hand, and a buttery smooth return trip after two days of epic offshore angling…I can!
One of Captain Dan’s design changes included a 5-foot rear overhanging roof. This simple design element creates additional dry deck space and allows anglers to monitor and fish their rods while getting some protection from the elements. “And it looks sexy as hell,” according to Dan. Speaking of good looks, the F/V Double Down is wrapped with Kryptek marine-grade vinyl in the Wraith pattern, and although the Wraith pattern is a camouflage, there’s no doubt the F/V Double Down will stand out in the Homer Harbor.
The F/V Double Down was specifically designed to double your limits, and with that in mind, not only does the boat boast quadruple 425 HP Yamaha outboards with Yamaha Helm Master EX next-generation boat controls, but the boat also holds 800 gallons of fuel to get you to and from any and all the fishing grounds possible. To store and preserve your catch, the boat holds ⅓ ton of ice in its insulated fish lockers. And because fishing can be dirty work, the F/V Double Down not only has a marine head, but it also includes a freshwater shower. With this feature, I might even get my wife to go!
For overnight relaxation, the F/V Double Down comfortably sleeps 12 adults and includes 8 private bunks with memory-foam mattresses, lockers, fans, and USB power. The boat is also equipped with two queen beds in the pilot house, and the dinette is also sleep-capable. The pilot house and bunk rooms are insulted for both warmth and sound, and the space is heated with a 54K radiant heater. For your peace of mind, the ballast room (fuel storage) is protected with a fire-protection system. Although sleeping is important, Big Dan will be the first to point out that the most successful anglers, and the biggest catches, usually occur at night, when some choose to catch a catnap.
When departing on an overnight fishing adventure, creature comforts are important and so are your meals. The F/V Double Down features a full kitchen with refrigerator and provides catered, home-cooked meals. Anglers can expect a sandwich-style lunch as to not interfere with a hot bite, and dinners are home cooked and include yummy dessert. A hearty breakfast with signature cinnamon rolls kicks off the morning, and virtually every client will attest that you won’t go hungry, unless you refuse to put the rod down!
Speaking of rods and reels, Big Dan’s Fishing Charters is part of “Team Rainshadow,” utilizing custom-built rods crafted on Batson Enterprises’ Rainshadow blanks. Sitting down with the experts at Batson/Team Rainshadow, collectively they came up with a great plan for Dan’s Alaska-specific fishing applications, and now Big Dan’s fishing rods are built to the collaboration’s specifications which include being spiral-wrapped to reduce reel roll when fighting big fish: 6-foot rods are used for halibut fishing, 7-footers for jigging, and 10- and 11½-foot rods when fishing with downriggers. Interestingly, the spiral-wrapped downrigger rods are built specifically as port or starboard rods and spiral-wrapped accordingly. Big Dan’s also exclusively utilizes Avet Reels, known for their smooth action and powerful drags. When fishing offshore for the potential fish of your lifetime, quality tackle and gear can make or break the success of the trip, and for this reason Big Dan’s Fishing Charters only fishes the best gear possible.
Captain Big Dan Spies is recognized as a fish-catching dude, and always goes the extra mile to get his clients into fish. Even with this type of reputation, he stepped up to the plate by selecting state-of-the-art Garmin electronics including the Panoptix LiveScope Plus system that allows you to see below the water with stunning real-time imagery.
“Dan and Sarah were great clients to work with,” shares Charlie Crane, Director of Sales and Marketing at BRIX Marine. “Their experience building a custom boat a few years prior gave them the experience and insight required for building a highly custom boat. There were a lot of revisions before signing the contract, which led to the beautiful F/V Double Down!”
If you want to be first to the fishing grounds in one of the most comfortable charter boats in the Homer fleet, look no further than the BRIX F/V Double Down, owned and operated by Big Dan’s Fishing Charters. Hardcore anglers chasing big fish and big dreams are well served accessing the most remote, untouched, and fish-concentrated areas of Alaska, and experiencing the overnight multi-species adventure not only doubles your time on the water, but also doubles your limit potential, and more than doubles the memories you’ll make and share. For more information go to: BigDansFishing.com.
Troy Buzalsky is the Boats columnist for Fish Alaska magazine, and when not writing about boats he can likely be found chasing fish in the Pacific Northwest and the 49th state and writing about those adventures. Troy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org