Four pumping plate rigs fight it out bow to bow in the captain’s alloy shootout at Jervis bay. 

The only good thing that comes in tin is beer, right? Some among the glass-lovin’ class still beat that drum on Facebook forums. Their opinion is probably based on the rocky ride they took in Uncle Bob’s 4.5m FishFinder to Kangaroo Island in 1987, with eight relatives and Rufus the family labrador hanging on for dear life on the bow.

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If you still share that view of tinnies and plate boats, you’re sadly missin’ out, because some of these rigs can seriously slay. In fact, a well-credentialed commercial fisho who has spent 40 years in trailer boats reckons one of the rigs from the alloy shootout is his most inspiring ride ever, scoring it 10 outta 10. In fairness to the Facebook haters, there was a time when plate boats weren’t so appealing. They were rough to look at and rougher to ride in. They smelt like a rotten oyster’s armpit and the trailers they rode on looked like they were made from derelict railway tracks. But the Plate Boat Builders Guild got together, or so we reckon. They formed a pact and we suspect they had a secret mission statement (see hereabouts).

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We’re glad they did, because the flotilla that fanned out on Jervis Bay was deliciously refined – a testament to the aluminium engineering that’s gone into plate boats in the past 10 years or so. The Captain’s crew would be proud to own any one of those on show at Jervis Bay.


THE LOCATION

The Captain’s crew thought long and hard about the perfect location for the alloy shootout. We needed a spot that presented various sea conditions for testing, somewhere that was visually appealing and a spot that had enough fuel, food and beer to accommodate our big crew of salty sailors. Jervis Bay (JB) immediately came to mind. Only two and a half hours from Sydney, JB is known for its stunning beaches and sheer sandstone cliffs, which drop straight off into 40m of water. JB has serious cred on the fishing front, too. It’s a world-famous LBG location, as when the conditions are right you can catch black marlin from the stones. Massive kingfish also patrol the headlands. Heading to the shelf is a breeze, as well – from the heads it’s only a 14.5km run.

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Depending on the season, you can catch blue, black and striped marlin as well as bluefin and yellowfin tuna. There are also plenty of trendy cafés, pleasant parks and beaches, a maritime museum and heaps of different walks – so it’s an easy sell to the family.

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THE CREW: THE PLATEFUL 8

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They’re a slightly different breed, these plate owners. Carefully considered and circumspect you might say – more so than the crew at the Battle of the Big Vee, anyway. There were no tattoo sleeves. Instead they wore high-visibility orange safety vests and fashionable scarves. There were no monstrous GMC Denalis, either. Their chariots were frugal Prados, Hiluxes and VW Touaregs, fully optioned with safety packs. And their rigs weren’t stacked at the rear with twin towers of power. Instead, each donk was carefully selected for efficiency, performance and value. These owners knew exactly how many overhead cams they were running – in their cars and their boats. Yep, this was going to be a tight and technical affair, for sure. We’d need the tape measure for this one.

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OZSEA 650 HARDTOP

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When we heard a couple of blokes had left the Bar Crusher factory to build their own boat, our ears pricked up. This rig would have to be dropped into the alloy shootout. We expected the Ozsea to have a Bar Crusher-like look and ride, but we were wrong. Barry Fox and Brendan Tilders have been building Ozsea boats for about two years. They’ve pumped out a dozen or so from the factory in Seaford, Victoria, and one of thier customers is Todd Templeton, who got wind of The Captain’s alloy shootout. Accompanying Todd were his brothers Guy (co-owner of the boat) and Benn. The trio are hard-drinking, hard-driving and fun-loving – and Jack has the scars on his nipples to prove it. Beer and nipple cripples aside, the boys were here to test their rig against some of the best production boats in the 6.5m plate class.

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Some boats drive through the water and some boats drive over the water. The Ozsea sits firmly in the latter class, with its full bow and strakes up forward. The hull transitioned effortlessly to plane, skipping confidently along the surface leaving every judge with a smile, particularly Jack, who has a hankering for drifting the rear end of boats at 30 knots. Comparing the Bar Crusher and Ozsea galloping side by side, the difference was pronounced, the Ozsea striding effortlessly from wave to wave in the 1m wind chop, the Crusher sawing through it and working harder. Some judges thought it was a little drummy at speed; others reckoned it could be easily fixed with some headlining in the cabin and wheelhouse.

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The fuel figures flattered the Ozsea: the 175HP Suzuki using less fuel than the 150HP Mercury-powered Surtees between the 1000RPM and 4000RPM range. The Ozsea also had a marginally higher top speed than the 200HP Suzuki-powered Bar Crusher, pushing out 36 knots. The Ozsea and 175HP Suzuki were probably the best marriage of motor and metal on the shootout.

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What didn’t marry up for some judges was the floor height vs internal freeboard. Sure, it had self-draining decks, but the high floor reduced the internal freeboard significantly. The tape measure indicated it was 20cm shallower than the Stabi. Granted, not everyone is 6ft 2in (1.9m), but this is a 6.5m boat and we’d be tackling 3m seas.

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The stability score averaged seven from the judges. We reckon a ballast tank would be a welcome addition, particularly on those wintery days trolling in big, sloppy seas and potentially wrestling 150kg giants over the gunwales.

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The large, airy wheelhouse proved a big hit, giving the Ozsea a tough old-school look. It featured the highest aperture from the top of the dash to the top of the windscreen, perfect for scanning for birds and bait schools. Surtees owner Garry said he wouldn’t mind some ventilation in there, particularly with a fuel smell hanging around. Below the windscreen, two 10-inch Garmin sounders sit neatly on the dash. The welding is super-strong, if a little rough in parts. It was particularly noticeable on visible areas such as the shroud around the cabin entrance and under the wheelhouse roof. To be fair to Barry the builder, some of the work (like the enclosed cabin) was requested by Todd late in the build process. They’re pretty easy fixes for next time round. While Barry’s at it, some footrests would also be handy.

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It wasn’t a gold-medal performance from the Ozsea, not compared to the highly refined production boats on show, but nevertheless it was an encouraging outing worthy of the Captain’s coach’s award. The 650HT does several things incredibly well: it rides nicely at speed, has a great layout with heaps of space and a killer wheelhouse design, not to mention the 150L kill tank. Those things aren’t easy to get right. With some further refinement and a few more tricks, the Ozsea will definitely be up to playing with the big boys.

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SURTEES WORKMATE 650

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If the winning boat of the shootout was judged by the owner most contented with his own boat, then Garry and his Surtees would come up trumps. After bashing his way around the bay and open sea in all the boats, Garry boldly declared, “Well, the end result after being in the other boats is that I’ve made a good decision”. He’s found his perfect boat, which is the ultimate goal for any boat owner. It didn’t win the hearts of all the judges, though. In fact, the Surtees proved to be a bit of a polariser…

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The Captain’s crew rated the Workmate the best ride of the show. Commercial operator Tony even rated it the most “confidence-inspiring boat” he’s been in. The owners of the Stabi, Bar Crusher and Ozsea, however, rated it no better than the Bar Crusher and well behind the Stabicraft for ride. Such is the nature of the judging process – we’re all entitled to our opinion, right? But seriously guys, what the fug were you thinking? Did you even leave the dock? But I digress, The Captain is a democracy and the great thing about a democracy is that it gives every voter a chance to say something stupid. Perhaps we’re the stupid ones? But I digress, again.

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Everyone (other than Garry) did agree on one thing, though: the performance below the gunwales was better than the performance above the gunwales. To be fair to the Surtees boys, this was the Workmate model that features a half cabin rather than the more expensive (and heavier) Gamefisher model with a full cabin and three-piece windscreen. Even so, it’s the half-cab that Garry rates so highly because of his need for deck space. We can imagine Gazz and three or four mates on one side of the boat, bobbing along on the drift, sitting restfully with the ballast tanks full, hauling in flatty after flatty.

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This deck was huge, as were the gunwales, and if deck-space-for-dollars was in the judging criteria, it would have killed it. However, most judges couldn’t fall in love with the half-cab’s narrow windscreen, particularly after Garry had mounted the Raymarine screens within the aperture. As one judge said, “a school of marauding bluefin could pass by the bow and there’s a good chance you’d miss it.” The Surtees certainly had some competition in the windscreen department: the Ozsea had 44cm more viewing space (measured from the top of the sounder/dash to the top of the windscreen).

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Everything below the gunwales was on point, though, using minimalist design to maximum effect. Tony Barber gave it the highest praise, saying, “the builder that designed and built this boat really put some thought into it and knew what they were doing. I’ve been on the water since I was 12 and I’ve never been in a boat I felt so comfortable with.” The clip-on seats and rod holders are adjustable along the full length of the side pockets and they held more gear than an aisle at Whitworths. The rear seat folds down in the same way as the Bar Crusher and Ozsea, concealing a couple of batteries and switches. Everything in the electronics department is easily accessible and up and out of the slop. A live bait tank sits in the port side. It’s a bit low for regularly switching live baits, but on the upside, it made a nice position for a dunny stop (see the story in issue #5 of The Captain on how to drop a plop).

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Gazza didn’t win the coolest rig – and at $100K for a half-cab, he also fell short in the bang-for-buck category. But in the unofficial category of, “fug you all – I’ve got my perfect boat”, the Surtees got 10 out of 10. We reckon the ride alone was worth the two hour drive from Sydney to Jervis Bay, even if the other owners didn’t think so.

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BARCRUSHER 670HT

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The Bar Crusher made the best first impression, rolling into JB atop a black-rimmed Easytow trailer hauled behind a rumbling burgundy 200 Series ’Cruiser. The Bar Crusher design team clearly got all the lines right on this #fishingweapon. The angles are imposing yet well-proportioned, and it was no real surprise that she romped home in the coolfactor category.

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The crew of Steve and Frankie also made the best first impression, with matchy-matchy hats, matchy-matchy black-rimmed glasses and a cucumber-cool attitude. It was clear the Italian-bred boys had done some serious sea time together – the rig perfectly decked out for long-range touring with slideout Engel fridge, 19-inch TV, pie warmer, tackle storage galore, fish bins and trick lighting. Every touring option was ticked off, complementing a 280L fuel tank and the longest cabin in class. The Bar Crusher has plenty of other tricks. The flip-forward window hatch is a cool feature not seen on the other rigs. It’s perfect for letting the breeze flow in on those long, calm summer days trolling on the east coast, before sliding out the Engel fridge from under the passenger helm seat and reaching for another Carlton Dry.

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The design and detail on the Crusher stood out from the fleet, its DNA echoing years of well-practised boat building. One of the judges mused that the options list limited the 670 to a two-man game-fishing rig, and a few suspected the extra weight created drag through the sea. It was particularly noticeable through turns when it bogged down like it had sandbags in the rear, costing points in ride and handling from the judges. Commercial fisherman Tony mused that it needed either bigger trim tabs, a different prop selection or engine height adjustment.

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Stability didn’t need any adjustment on the 670HT. The flooding keel made sure of that. Spooning side by side in the cabin would be no problem for the boys – no accidental rumpy-pumpy to worry about with 400 to 500 litres down the guts. The ballast water can be easily expelled and the flap closed at the press of a button. It’s a good feature for mooching about in water no deeper than 60 cm around Steve’s home port of Tooradin, at the northern end of Westernport Bay, Victoria.

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Steve has plenty of sea time under his belt, particularly in big seas. Hell, he practically has a PhD in boats! So we asked him why he chose alloy given the perception of ‘glass being a better-handling ride in big seas. He says, “I’ve been in a lot of boats, and the main reason I chose alloy was that it’s easy to maintain and clean, you can pull ’em up on beaches and they’re light to tow. You might compromise the ride a bit with a plate boat, compared to a big ‘glass boat, but they’ve definitely come along way in the past 10 years. There would be a lot of alloy boats out there that would outperform ‘glass boats.” Touché.

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Steve’s trailer choice is further proof of his efficient leanings: a lightweight Easytow alloy trailer that keeps total BMT weight under 2.4 tonne. It’s all about towing efficiency for long-range touring, keeping the speedo on 110km/h all the way there and back without burning up the precious fuel budget. The trailer is also forgiving when retrieving the boat from any angle when you’ve made a meal of it, Steve says. He unwittingly proved this feature, hitting the trailer at an angle that Shane Warne would be proud of. There were a few mutterings from The Captain’s crew until one of them did exactly the same thing in the fast-flowing current of the Huskisson River. Steve’s boat reputation was quickly restored and there will be no mention of it ever again.

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STABICRAFT 2100 SUPERCAB

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We reckon the Stabicraft 2100 is the labrador of the seas. It’s safe, predictable, and by the end of the alloy shootout it was everyone’s best friend. It hasn’t always been that way for the Kiwi constructor. Not so long ago, the Stabi was considered an ugly duckling with a bumpy ride that did nothing to sway Aussie voters. But the R&D team took a long sip of L&P, got their shit together and now deserve a 2100 per cent pay rise because every judge (bar one) rated the 2100 the best overall rig on Jervis Bay.

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Safe and stable: that’s what we expect from a Stabicraft. The scores for stability at rest (rock’n’roll) averaged nine-plus from the judging panel – no surprises there. What was a surprise to the judges was the quality of the ride. It was adjudged best ride in class from the owners of the other boats and equal first with the Surtees when all the scorecards were tallied up. Winning the quinella of the most stable and best ride is an impressive feat. Steve rated it, “soft underfoot, tracks straight, handles extremely well – I’d buy one if I didn’t have a Bar Crusher.” Tony said, “it was on rails, very balanced, sat well in the water and travelled very nicely.” “The Stabi had it all built in. It was resolved.”

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It looked like a tank and felt like one, too. Where other rigs added bits to complete the picture, the Stabi had it all built in. It was resolved. The built-in bait station with split lid was the standout feature of all boats. Others wondered why more boats didn’t have the same configuration. Either side of the bait station sit two sturdy folddown seats that double as steps. You can barely tell they’re there when folded away. The driver and passenger footrests are moulded into the bulkhead and the storage compartments are part of the life-ring structure. These built-in features all added to the structural rigidity. There were no extra welded bits to improve strength (like the struts on the Bar Crusher, running from the floor up to the side pockets at midships). Garry said, “the dollars are built into the strength of the hull.”

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Bang for buck was an interesting topic of conversation. The Stabicraft won the category unconvincingly, averaging 7.9 out of 10. It seemed none of the boats really blew away the judges for value. At $100K for the Stabi, most expected a few more options. Maybe some built-in tackle storage or a dive door? Some of us left the shootout thinking, what else could we get for $100K that offered the same versatility as the Stabicraft? Let’s be honest, though, no amount of Sailor Jerry was going to definitively answer that question.

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Owner Greg was best qualified to answer the question of Stabicraft value. He cut his teeth in a Haines Hunter V17L, then later skippered a Seafarer Viper with twin 175s – two boats with pretty big reputations. With his next boat he wanted something that would be “the complete package”. Greg also confessed that he is a bit of a Malcolm Douglas fan and sees himself touring the Kimberly in a beat-up hardtop tinnie at some stage in his life. (If Malcolm was around, he might take issue with that scarf though, Greg.)

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Greg first laid eyes on the Stabicraft 2100 at Webbe Marine. He was sold on its smart layout – from the cabin all the way to the bait station. He’d heard good things about the ride so he handed over the $100K and 12 months and 100 hours later he hasn’t looked back. His co-pilot is Missy (Mel), an avid fisho who loves being out on the water. Greg says she’s the one who is first up in the morning, packing the boat, skippering and catching most of the fish.

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Now that she’s seen the capabilities of the Stabicraft (thanks to the experienced hands at the alloy shootout), Mel says she’ll never travel anywhere slower than 30 knots – and that the seagulls had better watch their feathered backs.

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IN THE WASH UP

The Stabicraft won because…

Five of the six eligible judges rated the Stabicraft their top pick. Stability at rest was a lay down misère. Surprisingly to some, the 2100 took home the best ride at the shootout thanks to nines and 10s from the owners of the Bar Crusher, Surtees and Ozsea. The $100K Stabi also bagged the best bang for buck.

WINNER: Overall, In the Saddle, Rock’n’Roll, Bang for Bucks

The Ozsea could’ve won if……

The stability and internal freeboard was improved – and the finish matched the quality of the ride. Bang for buck is no issue and it’s definitely worthy of a coach’s award – and with some refinement, and maybe a flooding keel to improve stability, it’ll be up there in the best and fairest.

The Surtees could’ve won if……

The cabin matched the performance below the decks. The full hardtop option (Gamefisher) would have boosted the scores, but it might’ve compromised handling characteristics while also blowing the budget.

WINNER: In the Saddle

The Bar crusher could’ve won if……

The ride matched the Surtees or Stabicraft. The Bar Crusher pants the fleet for cool factor and topped the scores in design and detail, but ultimately the #fishingweapon got outhunted by its Kiwi cousin in ride, handling and stability.

WINNER: Cool Factor, Design & Detail