Sport Fisher 320 Centre Console

Tested by Erwin Bursik (March/April 2010)


WHEN I first saw the Ocean Specific 320 lying at moorings in front of Durban’s Point Yacht Club, I was incredibly impressed by her sleek lines and racy appearance.

She was certainly quite different to what I expected after my long chat with Dale Promnitz, one of the two partners of Ocean Specific, a fairly new boat-building company based in Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal.
The hull design originated from Australia and was initially built in Durban as the sportfisher Orion 30 by Hardglass Marine’s Bruce Challenor, a doyen of the boating industry in South Africa. That was in early 2000.

In the review I did on Ocean Spirit in the November/December 2000 issue of SKI-BOAT, I wrote: “One look at the Orion 30 and one can see she is different in design to the conventional sportfisher. This gives her a sleek, elegant, all-round racy look — and an offshore performance to match her looks.” The same can be said for the Sport Fisher 320 centre console.

Dale, an experienced boat-builder, having worked on this craft as well as on yachts, managed to acquire the moulds. He and Brandon Keeting then began their own boat-building company, Ocean Specific.

Dale has long harboured the desire to use the hull and — in addition to the sportfisher model — create a new top-deck mould for a centre console offshore sport- and gamefishing version that would not only turn heads because of her looks, but would also prove to be an awesome and practical sportfishing craft. He finally got the opportunity to do just this, and soon after she was launched he invited me to test her.

Time, tide and weather wait for no man, and in order to have enough sunlight to photograph the craft, we had to wait for three days before we got an afternoon break in the rainy weather that lashed the KwaZulu-Natal coast at the end of January. Wet, wet, wet …

Finally, with the sun shining over a gusty southeasterly wind of ten to 15 knots, we exited Durban Harbour to meet a dishevelled sea. For those who don’t know, let me enlighten you: a southeaster blowing over a big southwesterly sea does not provide a comfortable playground for offshore boating.

By the time I had reached the lay-by area to await Port Control’s permission to exit port, I had already established this deep-vee monohull’s trim position, so that when we took off after receiving clearance I did not need to experiment with trim. We simply motored down the newly-widened harbour entrance to meet the open ocean, and then feel the full effects of wind, swell and chop.

As we moved out of the partial protection of the South Pier, I trimmed out the starboard motor a tad to counter the crosswind and sea, and maintain the 20 knot SOG running speed.

Running at that speed in that sea reinforced my inherent love for a well-designed deep-vee monohull. Perhaps I have been swayed by the 20 years I had run Sea Lord, my deep-vee craft. As the Sport Fisher 320 sliced through the turbulent ocean surface without any pounding or surging, I relaxed and just enjoyed the ride out into the northeast, revelling in nostalgia.

With any deep-vee craft correct trimming is paramount, and in the seas we experienced that day, continual adjustments were necessary to account for course direction, swell direction and wind strength. I have always believed that skippering a deep-vee is like riding a bicycle: once you’ve got the knack of it, it’s very simple and minor trim adjustments become second-nature. All the same, when one first takes command of a craft such as the Sport Fisher 320, a moderate and gradual increase in speed is imperative, until you have determined the correct trim for a particular sea and how this trimming needs to be adjusted as SOG increases. There is no single trim setting that will cover both 15 knots and 30 knots, even in a flat sea.
As we had to rendezvous with the photo boat within the protection of the new North Pier and Vetch’s, I did an about-turn and opened throttles until, at 25 knots, we were virtually gliding our way back.
Dale had decided to power Ocean Specific’s new craft with a pair of new generation Honda 225hp fuel-injected 4-stroke motors. They produced an absolutely awesome performance. Extremely quiet and smooth at idle and during slow trolling, they have very impressive grunt when power is quickly fed to their 17-pitch props.

This power was great when I put the rig through simulated surf conditions, often turning relatively sharply. She got out of the hole very quickly to take on the oncoming waves, without the props burning a hole in the water and creating the cavitation any skipper hates at that precise moment. At the very top-end, 5 000 rpm up to 6 000 rpm, a second stage cam comes into operation and the increase in power is very noticeable. In the flat water we achieved speeds of very close to 40 knots. What really impressed me, though, was the ability of one Honda 225hp motor to get onto the plane very quickly (with the other dragging), and then push the craft at 19-20 knots without completely opening the throttle.

I am convinced that a pair of 150hp motors would be adequate to power this craft for normal fishing operations, especially if the craft is harbour-launched.

After watching her hull work the water during an extensive and difficult photo shoot, I was pleased to get back on to the Sport Fisher 320 Centre Console and again take her controls. It was time to undertake a full review of her performance at sea and correlate the impressions I had gathered watching her hull work the water with the actual feel of the hull over water.

From the outset I quickly gained the impression that the ride of the 320 Centre Console is substantially different to the flybridge version. Although they have identical hulls, the weight differences and distribution are substantial. Therefore, at most speeds, the boat I was reviewing had a lot less hull in the water and a much racier performance.

I was initially concerned that the reduced weight and the large T-top, combined with higher running speeds, might adversely affect the stability of her ride, especially in a crosswind. Not a chance. In real terms, there was less lateral instability in the crosswind and swell — and we had plenty of that to contend with — than with many of the similar-sized craft with a full cabin configuration that I have ridden.

In my mind, the way they’ve overcome the potential problem is through the substantial 2.9m width of the aft beam and the substantial gunnel height, and consequently the weight she places on the aft planing surfaces of this hull. From the photographs I’ve seen of the underside of the aft of this craft’s hull, her aft vee seems to reduce substantially at the transom. This enhances her stability and ensures that there’s a lot less rock ’n roll than I had initially expected during slow trolling and drifting trials.

One of the other potential problem areas with a craft of this design is when you’re running with the wind and swell, which translates as a big following sea. With a large substantially vee’d craft, one does not experience the suck-back effect after racing down a swell face and starting to climb the back of the swell or crest ahead.

Deep-vees tend to continue with speed, up and over the next wave and — to the skipper who’s unaccustomed to this — it could be quite disconcerting, to put it mildly. Combined with this is the tendency some of these craft have to yaw. On the seas I experienced during the test day, and without flooding the aft fish hatches to add weight to the transom and thereby assist the bow-up trim required of the motors, the Sport Fisher 320 not only took these runs with gusto, but also allowed me the thrill of enjoying the ride without having to fight the helm to prevent yawing.

On the reciprocal run with her bow trimmed down a bit, she reached a comfortable SOG of 17 to 20 knots that left the 18ft photo boat miles behind. For these craft their dream conditions are when heading into the wind on a sea with no swell and a bit of chop. The wind allows a fraction more hull lift, and the deep-vee splits the chop. This reduces the wetted area being employed, thus giving her great speed and a feeling of almost being airborne. Yes, I certainly did enjoy playing with this craft.

A look at the accompanying photographs will show that the low bow angle one first perceives when standing at the helm station is an illusion, because when she rides under most conditions except flat out, her bow is at a good angle to the water’s surface.

When he redesigned this craft for a centre console, Dale wanted a boat that, while still being capable of fishing for marlin with heavy tackle, would also be extremely efficient for those wanting to target gamefish — either trolling, drifting, dropshotting, deep jigging or even flyfishing. As a bonus, it would even be practical for those who fish reefs and wrecks for bottomfish.

The Sport Fisher 320 drifts side-on to the sea. and the wide alleyway past the centre console helm station permits unhindered movement from aft to forward and back again, even when battling a big fish if one is using a standup harness.

In the forward area, simply by removing the cushions, the customised forward seating can be converted to a non-slip deck finish for a flyfisherman to safely ply his trade.

From a practical fishing perspective, the gunnel height has been raised by marginally lowering the deck level, thus giving a very high gunnel from the transom to the bow. The height will suit all styles of fishing, at the same time providing one with feeling of extra security. The transom is wide and sturdy, with a substantial transom door for access to the aft platform for boarding the craft, especially if she’s surf launched.

Dale has not included a livebait well or livebait tubes on this craft, although the plumbing for both has been installed. These can be fitted later, depending on the owner’s requirements.

In the large aft hatches is a removable glass-fibre fishbox — an idea that will make it easy to remove the day’s catch and the accompanying mess out of the craft for cleaning. That’s a real boon, especially if the craft is at moorings. A small postbox hatch in the big hatch top will allow all but the biggest fish to be deposited straight in, without having to open the large hatch top.

In this aft area there are two 290 litre built-in marine-grade aluminium fuel tanks, plus a 120 litre freshwater tank that is plumbed to feed the freshwater points on the craft.

Running longitudinally are two lockable, below-deck rod storage hatches that will adequately stow most rods and reels while at moorings. Dale has recently designed rebated rod holders to be fitted in the two gunnels, for stowage while fishing.

Personally, I would prefer solid inside gunnel facings, and simply place unused rods and reels in rocket-launch-style holders while at sea, but to each his own.

The helm station is large and well designed to comfortably accommodate the captain and a crew member behind the windscreen so that they have a clear view of and access to all the controls. An upholstered bench seat with padded backrest provides a very comfortable skippering position, whether you’re sitting or standing at the helm station. I enjoyed the overall access to and view of all the instrumentation, electronics and radios, as well as steering and throttle controls.

What I think is especially clever is the way the front of the helm station opens outwards to provide access to a spacious head, shower and basin area. When opened completely, the phrase “loo with a view” springs to mind, and yet total privacy can be attained by closing up.

So there you have a basic synopsis of the Sport Fisher 320 Centre Console that will provide an owner with a host of onboard facilities and niceties that I do not have the space to describe in detail. However, I can assure you that Dale’s attention to detail is amazing — he has thought of everything.

Dale comes from a strong open ocean yachting background, and one can see that experience manifested in many small but important aspects on this craft.

Some of the most up-to-date methods and designs of boat/yacht building have been incorporated into this craft in an effort to minimise her overall weight, while retaining strength and rigidity. Most of these are not easily visible, but those which are visible — both with regard to design and finishes — are of an extremely high standard, a standard that is ranked right up there with the imported lifestyle craft coming into this country.

From my in-depth inspection of the external finishes, as well as what I could get to see underdeck and in both of the hatches, everything was first-rate and displayed a high level of experience and expertise. Some of the hardware they used I had not seen before, like the gunnel cleats, for example. They’re neat, practical and incredibly cleverly designed, and that holds true for all the hardware and finishes of this craft.

The Sport Fisher 320 Centre Console, built by Ocean Specific, is an awesome craft not only aimed at the open ocean fishing fraternity, but also at the top end of the offshore cruising fraternity. Indeed, she’ll be just as at home and comfortable on the open sea as she will be at places like Josini Dam, the Vaal Dam/River and other big impoundments, where style, speed and large entertainment space is of critical importance.

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