Nova Sportfisher 220

Tested by Erwin Bursik (July/August 2008)


EARLY in 2005 Novas Marine invited me to Sodwana Bay for the official launch of the Sportfisher 220 range of offshore craft. It was a spectacular sight seeing the four different models of this superb craft on Sodwana’s beach, ready to be launched for me to review.

In fact, it was a special day for two reasons: not only was I going to spend the day playing with these craft, but I was also going to see for the first time a boat that I knew I would be spending a good many fishing trips on in the years to come — Brad Kidd’s new Nova Sportfisher with a flybridge (see SKI-BOAT May/June 2005).

Three years have passed since that day and, as I predicted, during that time I have had a good many trips to sea chasing marlin aboard Brad’s Nova Sportfisher, B’s Nest.

Over the last decade, the concept of “blueprinting” has come to the fore within the sportfishing industry. In essence, this is the process whereby an item — be it a motor engine or even a fishing reel — is worked on by one or more experts in an effort to achieve the maximum level of perfection from that product.

When in May I was presented with Brad Kidd’s Nova Sportfisher on the beach at Sodwana to review, she had recently been blueprinted, even though I was pretty sure Brad’s original craft was as close to perfect as she could get.

Indeed, I was somewhat surprised when Brad told me a few months ago that he was taking his boat back to the factory for a full refit. After all, she was only three years old. Besides, we had recently returned from a great OET during which I had enjoyed fishing from her and had not found her to be lacking in any sphere. Then again, I also know that Brad is a man who only accepts absolute perfection, and in his mind B’s Nest was obviously not 100% right for his purposes.

Early this year the craft was returned to Willie van Jaarsveld, the general manager of Novas Marine in Pretoria, so that they could replicate Brad’s vision for the craft.

For those who don’t know, Willie has a technical background in the aviation industry and is adamant that things must be done the correct way. While walking around the Novas factory, I have often been taken aback by some or other detail — in my mind, far beyond what was required — that was being worked on during the manufacturing of one of the Novas craft that.

With Willie’s input, and the assistance of wood craftsman extraordinaire Craig Stephen, B’s Nest was blueprinted by working on what remained, removing what needed to go and replacing with redesigned modules anything that Brad had had misgivings about during his time at sea during the intervening three years. Over and above that, they also introduced more advanced features — relating specifically to boating and the rigging of craft for billfishing — that have made an appearance in the international boating and fishing arena in recent years.

I am now in a position to comment on the completed project — to call it as I see it, compared to the “old” — but I can only guess how much work and concept gymnastics went into getting B’s Nest to her current form and, in the process, achieving the virtually impossible task of satisfying Mr Kidd.

In Willie’s words, it was a great learning experience. In the process they came up with many, many ideas that will be carried through into the construction of all the new Nova Cats they produce — the Nova Sportfisher, the original Nova 270 as well as the Nova 240 centre console that is on the brink of being completed and exposed to the boating community.

As I see it, if even a few of the new concepts and the redesign of existing features are carried through into future production, not only will the craft coming out be superior, but the boating industry norm will also be raised to a new level.

There is no way I can cover all the changes that have been made to a craft I thought was superb before she was revamped, so I hope that the few aspects I do report on will encourage those who want to see a really special craft to make the effort to do just that.

Most importantly, I wanted to see how the many changes made to areas primarily above the hull’s waterline would affect the performance of the craft on the water.

To my mind, a full flybridge — including an overriding T-top that encourages two crew to be upstairs — requires a lot from a 22ft craft. Remember too that, while trolling, the remainder of the crew also crave protection from the sun and spray, which means that a lot of weight is moved up forward.

The last time I fished on this craft I felt she was, under these circumstances, riding a trifle bow-down. This is a factor I am not over comfortable with on a craft, and in an easterly sea she tended to occasionally scoop water over the windscreen if the clears were not deployed.

To overcome this, Brad has moved the built-in fuel tanks further aft — both carry 225 litres when full — and has repowered the craft with bigger, more powerful motors in the form of twin 150hp Yamaha 4-strokes with counter-rotating props. The difference was amazing and required no physical changes to the hull.

While I waited on Sodwana beach to launch with Richard Scott (who was providing the photo boat), and as I watched Brad take B’s Nest through the surf for the first time, I noticed an immediate difference in the craft’s stance. This additional bow lift made a lot of difference throughout the full range of trials I put her through later, especially trolling in the 17/20 knot northeasterly wind that was blowing at the time. No matter what I did at both slow and fast troll speeds, I could not get her to scoop water.

With the front clears deployed I was pleased to note that at 24 knots, with a following sea, the T-top above the flybridge did not have any negative effects on the lateral stability of the hull over water. The thrust of the counter-rotating props and, I think, the size of the T-top enabled the motors to hold the hull steady, regardless of any air slippage from the T-top during forward momentum down the face of following waves.

If anything, during long, sustained ±20 knot SOG runs into the northerly and later northeasterly wind, I found her more comfortable. She ran beautifully with marginal trim-up of her bow. Combining her natural bow lift with the aerofoil effect of the T-top and the wind slippage over the clears above the windscreen maximised the Yamahas’ combined 300hp of torque.

The motors were thus able to push the craft forward instead of trying to fight to hold the hull horizontally stable, at the same time keep the bow either up or down to provide the most comfortable ride.

Believe me, I don’t like being thrown around on a craft for an hour or two while getting to the fishing grounds, so at 20 knots heading for Mabibi in the wind and sea I have described, I only maintained that speed because it was pleasantly comfortable. Up at 24 knots we were beginning to be thrown about, so we dropped back down to the comfort zone of 20 knots.

With more weight aft and her high centre of gravity, I was keen to see how she handled herself in tight turns for surf work. She came about very tightly, especially after I had learnt to operate the fly-by-wire controls that have been fitted to B’s Nest. Even when thrusting hard with the outside motor and dragging the inside motor during a turn, I could not get her 19-pitch props to cavitate. Once she was pulled out of the turn, the power at my disposal for a quick takeoff was much more than sufficient to get us out of the hole and onto the plane.

Indeed, having fly-by–wire electronic controls fitted in three positions — helm station, flybridge and aft on the bait station — was a first for me on a craft this size. The fact that these controls can be synchronised at the touch of a button is also very helpful. By resting the palm of one’s hand on the binnacle, it is easy to control the sensitivity of this system on a small craft as opposed to when using fly-by–wire controls on big sportfishers.

Brad has installed the set of controls on the rear face of the bait station specifically so that when he’s fishing with his teenage children, he can assist them in the cockpit when fighting billfish and still be in control of the craft.

Craig has used Burmese teak extensively not only for decking (including on the flybridge), but also on the gunnels and transom top surrounding the fish deck. Apart from the refinement these finishings provide, teak has also been proved worldwide as being the ultimate material for this use on sportfishers.

Teak is cool to the touch, especially when wet, is not nearly as slippery as other finishes when fish slime is added to the scenario, and is still easy to clean and maintain.

An interesting example of Craig’s work and ingenuity is what he has done to the fighting chair. Not only does it look very upmarket, but he has also perfected a system of dropping the backrest rod rack right out of the way during a fish fight. This enables even a big man to stand right behind the fighting chair and not jam himself between the chair and the aft cabin furniture one finds on most big boats. This feature is clever, strong and functional, besides looking good when in normal use.

Inside the helm station/saloon area, a revamp of the control station and dashboard area has provided more practical uses, and it looks stunning as well. Here they have incorporated a hinged teak door which offers easy access to the forward locker. The previous GRP door was always getting in the way at sea — one of the things I didn’t like on the Nova Sportfisher. The locker has also been fully carpeted — another practical improvement.

The transom door/marlin gate has been strengthened and a substantial catch has been fitted to it to access the craft’s aft. By doing away with the Luna tubes — Brad’s way of telling me there would be no more livebaiting — he has created more space aft. He has also done away with a lot of plumbing, thus enabling him to use more flotation aft and totally avoid the aft inspection hatch filling with water. This is important when you’re reversing up on fish which results in a fair amount of water getting onto the fish deck.

Brad is focused on sailfish and marlin, and for him marling fishing is pulling plastic. This was what the designers kept in mind when they blueprinted B’s Nest for marlin.

Rigging of the outriggers and ancillary niceties used when fishing for billfish has been fine-tuned in line with Brad’s company’s — BMK Fishing & Photography — experience in setting up some of the most expensive sportfishers that are based in South Africa. Now B’s Nest is right up-to-date.

Finally, look at the picture that shows the flybridge. Remember that this is only a 22ft craft. Look at the design and how practically it is arranged so that skipper is able to spend many hours trolling the ocean. This has been done in such a way that when the moment critique arrives and a big marlin is coupled to the angler in the fighting chair by a length of 80 lb nylon, the skipper will always have full control of the craft.

Many hours of design, including separating the binnacle-mounted electronic controls, mean that Brad is now able to work his craft with his butt on the wheel and a control lever in each hand. This, the traditional stance of a marlin boat captain — a stance still advocated by the best in business — is now also possible on B’s Nest. Brad has perfected not only the control of his craft, but also the ability to work them.

Indeed, throughout all the trials we did — reversing on and following fish — B’s Nest worked very well.

Novas Marine have done a fantastic job of blueprinting B’s Nest. Now, with Willie at the helm of this boat building company, I am positive that this experience — which no doubt cost him in blood, sweat and tears — will benefit all the Nova Cats his company produce, now and in the future.

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