The Captain puffs out his chest and steps aboard the biggest console the Signature factory has ever built, powered by the largest motor Suzuki has ever built; two, in fact. 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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?

$285,000.

Let’s talk serious business, John. How much if we put her on the cover of The Captain.

$285,000.

OK, how much do they start from?

$165,000 fitted with a single 250HP.

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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.

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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.