First, we must understand what it means to "create" a style: someone learned martial arts from someone else, perhaps several someones, fought a little in competition or in the street, made some changes to what they were taught, and gave it a name. We're not talking about wholesale development of a military training program, enlisting experts from multiple fields for the express purpose of covering certain topics. So right off the bat we should be dubious of claims that "this style was designed to fight on rice paddies" or "this style is for the Navy". Those are usually just myths.
Goju-ryu became goju-ryu when Chojun Miyagi had to register the name of his art with the Dai Nippon Butokukai. Prior to that, it was referred to by the general terms for karate of the time, such as as te, ti, or toudi, or by its "village art" name, Naha-te, after the city of Naha.
Miyagi learned from Higaonna (aka Higashionna), whose teacher is under dispute. Much of the stories we tell about him are oral histories, which is to say, totally made up in some parts. He studied in China as well as in Okinawa, and synthesized aspects of both traditions in what he taught. It is likely that what he learned had some roots in Crane styles.
It is total folly to try to determine lineage of goju-ryu further back than Higaonna, that is to say, no one has done so with any degree of certainty or evidence. Considering that he was alive from 1853 to 1916, and that even he didn't call his style goju-ryu, it is totally unfounded to say that goju-ryu is "hundreds" or "thousands" of years old. That is plainly false.
I recommend not listening to "just so" stories about the origins of styles and techniques. "The northern Chinese kick more" and "Naihanchi is for fighting on rice paddies" are after-the-fact rationalizations for the origins of things we simply don't know. If one is looking for truth (as opposed to feeling good due to the camaraderie of hearing dojo myths), it is a much better idea to look at history and research.
Think critically: what decade are we talking about, where anyone would seriously care about unarmed hand-to-hand fighting on boats? World War Two, when Shotokan and Goju-ryu were actually recognized styles? In the 1920s, when Funakoshi and Miyagi started teaching? Any intimations of the sort are better chalked up to martial arts politics, where a style is given official designation, used primarily for bragging rights.
At best, we could say that Goju-ryu might be better suited for close-quarters combat than some other style, such as Shotokan. This could be true.