Tested by Erwin Bursik (July/August 2003)
AN EXCEPTIONAL SPORTFISHER!
HOUT Bay was abuzz. As the fresh north-westerly tumbled heavy rain clouds over the surrounding mountains, heralding the onset of winter, the first shoals of snoek arrived in the nearby offshore waters. Indeed, Hout Bay was as fishy as it could have been, or at least at its waterfront where boats, trailers, oilskin-clad fishermen and snoek — whole or flecked — captured the excitement and energy that only this waterfront, these fish and these fishermen embody.
It was into this arena that I ventured aboard Fibrelab’s new Kingfisher 360 sportfisher. Being at times totally surrounded by the snoek fleet made this sportfisher seem even more graceful, stylish, beautiful and larger than she is already.
Gunther van der Merwe is the managing director of Fibrelab, a man who has vast experience in boat-building. My intention was to beat the onset of winter and review Gunther’s first Kingfisher 360 before the weather gods took out the big guns, and as the plane banked over False Bay to land at Cape Town’s international airport I was convinced I had won. The skies were clear with only a light north-westerly wind in evidence.
However, to tell the truth, I had lost. As Johan van den Berg of Boats 4 Africa — the marketers of the Kingfisher 360 — was driving me over “the neck” to Camps Bay, the first bank of wintry clouds arrived and the ocean’s surface began to show the white flecks of an emerging north-easter.
The Kingfisher 360 is the redesigned version of the Offshore L30 first manufactured by AceCraft in the early 1990s. Following the demise of that company, the moulds were bought by Ron Cook who eventually persuaded Gunther to consider relaunching the L30. Gunther’s market survey indicated that a longer craft — a stretched L30 — would be the way forward.
Ettiene Braun wanted a 36-footer, and under the guidance of the original designer, Angelo Lavranos, Gunther redesigned the existing moulds. He extended her overall length by 1,55m, by adding 800mm to the cabin length and 750mm to the transom area, then the first Kingfisher 360 was moulded.
While Ettiene was still working on his craft, a well known and respected Cape tuna fisherman — Roger Bosman — decided he wanted a big boat and commissioned the building of the second Kingfisher 360. Roger moves with speed, both on and off the water, so it was not surprising that his craft was the first on the water and the craft on which I undertook the review.
At the outset Gunther stressed that Free Spirit was designed and finished to catch tuna, and plenty of tuna. With this in mind — and the fact that chartering her was a prime objective — the style and type of finish had to be serviceable for heavy traffic, yet neat, good looking and, above all, practical.
From my observations — and even though there is still a little work to be completed in this department — he is achieving his goal. What’s more, in the few outings Gunther has made to the tuna grounds, Free Spirit has proved she can raise fish. Just ask James Small — the first angler to charter Free Spirit. In the visitor’s book he describes his rucks and mauls with a number of yellowfin, concluding, “I am hooked!”
At Fibrelab’s factory, Ettiene’s craft was standing awfully proud and very, very big in the confined space where she is being completed.
It was her below-water-line stern area that really captivated my attention — a section of the craft not visible when a sportfisher is floating. The recessed “scoops” in the transom area of the hull permit the props to be partially recessed and therefore receive clean water at all speeds. I also feel that this provides a beautiful wake at trolling speeds I was later to experience, as well as giving the transom a degree of lift during fast reversing manoeuvring. I further believe her lateral stability is enhanced by this innovative hull configuration.
With the theory over, I was more than anxious to get the Kingfisher 360 off mooring and out to sea.
While I was pleased that the wind was blowing and the sea relatively choppy, I was disheartened by the overcast conditions which were not ideal for photography.
Fortunately, later in the day some patches of sun enabled me to do my work. It certainly was an interesting experience attempting to take photos while perched on the transom of a semi-rigid inflatable, travelling at 25 knots in a choppy sea with seven tons of sportfisher following me at spitting distance.
Over many years of doing boat reviews, one of the aspects I’ve particularly noted is that one gets a real appreciation for how the hull moves over water when seen from close quarters during the photography exercise. It provides a totally different and exciting dimension to complement the feel of the craft when one is skippering it.
In the case of the Kingfisher 360, all I could say was “Wow!” Not even the photos — powerful as they are — can come close to the impact of watching her hull work water at high-speed from a distance of ten to 15 metres.
Once I had the photos in the can, I could relax, climb aboard Free Spirit, relieve Roger of his command of this great vessel and revel in the enjoyment of skippering the craft. Comfortably seated on the spacious flybridge with the steering controls and a full set of gauges and instruments in front of me, I must admit to feeling more than pretty good.
Moving from the semi-protected waters of Hout Bay, I set a course that would take me on a well-travelled path to the tuna grounds some 25 to 40 nautical miles to the west.
I set the rev counter at 1 800, then sat back and enjoyed the ride as we covered mile after mile of ocean. Running between 18 and 20 knots SOG, she rode beautifully, taking the north-west wind and sea on her forward beam, yet not letting it affect her true, stately ride. I fully expected to have to use her hydraulic trim-planers to stabilise her laterally, but never needed to use them for that purpose throughout the review.
When out at sea and in the full force of the wind that was gusting at 20 knots, I swung her bow to face directly into the wind and sea. In fact, I swung her a little too fast, I might add, as a gust of windblown spray brought me sharply back to reality. Heading into the sea at that speed was too fast, uncomfortable for all aboard and hard on the craft. Lowering the speed to 14 knots she was great and could have run for hours at that speed on that bearing without discomfort to all aboard. In addition I was pleased to see no more spray, otherwise — I can assure you — I would have been downstairs in the confines of the cabin, skippering from that station.
All that was left in the high-speed department was to put her transom into the wind, raise her bow a fraction and “run with the wind”. It was exhilarating as she effortlessly rode the chop and low swell, showing no tendency to yaw even at speeds of 22/24 knots.
During her low-speed trials — trolling — I spent a lot of time observing the wake she threw at various speeds between 4 and 8 knots. She provides a very flat wake with the white water contained in a band not much wider than the craft’s beam. This will provide good, clear water for trolling big marlin lures, and will ensure that those trolled from the short riggers will be in clear water most of the time. At about 9 knots the wake tends to spread. In addition, she is very comfortable at troll speeds, and I must again emphasise her lateral stability — a factor I believe is very important in a sportfisher this size.
Finally, backing up … Moving directly astern she performs reasonably quickly without any tendency to dig in her transom or cause water to roll over it. At relatively low speed, with much forward/reverse of the engines, she is a little sluggish in pulling her transom around quickly as if trying to follow the antics of a very big marlin on the leader. However, at slow speed when berthing she seemed very positive.
I was still aboard Free Spirit when Roger and his son, Craig, got behind the helm and got her to act like a big ski-boat. With lots of throttle they had the 330hp Cummins turbo motors literally whistling as she jumped out of the hole and onto a plane, exceeding 28 knots in no time. I am told she actually planes on one motor! It’s not my idea of how to run a 36ft sportfisher, but very spectacular nevertheless. Like father, like son — no, Roger hasn’t changed with age.
I said earlier that Free Spirit is a working boat, and her deck layout makes this obvious. The actual deck, cockpit and fishing area is huge. Even with the enormous fishbox situated in its centre, there is still more than enough space for six anglers to work tuna. Its hatch, they say, holds 1,5 tons, and if that’s not enough there is another one aft, between it and the transom, that will hold another 300/400kg. The latter, together with the other below-deck hatches and motor components, are flush with the non-skid surface deck that is easily washed down and cleaned.
Within the confines of the cabin, Roger has gone modern with granite table tops and work surface, plus a large area of comfortable seating with a tufted carpet covering the floor. As a charter boat especially for tuna fishing, he doesn’t want to discourage anglers from entering the cabin, so has ensured that if the carpet gets messed up it won’t cost a fortune to rip it up and replace. Also, over-enthusiastic anglers can’t damage the granite as they might wood tops; maintenance is therefore very low, while visual impact plus necessary comfort is provided.
The galley space is reasonably small, but it does have the necessary microwave, fridge and sink area — all adequate for providing anglers with sustenance.
On the starboard side, ahead of the cabin control station, is the head which is very well equipped and practical, even for a big, gumbooted, oilskin-bedecked tuna angler.
The forward cabin area is again basic, not laid out for royalty, but for the practical use of fishermen who want to be able to stretch out on a comfortable double bunk and snooze during the long run back from the deep.
As I mentioned earlier, twin 330hp Diamond Series Cummins diesel turbo-charged engines power the craft. They are situated aft of midships and look very imposing in their underdeck compartments. Having recently had a little to do with motors (see Ghana article elsewhere in this issue) I could appreciate the easy accessibility to these two big engines.
It was, however, out at sea that they really impressed me with the way they made the big Kingfisher 360 perform. They deliver enormous torque low down for out-of-the hole performance, and the power band seemed to increase very evenly throughout its range. Setting a speed or marginally altering speed was no problem with small control movements being reflected in minute changes in revs and, therefore, craft speed.
From the skipper’s vantage point on the flybridge he is well positioned for skippering the craft at sea, and also has a very good view of what’s happening on the fishing deck. Indeed, he has an even better view of where the lures would be working aft of the craft if it was rigged for marlin fishing.
Talking of marlin fishing, if the giant fish coffin-hatch was removed and a substantial fighting chair fitted, a pair of outriggers mounted and a T-top fashioned over the flybridge area, the Kingfisher 360 would be a very practical sportfisher for use in the tropical marlin waters of Africa, if not the world. Not only does she have the pedigree and practical capabilities to compete in her class worldwide in respect of performance, but her SA rand price will also make her affordably attractive to anyone thinking in US dollars, British sterling, or any other hard currency, for that matter.
What about the finish? Gunther certainly has the craftsmanship and knowledge to ensure things can be done properly, his boat-building skills having been fine-tuned in the luxury yachts industry where finish is everything. Whether it’s teak, walnut or rosewood, just ask and they can design accordingly, within the confines of the basic hull, deck and cabin mouldings.
“We can produce interior design, cabin layout and finishings to compete with the best in the market,” said Gunther, “I know I can — after all, I’ve already done it.”
All in all, the the Kingfisher 360 is an exceptional sportfisher and one which will no doubt prove very popular among those looking for a bigger craft.
• Johan van den Berg, through his company Boats 4 Africa, has been appointed by Gunther to co-ordinate the marketing of the craft. This appointment is mainly due to Johan’s knowledge of big sportfishers and their uses in the many areas of Africa and Madagascar where he has skippered craft as big as 65ft.
For further details on the Kingfisher 360, contact Johan on (021) 558-4549 or 082 771 9842. Better still, make an appointment to see this craft and appreciate her outstanding performance yourself.