They’re young, smart and cool, and they represent a new breed of saltwater stylists. They’re the builders – and the owners – of a new wave of floating fortresses. Dickey Boats fits the bill on both fronts.
The blue-water highway used to be ruled by dudes with beards on the flybridges of boats powered by big noisy twins. The interiors of such vessels were decorated by cloth cut from a large curtain roll sourced from Spotlight.
Head to any offshore fishing ground nowadays and you’re more likely to be mixing it with sleek, highly-specced, sub-35ft (10.7m) battlewagons built by the likes of Dickey, Moda and AMM. Chances are, behind the tinted windows, sitting in front of the 16-inch navigation screens is a self-made young gun in his thirties. Jarrod Rourke fits the bill. He’s quietly confident and unassumingly successful; a cool cat, street-smart and passionate about his boats. He’s the bloke I wanted to be in my thirties, except I spent all my money at Whitworths trying to keep my busted-arse boats afloat.
Rourke owns a commercial wiring company in the Shire, south of Sydney. He describes himself as a glorified sparky, but we ain’t buying that shit. On the weekends, he can be found in the backyard of his Port Hacking home with his wife and two kids, looking out at his Dickey Semifly 32 bobbing handsomely at its own wharf. Yep, life’s good for J-Dog.
THE COOL CREW
Jarrod appreciates the fine things in life, but when he hankers for errant ways, he picks up The Captain. He even offered to take us for a ride, which we gleefully accepted. We decided that game fishing would be the only way to review his Dickey Semifly 32 – and that we’d need a crew of the coolest Captain deckhands we could find to accompany Jarrod on the mission.
Jack Murphy, whose beard uses more oil than a V8 LandCruiser, was an obvious choice. Joel Ryan’s icy blue eyes barely flicker in the face of belligerent blue-water behemoths, so he made the cut. Those perfect peepers are also made to melt a camera’s lens.
This cool crew would troll the shelf in their snapback hats and Polaroids while sipping European beers and listening to cruisy electronic tunes – all the while admiring the subtler points of a Dickey Semifly 32 dubbed Obsession. With the hot gossip suggesting big blues for the intrepid wide of Port Stephens, we bolted from Obsession’s Port Hacking berth, steaming 175km into a belligerent 25-knot nor-easter. The Semifly 32 travelled at about 16 knots for relative comfort’s sake, then up to 20 knots when the weather backed off, late.
One notable thing about the Dickey is its fuel usage – and one of the main reasons Jarrod stumped up his hard-earned sparky dollars in the first place. These boats are famously lean machines: a combination of fine entry, long waterline length relative to volume and efficient drive choices that deliver miserly fuel consumption. Jarrod spent hours researching game boats, even shortlisting a Viking and some big Yank consoles. In the end, the fuel efficiency and lightweight construction of the Dickey won out, as well as its ability to present as a classic cruiser for friends and family, then convert to an overnighting floating fortress for trips such as this one.
For a bloke as busy as Jarrod, time on the water comes at a premium, so he also wanted something quick to the fishing grounds. He can belt down to Jervis Bay at 30-plus knots in two hours and spend the whole day fishing. Whether the boat is doing 16 knots or 28 knots, the Volvo Penta D6-370 burns about the same amount of fuel. On the 175km run to Port, the vessel used 276L or about 1.6L per km. Yes, you read that right.
DUMMIES GUIDE TO CATCHING BLUES- With help from Capt. Jeff Strang
Riding shotgun for the Dickey test was Jeff Strang, ex-editor of notable boating and fishing magazines in Australia and New Zealand. He’s involved with the Dickey brand as a consultant and joined our trans-Tasman affair aboard the camera boat. He’s also an ex-professional gamefisherman with more than 15 years’ experience and knows his blue marlin stuff. Clearly, he does, because everything that he said would happen on the day did. Jeff says, “The best advice for blue marlin fishing is don’t overthink it and use seriously sharp hooks. Other than that, it’s about being in the right place at the right time.”
But where is this right place? And when is this right time? Apparently, it’s an instinctive magic formula borne of experience. Knowing a hotspot when you see one and having the confidence to wait out a lull in the bite is the secret to many a captain’s fish conjuring success.
We got most of that right on our Dickey test day, but unfortunately, we broke Jeff’s next piece of golden advice. He says, “Whatever you do, don’t take a knife to this blue marlin gunfight. Use 80W cannons if the fish are likely to be 400lb or bigger, unless you’ve got a properly hot crew to sort the mess out quickly.” Dang, we had Tiagra 50Ws, 30Ws and a couple of Stellas, so naturally (Jack) Murphy’s Law prevailed.
The 30lb gear went off first followed later by the Stella, along with $500 worth of tackle never to be seen again. The first fish went deep and couldn’t be hauled up; the second crashed a Stella late in the day and spooled us before we’d even cleared the gear. Jeff typically trolls medium to large lures when intentionally targeting bigger billfish. That is unless there are a lot of striped tuna or yellowfin holding in one area, when he’ll usually switch to slow trolled live-bait.
His favourite liveys for blue marlin are small yellowfin tuna. Even so, most of his blues have been caught trolling lures, as the surprise attack is synonymous with these pelagic ego destroyers. He doesn’t even have a favourite lure, saying, “You could catch them on a weighted Coke can if the hooks could be rigged right.” Jeff adds, “Eight to 8.5 knots is the prime trolling speed for blues, providing the hull still feels fishy, chugging along quickish. If you hook up, back the drag off and stop the boat. Backing off will reduce pressure on the belly and give you a fighting chance of maintaining line integrity if it jumps back across the string. Too many fish are lost in those first few minutes.
“The skipper should concentrate on where the fish is in those early moments of madness, only doing enough with the boat to stay out of its rampaging way. With the gear clear and the fish settled, there’s plenty of time to get black smoke and white water on its arse. Once the beast has calmed down, head to sunset, put the hurt on and work those fish unsettling angles. The results will come.” Thanks for the tips Jeff, maybe next time. Better give Shimano a call and work on getting some 80Ws.
NEW BREED OF BUILDER
Tristin and Jason Dickey are the artisans responsible for building the Dickey Semifly. The 32 is a middleweight in the Semifly range (they also build a 28, 36 and 45). The husband and- wife team from Napier, New Zealand, began building Dickeys in 2007. The mission: to set a new standard for high quality marine performance, fit and finish.
Jason had the perfect schooling, having worked on super yachts as an engineer, maintaining shipshape global cruisers for the wealthiest people in the world. It’s a career that teaches you a thing or two about getting things right the first time and keeping them that way. Jarrod, a bit of a neat freak himself, was mightily impressed by Jason’s commitment and the attention to detail that went on behind the scenes. Much of the ingenuity is tucked away out of sight – such as the twin water intakes into the engine, or the jet wash that spurts from the gunwales to wash your hands, rather than a trepidatious reach over the side to scoop a handful of briny.
But the first thing that smacks you in the Maui Jims is the Dickey’s immaculate lines and finish. It starts with a plum bow, upright at the nose, then dropping down from the bow in a classic sheer line reminiscent of a gamefishing boat Steve McQueen might have skippered in a movie in the 1950s or ’60s. The cabin line flows sweetly to the transom to be tucked away by an elegant tumblehome. The paintwork is exceptional, and the monochrome colour palette complements the aesthetic beautifully.
There’s an inevitable shock though, at least for first-time Dickey admirers. The boat is made of aluminium, not glass. The Semifly uses 6mm alloy wrapped around what Dickey calls a Space Frame Interlocking Structure. Essentially, everything is cut to the millimetre in a building process taking eight to nine months. Once you’ve given the hull a fist thump just to make sure the guys at Dickey aren’t having a lend, you step aboard a world of engineering and design quality more akin to a luxury beachside penthouse than a fishing boat. Within the confines of the laws of physics, everything on a Dickey Boat is customisable. The layout, the finishings, the detail of functional elements and of course, the paint and trim can be “as you like it”.
In Obsession’s case, most of the furnishings are covered in eminently comfortable Silvertex, a product that’s proven both hardwearing and in keeping with the Dickey Boat aesthetic. It could equally have been top-notch marine leatherette or even resort-grown and hand-massaged cowhide, if such a product existed and could be stretched to fit.
As you would expect at this high level of product, all the details are serviced by the best of the presentable and purposeful – Corian bench and tabletops, custom-made and tinted toughened glass embossed with a smattering of trademark Dickey details. Even the joinery gets the intelligent approach with first-class laminates over plastics chosen for resistance to moisture and odour over timber products, which too often are good from afar, but prove far from good.
It’s pleasing to see Dek-King synthetic floor make an appearance on a hull built for an ocean-based K2 contest. With only the most earnest eyes capable of picking it from jungle teak, the ultra-hardwearing product is rapidly becoming the norm for builders mindful of their customers’ distaste for products likely to age faster than a jellyfish in the sun.
By night, the boat converts to a sweet slumber wagon with convertible bunks at the front and a private double cabin. Jarrod’s young kids love the Dickey (no surprise there), but he says it’s a never-ending job wiping little fingerprints from his floating masterpiece.
The tech package fits the whole Dickey vibe. C-Zone switching governs the entire Dickey system. With a touch of a button on his mobile phone or iPad, he can set up the boat for fishing, cruising, docking, anchoring or mooring. Each mode is tuned for optimum efficiency, governing lights, screens, fridges and pumps. It’s an impressive party trick.
BEAUTY & BRAINS
The Dickey is one of the smartest-looking boats on the water – and one of the smartest behind its chic exterior. Perhaps it’s not too late for The Captain’s crew to do an electrical apprenticeship? I’m sure we’ll have our own 45 Semifly in no time. That’s the boat Jarrod wants next.
He plans on doing Lord Howe Island. Actually, cancel the apprenticeship – Jarrod will need someone to take photos of that epic journey. The Captain is ready when you are, mate!
The biggest, baddest console The Captain has ever tested in Australia!
The Grady-White Canyon 376 is a bona fide heavyweight of centre consoles. It’s the biggest hull in the Grady-White range, tipping the scales at almost six tonne (without engines). The beam is wider than the average tinnie at 4.01m. In Australian waters, no other console touches those numbers, not on The Captain’s tested list, anyway. The biggest console we’ve tested is the Edgewater 245 — and that came in at a teeny-weeny 1.6 tonne.
When Sydney Grady-White dealer Sam Short from Short Marine reached out to The Captain’s crew for an opinion on the Grady, we readily agreed — on one condition: we had to lay down a time for the fastest run to The Continental Shelf. Now, we know what you’re thinking. That this was just a ruse to get us to the blue marlin grounds — and we were just taking advantage of Sam’s kind and affable nature. That may well be true, but here’s the thing: if we ever put a stopwatch on a shelf run, this would be it.
We met at Sydney Heads, 900 Yammahorses grumbling at the start line. A collection of virgin Tiagras twinkled in the morning sunlight. Four svelte young men rode aboard, three sitting abreast on cream coloured leather seats, cut from the hide of free-roaming Scandinavian calves (or so we imagined). Ryan Short (Sam’s brother) sat in the middle helm seat, his staunch face wrapped in Ray-Ban. He dropped the throttles and the behemoth roared up to 42 knots, not even breaking stride for the rollers coming through the heads. The race to the shelf was on.
STEAMROLLER OF THE SEA
Grady-White is renowned for a smooth and soft ride, with a design attributed to the immortal Charles Raymond Hunt (see sidebar over page). In simple terms: they got the right angles in all the right places. The deadrise extends all the way to midships then tapers to a moderate 20 degrees at the bum. It’s not so flat that it wanders, and it’s not so sharp that it rolls. The timber-free, hand-laid hull is an absolute rock at speed or at rest. With a seven-tonne mass (hull and motors) the 376 becomes a veritable steamroller of the sea. Heading home in a stiff, 25-knot north-easterly, the Canyon tracked perfectly straight, never burying the bow, even at full noise. The boys sitting in the bow section barely took a drop. Even after a whole day at sea, this boat won’t beat you up at all.
THE TANNING ZONE
Stepping aboard through the side door on the Canyon you can choose your own adventure. Upfront in the tanning zone (commonly known as “the bow”) there’s a dinette with portable table and horseshoe seating. Six can comfortably sit around the table (or maybe eight marathon runners). Remove the table and slot in a fibreglass platform for casting or sun-baking. Under the front seating is a pair of 250L kill tanks. There’s also a seat in front of the console with a kill tank under it. All tanks drain to the sea, rather than the bilge, perfect for keeping the deck free of slippery tuna blood. Downstairs, there’s a sumptuous powder room (aka cabin) bigger than The Captain’s headquarters. It features a stand-up shower with a 23L water heater, a VacuFlush head plumbed to a 38L holding tank with overboard pump-out, TV, airconditioner, fridge, microwave, slide-out galley and convertible double bed. Midday siestas have never been so good in a centre console while extended touring would be a piece of piss. With a 1500L fuel tank, The Captain could make it all the way from Sydney to the Gold Coast on just one tank.
THE FISHING ZONE
The fishing zone out back on the deck is full of versatile features. The rear bench seat folds down for cruising. Folded up, you can nuzzle your hips into the transom for bottom slaying or trolling. In the centre of the stern is a mammoth 275L, digitally controlled, refrigerated fish-box with twin lights and overboard drain. It’s perfect for ice or a couple of 50kg yellowfin. There’s a bait station behind the helm seat with twin, contoured, 155L live-bait tanks either side of a drop-down rigging station. The finished toe-rails on the deck blend in nicely and fishos will be glad of them when fighting offshore sea monsters. There are outriggers, but you barely need them. With a 4m-plus beam we comfortably ran a five-lure spread. We didn’t land a big one, but if we did, we’d have had the option of bringing it through the inward-opening side dive door or the outward-opening transom door (it opens that way to expel water in a hurry if necessary).
THE CONTROL ZONE
Every appointment on the 376 is exceptional — and particularly noticeable around the helm. The three leather seats have adjustable bolsters, armrests and footrests. You can stand, lean, sit, sleep or reverse cowgirl at almost any angle. Behind the helm, you look forward through to a pair of 16-inch Garmin screens that fold down out of sight at the push of a button. Forward of that is the tempered glass windscreen with an electric-powered window to let cool air in. That’s of course if you don’t want the air-conditioning flowing through vents either side of the console. The fittings and hardware are first-class, everything is recessed and the edges are all smoothed off like a baby’s bum. These boats are clearly built for conscientious fishing folk.
THE PARTY ZONE
The layout has the vibe of a beer garden and the beer-drinking efforts on our test day certainly lived up to that reputation. There are areas for socialising up front, down back and in the middle. There are chill-out zones downstairs and there’s even a BBQ cooking zone in the form of an electric grill in the middle of the rigging station. Finding a spot to place your beer isn’t a problem, either, with 22 (count ’em) stubby holders. And no matter where you are on the Canyon, your body throbs to the beat of the Fusion MSUD750 with amplifier, Bluetooth and eight speaker stereo system.
The Grady White console breaks all the rules for traditional console boats. It’s dry. You can sleep on it and you can party like it’s 1999 in almost any weather conditions. In fact, we’re retiring from testing centre consoles because we’ve hit the rev limiter with the Canyon 376. Speaking of revs, we hit the shelf from Sydney harbour in only 22 minutes and 40 seconds travelling at 6000RPM doing 42 knots. Now there’s a challenge for all you Cootacraft owners.
C. RAYMOND HUNT (1908–1978)
The name Charles Raymond Hunt echoes through boat building yards like the name Bradman echoes through Aussie cricket clubs. When it came to boat design in the 1950s and ’60s, C-Ray had shark-like instincts. The tank tests and algorithms just couldn’t keep up with him. He had no formal education, but still managed to design sailboats and powerboats that won international championships and Olympic gold medals, even skippering boats of his own design to world championships.
He’s responsible for developing the high deadrise deep-vee hull featured in hulls such as Bertram, Boston Whaler, Wellcraft, Huntsman and, of course, Grady-White. His design is accepted as the ultimate hull form for speed, comfort and safety in the rough stuff. Instinctively, he knew the best angle for deep-vee race boats should be about 24 degrees at the transom; lower for fast touring or cruisers. He developed sharp bows to reduce pounding and also figured out that a wide flared-bow section holds buoyancy, reducing the potential for burying the nose or taking solid water over the front.
He developed a bell-shaped vee bottom that rode softer than a sharp one. His designs extended the vee all the way down the length of the hull and the boats responded by travelling through any sea at any angle with minimal steering effort. He mastered the variable deadrise (sharper at the front and flatter at the rear) finding the best compromise of speed and stability. Chine and strakes were introduced to knock down spray and stop water from climbing the side of the boat, thereby reducing the wetted surface area on the hull. They also provided lift and steerage. These elements reduced resistance, creating greater speed and economy. The deep-vee design also proved inherently stable. As the hull rolled, the deep-vee put more hull into the water, forcing it back upright. Boats could now bank into turns rather than roll outward like the round or flatbottomed hulls of the day. The records dropped and boats got faster and faster. Every time you’re punching into a big sea in your deep-vee hull, spare a thought for C Raymond Hunt. The Captain salutes you, C-Ray!
A lot of people ask why we started The Captain. We usually tell them it’s because “We’re really passionate about fishing and boating” or “We love telling interesting stories about legends of the sea”. Now both those points might be true, but they’re not the real reason. The real reason we started The Captain was because we didn’t have a boat, and we were hangin’ to get out for a fish. So it came as a great delight when an email popped into The Captain’s mailbox from Connor Burke, inviting us on board his fully kitted-out Stabicraft 1850 Frontier called Work Horse. With a name like that, it was only fitting that we lined up the boat test on Melbourne Cup Day.
The starting gate was Bayview boat ramp on Sydney’s Pittwater, the thoroughbred was a beautiful black 1850 Frontier and the jockeys were Connor and his old man, Steve. From the gates, the racetrack looked in tip-top condition — not a ripple on the surface. However, we’d got a hot tip from the bookie (aka Seabreeze) that the track would deteriorate when we rounded the heads. They weren’t wrong, either; there was a 3m sea with a 20-knot breeze blowing the tops off. The 1850 Frontier lapped it up. The 4m camera boat, on the other hand, not so much. We aborted the offshore mission and instead decided to pester the local bream population inshore.
BACK TO BASICS
We cruised back into sheltered waters and deployed the Minn Kota. The weed beds around Pittwater usually hold plenty of squid and on the off chance we bumped into some hoodlum kings, it couldn’t hurt to have a few live baits. After securing a handful of cephalopods, we cruised over to the bream honey hole and burleyed up harder than Captain Quint on the hunt for Jaws. The bream came in thick and fast, and within a couple of hours we’d filled the 1850’s 66L live well with a collection of tasty yellowfin bream. The kings, however, wouldn’t play ball. It didn’t matter, though. We all had smiles on our dials after an epic little back-to-basics bream session.
The great thing about the 1850 Frontier is its fish factor. The centre console configuration matched with classic Stabicraft stability makes this rig the ultimate fishing platform. There’s also a great casting deck at the bow, which runs all the way back to the front of the centre console. Personally, I’d love some SeaDek or tube flooring up there for a bit of extra grip underfoot, as that checker plate can get seriously slippery when covered in tuna blood. Connor runs his twin Minn Kota batteries underneath the casting platform, but there’s still plenty of room for additional storage. He also dropped in foam mats, which dampened the acoustics of the hull and stopped his gear from sliding around. Speaking of gear, storage space can often be an issue with centre consoles. Connor and Steve say it’s not a problem, as aside from the casting platform, you’ve also got a massive 105L esky that doubles as the seat box, three sealed storage hatches inside the console and side pockets long enough for a 2m rod or speargun.
Apart from the lack of a Supercab hardtop, the 1850 Frontier has the same Stabicraft DNA throughout. It features all of The Captain’s favourites: the epic bait station configuration, kick-down transom seats and massive gunwales. In the electronics department, Connor runs a Lowrance HDS-9 Gen3 sounder on the dash and a Lowrance HDS 5x on the front of the console for easy viewing when pinging lures from the casting deck.
In the outboard department, Connor is running a Suzuki 115HP four-stroke. He says, “The Suzi goes like a dream and pushes the boat along really nicely”. We couldn’t agree more. The 1850 is a rocket ship and seriously fun to drive. Outboard reliability and hull predictability were a big part of Connor’s decision to go with the Suzi/Stabi combo. He says it’s an incredibly safe boat and that he’s never been in anything more surefooted in a trailing sea.
There’s really no such thing as a dry centre console under 12m — and the 1850 is no exception. In the right wind, you’ll get the occasional bit of spray, but that’s the price you pay for optimum fishability and sexy as fug aesthetics. Speaking of looks, it did take Connor a little while to see the 1850 as more of a beauty than a beast, “When I first saw a Stabicraft, I thought it was ugly, but they really grow on you. I now reckon my 1850 is a beautiful boat”. Connor and Steve plan to travel up north in the 1850 in search of a metre-long barra. The Captain wishes them all the best and can’t think of a better boat to be chasing such quarry. I guess we’ll just keep waiting by the mailbox for our invitation to arrive, eh Connor? Connor? Hello… Connor?
10 PROS AND 5 CONS OF CENTRE CONSOLE OWNERSHIP
Lets face it, there are centre consoles and then there are the huge American centre consoles with 1000HP-plus hanging off the rear. So for argument’s sake, before we get into the pros and cons of centre console ownership, let’s eliminate anything over the 7m mark and talk about what’s hot and what’s not when it comes to The Captain’s favourite configuration: the centre console.
• YOU LOOK COOL. Yes, it has to be said that it’s the nearest thing you’ll get to feeling like you’re driving an AC Cobra on the water.
• GREAT FOR FISHING. When it comes to landing a big tuna that’s taking you under, over and around the boat, the optimum configuration is a centre console. You could even do a dance around the maypole if you had some bells and sticks to clap.
• EASY TO LAUNCH ON YOUR OWN. Takes the pressure off looking like a noob at the ramp when you’re fishing solo.
• GREAT ATTITUDE ON THE WATER. This is where the science comes in. With the configuration balanced in the middle, centre consoles should (if properly designed) perform better on the water. All your weight distribution is evenly spread and added to that, there is no cabin to make the boat top-heavy.
• EASY TO ANCHOR SOLO. There are no cabins to climb over or hatches to squeeze through (which, judging by the size of some fisherman we’ve seen could end up being a job for the fire brigade).
• VISIBILITY ON THE WATER. If you’re an average fisherman, that extra bit of visibility might just give you the slight advantage over your average fisherman mates.
• LIGHTER. Yes, indeed, less is more (cash in your wallet) when you’re burning up fuel dragging a boat up the Eastern Seaboard.
• FUN FACTOR. It seems that a lot of boat owners who progress up the ranks still long for their first centre console. It’s the wind and salt spray in their face that reminds them they’re still alive.
• MORE LINES IN THE WATER. If your mates are as hard as you are, well then it’s easier for a few to fish at the same time. Just gotta make sure you have three friends, though.
• YOU LOOK LIKE A PRO. Only real men go out to the shelf in a centre console. Stick two torpedoes on the side and you’ll be hunting down battleships in your spare time.
• WETTER THAN AN OCTOPUS’ GARDEN. Yes, there are two schools of thought here. Not the driest boat you’ll ride in, but at least you don’t have to scrub off caked tuna blood at the end of the day — the journey home in a stiff nor-easter will do the job nicely.
• SEATING CAN BE A BIT LIMITED IN A CENTRE CONSOLE. Not so bad down the stern, but some poor bugger is going to be sitting up the front. Unless you want to exfoliate, you’ll need a full-face helmet for protection.
• STORAGE AND SECURITY. Not so great when you go to pay for your petrol and come back to find your Ian Miller flick stick missing.
• SALTY GEAR. Dry bags are your best friends on a centre console — put them on your list of things to buy. While you’re at Whitworths also invest in some Inox spray to keep your sounders and wiring in tip top shape.
• ROD STORAGE. Without a cabin or hardtop rocket launchers, you’ll usually find yourself tripping over fishing rods all day.
We’re still not sure why John Haines built the 788SF. It’s the biggest console ever built by the Signature factory — but is it just a show pony for Suzuki’s new 350HP with twin props? (The Haines Group is the exclusive Australian importer of Suzuki outboards.) Does it herald a new fishing-themed regime at Signature? Perhaps John is trying to top his old man in the design stakes? (John Haines Sr was famous for developing Australian classics including the 445, V17, 773 and many more.) Or was it just because he just wanted the cover of The Captain? Either way, we didn’t give a shit. We were just happy to accept the invite from John to spin some props off Brisbane — four props with 12 blades, to be precise.
Our mission was to catch a decent fish in the boat — The Captain’s cunning plan being that if it was splattered with tuna blood, John mightn’t want it back. We enlisted the help of Matty Scholz, who’s caught more coral trout than most Queensland commercial operators catch in a lifetime. Having said that, when he told us we needed to meet at Brisbane’s Manly Boat Harbour ramp at 3:45am, we wondered just how badly we wanted that fisherman’s basket.
THE EARLY BIRD GETS SHIT COFFEE
Fast-forward to 2 o’clock the next morning and we unenthusiastically drag our arses out of bed. Squeezing ourselves and the camera gear into a Hyundai Getz, we instruct Siri to direct us to the nearest coffee. She suggests a 7-Eleven service station, which does nothing for morale. With bleary eyes and burnt tongues from the shitty 7-Eleven coffee, we roll up to the boat ramp. There she is… the 788SF in the flesh. Blinged to a mint and lit up like a kebab shop at 3am, this baby is definitely worth the early wake-up call.
Scholtzy and crew greet us with an excited handshake, before running through the fishing plan for the day. A kingfish entrée, followed by a GT session for the main course, sounds good to us. “Don’t get too excited though, Brissy fishing is real tough.” Scholtzy announces. “It’s alright mate, you always put us on the fish. No pressure,” we bounce back.
After loading up the 788SF with more rods adorned with stickbaits than an entire Nomad Sportfishing charter, we slide the rig off the trailer and into the pitch-black water.
FISHING TRIP: ABORTED. NEW MISSION: JUMP BOAT
As we approach the bar crossing, the sun pours through the storm clouds making for a spectacular, electrically charged sunrise. After a beautiful moment admiring nature in all its glory, it’s time for mother nature to admire the 788SF. We drop the hammers on the twin 350s and launch the fully composite 7.8m centre console high into the air. Getting the props out is effortless and driving it is a little too fun — did someone say something about fishing? The all-new hull has the 16 to 34-degree Signature Variable Deadrise Hull Design (or as Signature call it, SVDH). The ride really is insane. Soft and predictable, it still feels like you’re living life on the edge as you lean the big beast into power turns. And for a console, it’s damn dry. The big reverse chines deflect the spray, throwing water in tidal wave-esque proportions onto unsuspecting camera boats. Eek, sorry again, guys!
Power comes from twin 4.4L Suzuki DF350 four-strokes — Suzuki’s biggest engine on the market — the same ones we tested in Miami. The 788SF has as many propeller blades as a Lancaster bomber — six blades on each engine, 12 blades in total.
They’re counter-rotating and designed to give the boat perfect balance and directional stability. For the nerds it has twin injectors per cylinder, four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing. It has massive acceleration and deceleration, and also some finesse with joystick control, which The Captain is still trying to get his head around.
Top speed is 109km/h. In terms of fuel efficiency we don’t give a toss because John Haines was paying the bills, but a glance at the Simrad display shows we’re burning 47L per hour at 3100RPM, cruising at 26 knots. That’s not a typo. We’re travelling at almost 30 knots at under 4000RPM! With 500L of fuel, long-range missions are also on the cards.
The 788SF has a few sweet features you don’t see in Australian-built consoles. It’s got a centre console with head, shower and sink below, plus 57L water capacity — perfect for Fraser Island missions! Best of all, the boat is legally towable with 2.5m beam, so you don’t need a Mack truck lit up like a circus tent to drag it to the boat ramp.
To hunt fish, we use twin Simrad NSS16 evo3s. The top-water fishing is quiet, as Matty warned, but we still manage a handful of small kings and a nice GT, which easily finds a new home in the massive live bait tank. Other tricks include WiFi, integrated GPS and CZone control. And the 788SF can carry up to 10 people — more than enough to have your own fishing competition.
ASK THE BOSS
21 questions with John Haines, CEO Haines Signature
Hey John, what a ride. What was the inspiration for the new 788SF?
The concept existed before the GFC, but I got gun-shy about building a big boat in uncertain times. The launch of the Suzuki 350HP outboard inspired me. I’d wanted to build a console ever since attending the Miami boat show. They do big centre consoles very well over there.
Well, we’re bloody glad you did. What’s your favourite console, up until yours hit the water, of course?
The Wellcraft Scarab Super Sport — a great-looking, utilitarian console.
Who’s gonna buy yours, then?
Offshore fishermen. We’ve had plenty of interest from the NT as well as Queensland. Some of our customers were shopping for American-built boats. You can expect to see a few on Sydney Harbour as well. It would be right at home there.
Why would they buy a Signature over an American-built console?
Value. It’s about $50K to $60K more affordable than the American equivalent — and they don’t even include a trailer. And it’s Australian made for Australian conditions.
How is it built?
The same way we build every Signature. Carbon Kevlar-reinforced, double bias, knitted fabric and vinylester resin on the skin coat of the hull for osmosis protection. The hull features a full Thermo-lite construction. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of timber, but the Thermo-lite guys nagged the hell out of me and promised me the most high-density product in their range.
Good to see you coming around John. Even The Captain’s 30-year-old Haines Hunter 445F is virtually timber-free with Thermo-lite construction. How long did she take to build?
Twelve months in R&D for the hull and deck. We handcrafted it like we do all Signature hulls. We call it imagineering by touch and feel. Sure, we use a computer to model parts, but we always finish our boats by eye.
We could imagineer ourselves owning your boat. What lines is it borrowed from?
The hull is a stretched and modified 675 with the Signature variable deadrise.
About this variable deadrise business — please explain the concave shape on the bottom sides of the hull, either side of the keel.
The old style Haines Hunters with a level deadrise were great at speed, but had a tendency to fall off the plane at low speed. Dad designed a boat with the best of both worlds. The angles are fine at the entry point for performance at speed then flatten out for better stability at rest. Effectively, the boat sits lower in the water than a straight-edged boat when travelling at low speeds. As Dad used to say, “It’s like comparing an FJ Holden to a new Commodore.”
How fast has she been?
It’s a 68mph boat. (109km/h).
What’s the best way to drive her?
Like any boat: trimmed-in on starts, flat into a head sea and trimmed-out in a following sea.
What were the biggest challenges to overcome?
Originally, the 788SF was going to be a cabin boat. After deciding on a console configuration, we contemplated dropping in the Seafarer Viper console. I thought if I went that far, I might as well take it down to the floors. Shortly after that point I decided to go fully moulded. Once the dealers got wind of the concept they encouraged me to follow through with the build. In fact, one of them (Good Times Marine) has bought a boat for themselves.
What about the table in the bow, John? It’s a bit emasculating, don’t you think?
You’d be surprised. Trolling with the outriggers out while making chicken sambos at the table is quite liberating.
Beer will be fine, thanks. What’s your favourite part of the boat?
The dash. It’s just damn sexy.
How much can we buy your boat for?
Let’s talk serious business, John. How much if we put her on the cover of The Captain.
OK, how much do they start from?
$165,000 fitted with a single 250HP.
About those new 350hp Suzukis — sold a few?
Absolutely. Overwhelmingly, owners are saying it’s made their boat come alive with better handling, acceleration, performance and economy. Interestingly, the commercial operators have also been very responsive.
How come you can have 700HP on the back, but I can’t?
It doesn’t need it. I’ve spent my entire life driving high-powered single and twin outboard-powered boats. My brother and I have two titles. I can live with the power, but I can’t guarantee the general public will. We have test and demonstration insurance, but the public probably can’t get coverage for that.
Isn’t this stuff regulated?
The ABYC (American Boat and Yacht Council) code applies to boats 6.5m and under, so the 788SF is at my discretion.
What do you reckon your dad would say about the 788?
Actually, Mum said it’s a shame Dad’s not here because he would have loved the boat. He would have driven it like a maniac, though.
Ha! Another reason to love your ol’ man. Finally John, If we do put the 788SF on the cover of The Captain, can we at least get a 350HP sticker for The Captain’s 445F project boat.
No. But I tell you what. We’ll upgrade the 90HP Suzuki on the project boat to the new DF100B — that’s if you ever finish the bloody thing. Ah, now you’re talkin’. The Captain salutes you, John.
Joel Ryan caught more fish last year than most of us could dream about catching in a lifetime. His 2017 hit list includes jumbo bluefin off Sydney, double digits of marlin and swordfish, and he’s even put Tait Missen, his good mate’s son, onto an Aussie junior record with a 119kg swordie out of Lakes Entrance in Victoria. So, what’s his secret?
I’m lucky enough to fish with some of the best anglers in the country. The thing that sets them apart from other fishermen is not their boat, sounder or even their Maori bloodlines. Nope, it’s something you and I can easily do. It’s the attention to small details. In footy parlance, they call them one percenters.
RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE JOB
Most of us have the right gear or can get our hands on it. But how many of us could pack the rods tomorrow morning at 3am if we get a call tonight, for that once-in-a-lifetime bite? There’s no time like right now to rig your game-fishing gear with fresh lines, new leaders and terminal tackle. Sharpen those hooks, too. There are thousands of things you can’t control when targeting game fish so make sure you control the things you can. Prepping your gear is one of them.
IN THE KNOW
I make a big effort to keep in touch with people from different ports and backgrounds. Sure, we talk about ending world poverty, but we also share information about bait and water temperature — or even fish that have come through the commercial boats. They can be a key indicator of an imminent hot bite. Remember, though, it’s a two-way street. If you want the good oil, maybe you should think about returning the favour when the time comes.
HIT ‘N’ RUN
Getting the inside word on a hot bite is one thing, but dropping everything to get there is another. When you hear the fish are running hot, get your arse there! Now! Call in sick to work, abort on the baby shower and drive through the night if you have to. The fish won’t hang around until you’ve finished your Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation. (Although, I’d be keen to see how that works out for you.)
Facebook has its pros and cons, but one thing you can’t deny is that fishing memories from 12 months ago are highly likely to be repeatable, given the cyclical nature of fishing. It’s a great way to pick up seasonal trends and a damn sight easier than trying to find that fishing diary your grandma got for your 16th birthday. Just last month, Facebook reminded me we’ve caught jumbo bluefin in Western Victoria during the same week for the past three Octobers in a row. Guess where I’ll be mid-October 2018?
One thing that sets the pros apart is their commitment to catching a certain species. Sure, they may change plans when on the water — and that’s a skill in itself — but too many anglers go out into the deep blue hoping to catch anything. Instead, filter, and focus on something.
We’ve all done ’em, The Captain’s crew more than most. Joel reckons they’ll cost you the fish of a lifetime. Here’s a list of game-fishing habits to avoid.
- Sleeping in: The name of the game is catching fish, not zeds.
- Leaving the bite zone: You see birds and you’ve marked fish — so don’t leave.
- Going in under-gunned: Don’t think about anything less than 24kg for big blues.
- Not having a plan when hooked-up: Avoid the chaos by having a military-like plan when the Tiagras go off.
- Not staying focused: Stopping at your favourite FAD to fill a 44-gallon drum with dolphin fish won’t help you land that big blue.
- Leaving the spot early to make the pub meal: Once all the boats turn and head for port, the fishing can come alive and save the dreaded doughnut.
Most keen fishos own a good set of gaffs, but these days they seem to collect more rust than they do fish. So when the moment comes to sink the meat hooks into a sea monster, Peter Pakula reckons you’d better be well practised…
If you want to be good with the gaff, remember this: the art of good gaffing is to learn that gaffs are placed — not swung — at the target. You line the point of the gaff up exactly where you want it to go, close to the mark, then pull it into the fish using the fish’s weight to set the hook. Never lunge at a fish with a gaff or stick the gaff underwater and chase the fish around with it. To put it bluntly, if you can’t place the gaff where you want it, you’re not ready to gaff the fish. The same goes for tagging.
The best place to go for your gaff shot is in the shoulder of the fish or, in the case of a tag, just below the dorsal fin, as this allows a large open area of target, the bulkiest part of the fish, to offer resistance to the hook. The bone structure running down the fish’s back under the dorsal fins also helps hold the gaff in place. In the case of smaller fish for the table, a head shot with the gaff will save damaging the flesh. Allowing for the fact that you’re going to rely on the bulk and resistance of the fish to sink the point of the gaff, it’s important to keep the size of the gaff relative to the size of the fish. If you use too big a gaff, the diameter of the hook will require considerable resistance in the target to be successfully driven home. And you’ll probably just move a light fish sideways through the water.
As a rule of thumb, a gaff with a hook gape roughly around a third the depth of the fish would be ideal. A 10cm gaff, for example, is about right for a 5kg–30kg fish. Looking at this selection of gaff heads, it’s obvious that it will take a lot more effort to drive in the point of the largest flyer than it will to sink the smallest hook. It’s best to only use big bastard gaffs when you really need grunt.
Flying gaffs are not required on billfish under 90kg. Yellowfin don’t really require flying gaffs at all, although you’d better be ready to hang on! All sharks are best handled with a flying gaff due to their habit of rolling once gaffed. Think carefully before tying a flying gaff off on your cleat and sinking the hook into a big shark. If weight and power goes in favour of the shark, it can very easily get a stern quarter under the water. At that point, the ocean rushing in will tip the odds in his favour. You could find yourself on the losing end of the struggle in a big way!
A fixed-head gaff is a hook on the end of a pole — and it’s the easiest to use. When using any gaff, gloves with a non-slip grip should be worn, as most species will try to surge away. A good kit includes several gaffs of various head gapes for different-sized fish. That is: 10cm for fish up to 25Kg, 15cm (up to 35kg) and 20cm for bigger fish.