Darren Brown has Formula fever. He’s on his fourth 233 rebuild and reckons the latest is his best yet. That’s enough for the Captain, who heads up to Gladstone to check it out.
We meet Darren at a well worn ramp at Gladstone in mid-north Queensland. It’s only 5am as first light falls on the ramp. The trailers and scarred tinnies tell the story about the type of fishermen who ply these waters. It’s coal mining country and we suspect the high-vis fishos who frequent these waters are more concerned with filling kill tanks than polishing trailers. The growl of a big Chevy Silverado rumbles into our daydreaming, rolling down the ramp with a shiny Formula 233 in tow. Like an eagle among turkeys, this svelte ship looks ready to soar.
Darren “Browney” Brown, steps out of the cab. The local boat dealer on weekdays, he’s a mackerel marauder on the weekends, having owned three Thunderbird 233s prior to restoring his current ’78 model Haines Hunter Formula 233. Browney’s prior boating rap sheet includes a 30ft Supercat, a 32ft Sea Ray and a 63ft prawn trawler, to name a few. Yep, this bloke loves boats, which probably explains his occupation as head honcho at Curtis Coast Marine.
After exchanging handshakes we launch the 233 and motor through Gladstone Harbour, blocks of factories and chimneystacks our backdrop. We pop out of the channel into beautiful blue water and run along the sandy beaches of Curtis Island. The sun now sits at high beam on the horizon, which is Browney’s signal to drop the throttle on the Formula. The duo-propped 350HP Suzi rockets us to an eyewatering 88km/h, our destination a patch of shallow reef surrounding Rundle Island. Before I have time to track down my Maui Jims, we’ve arrived. “This is big mackerel country.” Browney proclaims as he slides a gar onto skirted ganged-hook rig.
We do a few laps of the island for little success. “When it’s blowing from the west we always struggle around here.” Browney says. “How about we go and check out some sand dunes then have lunch underneath Cape Capricorn Lighthouse?”
We suspect Browney just wants to show how beautifully his boat rides, so we don’t disagree. I soon discover there are no passenger handrails, but Browney’s having too much fun to notice.
The Formula is immaculate, yet minimalist. “That’s the mentality of us northerners,” says Browney. “It’s all about making it easy. The more gear you have, the more can go wrong. We can travel 50 nautical miles (93km) offshore in a day, fill the boat up with trout and be home in time for tea. If we want to stay on the reef overnight, we just chuck in the Weber.”
A DEAL WITH DAD
Like all old-school Formulas, Browney’s comes with a pretty cool backstory. As the legend goes, his old man, Dave Brown, traded a 4.5m Polycraft with a 50HP Tohatsu for the Formula back in 2007 (note: sale of the century).
She wasn’t in great shape, with rotten timbers, a busted trailer and twin 200HP twostroke Mariners, one of which had seized. To give her a new lease of life, Dave bolted on a 2007 model 300HP Suzuki with about 900 hours on it and replaced the trailer.
For the next 10 years, he only used her a handful of times. But four years ago, he sent her back to her place of birth — the Haines Group factory. She was fully stripped and had the floor, stringers and transom replaced with a material called Ruply, which Haines use in their current Signatures.
Spruced up and back home, the 233 once again sat around without getting much in the way of fishing action until Dave decided to sell her. Browney looked at her every day, contemplating whether to do a deal with his dad. “She had good bones, but looked like a pig with the original creamy gelcoat and anti-fouled hull.” Eventually he struck a deal and set about a full resto — his most comprehensive ever.
Knowing she was structurally sound, he gutted the interior, removing all the fixtures, and started sanding. He also decided to drop on a pod to increase the internal cockpit space. He removed the bulky outboard well,leaving enough freshly rebuilt transom intact. Sandblasting was the only way to get off the rock-hard antifoul, but it left the gelcoat in a poor state, requiring hours of filling and sanding. Browney no longer recommends blasting.
He then recruited a mate to glass in the seat boxes and make a new icebox for the port side. He didn’t use any screws (just glue and glass), to eliminate any potential areas for future water ingress. The transom height was raised to match the gunwales, then strengthened with an additional two knees. Then it was time to paint her inside and out with two-pack paint.
That was all the hard work done. Browney then started the job of reassembling. “I replaced the original windscreen as the old frame was badly corroded,” Browney says. “All the rod holders, cleats and fixtures were replaced — the only thing original on the boat is the aluminium gunwale extrusion and the bow rails. She is fully rewired with doublesheathed tinned wire and has two starting batteries and one deep-cycle house battery. All electronics were replaced and I installed a Muir DFF08 Free Fall anchor winch.”
After drawing breath, Browney continues, “The pod is made from 6mm plate aluminium and doubles as an 80L freshwater tank. It also houses the thru-hull transducer, which will read bottom at 40-plus knots (74km/h). I replaced the original fuel tank with a 300L alloy model made from 6mm plate and the tank has been powder-coated to minimise corrosion.”
The final piece of the puzzle was the 350HP, naturally aspirated, V6 Suzuki four-stroke that straddles the pod. Since dropping the bigger donk onto the boat, Browney has noticed a massive increase in wide-open speed and acceleration, plus amazing fuel economy. At 4000RPM, he’s pulling 53.7km/h and only burning 0.76L per km — easily the most efficient Formula ever tested by The Captain.
Browney also notes that the hull tracks better and she’s less tender underway with the twin contra-rotating propellers. RIP trim tabs.
Formulas aren’t just fishing machines. Browney has set up his boat so that he can confidently use it on his own, take the family for a cruise or rip out 60 nautical miles (111km) offshore chasing reds with mates. Although Browney admits this will probably be the last boat he’ll refurbish, he’s looking forward to seeing his son and his mates take the reins — turning this Formula into a third-generation family boat. The Captain salutes you Browney, but we can’t imagine you staying in the hammock while the kids do a Rundle Island run. We reckon you’ve got one more build in you.