Surtees Boats is one of New Zealand’s best-known boat building companies and is based in the rural Bay of Plenty near Whakatane.
Originally started by Neil Surtees, it is now owned by a group of shareholders, and managed by one of them, Phil Sheaff.
Despite the economic downturn of the last few years, Surtees Boats is doing very nicely, it seems. Another new workshop had been added to the plant since my last visit there, and 35 staff (30 of them hands-on boat builders) are turning out 300 hulls (ranging from 4.7m to 7.3m) a year, and drawing up plans for a new 8m model. About 35% of this output is exported, mainly to Australia and New Caledonia, but also to other parts of the Pacific.
The latest production model is the 5.8m Game Fisher, which was released at last year’s Hutchwilco Boat Show in Auckland. It was warmly received and has been selling strongly ever since. I travelled down to Whakatane in early March to see what the attraction was.
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION
The Surtees design centres on a triangular self-flooding ballast chamber, formed by welding a flat plate across the V of the keel. Off plane, this chamber fills through the open end at the transom and the air vents out of the anchor-well at the bow. When the boat accelerates onto the plane, the chamber empties instantaneously. This system allows for a relatively fine entry, variable deep-V hull (in this case 19.8° at the transom), which cuts through the water well and gives a great sea performance without paying the usual deep-V price of being tender at rest.
The capacity of the ballast tank is 340 litres, equating to roughly 340kg, and a gate is fitted to the rear of the tank that retains the ballast when on plane if required, allowing for improved rough-water performance. This also enables the 5.8m hull to sustain a hard-top without excessive wind-heel, making this one of the smallest boats with this desirable configuration on the market (cuddy and centre-console versions of this hull are also available).
The hull bottom is 4mm, with 3mm sides, decks and hardtop. The hull features reversed chines and no strakes. Six fully-welded stringers run up the full length of the hull and the plate that forms the top of the ballast tank provides additional longitudinal support. Laterally there are gussets that tie the stringers together at 400mm centres, in addition to the three main bulkheads and the transom assembly. Everything under the floor is fully seam-welded, making the hull very strong. (A recent after-dark boating accident saw a small Surtees boat collide with a rock at high speed. Although the bow was radically stove in, none of the welds was broken, and the integrity and buoyancy of the hull remained unaffected – important, because the two occupants were injured and unconscious for some minutes. I examined the damaged hull myself at the Surtees factory – these boats are built solid.)
Two main sealed underfloor chambers provide a massive reserve buoyancy of approximately 1500kg in sea water, according to figures supplied by Surtees.
The level of finish is excellent. Nyalic has been used to finish the raw alloy, making it look good and easy to clean, and Whakatane painter ‘Goose’ Haddock has done an excellent job on the sides. This hull has CE (European Union) certification and is approved for up to five crew.
POWER AND PERFORMANCE
Rated for 100-150hp, the test hull was rigged with a Suzuki 140hp four-stroke outboard. Top-end revs with a 14 X 21 prop (21-inch pitch) were 6000rpm, right in the ‘book’ 5600-6200rpm zone, indicating a good propeller choice. Cruising at 4200rpm produces 25 knots (46kph); 5000rpm turns out 30 knots (56kph); while the top end of 6000rpm has the hull racing along at 38 knots (70kph). Certainly this is plenty of speed for ‘off fishing’ aspects such as water skiing, and allows a reasonable cruising speed at modest revs, reducing fuel usage – an important factor with rapidly-rising fuel prices.
Fuel is carried in a 130-litre underfloor tank, with a fuel filter fitted beneath one of the gunwales.
This new hull is slightly fuller in the shoulders than previous models of the Surtees range and travels very nicely indeed – a soft and dry rider, as I have come to expect from this marque. It was not a particularly testing sea though, with a half-metre chop just off the Whakatane bar. The performance of the hull had me wishing for rougher water, the conditions encountered hinting that this hull could have fairly exceptional sea-keeping characteristics for its size.
Access to the bow is easiest through the large hatch in the foredeck. Under the forward squab is a raised chequerplate platform providing good footing for the bowman. The test boat was fitted with a helm-controlled Quick anchor winch that feeds through the foredeck into an anchor-well in the bow. Access to this space is through a hatchway in the collision bulkhead. Two crucifix bollards are mounted on the foredeck for tie-off and mooring duties (these are supplemented with two more amidships and two on the stern.)
Considering this boat is only 5.85m overall, a lot of features have been fitted into it without making it look cramped. This is aided by a decent beam of 2.25m.
The forecabin is not huge, but with berth in-fills fitted, could sleep a couple of adults at a pinch. You are unlikely to do much in the way of serious overnighting in a boat of this size, but it would be a handy spot for the kids to have a nap. Two side shelves supplement the under-berth stowage and feature bungee straps along the front to stow lifejackets in a readily accessible position. Underneath, a boat hook is stowed out of the way on clips.
A screw-in inspection hatch gives access into the back of the console and has a handy storage container of spare fuses on the back. The cabin is half lined, and the sealed chequerplate deck runs straight through to the transom, with tube matting over the top. A dome-on, zip-out cover gives some shelter and privacy to the forecabin.
Out at the helm, a large dash offers a stowage tray and a mounting position for the Garmin GPSmap 750s sounder-GPS. This is a neat unit with touch-screen scrolling that is very easy to use, even when travelling at speed.
Screens are 4mm toughened, tinted-glass panels that give good all-round visibility. A Roca wiper was fitted in front of the helmsman. The Hydrive Admiral hydraulic steering was a pleasure to use, and a Uniden Oceanus VHF and Fusion sound system completed the electronics package.
Seating features a simple pedestal with sliding, swivelling, upholstered bucket seat for the helmsman and a similar arrangement for the passenger, but mounted atop a fibreglass king-and-queen base with internal stowage space and a rear-facing bench seat. Pipe footrests and grab rails are fitted, and side shelves offer some storage at each side. Cup holders feature extensively throughout the boat. With safety in mind, fire extinguisher and EPIRB are fitted to the bulkhead.
The open-backed hardtop features more grab rails and a removable canvas-shade extension.
Wide coamings are a feature of the cockpit, and Decktread panels make them a good place to perch while fishing. Decent-sized side pockets (2.250m long) add another stowage option to each side, while the raised, two-third-width transom locker protects two batteries (house and start) with an isolation switch. Access to this locker is through a fold-down front, which forms a bench seat against the transom when down. The other third of the transom width features a step-through with fold-down flap door and a live-bait tank underneath.
The sealed deck drains to a sump under the transom, which is drained in turn by a 2000gph bilge pump. Situated just in front of this is an under-deck hold, which can be used for wet stowage. A wash-down hose system is set into the rear of one gunwale and shares a pump with the live-bait tank.
Over the transom is a chequerplate boarding platform with grab rails and a fold-down ‘T’ ladder.
Surtees boats are primarily designed for fishermen and divers. The self-flooding ballast tank gives good stability at rest; the chequerplate deck and tube matting offer good footing; and the flat faces of the gunwales provide comfortable top-of-the-thigh support with plenty of toe room underneath.
While the cockpit is not long (this is a 5.8m boat, after all), it is beamy. We threw some little lures to kahawai on ultra-light tackle and found it very comfortable to fish from. Five through-gunwale alloy rod holders were fitted (the sixth position claimed by the optional wash-down hose fitting). There were four more holders on the rear of the bolt-on bait-station, horizontal stowage for four more rods in and under the side pockets, and a six-position rocket launcher on the hardtop (the outside two tubes are angled to accept drop-in outriggers).
The bait-station is a metre long (so plenty of work space there) and includes knife slots and rails to take the necessary hand-wiping rags. A gaff was clipped to the transom locker hatch. The already-mentioned live-bait tank under the transom step-though (handy for divers) is plumbed and drains down into the sump. It looks like it could support a dozen jack mackerel quite happily.
Overall, an excellent fishing setup and certainly blue-water capable.
The demonstrator was on an up-graded custom ‘boat show trailer’. The standard trailer offered with this model is a Surtees-made cradle A-frame design with a single axle and zinc-protected leaf-spring suspension. The hull is carried on five pairs of wobble rollers and is an easy one man drive-on, drive-off, with the clever automatic trailer catch that was invented by Neil Surtees some years ago.
Other features include: a dual-ratio manual winch; a wind-down jockey wheel; dual coupling; and submersible LED trailer lights. Tow weight for the rig is a reasonable 1210kg. With a hull-only weight of just 550kg, it is beach-launchable.
ALL IN ALL
Some nice touches from Surtees include an international Hull Identification number (HIN) and a proper, model-specific 31-page handbook for the boat and rig – an item that seems obvious, but which I can never recall seeing with any other trailerboat.
But these are small aspects. What we have is a ‘little big boat’, very well behaved, good looking, strongly-built and well designed for fishing, with lots of innovative design ideas. No wonder Surtees is thriving, even in these hard times.
- Configuration: open-backed hardtop
- Material: aluminium
- LOA: 5.85m
- Beam: 2.25m
- Bottom: 4mm
- Sides and topsides: 3mm
- Deadrise: 19.8°
- Hull weight: 550kg
- Tow weight: 1210kg
- Recommended HP: 100-150hp
- Test engine: Suzuki 140hp Four Stroke
- Prop: 21” pitch
- Price as tested: $79,880
- Key-turn packages from: $49,139 (115hp Salt Water Series)
- Test boat courtesy of Surtees Boats.
NZ Fishing News
written by Sam Mossman