Rascala FM17 and FM20

Tested by Erwin Bursik (May/June 2005)


MY first acquaintance with Rascala boats not only heightened my interest, but also changed my thinking about the use of multipurpose craft in South African waters — in both inland waters and offshore.

Boating’s needs and desires are changing as we head into the second half of the first decade of the 21st century. Why? Very simply, the explosion of waterfront developments and marinas — from the west coast’s Langebaan all the way round to Zululand’s Richards Bay — is drawing more and more families into this way of life. Even if we exclude the large number of inland homes on the water and concentrate solely on coastal facilities, it would be naive for anyone to think that all the folk who buy on the seafront are avid fishermen.

A visit like the one I recently undertook to the exquisite marina at St Francis Bay and the adjacent, recently-completed harbour confirmed this for me. Fishing is by no means the only reason for buying a craft capable of going to sea, but a craft which has this capability infinitely enhances her versatility for her owner, not to mention the pleasure which can be derived from her.

As much as a fishing skuit would be out of place lying at the jetty of a multi-million rand home at, say, St Francis, an upmarket bowrider which may look good but have very limited use in that environment is equally impractical.

Someone had to come up with the ideal boat for this situation, and Dudley Foster has done just that. He searched the international boating market to find a moderately-sized, versatile craft that looked spectacular, was capable of exiting the Krom River through the surf, and was practical for the full range of inshore fishing he loves.

In Italy he found Rascala Boats, a boat manufacturer that had in its range of extremely stylish craft the FM17 and FM20 wet-deck monohulls that had the bow, the rake and the vee’d hull to take on both the surf and the naturally choppy sea off our coast. In addition, as single motor installations are licensed to operate within a specified limit offshore, he could equip these craft with motors big enough to pull skiers and other toys enjoyed by his family, as well as go offshore fishing.

Dudley invited me to St Francis Bay to experience the capabilities that his Rascala boats had to offer, and to try them with varying sizes and types of outboard motors.

Dudley had on display three Rascala FM 20s fitted with a 200hp Mercury Optimax, a 150hp Mercury EF1 and a 140hp Suzuki 4-stroke respectively, as well as two FM17s — one with a 90hp Suzuki and the other with a 140hp Suzuki, both 4-stroke motors.

In addition, he roped in a number of St Francis Bay’s top skippers to come and play with these new boats, Tim Christy, Protea angler and charter fisherman, “Shorts” Humby, who has fished for marlin on Australia’s Barrier Reef and is an ex-Natal skipper, Mark May, a St Francis skipper who is more at home in the surf than on land, and Justin Lindhorst, a man who was born to boating and whose speciality is offshore boating and waterskiing. Then there was Dudley Foster himself, whose other fishing boat is a 32ft G-Cat which he uses to fish for tuna out in the current.

As the five craft slipped around the bend in convoy in front of Dudley’s waterfront home, through the “no wake” canal and into the Krom River estuary, they were a spectacular sight. As the last “no wake” signboard was passed, the St Francis cowboys — to a man — flattened the throttles and the five Rascalas jumped onto the plane. We screamed across the flat water as the boats weaved their way through the sandbanks to the mouth.

Even though it was low tide and many foamies were breaking the full width of the mouth, the skippers hardly pulled back on the throttles as they ducked and dived through the mouth they all know so well.

Then began two days of photographing and experiencing for myself the capabilities of the various craft on the water, plus the different motor configurations.

The Bay of St Francis, between Shark Point in the south and the water-tower in the north — strange to a Natalian, but the coast runs frm east to west — was flat with minimal swell and only an easterly wind that varied between five and 15 knots during my stay. Murphy’s law, however, saw to it that the wind blew its hardest during the few hours that Dudley and I spent fishing for yellowtail and Cape salmon (geelbek) in the washing machine water off Shark Point.

Thus, for the duration of my reviewing these boats, the sea provided sufficient mood changes to give me a good idea of how Rascala boats behave.

When Rascala boats arrive in Port Elizabeth from Italy, they are 
PD-ed by Dudley and Going Marine before being trailered on a high-speed, medium-weight trailer. For a boat that is to be towed on rougher roads, like up to Moçambique, a more robust trailer — even breakneck, if required — is available.

In reviewing these craft, my primary objective was to determine their practicality and safety, both when going through the surf and whilst actually fishing in reasonably turbulent seas.

The fact that dual motor rigs have been around since ski-boating began has created a certain mindset amongst offshore boaters. However, with the worldwide trend towards just one motor on offshore craft, and the legislation passed by SAMSA allowing single engined boats to operate offshore, this mindset is changing fairly quickly. This is especially true for the inshore style of fishing.

It was with this in mind that I set about spending time on each of the five craft, as well as watching the local skippers playing in the surf and then listening to their comments afterwards.

I will deal with surf operations to begin with, bearing in mind that over a spring tide and with a fair degree of flow, a river mouth can be an unpredictable launching site. With sandbank movements and the undercutting of outflow against incoming waves (“Graaw”, as it is called in the Eastern Cape), a nasty steep, curling wave is thrown up. The Krom river mouth is not normally as docile as I experienced it. Indeed, on numerous occasions it has seen some horrible and fatal accidents when man and boat have tried to fight the sea at the mouth of the Krom.

What I experienced was a steep wave, just over a metre in height, that rolled over the shallow sandbank. There were numerous shoulders to the waves, so it was not necessary to hit them head-on. However, for my purposes it was important to assess how the design of the craft reacted when hitting a wave or a foamie head-on.

When this is done, the boats use their sharp flared bows to take the initial impact. Then, as the wave meets the planing surface of the vee’d hull, it provides the lift necessary to create a relatively shallow trajectory as the craft overshoots the wave.

During the reciprocal course, with a slight bow-up trim, she sits firmly in the water and is quick to get away from a following wave, whether straight forward or across the shoulder of the preceding wave. I even jumped a few small foamies — not a recommended procedure with a monohull — mainly to see how she would react to yawing, as I did not have a big following sea during the period that I was there. As she mostly rode on the aft two-thirds of her hull, and derived her stability from here, I found her stable in over-wave jumps and did not experience yawing on re-entry.

Tight turns were well executed, as one would expect from single-engined monohulls such as the Rascalas. With the power that I had at my disposal — even the single 90hp on the FM17 — they came out of the hole at great speed and, again, with a low trajectory.

At sea I expected these deep vee’d craft to run smoothly and free from spray, and that’s exactly what they did. Once I had determined each craft’s respective “sweet spot” and trimmed accordingly, they performed exceedingly well and really loved the sea slightly off the bow. Only on the rare occasion did I experience spray blowing back onto the crew or myself, and then this was only because of either incorrect trim, an unexpected hole in the ocean or too high a speed.

I could write for hours on the different models we played with, but suffice it to say, from my personal point of view and for the specific purpose of fishing, I loved the Rascala FM17 with the 90hp Suzuki 4-stroke, and when it came to the FM20 I mostly enjoyed the one sporting the 140hp Suzuki 4-stroke.

This was the first opportunity that I have had to run Suzuki motors over a substantial period, and to try out different models. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. From cold starts to out-of-the-hole thrust, they never faltered for an instant, and the quietness of these motors, even when running on a sustained course at 20-25 knots, has to be experienced to be believed. As for how economical they are, I’ve listened to the ravings of the owners but won’t comment until I pay for the petrol myself.

My opinion regarding the ideal power for these two craft is 90 to 140hp for the 17 footer and 100 to 150hp for the 20 footer. That’s for fishing. For other watersports — like skiing and wakeboarding — you would have to speak to an expert like Justin Lindhorst. The FM20 with the 200hp Optimax was formidable and the craft carried the weight well, so for skiing I presume she would be awesome as well, but I think it’s a trifle overpowered for fishing.

Out at sea both models cruised comfortably at between 17 and 25 knots, depending on the sea, and handled varying troll speeds from 1H to 7 knots in all conditions, displaying good lateral stability as well as staying generally very dry.

One point that I should make is that when running any craft at high speed, lateral stability is affected by motor torque. To counter this and to control lateral torque, one needs to trim the craft so that she is using the designed aft planing area.

Once trimmed correctly, lateral torque is negated to a large extent, but then it is also important to have one’s crew seated correctly to optimise the craft’s ride.

On the drift and at very slow troll, as I experienced when actually fishing off Shark Point, the Rascalas settle very comfortably into the water and one can move about without feeling that the craft lean over too much. The sea was very bouncy with strong easterly winds pushing waves onto the rocky point. We fished for many hours and the Rascala proved just how stable a boat she is, as well as just how practical it is to fish from her.

At first inspection, these boats look too fancy to fish from, but believe me, when the drinks table and most of the fancy upholstery are left behind until it’s sundowner cruise time and the deck is cluttered with rods, tackle and bait boxes, she becomes a serious fishing machine. I occupied the aft transom area, and though I initially thought that the upholstered tram seat backrest would be a nuisance, it actually proved the opposite and had uses other than what it was designed for, like a rod rest — as well as a backrest — while waiting for the geelbek to bite.

However, it’s the finishings and deck layout design that add hugely to the Rascala’s sporty profile. It’s these looks and comfort that the wife will enjoy and the teenage daughter will think are really cool while she lounges on the forward sun-bed. If I owned one of these boats, my concern would be that the women in my life would demand to be aboard too often, thereby limiting my fishing time!

Onto boat basics. The centre console is well positioned and very comfortable for the skipper. It offers well-positioned instrumentation and navigation equipment.

Aft, under and behind the rear tram seat, is plenty of stowage. This, added to the stowage in the front bowrider area, is more than enough for this style of craft. Two shelves at floor level on either side of the boat store the other essential items needed at sea. With their wooden front facia panels, they are practical to use and good to look at.

Petrol is carried in a built-in tank filled from a filler inlet mounted on the starboard side of the centre console. The FM17 has an 80 litre tank, and the FM20 has a 100 litre tank.

Buoyancy in these craft complies with European standards and carries their certification, but as they are airtight moulded compartments, they do not comply with South African legislation. Therefore, Dudley has contracted Going Marine in Port Elizabeth to foam-fill each boat to comply with South African requirements, and issue the buoyancy certificates.

The Rascala boats that I reviewed are examples of a concept of boating to which most ardent ski-boaters have not given any thought. However, it’s a concept that will open up increased opportunities for those who are not that single-minded about their fishing craft.

I firmly believe that even for a destination like Bilene in Moçambique, for example, a craft of this type will add greatly to a family holiday where conventional watersports can be enjoyed, along with offshore activities like diving, snorkelling and fishing.

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