Zac Cross loves life, fishing with his mates and boats, especially boats. He’s owned a hell of a lot of them over the years, but now he’s sitting pretty in a 9m Sea Cruiser he designed himself, with a little help from his old mate down the Sou’ West Coast, Ed Richardson.
Zac Cross is a happy man. He runs a business — Cross Country Fishing Charters — doing what he loves, turning punters on to the pleasures of a day on the water chasing fish. And he’s finally found his ideal boat. Zac’s 9m Sea Cruiser was nine months in the planning, three years in the build. It’s a mash-up of the best bits of boats that Zac has owned over the past 10 years — take a bit of this, a bit of that, and weld the bastard together. While Zac was furiously scribbling his designs down on the backs of envelopes, Big Ed and the team at Ed Richardson Marine did the heavy lifting and fine tuning that turned a dream into a dreamboat.
ASSAULT ON KING ISLAND
The Captain voyaged in the Sea Cruiser from Apollo Bay to King Island alongside Scotty Gray and a motley armada of pirates a few months back. Read all about it in Issue #15 of The Captain. The trip was something of a mission thanks to rough seas heading over and a shitload of camera gear. “The sea wasn’t too smooth on the way over and with a couple of hundred kilos of camera gear up in the nose she rode like a bulldozer,” Zac recalls. “You can’t take Bass Strait lightly — it can turn on the click of a finger.”
Casting his mind back to the KI crusade, Zac’s eyes glaze over as he lists the smorgasbord of fishy goodness on offer. “We were running single hooks or paternoster rigs and just drifting, using squid because it holds onto the hook better in deeper water. We caught snapper, knifejaw, gummy shark, sea perch, nannygais, a few spurdogs and endless amounts of squid. The crayfish were incredible.” It seems Zac also had a mancrush on marine biologist and all-round fishing guru Scotty Gray. “I got pretty excited with Scotty on my boat — what he doesn’t know about fishing isn’t worth knowing. He’ll be out the back roaring on the micro-jig to catch a little sea perch. He’ll be frothing — his enthusiasm is contagious and he’s real generous with his advice.”
A country boy from Horsham, Victoria, Zac credits his dad, Pedro, for getting him into fishing. “We’d head down to the river with a slug gun and motorbike to watch Dad fish,” he says. “We did a lot of bait fishing in local rivers, then started sea fishing in our early teens.” Zac’s raging boat habit is all his own work. At 17, he bought his first, a 488 Savage Osprey and was, er, hooked. “I’ve bought and sold boats for 10 years,” he says. “I’ve always had three or four at a time and travelled all round Australia to pick them up. If I’m not in the boat fishing, I’ll be in it on the trailer, working on it. My partner, Laura, reckons it’s an actual illness. I love fishing, but being on the water overrides that. Sometimes I’ll spend half the day just driving the boat around. You’re offshore, no phone reception, you’re off the map. Pack your food, a few frothies and just send it.”
SECRET BOAT BUSINESS
Proudly wrapped in the red, black and white colours of his beloved AFL club St Kilda, Zac’s Sea Cruiser is a whopping 9.3m x 2.95m. It’s got a centre cab, a walkaround deck fitted with Ultralon flooring and a 150L freshwater tank. The grunt factor comes from twin 250AP Suzukis. Zac reckons the walkaround rocks. “The layout makes it so easy to fish — in the bay or offshore,” he grins. “There’s a fishing platform up the front with rod holders and seating. It gives you that extra space when you’ve got a decent fish — you can run it right around the boat. I’ve kept the hardtop short so the work area at the back of the boat is big enough. That does mean you can get a bit wet, like you blokes did going to KI. Some people prefer an apron around the cab, but my focus is fishing, so I’ve got that clearance for when people are waving their rods around like they’re at a disco.”
He has plans to slot a viewing platform up on the hardtop for when he’s chasing really big fish.On the KI crusade, The Captain found it also wasn’t a bad spot for a siesta. Zac apparently designed the actual cab around his two 80L Techni-Ice fridge/freezers. “That determined the length of the cab. I’ve got a 160L esky — the whole station is removable, plus live bait tanks and livey tubes.”
The Sea Cruiser has a second helm station, a notion Zac got visiting the Hutchwilco Boat Show across the ditch in NZ. “It cost me a lot of money that trip — and not just the airfares!” Zac laughs. “The second helm station was a no-brainer. I use it for docking because there’s such a good view of the outside of the boat. When I’m chasing a good fish, it lets me get out with the punters. “It’s not so much stealing ideas from other boats, but learning from them,” he says with an amazingly straight face. “I got the back spillway idea from a Barcrusher and made my own version of the Stabicraft walkaround. I pinched the idea for a drain off the side — I’ve got drains up the front and in the cab, and eight bilge pumps. I deleted the walk-in transom at the back because punters can’t fish that corner without it hitting their knees — and with the dive door, there wasn’t any need to keep it.”
The Sea Cruiser was originally designed to have Suzuki 200HP four-cylinder outboards, but as the boat got bigger, Zack got greedier. “I wanted 250s then 300s, but Ed reckoned the 250s would do,” he says. “The fly-by-wire, you have to see it to believe it. They’ve got endless power — you punch it and you risk throwing people off the back!”
Zac has modified the props for more bite in the wet. “I had 18.5 pitch props and I’ve dropped down to the 17s with a slight cup on them. Driving through the heads in Port Phillip Bay, you need a bit more traction in the white water. I lost a bit of top-end speed, but it makes for a safer boat.” Zac’s got a soft spot for Suzukis, having had them on his two previous boats, but decent range was also a factor, hence the 500L fuel tank and fuel-efficient engines. “I wanted enough fuel to do bigger trips without refuelling all the time,” Zac says. “Cruise speed is around 22–25 knots, that’s when the boat drives best and I can get fuel consumption down to 1.2–1.3L per km. That’s with a full boat. Obviously, if you drive it harder, it uses more.” He’s also stoked with the ride and handling, confessing it was a journey into the unknown. “I was petrified of having a boat that had never been built before. Luckily, it handles well in rough seas. “Every boat has its sweet spot — mine’s around 4500 revs, at 30 knots.” Zac says.
PLUG IT IN
On the electronic front, Zac’s a Garmin guy to the max, but admits he had to pull his head in before he blew his entire budget on the electronics package. “The 8424 touchscreen with multifunction display wasn’t in the original plan — I saw it and had to have it,” he chuckles. “It was the biggest they had. I’ve got twin 175kW transducers — one high/wide, one low.” Zac, aka the Horsham Hustler, is also pretty chuffed with his crankin’ stereo, which may well have ruptured The Captain’s eardrums on the KI crusade. He likes the idea of switching the Sea Cruiser to party boat mode if required. “I went full Fusion with the 77 Signature series speakers — four on the back deck, two up top, plus a 10-inch sub and five-channel amp. It blows me away every time. My deckies are always telling me to turn it down because they can’t hear me.”
As Zac discovered, building a boat to survey is not as easy as it sounds. He had to make a few compromises with weight distribution and flotation. “It’s surveyed for eight plus two offshore,” he says. “But the weight varies depending on the size of the blokes, which affects how the boat handles. I can fit 10 people down one side —it leans a bit, but still feels safe.” There were certain features Zac couldn’t include. “I wanted the kill tanks underneath the floor back further, but I needed extra foam there to support the balance of the boat with the motors. You have to have your scuppers for survey, but I put an extra drain in the middle, which catches anything washing around the deck.”
THE BUILD: RICHO AND WAYNE’S WORLD
Looking at what Zac has conceived and built, The Captain reckons he deserves a massive rap for perseverance — and Richo deserves a medal for coping with Zac for three years. “I first met Ed at his office in Warrnambool, an old shed. As I showed him my hand-drawn plans, I think he thought I was pulling his leg. I didn’t know what I was building, I’d draw something, scribble it out, rearrange it, move it around, change measurements — I spent a lot of time Googling. His wife must have wanted to kill me. As soon as I thought of something, I’d call him. But Ed didn’t whinge once and I wouldn’t have the boat without him.” He wouldn’t have it without the welding wizardry of Ed’s business partner Wayno from Wallaroo, either. “His workmanship is amazing,” Zac says. “He got help to fold in the front keel sheets and roll the boat, but everything else he did himself using a jig. If something wasn’t to the millimetre, he’d change it and make sure it was right.”
THE NAME GAME
When Zac reveals he called his boat Laura Jane, after his missus, The Captain wipes away a salty tear. “There’s no question, building this boat put our life on hold for three years,” Zac says. “She wanted marriage and kids, but I built a boat. Naming it after her was the least I could do. I had a full head of hair when I started, now I’m nearly bald, but this is my office. I wake up in the morning, jumping out of my skin to get in this boat. I’d live in it if I could. Can’t say it fairer than that, Zac. The Captain salutes you
CROSS COUNTRY FISHING CHARTERS
After talking about having a tackle shop or charter boat for years, Zac credits fiancé Laura with finally getting him off his arse to build the boat of his dreams and start a business. “I went through a million names, then it clicked — Cross is my surname, I’m from the country and I wanted to travel cross-country with the boat.” Zac loves talking to people and reckons his business is as much about adventure as fishing. “Things don’t always go to plan. You don’t always catch every fish in the ocean. You might bang the boat into the pontoon, or the anchor mightn’t work. But at the end of the day, the punters leave with a smile on their faces and want to come back and do it all again.” He rates the Horsham community for getting behind his venture. “Before the business looked like anything, they put their hands in their pockets. There’s P&S Cross Builders, and Horsham Tyre and Battery, the owner’s a good mate. Mario’s Bait & Tackle help me out with storing the boat. Nick at Savwinch has been great. Mick at Hook’em has helped me out with hooks, gaffs and nets, and Zacatak lures have been amazing. I run all Penn reels and Ugly Stik rods — they’re bulletproof.”