The Captain goes north in search of silver scales and soft riding battleships.

 

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Trying to fish a new location is tough at the best of times. Trying to catch a mulloway in one day at a new location is a serious Hail Mary shit. Still, we had the gear and knew of a couple of promising honey holes around the southern tip of North Stradbroke Island. All The Captain needed to accomplish the mission was a decent boat…

 

The rumor was that The Haines Group was covertly beavering away on a new Signature hull design. Although the staff was tight-lipped about the project, we’d heard through the grapevine that it was going to be a sub-6m fishing outfit. After bribing an unnamed source with rum and the promise of fresh jewfish cutlets, we were handed the latitude and longitude of this secret new boat. The map was on a scrunched-up napkin delivered under the cover of darkness.

 

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By the time we arrived at the mystery coordinates, the sun had already started rising. There she was, though, sitting solitary on the abandoned boat ramp, polished gel coat and shiny 32mm stainless glistening in the morning light. We grabbed the rods, soft plastics and a handful of jig heads before approaching cautiously. Dubbed the 550F, her curvaceous lines gave the impression of a family runabout, not the deep-vee dynamo we’d been dreaming of. However, a quick peek over the gunwales and it was clear there was another dimension to this saltwater battleship.

 

INTO THE DRINK

 

We slid the 550F off the trailer and into the somewhat murky Gold Coast waters. One thing that quickly became apparent was the fishing space and stylish innovation that this ride offered. The juicy external beam of 2.41m gives way to a massive working deck space with storage aplenty. We were fully laden with fishing and camera equipment, but if we hadn’t packed the boat ourselves, we would never have known it was there. Another lesson from the Haines factory on form and function.

 

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With the mulloway mission starting to take shape, we pointed the 550F north and zagged our way through the Broadwater. Her bow-up attitude came to attention with a touch of trim as we carved our way around the sand bars and oyster racks. By the time we arrived at North Straddie, the current was roaring – it was going to be tough without an electric engine. We relentlessly peppered the snaggy shoreline with soft plastic missiles, but the 3-4 knot drift beat us into submission.

 

DEEP BLUE

 

Frustrated and fishless, we headed into the deep blue to see how this variable dead-rise hull performed in the swell. With 21 degrees at the transom and 33 degrees at the bow, on paper the 550F certainly had the credentials of a blue-water brumby. Not to mention that her predecessor, the 543F was a classic among fishos. There was only one problem, we had to cross the Jumpinpin Channel to get out to sea. This notorious strip of water mightn’t look like much from afar, but with an incoming swell and a roaring outgoing tide, it was going to be touch-and-go.

 

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We punched the throttle on the 140HP Suzi and made our way through the channel. The 550F lapped it up. After getting some wind under the chines, it was clear she was just as predictable in the air as in the water. The hull was soft riding through the chop and landed smoothly without too much vibration coming off the tops of waves. That said, we did send the anchor light flying off its bracket on one of the larger “bumps”.

 

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Having safely navigated the channel ‑ albeit with a broken anchor light ‑ we steamed further out to sea where we spotted pod after pod of humpback whales. We watched in awe as these giants cruised up the coast in search of warmer waters. They had the right idea – there were clearly no fish around here… (Ok, OK, maybe it was just our skills!)

 

SUPERIOR INTERIOR

 

After splashing around with the whales for an hour or so, it was time to roll up our sleeves and check out the innards of the 550F. Apart from the aforementioned extra-wide beam of 2.41m, the first thing that grabs your attention in this boat is the dash. The contrasting black-and-white design gives it a sportscar-esque feel, and when matched with the flip-forward helm station, it’s also practical. This innovation makes installing electronics (like the whopping 12” Furuno, twin Suzuki gauges and switchboards fitted to the 550F) much easier. It also removes ugly wiring from the inside of the cabin by incorporating a separate one-piece helm moulding with latches and hinges. Inside the cabin there’s a beautifully upholstered vinyl V-berth with good headroom, storage below and chunky side pockets ‑ the kind of interior design and functionality even your missus would approve of, although you’ll probably never take her.

 

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Back out on deck, there’s a handy icebox capable of holding a few snapper. However, you’ll probably spend more time catching marlin and tuna with the whopping 177L fuel tank. If The Captain owned this boat, he’d definitely be investing in a big esky or fish chiller bag. On the topic of game-fishing, there’s a live bait tank on the port side and a starboard transom dive-door, both of which would come in handy out on the shelf. The 550F also dominates in the gunwale side-pocket department. They’re deep, solid ‑ and one of the few deep-vee boats The Captain’s been aboard with practical horizontal rod storage. The 550F is a boat of the people. Haines has taken all the feedback on board and built a rig to suit a variety of needs.

 

EMPTY-HANDED

 

We arrived back at the boat ramp with some explaining to do. No jewfish cutlets for our secret source. The fishing mightn’t have gone to plan, but the 550F definitely did. It’s a versatile fishing boat, which the wife and kids will love. It’s safe, stable, soft-riding and loaded with innovation. There’s also peace of mind in the 10-year warranty and strong Haines Signature pedigree.

 

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PROS

 

– Delicious design

– Epic dash configuration

– Huge internal freeboard

– Thick and sturdy 32mm stainless rails and canopy structure

– No sharp edges, with neatly recessed handrails and cleats

– Great cabin access and headroom for a sub-6m boat

– Extra-large side-pockets with plenty of toe room underneath

 

CONS

 

– No horsepower hero

– Throttle position set too far back

– And sorry about that anchor light. Maybe it was time for an upgrade?

 

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TANK WARS

Fuel Tank Comparison for Similar-sized boats

                                   

                                                               LITRES

Haines Signature 550F                          177

Edencraft 565 Sport                               160

Cruise Craft Explorer 575                     160

Evolution 552 Platinum                        150

Streaker Navigator 5700                      146

Barcrusher 575C                                    110

The Captain’s 445F project boat         30

 

 

MORE INFORMATION:

The Haines Group

140 Viking Drive, Wacol, Queensland

(07) 3271 4400

www.signatureboats.com