Buccaneer Billfisher 550

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Billfisher 550

Being an innovator in the boat building industry isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone. Following the normal convention is considered safe. But for Gerry Gerrand and Buccaneer Boats, the opposite is often closer to the truth.

 

When he released his first full production walkaround fishing boat in 1990, some said he was brave. Some said he was nuts.  But today there is no getting away from the fact that he was right. So damn right in fact that from that first boat has been born two clones, with size being their only visual difference. However it is not size alone that differentiates the Billfisher series, it is also the way in which each has been well conceived within the space parameters that are available. Obviously you can get more in a bigger package, but Buccaneer has done a great job in presenting a purpose-designed layout that works extremely well regardless of size.

Buccaneer’s Billfisher Series are walkaround type fishing boats that since the introduction of the Billfisher 237 (now the Billfisher 720XL) and a year later the Billfisher 2008 (now the Billfisher 635XL) have been amongst the company’s most successful models. Following that success comes the Billfisher 550, released at last year’s New Zealand Boat Show, and offering everything that the larger models do, but in a more compact and less expensive package. Overall dimensions are 5.60m overall length, including bowsprit and moulded stern area, with a 5.20m long hull, from transom to bow. A base Billfisher 550 will set you back $28305                for the boat only and about $51000                 for a fully packaged rig such as the one I tested with a Yamaha 115hp 4 stroke. Power options are outboard only with the range starting at 115hp and going through to 150hp.

It has taken me a year to actually get around to testing the Billfisher 550 and it was quite timely that one became available with a Yamaha 115hp 4-stroke at when I was putting the deal together. 

I had already had some experience with the new Yamaha 115 4-stroke and was impressed with its quietness and smooth operation throughout the rev range. To make certain that the set-up on the Billfisher 550 was right, we had Moller Yamaha play around with engine heights and propellers. Optimum was in fact hard down on the transom with a 17” three bladed stainless propeller. The 4 cylinder, double overhead cam purpose built 4 stroke wound out to its maximum 6000 rpm, returned 45 mph on the Eagle GPS in a very lightly laden boat. Interestingly when we had four adults aboard and loads of gear, the tacho only dropped 400 rpm to 5600 rpm, but the speed took a bath as we struggled to make 40 mph.

Lets Go Fishing

If you really are serious about testing a Billfisher then you have to use it in the environment it was designed forÖ.fishing. Now there’s one thing I can say for a fact, the 550 is a great fishing boat and a haul of seventeen good sized snapper and a close – but not successful – association with some rat kings made for a great day out. Along with advertising manager and co-publisher of NZ Propeller mag, Doug Dukeson, his mate Scott Tibbits and my son Carl, we beach launched at Manly before heading the 16 miles across to Flat Rock off the end of Kawau Island, a place that has a reputation for producing some big snapper.

With the incoming tide, early morning start and what looked like developing into a dull overcast day, Flat Rock was my pick. Wrong! I pushed the throttle out to 35 mph when we left the beach and hardly altered it all the way to our destination. The unusual 2m swells were well apart with a confused wind-against-the-tide sea between the sets. With the engine trim around half way and the starboard tab down a little to better balance the boat in the cross chop, the 550 handled it all with ease.

With four aboard, full fishing gear and 160 litres of fuel, the 550 was reasonably heavily laden and the Yamaha 115hp 4 stroke wasn’t ever going to rocket off the mark. Once on the plane however we covered the miles across to Flat Rock in quick time. Where the 4-stroke really stood out was with its instant starting and absolutely smokeless exhaust when at idle for an extended period, and in its quietness, even when running in the high rpm range. I didn’t carry out a fuel economy test, but if the bars on the fuel gauge were any indication, we didn’t use much for the whole 40 nm round trip.

After anchoring in the swells by Flat Rock for about an hour and having caught only one small throw-back snapper, we opted to head back to the Tiri Channel and a spot where I have had considerable success this summer. The wind had dropped a little and the journey back gave me the opportunity to try the 550 in a steep following sea. This time I found the best ride was with the trim just under the 1/2 way mark and the throttle about 2/3rds towards maximum. The rest of the team aboard all remarked on the softness and quietness of the ride.

With four aboard, full fishing gear and 160 litres of fuel, the 550 was reasonably heavily laden and the Yamaha 115hp 4 stroke wasn’t ever going to rocket off the mark. Once on the plane however we covered the miles across to Flat Rock in quick time. Where the 4-stroke really stood out was with its instant starting and absolutely smokeless exhaust when at idle for an extended period, and in its quietness, even when running in the high rpm range. I didn’t carry out a fuel economy test, but if the bars on the fuel gauge were any indication, we didn’t use much for the whole 40 nm round trip.

After anchoring in the swells by Flat Rock for about an hour and having caught only one small throw-back snapper, we opted to head back to the Tiri Channel and a spot where I have had considerable success this summer. The wind had dropped a little and the journey back gave me the opportunity to try the 550 in a steep following sea. This time I found the best ride was with the trim just under the 1/2 way mark and the throttle about 2/3rds towards maximum. The rest of the team aboard all remarked on the softness and quietness of the ride.

Workable Cockpit

The Billfisher 550 is available with an optional targa top with clears – as on the test boat – and it has been designed in such a way that in normal circumstances you shouldn’t whack the tip of your rod on the stainless supports. These also served as an ideal handrail for two of our party, as the boat comes with twin pedestal seats only. The height of the fibreglass targa top is more than necessary and could be dropped around 50-80mm.

The cockpit layout has been designed for fishing and there isn’t the option of double back-to-backs like in a conventional cabin boat. The 1.9m wide cockpit is split-level in design with the forward area housing the helm and passenger adjustable pedestals and the rear as workable fishing space. Although there’s not much space ahead of the helm for bolt-on electronics, the fascia more than makes up for it. In the test boat we had a Furuno 1850 combination GPS/plotter/fishfinder and a flush-mounted VHF as well as a manual compass and a set of Yamaha multi-function instruments.

Any moving forward is done with a feeling of safety and security and all the manual anchoring can be simply carried out from the open foredeck space. A fully automatic helm operated system or a capstan with a footpad could easily be added.

Being a family boater at heart and not what I would call a serious fisherman, I found the Billfisher 550 to be multi-functional. Not only are there the aspects of cockpit design and appointments to suit the fishos, there are also the space, comfort and protection that makes it very much a boat suitable for family boating. My kids had no trouble hooking their wakeboard rope onto the rocket launcher and as for stowage for a day cruise, the cabin offers copious amounts.

Despite the space taken by the 160 mm wide side trenches – bulwarks – the gap between the two forward seats is not too tight and access to the full size cabin is made easier with a lifting top hatch and wide opening louvre doors. These can also be locked for security when away from the boat or closed for privacy when in the cabin. Inside you have two 2m berths on top of a moulded inner liner, which also incorporates three storage bins. Sitting headroom is 1.3m from sole to cabin top. There are narrow side windows, but no forward hatch, something that is totally unnecessary anyway due to the bulwarks.

HULL

  • Model: Billfisher 550
  • Price As Tested: $70431
  • Hull Price:  $28995
  • Designer: Gerry Gerrand
  • Material: GRP
  • Type: Walkaround
  • LOA: 5.91m
  • Hull Length:  5.49 m
  • Beam: 2.35 m
  • Hull Configuration:  Deep vee
  • Deadrise at Transom: 23 deg
  • Trailerable Weight: 1500kg (approx., dry)
  • Engine Capacity: 115 – 150 hp
  • Power Options: Outboard only
  • Fuel Capacity: 165 litres

PERFORMANCE

600 rpm     @             2.0 mph

1000 rpm   @             3.0 mph

1500 rpm   @             4.0 mph

2000 rpm   @             5.5 mph

2500 rpm   @             7.0 mph

3000 rpm   @             9.5 mph

3500 rpm   @             11.5 mph

4000 rpm   @             20.5 mph

4500 rpm   @             30.5 mph

5000 rpm   @             35.0 mph

5500 rpm   @             39.5 mph

6000 rpm   @             45.0 mph

All speeds recorded using an Eagle GPS  and rounded off to the nearest 1/2 mph.

NOTABLE STANDARD EQUIPMENT

Compass, 165 litre fuel tank, BEP wiring loom, polyurethane foam filled hull.

NOTABLE OPTIONS ON TEST BOAT

Hardtop and clears, rocket launcher, rbaitboard, Furuno 1650 GPS/Plotter/Fishfinder, washpump, VHF, lockable cabin doors

ENGINE

  • Make: Yamaha
  • HP: 115
  • Model: 4-Stroke
  • Cylinder Type: In-line-4
  • Max RPM: 6000
  • Propeller: 17’”
  • Retail Price:  $16938

TRAILER

  • Manufacturer: Voyager
  • Model: Elite
  • Brakes: No
  • Suspension: Duratorque
  • Rollers: Multi roller
  • Std Features: Dip lights, multi-axle, spare wheel, metal walk board, painted guards and trailer, nylon winch cable.      
  • Retail Price: $6000

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