Why we do it. This is the test the public demanded. More so than the manufacturers, anyway. Which is why we never told them about it. Any of them. To prove our point, when the first Facebook post dropped, The Captain’s mobile lit up with phone calls with a Victorian area code. Some just wanted to know if they won; others just threatened us with legal-sounding words we’d never heard before. It was an intriguing response given we’d tested four clearly awesome boats and nothing had been published from The Captain’s quill. Interestingly, that manufacturer never even asked how the boat performed or what their customers thought of it…
AND that is why we do it. Yes, some of these manufacturers advertise (Edencraft), some used to advertise (Haines Hunter), some never will (Cam Strachan) and some might, one day (Bass Strait Boats), but that didn’t have a single bearing on the opinions of the four boat owners who judged the boats; nor The Captain’s two judges, whose opinion on boats can’t be swayed with money – or rum. All the skippers were there to fish and dive, drive boats hard, watch other men drive boats hard, and share tales around the campfire over a Jack Daniels and Coke. Gale warnings, 12-hour road trips, incessant hail and rain, wet swags and bad sausages couldn’t keep them away.
The crew assembled at Welshpool, a sleepy fishing village in south-east Victoria. Retired farmers in thick flannel shirts quietly slipped their well-worn aluminium boats into the murky water, as the big rigs swallowed up swags, slabs and apprehensive skippers, keen to show their mettle. The sight of four tough boats, Tiagras and outriggers pointing to the gods, steaming from port in tight formation was a spectacle the unassuming farmers will never forget.
The fearsome flotilla headed 40km south to Refuge Cove, a boulder and tea-tree fringed haven at the base of the Wilson Range in Wilson’s Promontory. We spent two nights anchored – and sometimes beached – sleeping in soggy swags, hiding under flailing tarps with wet feet, but never losing our spirits. At times, the skippers tested boats in 2m seas and 40kt+ winds. Friendships were forged and boat reputations grew. To the gentleman who helped make it all happen – The Captain salutes you.
Rumblers at Refuge Cove
NAME: Adam Davey
JOB: Director, Davey Marine
SIGNATURE MOVE: Rig fit-outs & electronic sensei
NAME: Dan McLeod
JOB: Plumber & skipper of the Bass Strait Offshore 24
SIGNATURE MOVE: Staying dry and smooth behind the wheel
NAME: Jack Murphy
JOB: Test pilot & head photographer
SIGNATURE MOVE: Shooting boats and calling in aerial assaults
NAME: Luke Cefai
JOB: Heavy diesel mechanic & skipper of the Haines Hunter 760R
SIGNATURE MOVE: Moonlighting as teak-floor fitter
NAME: Matt Cefai
JOB: Freight hauler (& brother of Luke)
SIGNATURE MOVE: Won the blast around the cove with twin Optis
NAME: Matt Webb
JOB: Director Malvern Auto Tech & skipper of the Edencraft 233
SIGNATURE MOVE: Wave slaying in his Suzuki-powered sled
NAME: Michael Carter-Keys
JOB: Plumber & drone operator
SIGNATURE MOVE: A green beret of the sea, safe hands in all situations
NAME: Tim O’Brien
JOB: Helping hand
SIGNATURE MOVE: Pin-up boy for Aussie Disposals
JOB: First mate on Cam Strachan Formula
SIGNATURE MOVE: Salami, lamb cutlets, chicken kebabs, shot-gun wounds
NAME: Nick Wood
SIGNATURE MOVE: Silky slow motion
NAME: Shane McLeod
JOB: Roofer, brother of Dan
SIGNATURE MOVE: He also owns a Bass Strait Offshore 24
NAME: Tom Webb
JOB: Student & skipper of the Edencraft tender
SIGNATURE MOVE: The cattle dog of Refuge, drooling all over the big vee beauties
NAME: Travis Godfredson
JOB: Test pilot & skipper interrogator
SIGNATURE MOVE: Walking fast with clipboards
NAME: Trevor Godfredson
JOB: Captain’s cook
SIGNATURE MOVE: Cooking T-bones and picking killer camp spots
NAME: Ziad Mesto
JOB: Metal recycling, car wrecker & skipper of the Cam Strachan Formula
SIGNATURE MOVE: 500HP bunnyhopping in calm water
HAINES HUNTER 760R
The Haines Hunter 760R was the contentious inclusion in the Battle of the Big Vee. Some guardians of the legendary Haines Hunter name claim she shouldn’t be compared to the other rigs, but when the official Haines Hunter website says the hull offers, “precision handling in all weather conditions making the 760R Limited the ultimate in trailerable offshore fishing boats”, we couldn’t leave her out. We’re glad we didn’t, because we got to meet two ripper blokes from Western Sydney and climb aboard their imposing saltwater Cadillac.
Brothers Luke and Matt Cefai worked around the clock to get the big rig finished. Not even a blown engine in their F-Truck – or even a divorce – could thwart their desire to reach Refuge Cove. They left Sydney at 9pm and drove through the night, stepping straight onto their teak-laid deck 12 hours later. They had hoped for more time to finish the detail on their rig, but The Captain felt four years’ build time was long enough. The boys acquired the hull directly from Haines Hunter, wanting something with offshore capability, but comfortable enough for the family. They’re also handy on the tools, so a long-term custom project was on the cards.
Five-star sea slayer?
She was the heaviest rig here, with a BMT weight of almost five tonne, with the flattest hull bottom (21 degrees at the transom). The numbers suggested she wouldn’t be a sea slayer like the other rigs, but the real question was: could her five-star fit-out rein in the gap enough to take out the Battle of the Big-Vee?
The 760R made the best first impression and she was rated behind only the Cam Strachan Formula for cool factor. Her hard-top was clad in shimmering stainless armour and her colour scheme of black, steel, teak and off-white had the other owners contemplating their flow-coat finishes. Trailing behind, a pair of black Mercury Optimax 225HP two-strokes always announced their arrival at Refuge Cove well in advance.
Stepping onto the teak deck, it was clear the 760R was the most stable boat in the contest – and she took home that gong. The deck was beautifully laid out in true Haines Hunter fashion, with an easy step down to a roomy cabin that could accommodate two blokes sleeping – or dining on fresh-fried calamari on the small table. Wrapped around the cabin was a wide walkway – a useful feature for a trip like this when beaching the boat. Some judges felt the walkway ate into valuable cabin space, and visibility wasn’t the greatest through the screen, which had been meticulously fitted out by the boys. The flat horizontal working area on the dash was also pretty narrow, which the gamefisherman in the group frowned upon.
The brothers had fitted a forward-facing helm seat for two, side-by-side, sitting above a rearward-opening fridge/freezer. Impressively, they had fitted and wired everything themselves, even designing the hardtop and stainless configuration.
Life begins at 4000RPM
The Haines Hunter was soft into a head sea – and just got better after 4000 revs. She moved around a little in the bum at slower speeds and when cornering, and the boys have since come down a peg and found more rear grip in the turns. She was the wettest boat at the Battle of the Big Vee, working harder through the water than the slipperier Formula-based hulls. Her weight forward didn’t help, and the judges mused that some heavier donks at the rear would help her ride.
The boys love the smell of two-stroke in the morning, but they didn’t have many friends there. Luke swears two-strokes have more poke – and to prove their point, the boys won the “Lap of the cove” (first round the marker and back to the beach via the pissed-off cruising yachtsman sipping chardonnay at anchor), to proudly wave the Haines Hunter flag and leave the Optis to fight another day.
In the end, the gin-palace bling turned plenty of heads and the fit-out screamed “party boat”, with a stable dance floor and after-party accommodation down stairs. Ziad admitted he’d have to sell his Cam Strachan Formula and buy one if his wife ever laid eyes on the 760R. What’s more, five-star fishing missions at the shelf are now only a phone call away for the Captain’s crew. (Note to Luke and Matt: Keep your phone on – marlin season is just around the corner).
CAM STRACHAN FORMULA 233
As a metal recycler, Ziad Mesto crushes Commodores for a day job, but on the weekend he crushes offshore swell with his fearsome Cam Strachanbuilt Formula. He arrived at Welshpool boat ramp with his first mate, Mohamed (below), who looked like he’d just stepped out of a Comanchero stronghold and had a glare capable of crushing a big dog’s soul. During testing, Mohamed gnawed on a 4kg slab of salami, and in the evening would hobble to the campsite to cook lamb cutlets and share tales from the Northern Suburbs back streets. We believed every word. After all, he was nursing a gunshot wound to his foot. But Ziad wasn’t here to flip cutlets. He was here to win. The rig has just been fitted with torque-laden twin Honda 250HP fourstroke donks and a 17″ Furuno screen and radar. To fit the screen, Ziad commissioned Davey Marine to move the cabin door six inches to the left, as you do.
The custom work extends down the back with a 120L live-bait tank with enough lights to illuminate the wreck of the Titanic. The design and layout was very neat and tidy with plenty of accessible storage – and the dive door was light and hinged, but couldn’t be locked open like the Bass Strait 24. She also lacked a few gamefishing features of the others such as wide gunwales and horizontal dash space.
A beauty… and a beast
She was the oldest rig here and starting to show her age, but Cam Strachan’s boats don’t claim to be fashion accessories – they’re on the water to do a job. That’s what makes these rigs so cool. More often than not, they’re working the coastline for abalone in big seas, or fishing hard out wide. Ziad’s Formula dominated in cubic inches, whether it was fuel tank (1000 litres), internal beam (just shy of two metres) or engines (four more cylinders than the Edencraft and Bass Strait). The Honda torque was put on show as Ziad bunnyhopped his way around Refuge Cove. All witnesses were shocked/impressed in equal measure, marvelling at Ziad’s control over the digital throttles.
The ride was more bulldozer than butterfly. She moved more water than the other rigs due to her hull/fuel weight and aggressive reverse chines modelled off a V19. Builder Cam Strachan added these, along with some extra waterline beam, to give her more lift in a trailing sea when loaded with 1.7 tonnes of abalone. Waves under one metre didn’t stand a chance and the Formula looked utterly fearsome on an offshore charge. She hit harder than the other Formula-style hulls, which slipped and sliced through the water rather than slaughtering it like this Cam Strachan boat.
Cam, King of Cool
Fuelling up at the service station takes Ziad an eternity. Not just because of the 1000L tank, but because of the fans. There’s something about the Cam Strachan-built rig that you can’t take your eyes off. Everyone stares at it like a group of school kids looks at a tattooed bikie in a McDonald’s queue. The Formula took the gong for “cool factor”, but it probably wouldn’t mean that much to Ziad. He won’t sit at home polishing it. He just wants to fish. Not long before the rumble at Refuge, Ziad was up in the creeks of Port Douglas catching barra well over the metre mark. He takes his family on boating holidays, making use of the huge abalone kill tanks for kids’ bicycles.
In the end, the Cam Strachan Formula was everything we’d hoped for and more. The controversial crew put on a spectacle you’d pay good money to see, from bunnyhopping 500 Honda horsepower, to beaching the huge rig after dark then lighting up the beach with 5000 lumens of blue-light disco. The crew didn’t disappoint, either, with tales of Ziad’s Commodore-crushing capers and Mohamed’s gunshot wound memoirs – and we haven’t even got to his cutlet and kebab cooking exploits yet. All will be revealed in his cookbook Meat the Man – Mohamed published by Moby Dick Content.
EDENCRAFT 233 FORMULA
Matt Webb is a smooth operator with his work/life balance sorted. His day job is the director of Malvern Auto Tech where he fixes expensive black 4WDs for rich and demanding Melbourne soccer mums. No mean feat, but somehow he also convinced his wife that backing up a Nomad fishing trip with a trip to Refuge Cove for The Battle of the Big Vee was a good idea. Hell, his poppers had only just dried out when he grabbed his son, Tom, hooked up Salty Dog, his Edencraft 233 Formula, to the back of the Land Cruiser and headed east.
The judges were queuing up for a ride in the transom-mounted Suzuki-powered sled. But first they had to endure a trip to the mothership in Tom’s rubber ducky Bean Breaker. He was only too happy to help for a Captain sticker or two. The rubbery ride was unstable and uninspiring, but fortunately the Edencraft 233 didn’t disappoint. This rig is a beautiful marriage of design, weight and horsepower. The lightweight fourstrokes made the hull sing, sawing through swell and waves like a Gerber bread knife. The judges’ eyes pierced the partitioned windscreen, searching for swell to slay then laying her over for sharp, effortless turns. Several of them claimed the trip was worth it just for the soft ride. Others said that just motoring around the cove at 3000 revs was delicious, with no vibration feedback through the hull. The Captain’s judges rated it their best ride ever, and gave it two of only five 10s awarded in the battle.
As we prised our fingers from the wheel, it was easy to forget the practical applications of this rig. Matt dives for crayfish and scallops with his teenage boys, often heading through the gnarly Rip at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. He says the ride is safe and predictable, and that the twin engines offer an extra safety margin. “They’re only marginally more thirsty (when combined) than my old single 250 Suzuki V6 fitted to a 6m Edencraft Offshore,” Matt adds. The 233 Formula is also a stable dive platform – although she did score the lowest for stability of the four big vees. But as Matt points out, “it’s a small price to pay for the boat’s performance.”
The Edencraft had the deepest internal freeboard, adding to the safety aspect. However, some judges felt it was too deep to work fish and comfortably climb atop the gunwales. The internals are clean and minimalistic, with a hookah atop the rear deck featuring a small petrol engine and air compressor, feeding a receiver fitted under the transom. From there air is fed through a filter system into the main hose line, mounted on the starboard side. Matt can run three divers if he wants. The engine sits on the port side – and while it may inhibit snapper missions after a dive, the engine (and hose reel) can easily be removed and packed away.
The shallow dive door on the Edencraft slides up and out, and sits loose on the deck. Matt prefers the Bass Strait dive door configuration (hinged and can be pinned when open) allowing operation with one hand tied behind your back. The other thing he’d love to borrow from the Bass Strait set-up is a lip on the horizontal dash section, to stop gear sliding off. The Edencraft factory now fits optional extended helm assemblies, to which Davey Marine flush-mounted twin Garmin 12-inch touchscreens.
Overall, the Edencraft only enhanced the reputation of the Formula name, thanks to an exceptional ride and hull feedback. The internal layout was neat and minimalistic, but lost out to the more user-friendly configuration of the Bass Strait 24. She wasn’t rated as the most stable or coolest, but with a few more internal tricks, the Edencraft 233 Formula might just have won by a droopy nose.
BASS STRAIT OFFSHORE 24
Dan McLeod might be a young plumber in footy shorts with a boat named Bent-Over, but his bogan tendencies end right there. He cruised into Welshpool boat ramp behind the wheel of a gleaming black GMC Denali, towing a magnificent white stallion in the form of a Bass Strait Offshore 24.
Bent-Over sits in the sweet spot between form and function – with an awesome ride, brilliant stability and a wheelhouse to die for. It also has a bunch of smaller gamefishing features we’ve come to love in Bass Strait boats. Dan’s rig took out the gong in the ‘design and layout’ category. The wide, flat, horizontal dash space with recessed lip is the best in the business, ideal for laying out rigs, maps, etc. Incidentally, its little brother, the 6m Ocean Pro, also has the best dash in a 6m boat in our opinion. The clever use of space extends down the length of the deck, which was the longest in the shoot-out, being marginally longer than the Cam Strachan Formula and more than 30cm longer than the Edencraft 233. Deep storage pockets sit either side, adjoining elevated storage compartments for batteries at the rear. A 600L kill tank sits in the floor, in front of an 80L bait tank. The dive door is best in class, being hinged and lockable when open, but on the downside, water did find its way in via the door and never seemed to drain completely off the decks at the rear.
Dan loves being on the water – but hates water on his electronics, so a factory-fitted hardtop was high on his shopping list. It’s ended up being a favourite feature and most of the judges said the hardtop was airy, quiet, well-proportioned and “un-hardtoplike”. When the big south-westerlies blow up and other rigs turn tail for home and fresh pizza, we could imagine Dan sliding another lure in to the spread – and then sliding a dozen sausage rolls into his Travel Buddy pie warmer before trolling to sunset with his trick LED lighting system lighting up the decks.
Impressively, the ride is unaffected by the weight of the hardtop. The aggressive strakes at the pointy end work hard to give the hull lift, and the ride is smooth and solid, leaning confidently into turns that shouldn’t feel so sweet in a 24ft hardtop boat. The ride is not as soft as the Edencraft, which won the gong for ‘in the saddle’, but it’s not far behind. It gets through the water a little differently, with a shorter, sharper entry – and a little more hull feedback – than its 233 cousin.
Flopping over is no issue on the Bass Strait 24, despite what we’ve heard muttered about these hulls at the boat ramp. Dan proved that in the right hands, the big Straiter is soft, safe and sleek through the water, with no heeling to speak of.
Stability at rest is no issue, either, despite being the biggest hardtop in the fleet. The ballast system no doubt helps that. The holeshot was a little sluggish, but Dan is set up with 21.5″ propellers for cruising efficiency rather than Bass Strait blast-offs. The lightweight 200hp Suzukis push the 1600kg hull along at a top speed of about 80km/h and a cruising speed of 58-60km/h using less than a litre per km (engines combined). Dan reckons the relatively light engine weight of 225kg (each) is a contributing factor to the overall on-water performance.
Form meets function
Dan runs twin NSS12 evo2s with all the fruit and claims a hook-up rate of 95 per cent after marking marlin. Simrad gear aside, the rig didn’t have the bling some of the more fashion-conscious judges were looking for – let’s call this judge “Jack” to protect his identity – but most judges found beauty in the Offshore’s simplicity and functionality. She rated best or equal-best overall for four of the five judges at the Battle of the Big Vee.
Dan talks with authority about boats, rather like Mohamed talks about chicken kebabs. We learned that Dan’s brother, Shane, has an almost identical rig, so we figured this must be his perfect boat. But his response is surprising. He says he turns his boats (and tow rigs) over when they’re at a good resale value, so he plans on trading the Bass Strait 24 at around 200 hours, then focusing on his next rig (possibly a new Bass Strait Boats model under development). It’s a brilliant boat-business model – if only The Captain’s crew could stop falling so desperately in love with their waterlogged project boats.
1. COOL FACTOR
Criteria: Is this a boat that would turn heads at the ramp?
9 or 10 – It’s a neck-breaker with plenty of drool.
7 or 8 – Gets an admiring stare.
5 or 6 – Gets an approving nod.
2. IN THE SADDLE
Criteria: How is the ride and handling on this boat? Think about the softness of the landing, feedback through the hull, handling characteristics, the ride into the sea – and in a trailing sea, heeling into the wind, general performance and fun factor.
9 or 10 – It’s the Phar Lap of the sea.
7 or 8 – She trots nicely, but you have to hold on in a canter.
5 or 6 – She’s a buckin’ bronco!
3. ROCK ’N’ ROLL
Criteria: Does this boat have good stability at rest? Is it the type of boat you’d
want to take to the shelf and troll?
9 or 10 – It’s an absolute oil rig with only moderate roll in a sea.
7 or 8 – Pretty stable underfoot, but you can definitely feel the sea move under the hull.
5 or 6 – Rocks and rolls more than a rubber duckie in a typhoon.
4. DESIGN & LAYOUT
Criteria: How well is this boat designed for its intended purpose? Think about the layout, access to areas, cabin access, dash size and angles, dive doors, gunwale usability, etc. Don’t focus on the bolt-ons; we want to know about the boat’s functionality and comfort levels in its raw form.
9 or 10 – More ergonomic than an IKEA store.
7 or 8 – Functional, but not necessarily fabulous.
5 or 6 – Yep, it was pointy at one end and blunt at the other end.
5. FIT ’N’ FIDDLE
Criteria: Check out everything bolted to this rig, including the stainless canopy, clears, outriggers and rod holders, as well as the electronics package seating, bait board, slimy tubes and other gizmos. Do they work – and do they work in with the design of the boat?
9 or 10 – Fitted out like an
F-22 Raptor fighter – and just as deadly.
7 or 8 – Everything you’d need, in the right spot.
5 or 6 – Fitted out like an old Land Rover, but she’ll do the job.
IN THE WASH UP
The Bass Strait Offshore 24 won because: It did most things really well – and several things exceptionally well. The wheel-house won the heart of a few wave-breaker fanatics, the design and layout topped the scores and the ride was smooth and predictable at every angle. With a few tweaks on the dive door and adjustments to get the water off the deck – and out of the kill tank – she could end up being an immortal of the sea! Watch this space…
WINNER: Design & layout
WINNER: Fit ’n’ fiddle
The Edencraft 233 Formula COULD’VE WON IF: The ride was unbeatable – even world class – and the softest ride here. But we’d love to see some of the storage sensibilities of the Bass Strait 24 on board – as well as that dive door. If she borrowed some bling off the Haines and cool from the Cam Strachan Formula, she might just have bought home the salami. Then again, that wouldn’t be true to her working-class roots.
WINNER: In the saddle
The Cam Strachan Formula COULD’VE WON IF: She was rated the coolest rig on show, but with the chunky chines the Cam Strachan Formula just didn’t have the finesse through the water of the other hulls. Lugging 1000L of fuel will do that! The dated interior didn’t really suit the game-fishermen in the group. However, if getting from A to B like a full-blown bulk carrier was the criteria, the big girl would have bolted home without raising a salty sweat. Good luck finding one though. These models are superseded and hard to come by.
WINNER: Cool factor
The Haines Hunter 760R COULD’VE WON IF: The high engine set-up didn’t help her ride at low speeds, but when the big Haines hit 4000rpm, the hull really hit her straps. As proof, she won the “Lap around cove”. The boys have since made a few adjustments that have made a world of difference and we plan on testing her offshore soon – perhaps connected to one or two black marlin. She was rated the best for stability in the Rock ’n’ roll category, and if Mick Jagger had been at Refuge Cove, he would have surely chosen the 760R for his after-party.
WINNER: Rock ’n’ Roll
LAP OF THE COVE
Haines Hunter 760R: 53.23
Edencraft 233 Formula: 53.45
Cam Strachan Formula: 54.05
Bass Strait Offshore 24: 54.66