Tested by Erwin Bursik (SKI-BOAT September/October 2001)
Construction: Moulded fibreglass hull, moulded fibreglass top deck.
Flotation: Bottles filled beads
Power as tested: 2 x 40hp Yamahas
There are still many boaters who love a monohull craft and are of the belief that, for both surf and rough sea, these craft are the only answer.
As such, Africa Boats believe that there is a strong need for a craft in the 16ft class that can be powered by twin 40hp motors and be versatile enough to be launched anywhere along our coast, as well as Moçambique. In addition, such a craft is very economical from a petrol-usage point of view, which is food for thought with the fuel price being what is. The final major factor when choosing a craft is, of course, the capital cost of the rig. If this cost is too high, a good many boat owners will shy away from either buying a new boat or replacing an ageing existing craft. If good value for money is part of the deal, then a craft will immediately attract interest.
The Barracuda 160 could well be the craft that fulfils these criteria.
I was due to test Eric Bell’s new Barracuda 160, and as I had not yet seen the centre console model, I was looking forward to seeing how she differed from the forward console Barracuda I was familiar with, and how her presentation compared.
I had also heard that Eric is fastidious when it comes to his boat, a fact that would no doubt add substantially to the aesthetics of the craft. With the dull weather of the morning of the test, I for one needed something to cheer me up. And cheer me up it did!
Not only was the craft beautifully presented, but her owner was exuberant both about his Barracuda and all the extras that had been designed and fitted on to the craft.
So, yes, my first impressions regarding the craft were very positive. In addition, the craft we were using as a photographic boat was the forward console model belonging to Jacques Sander who has been using his boat for a good number of years from his home club of Umhlanga Rocks.
Conditions for test
It was miserable — a strong south easter prevailed, with ominous black clouds that threatened more of the torrential downpours we had experienced the whole of the previous night. But there was hope — a break in the east promised a weak, wintery sun. We launched and went in search of it.
The sea was something else, as is always the case when the south to south-easter really blows. As they say in Afrikaans, “Heeltemaal onbeskof” — no pattern, no direction, just full of lumps and holes and not ideal water in which to test any boat, let alone a small one.
Launching and trailering
As Eric’s 4×4 was in for a service, I used my Toyota Raider to launch and retrieve the Barracuda 160, a task which added a new dimension to the usual scenario of just standing back and watching it being done.
If, after watching Jacques’s example, we still had any doubts about the ease with which she launched, they were soon dispelled when we followed suit a few minutes later. I bumped the craft off her trailer into a moderate, low-tide surge at Vetch’s and Eric turned the monohull with ease, almost before I had found reverse gear and removed the trailer from the water.
After the test I retrieved Jacques’s boat using my 9 000 lb Warn winch, but as Eric did not have a cable roller, he had to use the hand winch when it came to loading his craft. With me slowly pushing the trailer with my 4×4, and Eric winding as fast as he could, he battled to take up the slack. It was only after the transom was off the sand that he had to put some effort into winding in the last metre of strapping.
Motors and controls
The craft were both fitted with twin 40hp Yamahas, and as both boats had been in use for some time, the motors were well run in. The net result was a trouble-free performance by both boats during trials, with these motors producing tremendous torque throughout their power curve, especially out of the hole.
The response through the controls was smooth and almost instantaneous — indeed a pleasure to operate.
Both craft had hydraulic steering systems fitted, and pulling the craft out of extremely tight turns was easy. Jacques had one of those knobs on his steering that enables one to swing the wheel quickly, and it worked very well in tight surf conditions.
At the outset I must say that the rides on the forward console and centre console models were noticeably different. This backs up what I have always maintained — that weight placement on craft, especially smaller craft, is critical and determines the way the hull works the water.Using the identical motor trim positions, I found that Jacques’s boat with three aboard seemed to ride more prow-high than Eric’s centre console with the same crew complement. However, a close inspection of the photographs and seeing her at sea indicated that Eric’s boat actually rode with the same bow lift, but seemed to be lower in the water at the transom. The effect of this is that the centre console model felt a bit more stable, especially in a following sea, while the other model felt more racy and lighter on the water.
Okay, enough of the comparisons. After all, they are only my personal views in terms of one set of conditions.
For me it was very interesting to get back into a mono — apart from my own boat — after having recently tested a long line of cats. The comparison between the two hull-types was interesting because monos are different in so many ways — some on the plus side, a few on the negative.
However, I enjoy the sensitivity and the leaning into a turn that the mono provides. It’s that motorcycle feeling that allows one to throw a craft of this type into a turn and experience the sensation as one spins her aft, before feeling the motors bite as one pulls her out to face an oncoming wave.
At the same time, this sensitivity can be worrying if the craft is somehow not stabilised during long, straight runs and whilst at anchor, on the drift or while slow trolling. To overcome this, the outside strake of this craft’s fairly deep-vee’d hull has been widened to provide both a planing and stabilising feature. It works.
During all the trials I did on the drift and slow trolling, I was surprised at just how stable this deep-vee craft was. The strakes, mentioned earlier, also helped her get up onto a plane very quickly and held her surprisingly stable during long runs in an otherwise sea. I also believe they helped when running down the front of a following swell. Just as I thought she was going to run away with me, she stabilised and, with a little extra throttle, lifted her bow and stabilised, thereby eliminating any indication of yawing.
We undertook a lot of fast running and manoeuvres in the deep where the sea was upside down, and while she tends to throw a lot of spray, it disappears out aft. Even on the centre console we didn’t get wet. In a very strong wind I have no doubt that if one tried to weather out a very strong wind, wind-driven spray would catch those aboard.
It is in the turns that this craft really performs incredibly well. She turned equally as well to port as to starboard, and her out-the-hole jump made one feel very comfortable, even in tight surf conditions. What’s more, I had loads of fun playing with both craft in tight conditions.
Into a big head sea, with deep troughs and steep peaks, I can foresee this craft making heavy going, but then this is not really the size of craft in which to stay out in seriously adverse conditions.
It was wonderful skippering the Barracuda 160. I enjoyed her feel and appreciated her performance throughout the many hours of testing.
I will be concentrating on the centre console model, as this is the new version, and also because the forward console boasts the standard configuration used on many ski-boats.
As said earlier, I was told that Eric is fastidious, but after studying the concepts and configurations built into his craft, I am pleased he is. He certainly has a craft that is pretty as well as functional.
From the aft livebait well, fed by scooped water as well as a submersible pump, to the set of very practical tackle drawers situated in the bow section of the Barracuda 160, everything has been designed with practical fishing in mind.
To maximise buoyancy, only one substantial hatch has been sunk below deck level and that is the fish hatch which is midships and under the hinged aft seat. The latter also has a top-hinged cover to provide stowage for light equipment.
A look at the accompanying photographs will show the details of the centre console and its efficient and striking styling which is carried through to the stowage hatch seat in front of the console.
There is also a fair amount of deck space to facilitate the primary task for which the boat has been designed —fishing.
No boat builder would have got away with any short cuts with Eric and his exceptional eye for detail, and the result proves this. The finish, the hardware and the fitting of all the extras is of an extremely high standard, and even now that the boat is a year old, it still looks as if it has just come off the showroom floor.
As important, if not more so, is the solid feel of both craft. The centre console version is nearly five years old and has proved its worth through many, many sea hours.
During some heavy work in the big seas, they’ve both showed their good, solid natures.
Invariably, offshore anglers need their craft to satisfy various aspirations, whether they want an affordable, fuel-efficient craft for serious fishing, or — as in Eric’s case — a craft that has everything, yet is easy to tow, launch and retrieve with minimal crew. They’re all variations on a theme.
To me the Barracuda 160 is a craft that has been designed for a specific purpose: to take an angler to sea in an efficient, affordable and safe manner, to allow him to enjoy the sport he loves — fishing from a boat at sea.
As such it fits the role admirably. •