Other boat brands couldn’t bear the brunt of Bass Strait, so Ed Richardson built his own battle-ready Sea Cruisers.
The Captain has become well acquainted with Bass Strait’s rolling seas and windswept coastline. He’s clocked up countless hours and servo sangas tracking birds and trolling patterns in the hope of sighting a shimmering blue flank of tuna. If they handed out Frequent Trier points, he’d be into the millions. But there is another view of this coastline he’s never explored – the waters beneath the hull. Out of the blue, an invitation came from Ed Richardson, owner of Richardson Marine and builder of Sea Cruiser boats. He wanted The Captain’s crew to step aboard his custom range of plate boats and go for a dive. Our ears pricked, but to be frank we mostly wanted a feed of giant crayfish tails. “Any crays on offer, mate?” we enquired optimistically. “Yeah, righto, done,” Ed replied nonchalantly. We concluded he must really know his stuff, given how easily he’d agreed to the challenge.
We’ve come to learn that Ed doesn’t muck around. Words are never wasted and his promises are as firm as his handshake, which could crush a Kmart fishing reel. In fact, The Captain may well have stress fractures in his right metacarpals from that very first meeting.
We packed the underwater housing and GoPros into Pelican cases and meandered down the narrow highway to Ed’s dealership in Warrnambool, three hours west of Melbourne. He appeared from behind a row of giant gaffs standing upright like steel soldiers preparing for salty battles. He smiled, extending one giant paw. The Captain averted another crushing episode by going in for the fist pump. Once crushed, twice shy, after all.
“Let’s go divin’,” Ed commanded in laconic fashion. “Kin oath, yes sir-eee!” And we were off. Ed grew up as a strait-shooting country lad where lush grazing paddocks cascade into the great Southern Ocean. Word has it he was a bone-crunching forward in the southern footy leagues, but when he wasn’t destroying the reputation of defenders on the weekend he would explore the underwater coastline around South Australia. Back then, his day job was repairing boats, especially brand-name aluminium models prone to splitting down the middle. He got sick of nursing exhausted hulls back to life, figuring he could build a hard-wearing, strong, light rig suited to beach launching in surging conditions. So he did. While he was at it he built a trailer, too.
THIS BABY HAS BALLS
The baby of the fleet is the little 4.8m Bulldog built with all-round 4mm plate. It’s running a Suzuki 70HP four-stroke tiller steer and was purpose-built for a camping trip up north. However, it’s just as adept at sneaking around bommies hiding under the gaze of giant limestone sea cliffs.
Despite her diminutive size, everyone wanted to board her – and the camera just couldn’t look away. She always seemed to be where the action was and her deeds were evident on the floor with a prolific display of cray, velvet crab and octopus. The crew onboard was: Ed, handspan as wide as a splayed crayfish, Matt Cook, resident Suzuki specialist at Richardson Marine, part-seal, part-human, and Daniel Ierodiaconou, who proved to be a hypnotist of the ocean – everything that crossed his path was eerily subdued. We’d later learn that Dan was an associate professor, marine biologist, oceanic surveyor and treasure hunter. That explained his impressive mind control over everything soaked in salt.
SCOTTY’S FISH MAGNET
From the Bulldog, we stepped up to the 5600 console. This rig is owned by respected angler and writer, Scott Gray. He’s also the manager of The Tackle Shack, adjoining Richardson Marine, and if that’s not enough, he’s a marine scientist and passionate environmentalist.
On the fish-ability scale, Scotty’s console is up there with the Sydney Fish Market on Christmas Eve morning – it’s an absolute fish magnet. The 6mm bottom steps up to 4mm on the sides. The casting deck is the battle zone, and it was put to good use spotting surface-feeding kingies around Lady Julia Percy Island. In fact, Scott hooked (and landed) 90 per cent of the kingies caught that day – a testament to 360-degree visibility, keen eyes and being the first angler to cast into the school with lightly weighted soft plastics.
The raised bow gives an imposing presence while deflecting a good chunk of spray away. The drop-down sheer-line and sharp entry is damn sexy, echoing the lines of a carvel-planked launch. The storage configuration under the casting platform is best in class with a large aperture surrounded by a flush channel to drain off water from the deck. Running home from our kingie session, the 5600 looked every bit the long-range Top End tourer and, for a moment, we imagined ourselves stalking the run-offs around Darwin, swags tucked under the front deck and Gold Bombers at the ready.
This boat is perfectly balanced on the water with a 140HP Suzuki on the rear. Ed says it’s an effortless mid 30-knot boat. About the only thing we’d change is to put the side console to the centre. For hard-lid fans, this model comes in a cuddy cab configuration fitted with a 150HP or 175HP Suzuki four-stroke.
PRIDE OF THE FLEET
The pride of the Sea Cruiser fleet is the 7400HT. It’s the evolution of the 7000 model, but has built its own solid reputation. The cabin has been widened and the dash extended for twin 16-inch screens. The transom has been reconfigured so anglers can work into the rear of the boat, an awesome feature to avoid having to navigate fishing line around the engines. There’s a dive door, too, just to remind us we’re in southern waters.
Ed brings a real commercial sensibility to this big Bertha; there are no sliding windows or hatches, there are not even any wipers. Everything is welded as one solid object. Less moving parts means less stuff to break, Ed reckons. Stainless components are also kept to a bare minimum. Under the floor, flooding chambers add stability, enabling an extra person for a 2C survey.
Ed reckons the 7400 suits many applications. “It’s a good, honest hull that doesn’t do anything funny. It’s equally as good for inshore diving, trolling for gamefish or out wide deep-dropping in 1000m for blue eye”. He fitted twin Suzuki 150HP outboards and reckons they’re more fuel-efficient than the twin 140s on the smaller 7000 rig, a testament to the lean burn technology which now features in the 150HP version. He says it’s a cinch to manoeuvre around the reef, easy to beach launch and comes in under 3.5 tonne on the trailer.
There are some nice touches like pre-cut Sea Dek flooring, wrapping on the inside and outside, and a rigging station at midships. Simple and clean was the order of the day on the 7400HT, so instead of a steering wheel, Ed opted for a joystick control driven by a couple of solenoids and a steering pump. It’s a bit disconcerting watching Ed at the helm twiddling with his sausage fingers, but he reckons you get used to it.
ED’S PRIDE & JOY
Ed started his own store six years ago, initially as a Suzuki dealership, then slowly growing brand by brand. Sitting alongside Sea Cruisers in the yard you’ll find Stabicrafts, Anglapros and Polycrafts, each chosen for their hardwearing attributes. He’s also a Suzuki and Garmin dealer and sells Easytow trailers alongside his own custom-built trailers. The custom work extends to alloy fabrication, repairs, wheelhouse builds and modifications, all done in Ed’s recently refurbished, state-of-the-art service centre.
The hot metal work for the Sea Cruiser range is done by his partner, Wayne Howel, in South Australia. Wayne’s been around boats his whole life and his fastidious attention to detail has drawn the admiring glare of many a ramp rat. From SA, the boat is shipped to Warrnambool and everything fitted up in-store. No two Sea Cruiser boats are the same, each purposebuilt to the owner’s needs. Several of his staff and his mates run Sea Cruisers, including the aforementioned manager of Ed’s tackle shop, Scott Gray. The Tackle Shack was conceived by the two over Friday drinks and they now specialise in gear just for the region. And, yes, there are plenty of huge gaffs.
Ed reckons he never had a master plan, rather everything just serendipitously fell into place. Despite the hard toil and fluctuating fortunes of the marine industry, he genuinely feels lucky to be the captain of Richardson Marine. His passion for the region is evident, eyes sparkling as he describes the shoreline – “an angry sea with limestone cliffs that extend underwater, with sweeping kelp beds concealing crayfish, abalone and other fish species”. It’s touching coming from a bloke with a reputation for bursting Sherrin footballs with his bare hands. The Captain salutes you, Ed – but won’t shake your hand!