Dave Rothwell treats his 10-year-old Hydra-Sports to a complete birthday refit with 1050 horsepower courtesy of Johnson Bros. Marine Services. Now this boat has tricks.

Dave Rothwell loves his Yank tank and his love runs deep — all the way down to his chequebook. So deep, he’s just given the tank a rather large birthday present. The rig in question is a 2008 Americanbuilt Hydra-Sports, and for its 10th birthday he shouted it a fresh set of motors (three new Suzuki 350HP four-strokes with counterrotating props), as well as a full Simrad electronic overhaul and state-of-the-art Suzuki Precision Control steering system. The fit-up is off the scale. So far off the scale, in fact, that The Captain’s crew calculated that the same amount of coin pumped into the Edencraft factory would get you a roll-away 233 Formula and a fully kitted 6m Offshore. This was a Yank tank we’d have to experience for ourselves.

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We invited ourselves along to the launch party of Dave’s refitted Hydra- Sports, leaving from Johnson Bros Marine on Sydney’s Pittwater. Maître d’ for this auspicious occasion was Benny Johnson, director of Johnson Bros. The pressure was on young Benny, because he’d not only just convinced his No.1 customer to switch outboard and electronic brands, but also to hand over a fist full of lobsters for the privilege. The 1050HP throbbing Suzukis are bolted on where a trio of 300HP Mercury Verados once ruled. The old Raymarine units have been unplugged and replaced with a shiny pair of NSS12 Simrads.

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As Dave steps aboard, Benny adjusts his collar, feeling the weight of expectation. In one hand, Dave has a handful of Stellas; in the other, a Blue Bottle Chiller Fish Bag with more beers. He is about to test drive his new birthday machine, but he’s not gonna miss the chance to blast out to the FADs (fish aggregating devices) for a few dolphin fish and cold beers with The Captain’s crew. We like Dave already.

HULL CRUSHER

Owning a 1000-plus horsepower boat, you won’t be surprised to hear that Dave likes driving hard. It’s the third Hydra-Sports he’s owned, the first two being 33-footers. Unfortunately, they couldn’t withstand Dave’s offshore charges, but he eventually found his way to the 35ft model, which he describes as “a much stronger, heavier hull that feels more solid and safe in the water.” The 35ft (10.7m) and 3.32m beam dimensions sit on an aggressive 23-degree dead-rise. But it’s not so much the angles that do the work in the water; it’s the sheer weight — 9.5 tonne of glass and mechanical mass steamrolls the chop and swell into oblivion. The Hydra-Sports has the large flared bow and giant shoulders typical of an American boat, and runs particularly well down seas in the 2m swell. Even with a 15- knot nor-easterly blowing the top off in the afternoon, we’re still doing 37 knots and the boat barely raises a sweat or a splash.

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WATER-HUGGING PERFORMANCE

Dave wasn’t expecting a huge improvement in performance on the big rig, but his first impressions when he drops the handles are emphatic: “It’s like a different boat. Out of the hole, the turns, it just grips the water. It’s unbelievable!” He says the 300HP Verados weren’t a bad thing, but they were coming to the end of their economical life. (Note: The Captain’s crew hasn’t heard this term before, but we assume it’s something prosperous people do to maintain their distance from buy/swap/sell suckers like us.)

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Top speed with the three 350HP Suzukis has upped from 37 knots to 45 knots — a more than 20 per cent increase. At 5000RPM, the Suzukis are going 15 per cent quicker than the Verados; and at 6000RPM, where Dave likes to drive, he’s now using four litres a kilometre per motor versus five with the Verados. Dave reckons fuel economy is about 25 per cent better overall at wide-open throttle.

DIGITAL DILEMMAS

Making the switch to Simrad gear took some serious convincing from Benny. “I’ve had Raymarines forever and I know how to use them, but I put my faith in Benny’s advice,” Dave says. “It’s been a great transition, mind-blowing, in fact — and better than expected.”

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The digital set up features two NSS12 Evo3 displays complemented by a Simrad Halo 3 radar. “The radar is obviously handy at night, but it’s better for pinching other bloke’s spots,” Dave reckons. The sounders are mated to an xSonic Airmar B275LH-W Bronze with S5100 high-CHIRP sonar module.

“It’s also got a couple of features the Raymarine didn’t have that are amazing,” Dave adds. “I can go back over the track and review temperature breaks or bottom ground from the beginning of the trip, then go back and explore that country again. We also experimented with the zig-zagging function. I really like the concept; it moves the boat and hence the wake, so the lures are constantly following a random pattern. This will definitely change up the spread and create more strikes.” The Simrads are coupled with an autopilot that David uses about 80 per cent of his running time.

Dave is obviously a committed fisherman with plenty of sea time. So we ask him what’s the key to maximising his digital gear to catch fish.

“Any time you mark a good patch of bait, just stick with it. I’ve seen a lot of people mark bait then comment on it, then just keep going. I’m like, ‘Nah, let’s work it. Find the bait, find the fish’.”

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JOYRIDE

The tricks on Dave’s boat don’t stop there. The Hydra-Sports is fitted with Suzuki Precision Control Steering that features integrated electronic throttle, shift, steering and joystick control. Dave says, “the steering is light to the touch, the most responsive steering of any boat I’ve driven. It’s like steering with velvet.”

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He’s only been using the joystick control for a few weeks, but reckons it’s something he now can’t live without. “I don’t remember life before my joystick. You can come in or out of any berth or wharf. It’s got a hold function that can sit the boat three of four metres off the wharf while you get your lines organised. The boat will also crab perfectly sideways in any direction. It’s got a directional function, so that it holds the boat facing the same direction, but drifting naturally or you can also hold in the one spot — with the boat facing in any direction — perfect for throwing lures at FADs.”

UNCOMPROMISED CONSOLE

The Hydra-Sports 3500 hull has a no compromise configuration. The layout features an enclosed centre console with a large airy dinette area sitting in front of the console, but at the same deck height. Dave says the area is great for kids or novice crew who don’t like the confined areas of a traditional cabin. It’s also a great dry storage area for game fishing gear — within easy reach rather than buried downstairs or in the front cabin.

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Downstairs, there’s a V-berth, a second berth beneath the stairs, toilet and shower with a 300L water tank.

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Before the refit, the boat ran an unreliable generator, so Johnson Bros installed solar panels and a solid battery pack with a 240-volt inverter. Dave can spend two or three days at his favourite reef or camping spot with the kids without worrying about draining the batteries or sweating on whether the generator will turn over.

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MAN WITH A PLAN

Many crews head literally anywhere on offshore missions; there’s no set route. But Dave has his plans sorted. He works his FADs hard with lures and then live-baits and poppers. We start at the Terrigal FAD, then head to Broken Bay Wide FAD, picking up some small mahi mahi and striped tuna along the way.

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We come across a lot of FADs not marked on the charts. Dave says he often stumbles across them and that they’re the secret to his success. He has no idea how they got there, but has heard rumours that they’re built of rubbish bins filled with concrete, with a stainless wire attached, and rope with a series of floats fastened at the top. We celebrate the spreading of a good rumour by offering Dave another one of his own beers.

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QUESTION FOR BEN JOHNSON, DIRECTOR OF JOHNSON BROS MARINE SERVICE.

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THE CAPTAIN: So Benny, how do you convince a boatie to change his outboard brand (three engines, no less) as well as his sounder brand all at once? Did you have to throw in a beach umbrella to get that one over the line?

BEN: No mate, it was basically a numbers game. The performance figures coming from the Suzuki factory on the 350 were bloody impressive, so I took a punt on them. They’ve more than lived up to the reputation. The 4.4L motor is a naturally aspirated engine, which, as a marine mechanic of 20 years, I much prefer. There are less moving parts and less pressure on the motor. The counter-rotating props are also a big selling point for the Suzuki. The big Hydra-Sports used to torque-steer to the right, but the Suzuki engines have far more directional thrust without the roll. The proof is in Dave’s smile. As for the Simrad gear, it all talks to the Suzuki motors, including the steering system and joystick controls. It’s all next-level functionality, but easier to master than an iPhone. The stuff just works.

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