Panga. No matter how you pronounce it, to me, it's a word that brings memories of great fishing trips to Baja's Cabo San Lucas and, a little further south on the mainland Pacific side, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. With a tiller motor, a big jug of fuel and not much else, we caught fish, lots of fish. To others it may represent great fishing trips to Costa Rica or Panama or Belize. As a student of fishing and learning the ways of warm water fisheries, it seemed to me to be an ideal craft. Offshore and inshore, the same boat was everywhere I went in Mexico. Not just the fishing guides and tour guides were using them; the commercial fishermen were everywhere, also fishing on Pangas.
The name has a few differing explanations of its origins. One explanation is the boat's slender shape resembles a large heavy knife called a Panga, used in Central and South America as a weapon or for cutting vegetation. (The boat also cuts through the sea quite well, like a machete.) Another is, it's a shortened version of the combination of Spanish words, "pequena" (small) and "lancha" (boat). Certainly a much less vivid explanation. Whichever is correct the fact is the boat works well in many real world applications. And, I am also referring to "our world". Shallow draft (8") and a huge flared bow give it a combination of traits not often found in coastal boats in the U.S. It is cost effective, very seaworthy, and has low horsepower requirements for great economy. No 225 hp V-6 needed here. 60-90 hp will do just fine.
The Panga's design origin is said to be an effort of the World Bank and the Japanese motor manufacturers (mainly Yamaha) to create a safe, efficient, affordable commercial craft to both supply engines for and to capitalize on the ever increasing global market for food fish. The efficiency of the marketing plan is quite astounding as the reports of inshore fish stocks throughout Latin America being decimated are quite alarming. Motor sales are good too. It is one of the most versatile boat types I have ever experienced both inshore and offshore.
Pangas are produced all over Latin America by many different manufacturers and are fished hard commercially. Some argue they are the world's most popular commercial boat.
Here in America, wood is "out," all composite construction is "in." The Pangas imported by Panga Marine (www.pangamarine.com) in Sarasota, Florida, are an all-composite construction (including the stringer system), self bailing boat. The refining of the design is ongoing and the results are evident in the new boats. The fit and finish is good, urethane foam is utilized for flotation, and the features are adapted to our gringo needs. New ideas are embraced and tested. The Panga Marine boats are manufactured in Guadalajara, Mexico, with quality materials by Rainforest Boats, one of the most technologically advanced builders in Mexico.
So what can you do in Florida with a Panga? It serves the needs of the flats fisherman, a "big reds in the pass" aficionado, a cast netting boat, a tarpon junkie's boat, a scallop or lobster diving family's boat, a back country explorer, and, on nice days, a light offshore trolling and bottom fishing machine. Perhaps even a day on the barrier islands shell collecting or crabbing. Maybe a trip to the sandbar with friends or a long trip up the river. How about tossing top water plugs for trout on the local oyster bar from the elevated front deck, or maybe just a trip to the local bar for some oyster shooters?
Some call the boat sexy, but all find the design intriguing. The design is all curves. Water moves in curves and the boat is designed to flow with them. There are no straight edges on the bottom of the boat. The result is a boat that flows. When the water is flat you can lift the bow and run on the tail. When the water is rough, you can always find a comfortable speed to make the boat match the conditions. It is not affected by "on plane too fast" pounding, or "off plane too slow" speed and comfort limitations. It has big cargo capacity and it's all done with a relatively small motor. The narrow beam and big flared bow are the key to the ride and the low power requirements. There is a 36-gallon internal roto molded belly fuel tank which gives the boat great range, especially with the new fuel efficient motors.
There are a few select dealers that sell the Pangamarine Panga in Florida. It's a boat to consider if versatility, economy and comfort are important to you. There is also the fact that all those successful commercial "Pangueros" might know something we can learn from here in the "Fishing Capital of the World." Call your local dealer for a demo ride, and see what you can do on a Panga.