Tested by Erwin Bursik (January/February 2010)
MADE TO ORDER — Perfectly!
BOAT shows present an ideal opportunity to come face to face with new boats that are being showcased by manufacturers. This year, at the National Boat Show in Johannesburg, Lee Cat thrilled the crowds with their new 800 Walkaround.
Apart from a casual glance at the craft, I avoided a closer inspection. She was due to be delivered to Durban directly after the show, and Leon Lee, the MD of Lee Cat Boat Builders, Port Alfred, had arranged for me to review her in the waters off Durban which were to be her future fishing grounds.
In the atmosphere and under lights at the show, this craft showed the hull lines of her stablemate, the Xpressa 800 (see the May/June 2006 issue of SKI-BOAT), yet she has a stockier helm station/ dodger cabin design compared to the sleek forward console and cabin of the Xpressa 800.
However, her enclosed helm station is designed to accommodate the walkaround facilities for which this craft was purposely made.
It was only when I helped Lester Coetzee, her new owner, hitch up his craft for the short haul to the harbour from his home in Glenashley, just north of Durban, that I really appreciated just how big and splendid this craft really is. I admit to have been taken aback when faced with the real McCoy. She was much bigger than originally envisaged since the boat show in August.
Lester and his wife, Chantal, who is also a skipper and is currently getting herself licensed, intend using this craft for fishing charter work off Durban. They had very specific requirements in mind when searching the market for a craft that would fulfill the requirements for their business, JLE Charters.
Combining their wish list with the ideas of their good friend and well known Durban offshore angler, Rory Mitchell, they found Lee Cat. According to Lester, the Lee brothers, Leon and Carl, were understanding of their wants and went out of their way to build and finish off Clarise to their requirements. The Coetzees are ecstatic about this craft, as I could plainly see after spending some time aboard her with Lester, Chantal and their two sons.
In discussions with Leon Lee, he strongly emphasised that when designing the Walkaround 800 he wanted her to find acceptance among anglers who target bottomfish as well as tuna and the smaller gamefish found around our coast, and also to be user-friendly for the new breed of jiggers, dropshotters and popper casters. A walkaround facility on a craft this size has an obvious advantage for most styles of offshore angling.
Once the craft arrived in Durban, our review was delayed due to the formalities of licensing, seaworthy, etc., which had to be dealt with. Eventually, time was of the essence if the review was to be carried in this issue of SKI-BOAT magazine. Finally, after two weeks of waiting for sight of the sun, and with my imminent departure to the OET looming, there came a point where regardless and, as it turned out, rewardless, we had to choose a date for the review to be done and photographs to be taken.
The conditions for the review were ideal — moderate northeasterly sea, a fair swell and the wind hovering at about 12-15 knots. The dark, heavily overcast weather, however, sapped every ounce of colour from the surroundings, and this became very evident when reviewing the photographs. My apologies to Lester and the Lee brothers, but there was no time left to do a reshoot of this very attractive craft in sunlight before I departed for Sodwana Bay.
As I watched Clarise perform for me during the photo session, I was struck by her stance. Whether at relatively slow speeds or screaming over the choppy ocean surface, her stance remains low, sleek and very sporty. She seemed to slice through the chop and be largely unaffected by it, apart from spreading water far and wide during her performance.
It was, therefore, very interesting to reboard her out at sea and translate the performance I had watched into physical experience once her controls were under my command. At this point I not only had the ability to control her speed, but also, more importantly, her motor trim and thus her angle of attack in the choppy sea running at the time.
As with most craft I regard correct trimming as paramount, not only to maximise the hull’s performance over water, but also to provide maximum comfort for the craft itself and all aboard her. This craft, especially at high speed, uses this designed prone attack very effectively — a stance that trims don’t have a great deal of effect on at high speed. However, the lateral trim in particular did have enough of an effect to get her to ride as I wanted.
Powered as she is by twin 140hp Suzuki 4-stroke outboards, I was pleasantly surprised at the responsive performance that this relatively low horsepower generated on a boat this size.
With a top speed at sea of just over 30 knots, an impressive out-the-hole ability — even after a turn as tight as she was able to do — and a planing speed on one motor hovering around 15 knots with the starboard motor trimmed right up, I believe she is more than adequately powered. Caution may dictate a higher choice of power, though, especially if I was loaded with a crew of five or six persons and traditionally launched from a beach such as Sodwana Bay. In this case I would probably increase the power to twin 175 or 200hp motors.
Not having had much exposure to the bigger Suzuki outboards over the last few years, I found that their low-down torque was impressive, and within the torque curve they only lacked grunt at the very top of the range. These 140hp motors ran extremely quietly and smoothly on idle and through the range of trolling speeds. They also started instantly at the turn of the key. Indeed, they were a pleasure to use through all phases of the review.
Throughout the review I constantly felt the urge to compare the ride of the Walkaround 800 to that of the Xpressa 800. Seeing as they had an identical below-gunnel hull design, was there any difference? Initially I felt there was no difference, but the more I played with the Walkaround 800, the more I began to feel that both during trolling trials and at speeds up to 17/18 knots, her hull-over-water performance was a lot lighter and easier to control with the trimming facilities available. Whilst I hate comparisons, these finding forced me to re-evaluate the ride of the craft I was on.
It was during the long run north — with the wind and chop on the starboard bow and the swell parallel to the course travelled — that I determined that her seesaw point was a good deal further aft than on the Xpressa 800, thereby making her lighter in the bow over the water. This meant she was easy to trim at low to moderate speeds, and I was able to get her cruise very comfortably over a sustained distance.
The controls allow either separate motor trim or, at the flick of a switch, both motors trimming in tandem. The latter has a role to play, but it is the lazy man’s method of trimming. I believe that constantly playing with the individual trim buttons better orchestrates the craft’s forward momentum over the vast variety of sea conditions one experiences.
At the end of a good run north I pulled her bow into the wind without throttling back. Then I sat back in the skipper’s chair and waited to feel the difference.
Cruising at about 18 knots, the change of course had no substantial effect on the ride of the craft. Hydraulic noise from the tunnel hardly increased and only a negligible degree of pounding was experienced, considering the sea and speed of the craft. All that needed doing to perfect the ride was marginal lateral trimming.
While considering this craft’s ability at fairly fast speeds, the ride back into the harbour entrance was also a breeze. Remember that this area is notorious for peaking swells when the flow of water on an outgoing tide conflicts with the prevailing swell and wind. Following the marginal lifting of her bow and holding her port transom tight into the water by marginally trimming up the port motor and trimming down the starboard motor, she rode beautifully.
A craft’s reaction throughout the various trolling patterns and speeds is paramount, because it is during the long hours we spend at sea trolling that comfort is really important The Walkaround 800 sits firmly in the water and is not subject to excessive lateral rolling, especially during the slower trolling speeds from 1.5 knots to 5 knots. Faster than that, as required when pulling marlin lures, the speed allows the trims to be brought into effect to obviate lateral movement. During these 360° large troll tracks to engage the sea at every conceivable angle, she did all I could want, comfortably and dry and stable enough for the crew to work the deck.
On the drift she lies with her gunnel into the wind, thereby suiting the jiggers and dropshotters, whether they are in the aft fishing area or right upfront in the bow lounging area.
Finally, I had to have some fun backing up on an imaginary billfish. Fun it was, and while most cats powered by outboards are not that manoeuvrable going aft, I was able to get a degree of sideways swing. It was sufficient, I felt, to control a big fish.
As I said earlier, this craft was rigged to cater for general game- and bottomfishing off Durban and is not, at this stage, rigged for billfishing. As a result, the aft deck layout follows the traditional ski-boat layout with a large, removable coffin-style fish hatch, seating and rod holder that is bolted into position. There are no below-deck hatches in the sponsons other than the sealed below-deck fuel tanks in the aft of each sponson which each hold 150 litres.
In the false transom on each side of the Walkaround are two good-sized livebait wells, plumbed to ensure a constant supply of water to keep one’s valuable livies healthy all day.
Using the walkway between the gunnel and the side of the dodger cabin, access to the forward area of the craft is relatively easy. It could, I believe, be traversed even while strapped into a stand-up harness while fighting a big tuna, for example.
In the forward area there is some comfortable upholstered seating which, Lester says, is in big demand among the women and children that have been aboard his craft. When dropshotting and especially throwing a plug, this area would be ideal, because even in the roughish sea I was able to stand stable enough to work a rod and reel. There is open access to the anchor, so working it would be very practical.
The fully enclosed helm station/dodger cabin provides comfort and protection from the elements, be it rain, sea spray or sun. This area primarily houses the helmstation and forward dry lockers, plus seating designed to be practical for a charter boat and those who fish on her. Good headroom and the shaded/tinted glass on three sides ensures that the inside of the wheelhouse is largely free from glare, in addition to the other elements we need to seek comfort from.
Helmstations tend to be largely personalised within the constraints of the moulded front bulkhead, and the Walk-around 800 is no exception, other than the basic layout which has been developed by the Lees after years of experience.
I personally found the centred helm position to be very practical in certain circumstances, yet different from the conventional side placement. However, it allows one the ability to spread the instrumentation gauges and radios on both sides of the steering and throttles position, and therefore in easy reach of the skipper.
Lee Cat Boat Builders have continued to enhance the quality of the finishes both in the mouldings as well as the hardware they incorporate in the craft they are building for the recreational and charter boat market. Clarise, one of the most recent out of their Port Alfred factory, is a prime example of the lengths they go to to produce a craft that is sound in construction, aesthetically pleasing, practical in use and extremely pleasing in its finish of the basics as well as accessories.
I am sure that Lester and Chantal will experience much joy and excitement, as well as successful chartering, with their new craft. Lester Coetzee can be contacted at JLE Charters on 072 356 7540 or e-mail lescoetzee@mweb. co.za.