Shane Darlington knows that while a lot of fishos don’t give a rat’s arse what they’re driving as long as nature’s bounty is sliding over the gunwales, just as many want to be at the helm of a boat that’s looking sharp and styled to perfection. Welcome aboard the Moda C-2900.
Founder and general manager of Moda Marine Shane Darlington is feeling pretty pleased with himself when The Captain rocks up to check out the new flagship of the Moda fleet. These seriously shiny C-2900 series catamarans are so pretty it’s almost a sin to dip them in salt water, but Shane reckons appearances in this case are so far from the truth they might as well be on Mars. The C-2900 is one tough supermodel. Based in Redcliffe, just north of Brisbane, Moda Marine opened for business in 2010, when Shane and his dad teamed up to produce high-end custom plate boats. A boat builder and shipwright, Shane’s been in the game for 17 years, but his love of boats goes way back to the age of sail. “I’ve always liked boats — I grew up around them,” Shane says. “My dad sailed 16ft skiffs, so from toddler to teenager I was around sailing boats. Then he introduced us to power boating and offshore fishing with our first little Haines Hunter, then a Bertram — good times in fibreglass boats.”
At 16, Shane joined the Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR), which was his introduction to the world of cats. “I spent over a decade driving rescue boats and got to sample many different vessels, mainly catamarans — Shark Cats and large Kevlacats,” he says. “Being in rescue, you see how boats come unstuck and how things break. I got to see just what made a boat work and where potential faults were.” His years with VMR also gave Shane a pretty good appreciation for the virtues of the big cats — especially in tricky situations on the water. “The ride quality is excellent, but you’ve got to learn how to drive them,” he says. “They’re so manoeuvrable, the engine split gives you the ability to spin the boat around.” He recalls one moment when that dependability saved his arse. “I’ve got a lot of time for Bruce Harris and the old Shark Cat. I’ve been out in some pretty hairy rescues and thought my life was going to end on one occasion, but the Shark Cat pulled through.”
DOWN TO BUSINESS
After a few years in the game learning the ropes in an apprenticeship with Rob Noble, Shane decided it was time to jump in the deep end and set up his own business cranking out beautiful plateys — “Moda” means “style” in Italian. But it turned out to be a rough few years. Seems the boating public wasn’t quite ready for Shane’s idea of what a boat should look like. “We started with an 8.6m centre console and went really modern, but it didn’t take off, no-one seemed to know what to make of it,” Shane recalls. “So we moved back to 5m vessels and did estuary-style barra boats, then progressed from there. The turning point came in 2014, when Moda finally lucked on a customer prepared to take a punt, game fisho Brad Dobinson. “We went out on a limb and custom-built a flared bow on a game boat,” Shane says. “From that point on, we kept pushing the envelope and the team grew.”
Shane’s team now numbers 10 boat builders, naval architects and general fabricators, at an HQ just five minutes from the waters of Moreton Bay. He reckons it’s the ideal testing ground for his creations. “Moreton Bay has some of the roughest waters in Australia — it’s absolute punishment, excellent for putting vessels through their paces.” Once up and running, Shane first pinched a bit of inspiration from the US, then hooked up (in a totally business sense) with noted Kiwi hull designer Scott Robson.
“We focused on the US, but had to dumb it down a bit, then got some ideas from the Kiwis,” Shane says. “You’ve got to hand it to our cousins over there, they know how to build a boat. We teamed up with Scott a few years ago. He and I share the same principles in boat design. I’d style the boat and send it over then he’d say it was too lairy and I had to dial it back a bit!” Since Robson specialised in catamaran design, it wasn’t long before he and Shane were focusing on the wonderful world of cats. With Shane’s background in marine rescue, it proved a natural fit.
History lesson over, Shane shows The Captain round his pride and joy before heading out to put his baby through its paces. To fit the 8.4m length into a 2.5m beam, the Moda crew styled a tumblehome hull. Essentially, the C-2900 retains a wide waterline beam (of 2.45m) that doesn’t taper out like a conventional monohull. Good news for owners of the C-2900 is that the waterline beam is the same as other 29ft cats on the market. That means maximum stability — and all within a 2.5m beam. Winning! The C-2900 is a full cab with walkaround.
However, with the room and creature comforts inside, it feels like a much larger cruiser. Shane is quick to dispel any evil thoughts that this is a mere pleasure boat. “From midships south, it’s a purely hardcore fishing vessel and built the way we’d build a survey boat,” he says, adding that if his boat was a car, it’d be an AMG crossed with a Toyota undercarriage and a bit of Dodge Ram down the back. “It’s built tough and fishes hard, but is as pretty as a Mercedes!”
The C-2900 has a 5mm bottom, 4mm sides and frames, and is fully foam-filled. “We run buoyancy foam in all our vessels up to 10m,” Shane says. “You don’t have to, but you’re mad if you don’t. It helps the sound and vibration, and they ride like glass boats, not like your typical aluminium boat, they’re nice and quiet.”
There are twin 280L fuel tanks underfloor. Shane says they could have been larger, but the customer requested bigger kill tanks. Weight-wise, he rates it as “good for a LandCruiser 200 with a GVM upgrade”. The C–2900 is undeniably a sleek-looking vessel, its raked-back style making it look like it’s doing 35 knots standing still. “Style was the main priority,” Shane confirms. “I can’t stand having an ugly boat. Our customers come to us because they like the looks and want a premium product.
They want to feel good in the boat.” He says the ride backs up the looks. “It’s a smooth ride. Today we were out in 35-knot winds in a 1.5m chop, sitting at the rev limit, and it was still a nice, calm ride.” The floor is higher and the boat has an open gate instead of a transom, which you’d think might be a problem in a vessel that backs up as hard as the C-2900. Shane says no. “Backing into the slop, you take a little bit of water, but it goes straight back out. Our Moda cat hull is the perfect package. You can sit on wide-open throttle and it’s just an absolute weapon.”
FIT-OUT FOR PURPOSE
The styling continues into the cabin with a range of finishes including U-Dek, alloy, timber and hand-cut vinyl. The fit-out is basic, on the premise that you can always add stuff later. To start with, there’s no stove, just a little Galleymate BBQ out the back with a removable gas bottle.
There’s a slide-out portable fridge under the side bench seat, 120L water tank, 12V hot-water system and a freshwater sink that drains over the side, eliminating the need for grey water tanks. Toilet and shower go into a sump pump. “A bonus with the trailer boat is having a 2.1m high ensuite, so you can have a proper shower,” Shane says. “And there’s plenty of room to fit a double innerspring mattress on the starboard side.”
GOING THE GRUNT
The C-2900’s new owner has opted for a Simrad/Suzuki get-there-fast package. Shane’s been sold on Suzuki since his VMR days. “In 2003, I drove one of the first boats to be fitted with them,” he says. “They didn’t have any problems, never broke down and started every time. They were new to the market, but the reliability was there.” Shane reckons the Suzuki 175 APX four-cylinder with fly-by-wire delivers optimum speed and fuel economy, ideal for what he always conceived of as a long-range boat.
“We did the calculations and our best fuel economy is around 5300 revs at 37 knots, where we’re getting a litre per kilometre,” he says. “When the lean burn kicks in you really notice the difference. That’ll give us our 580–600km range.” The boat is running a stainless, three-blade, 16 x 21-inch prop, which Shane says gives a top speed of 42 knots.
“The 175s are smooth, reliable and they don’t smell. You don’t get any vibration or harmonics — they just sit back there purring along. But you’ve got to watch out that you don’t forget to turn the ignition off, they’re so quiet at idle.” To get there without hassle, Shane has fitted a pair of Simrad NSS12 Evo3s and 4G radar, with the autopilot hooked up to a SeaStar power-assist hydraulic pump. “It turns like a ski boat, the steering is so light,” he says.
BUILT LIKE A BADASS
Moda constructs its cats the same way they would a commercial vessel like a large ferry. Despite a build time of four to six months, depending on the level of fit-out, Shane says the advantages are obvious. “It’s not as quick to build as a production boat, but it’s 10 times stronger than your standard pressed tinnie. And our design guidelines follow AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority) standards — the current National Standard for Commercial Vessels.”
After the hot work is done, the remainder of the build is straightforward, if time-consuming. “Due to the extra welding, we skim it down with microballoons,” Shane says. “We use full international Awl-grip systems, proper epoxy — paints you’d use on a superyacht. They give the boat that high-end, durable, fully watertight commercial finish.” The level of fit-out — and the cost — depends on how far the customer wants to go. “You spend a bit more money on the product, but you know what they say — a poor man pays twice.”
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