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PICTURE the scene: Durban’s Point marina — 10am — all is calm, even the water. The NoosaCat 2300 is lying beautifully and serenely at her berth, with the translucent, green water gently lapping at her hull as the gentle wakes of passing boats ripple through the marina. Minutes later, all hell breaks loose …
A prospective buyer arrives from Johannesburg with his entourage of advisors. On the other side of what is starting to look like the first scrum of a Springbok-Wallaby rugby test is the seller, his henchman and the agent. What was my role to be in this game? Who knows — referee, perhaps?
That was some time ago, and how the NoosaCat 2300 survived the trial with five SADSAA-registered skippers and two SAA Boeing pilots aboard, Lord only knows, but at the end of the day Ivor Karan ended up buying the craft.
Some twelve months later the scene was re-enacted, but this time the only participants were myself, Selan Naiker of Lowrance, my colleague, Mark Wilson, and Mahi-Mahi charter skipper Deon van Zyl. Serenity and decorum prevailed as we prepared to put to sea. Yes, without Ted Adams, Derrick Levy and their two “teams”, the atmosphere was extremely peaceful. Except for the weather, that is, because a cold front had moved in from the Cape, bearing moderately strong south-westerly winds, heavily overcast skies and lots of rain squalls. Good boat test weather, perhaps, but lousy for photography.
Sometime back I was informed via the grapevine that Ivor was loving the NoosaCat 2300 but had found her a little small. And, yes, after fishing the Billfish 15 000 with Ted Adams aboard, I would also have have found her too small. I’ve been there personally and done that many, many times!
Nevertheless, Ivor and Ted whisked themselves off to the NoosaCat factory in Queensland, Australia, and ordered Ivor’s new NoosaCat 2700 which may have reached South African shores by the time this review reaches the bookshops.
In the meantime, Derrick Levy had sold the NoosaCat 2300 to Adel Aujan, a Saudi Arabian entrepreneur who has just taken over and revamped the hotel on Bazaruto Island, Moçambique, now known as Indigo Bay Island Resort, and this will be the new home for the NoosaCat 2300.
As always, Mr Levy moves fast. “The NoosaCat 2300 is in Durban. Test her. I’m off to the factory in Australia.” He’d caught me on my cellphone while I was travelling, and there was only one possible day when both the craft and I would be in Durban together, so that was set as the review day.
Apart from the photography aspect, I was pleased that the weather was bad. It meant that I would be able to put the craft through her paces properly, not like the previous time when I’d played with her in flat water and had to presume how she would perform if the sea was up and running.
Powered by a pair of 135hp Yamaha motors that had just completed their first season on the water, I eased her out of the mooring. While making our way to the harbour entrance, I set her trim to give me a slightly bow-high ride to attack the big seas I was expecting to encounter once we crossed the bar after exiting Durban harbour.
During my original ride on a heavily over-weighted craft — thanks to too many skippers! — I had construed that this craft was sensitive to trim, but once trimmed she would ride well. My own boat, Sea Lord, is also very sensitive to trim which has, no doubt, made me fanatical about getting a craft to ride properly in accordance with the prevailing sea conditions.
As we encountered the swell action that changed the dead water of the bay to the live water of the open sea beyond the harbour piers, I increased power and enjoyed the sensation of the craft coming to life.
Off Durban, as one leaves the lee of the land in a strong south-westerly, the sea conditions change from a short chop in flat water to swell after swell and a horrible, windswept, white-capped ocean. It was in that run, at a speed of 20 knots with the rev counter sitting at 4 500, that I really learned what the NoosaCat 2300 was all about. During the run I did readjust her trim, as well as use absurd settings to see what effect this would have on her ride and performance.
At the end of a six kilometre ride, which I found exhilarating and informative, I slowed down. By that stage the sea was quite big and I had to turn around and head back, this time into the wind.
Deon read my mind when he voiced his own opinion of the craft: “Hell, she is soft — bloody soft!” And bear in mind that he spends his life on the ocean in a bigger cat than this Noosa.
I then pushed the throttles, got her onto the plane and increased speed until she was really flying from crest to crest. During those minutes my mind raced back to a promo video I had seen — probably 15 years ago — of the Australian SharkCat and the way she took wild seas at full speed. Now I was experiencing the same thing. To put it mildly, it was exhilarating — and it also felt a lot softer and safer than it had seemed on the video.
The SharkCat was born in the town of Noosa, Australia, and Wayne Hennig of Noosa has since bought the design and perfected it, resulting in the full range of NoosaCats, from the 18ft model up to the formidable NoosaCat 4300.
With that bit of excitement out of my system, we headed back to the protected waters off Durban’s beachfront. Once there, I had time to relax and watch Mark’s wide-eyed reaction after experiencing his first boat test, and discuss the craft’s merits with Deon who was still going on about her soft ride.
The swell over Limestone Reef was small, but this allowed me to try her turning and take-off capabilities in relative safety before I took her into the big swells off Cave Rock. Ted Adams had told me that she had handled the surf at Sodwana extremely well, but I was still very surprised at just how tightly this big and heavy boat turned. Indeed, I was even more surprised at how quickly and easily she pulled out of the turn and got onto the plane again. In turns as tight as the length of the craft I could not get the motors to cavitate, unless I purposefully did something wrong.
I repeated the exercise in the big and frightening swells off Cave Rock and was happy with the result.
What followed was a series of sea trials for drifting and trolling. The latter included the whole range, from slow trolling to kona speed in the rough sea, all of which was found to be practical and reasonably comfortable. And, yes, it was a hell of a lot more comfortable than in an open ski-boat!
Finally, it was the test of all tests — the long run home in a big, steep, following sea. As far as I’m concerned, a following sea tests the skipper as much as the boat. In the hands of a novice skipper, frightened by prevailing conditions, a good boat can end up doing some strange things.
I trimmed her bow up, settled the crew into position and increased speed. I believe there is an optimum speed under these conditions: too fast and the craft becomes uncontrollable, but too slow causes the craft to wallow and yaw as the waves push the boat rather than its motors.
At the right speed the NoosaCat 2300 ran beautifully and I experienced no tendency for her to dig in a sponson or come off the face of the wave and want to dig in her bow. I was perfectly satisfied with her performance during the long run home.
I must emphasise that, with this craft, I found that correctly trimming her ride to be a most important aspect of her performance.
As one would expect with a fully imported craft in her price category, she was well equipped with all the primary extras. However, at the time of the review, all the electronics — apart from the basic motor instrumentation and two radios — had been removed, awaiting replacement by her new owner.
I always search for new ideas on imported craft, ideas that would not only prove practical while fishing at sea, but which would also make me wonder why I didn’t think of that.
The deck covering on the Noosa Cat 2300 was just such an innovation. It’s made of a grid-mat of hollow plastic tubing, loose-fitted over the entire deck area. Besides proving soft on the feet, sand and water fall through it, it won’t get hot, and appears easy to clean. While not having the aesthetics of carpeting, sometimes looks need to give way to practicalities.
In all other respects, stowage, hatches, seating and internal finishes were all practical, well constructed and well finished. From the moment one boards the craft one senses her sturdiness and safety, primarily I feel because of her high gunnels, full transom and large cabin area.
Her cabin area warrants some discussion as the ability to enclose the front sides with heavy-duty, see-through plastic screens protects the skipper and crew in inclement weather. Indeed, it certainly protected us during the review. On a hot day these screens can be removed, resulting in an open boat with a substantial T-top which is a vital necessity in our harsh South African conditions.
The two Boeing pilots mentioned earlier — Dave and Robbie Knudsen — brought the first NoosaCat into the country a few years ago, and their successes with marlin at Sodwana aboard their craft, Sky Bird, and their continued praise of this craft speak volumes to me.
In conclusion, when this craft is fully rigged with all the necessary instrumentation, outriggers and fighting chair, I have no doubt that she will be transformed into a fishing machine of note.