Tested by Erwin Bursik (July/August 2006)
DUNCAN McKenzie of Bluewater Marine was very excited. The 28ft Luhrs Sportfisher he had been telling me about for a considerable while had finally arrived from the United States and was moored at Wilson’s Wharf Marina here in Durban. “You must come and see it now,” were his words — as much an instruction as a plea .
Viewing new boats is like an addiction for me, and as a result, not an hour after receiving the phone call I was at the marina.
On board to meet me were Duncan and the immensely proud new owner, Leroy White, who has named his new craft Charlie Brown.
Initial impressions often prove accurate, and in this instance it was definitely the case. My first thought on seeing Charlie Brown was that I really liked her and was very interested to see more. As an express model, she is low, sleek and extremely stylish, the sort of craft I believe is ideal for both light tackle- as well as marlin fishing on the eastern seaboard of South Africa.
The next time I saw her was from my boat, Sea Lord, as I waited off Vetch’s Pier for Leroy to exit the harbour so that we could photograph her. Once that was done, I would get behind her controls for a few hours to experience first-hand how she likes African waters.
The first thing I saw was a flybridge flying down the channel from the harbour — the North Pier hid the rest of the Luhrs 28 from view. As she rounded the pier and came into full view, she was very impressive indeed. Beautiful in the early morning sunshine, her sleek, prone ride gave the impression that she was virtually skimming over the water’s surface.
The drone of her big diesels subsided and her stern settled deeper in the waters as she slowed down to a slow troll to come alongside us. I could really appreciate the lines of this craft now that she was free of the clutter that surrounded her at her moorings.
The Luhrs 28 Express (or “Open” as the Americans call her) is, in my opinion, an extremely practical offshore sportfisher for a person who wants a fishing machine with a modicum of comfort, yet does not foresee himself using the craft for cruising or as a party boat.
It was with this firmly in mind that I got myself seated in the comfortable skipper’s seat to take over the controls of Charlie Brown.
After a number of abortive attempts to get the weather, Leroy’s diary and my work schedule to coincide, we finally got it right — especially weather-wise. A moderately strong south-westerly had blown the previous day, and a strong land breeze was blowing when we launched on the day of the review. The sea off Durban’s beachfront was therefore glassy, but the further offshore we went, the stronger this wind blew. As it was directly across the line of the prevailing swell, it gave me sufficient rough water in which to ride this craft so that I could appreciate her capabilities and gauge what she would be like in the really rough stuff.
It only took a few minutes of instruction from Leroy on how to drive the Luhrs 28, and then he let me loose at the helm of Charlie Brown. As with most new sportfishers these days, the primary controls (the binnacle-mounted gear shift/throttle control) was electronic — fly by wire. I needed Leroy to instruct me on the various options available through this electronic box, and how they affect the twin 240hp Yanmar 4LHA-STP diesel motors that were powering this craft.
With the two short control levers’ smooth little red-balled tops firmly in my right hand, the time had arrived … I had become the skipper and all I needed to do was push them forward a fraction to engage the gears from neutral, and push a bit further to get the twin Yanmars to really start working.
Fortunately, I was fully aware that there would be no mechanical resistance when I moved the levers forward, because unlike the levers of old that need a fair degree of pressure, electronic levers require practically no effort at all. However, even knowing this, my first very gentle push still resulted in a rather sharp production of power from the engines.
After getting used to this power application, I found out how much torque she has to get out of the hole and onto the plane. This performance aspect was bordering on what one would expect from a craft this length powered by big outboard motors.
Once on the plane, and with the turbochargers giving their full effect, this craft really gets going very quickly. She settled onto the plane at about 1 700rpm and was doing 20 knots at 2 400rpm. Depending a lot on the trim of this big deep-vee, I found that she rides superbly between 17 and 20 knots at an rpm range of between 2 000 and 2 500. Other than to show off, I cannot see any need to push her harder then this. Yes, I did go faster — to just over 30 knots — but Leroy said that during speed trials she maxed out at 3 400rpm and a speed of 39/40 knots.
This brings me to the use of hydraulic trims and their value on a craft of this size and design. Luhrs have installed recessed hydraulic trim-tabs. Simply put, these hinged, hydraulically-operated, stainless-steel plates that are situated in a recess just in front of the transom line (one on each side) are forced downwards, thereby using the craft’s forward momentum over the down-trimmed tabs to lift the craft’s transom and settle its bow deeper in the water.
The hull design, and therefore the craft’s natural or designed ride, is marginally bow high. The trim-tabs are therefore brought into play to bring her bow down when so required, getting her out of the hole when getting onto the plane, and for lateral stability.
The next issue of SKI-BOAT will feature a full article on the need for trim-tabs, how they work and how to use them to maximize a craft’s ride in various sea conditions. This has arisen from numerous requests from readers wanting to know a lot more about trimming a craft.
With a dead rise of 19°, she is a seriously deep vee, and as such rides incredibly well into a big head sea and chop, yet one is able to stabilise her lateral stability with the above-mentioned trim-tabs. At low speeds and while trolling she sits very stable in the water, and at these speeds runs a very tight whitewater wake, making her ideal for sailfish and marlin fishing.
Unfortunately, the sea was not running with the swell, so I was unable to run her in a big following sea to judge her capabilities in that situation. My own craft, also a big, very deep-vee’d boat, handles a big following sea remarkably well. As the ride of the Luhrs 28 is so similar to Sea Lord’s, I believe that she would run a big following sea well, as long as the trim-tabs are positioned to give maximum bow-up positioning and are only used for lateral stability.
From a handling point of view, the only other aspect that I need to discuss is her ability to backup during a fight with a big fish. In this regard she is remarkable, with the electronic controls enabling me to spin her transom extraordinarily quickly using forward and reverse simultaneously, without excessive throttle. Backing up at a good speed was easy, without a lot of water pushing up over her transom. This ability obviously also helps a lot when manoeuvring the craft onto mooring.
During trolling, especially trolling very slowly with livebaits, the skipper can make use of the Luhrs 28’s trolling valves that are also electronically operated by means of a touch pad. During trials I found that with one motor in gear and the other running in neutral, she had an SOG of about 2,5-3 knots. With the trolling valves activated, this was reduced to just under 1,5 knots.
The Luhrs 28 Express is an ideal sportfishing craft for tropical waters, especially for standup fishing for reasonably big fish, such as sails and big tuna, as well as the full range of smaller gamefish. Her open fishdeck and the nice height of the gunnel and transom offers the anglers maximum fishability.
When Leroy fits the fishing chair and outriggers he has on order, I am convinced she will provide a good platform both for fighting big marlin and for the crew to “work the deck”.
Both the helm station and the flybridge controls are well positioned for the skipper, whether running to the fishing grounds or trolling. One can immediately tell that a sportfishing captain has had a lot of input in the design of this craft, especially when it comes to what a skipper needs on a sportfisher like this.
A case in point is that the flybridge helm is well positioned and has an easy view of the entire fishdeck. However, in addition to that, access to and from the flybridge is practical by way of steps built into the hard-top support structure on both port and starboard sides. Even in rough water, while drifting side-on to the sea, I had no problem climbing up and down.
On to the cabin. The Luhrs 28 Express does not have the sort of cabin setup one usually associates with a sportfisher, but rather a cabin that a serious angler will use. It is not the focal point of the craft, though.
For a 28ft craft, the cabin is well designed to make full use of the area below the foredeck and provides an adequate seating area that can be converted into a double forward bank, a kitchenette and a toilet/shower bathroom. Leroy has opted for the roof-top rod-rack system instead of a lift-up additional bunk setup that is also available within the cabin.
A further advantage of the cabin area is that it can be locked up securely from within the confines of the helm station. Definitely a plus while the craft is at mooring.
For a craft this size — and let’s face it, there are ski-boats longer in overall length than Charlie Brown — she has a lot of storage space, a nice work station, a large circulating livebait well and an insulated freezer box, all well positioned for easy access by anglers working the deck.
A major feature that really impressed me was the easy access to the engine room. The entire aft floor area of the saloon area of the craft lifts up and is supported by two hydraulic-style arms, thereby allowing a big guy like me to get down between the twin Yanmar engines to do the essential checks that are so necessary on an inboard powered craft.
Most craft emanating from the ’States are well finished, yet when I saw the complete array of Luhrs at the Miami boat show a year ago, I remember being awestruck by the overall presentation of their craft at the show. Now I had the opportunity to not only see one of these craft up close, but also to feel it when it was at sea.
I found no reason to change my mind. Charlie Brown, a Luhrs 28 Express, is extremely well finished and a craft any prospective owner will always be very proud of. •
• This craft will be on display at the Durban Boat Show at Wilson’s Wharf from 14th to 16th July, so stop by and have a look at her.