Author : Barry Thompson
Sometimes the best-laid plans just don’t come to fruition, but when you’ve travelled from Auckland to Invercargill and your time’s committed, you have to be prepared to make other arrangements. Barry Thompson didn’t quite get to Stewart Island in a Southernsportz 770 HTE, as planned, but he did experience some amazing southern hospitality, spent an evening deer hunting, jetboated on New Zealand’s steepest river and dined out on huge paua and blue cod.
The day I flew south, New Zealand was suffering atrocious weather and while the landing at Invercargill airport was the roughest I have ever experienced, I knew I wasn’t alone in thinking this when the stewardess said “I bet you’re all glad to be on land – I know I am.” The plan was to head to Stewart Island for two or three days with not only Dawson Charters’ new Southernsportz 770 HTE, but also a similar sized Image 7.85 from local builder Image Boats. Weather aside we also nearly didn’t get the boat from Southern Boats in time for the test. However they made every effort to meet our deadline and the boat was delivered with a day to spare. Being a car painter, owner Greg Dawson chose to paint the boat and within five hours of it arriving in his Invercargill panel shop, the hull sides were painted in Phantom Mica (new Ford Fairmont colour) , clear coated and towed out of the paint shop. Greg and a team of painters had previously painted the cabin top and inside areas of the boat prior to fit-out at Southern Boats in Dunedin. Along with NZ Propeller co-publisher Doug Dukeson and a group of keen divers and fishermen I was going to experience the right stuff in Stewart Island. Paua, crayfish, blue-cod and a few pints of Speights with the locals at the Half Moon Bay Hotel, were some of the delights I had in mind.
. Just my luck, Bluff oysters and scallops were out of season. Wednesday dawned with 50-60 knot winds in Foveaux Strait and 4-5m seas so any ideas about crossing over were quickly squashed. After some discussion I decided to spend the Wednesday testing the Image 7.85m around Bluff Harbour and then we would implement Plan B on Thursday morning. Plan B was to head inland to Lake Hauroko where we could experience one of Fiordland National Park’s most unheralded lakes. Hauroko is New Zealand’s deepest lake at 462m and is surrounded by untouched (except by deer and pigs) native forest and for most part by mountains. The head of the 33km long lake is within 20km of Dusky Sound where it rises to 1500m above sea level. Hauroko translates variously as ‘sounding wind or ‘windy water’ and is subject to strong northerly winds that funnel down between the mountains and can rapidly raise a high, steep chop. To be honest I had never even heard of it until I was shown where it was on a map. About 100km worth west from Invercargill, you get there via Tuatapere and Clifden (also had to look at the map). It’s situated at the Southwest corner of the park and is part of Te Waipounamu World Heritage area. As arranged we launched the new Southernsportz 770 HTE at Lake Hauroko in the morning and spent most of the day touring the lake. We checked out (from a respectable distance) the burial cave on Mary Island of a maori woman of high rank who is thought to have died about 1660 and cruised in pristine calm water from one end to the other. The lake is fed by more than a dozen rivers, plus a myriad of waterfalls that cascade through the dense native bush into its deep blue waters, before it empties down the Wairaurahiri River. This river drops from 183m to sea level in 27km and is the steepest commercially jet boatable river in New Zealand. Courtesy of Wjet, we were able to experience the Wairaurahiri and take some time exploring the native podocarp rainforest that blankets its banks for its entire 27km length. After a refreshment stop at Waitutu Lodge where we met the locally famous Peanut, it was back up the river to be dropped off at our home base at Teal Bay. At Teal Bay is a deer stalkers’ hut that epitomises the phrase “roughing it”.
”. Two candles for light, a pot belly stove, a frypan sizzling with sausages, plenty of Speights and a couple of bottles of Merlot – what more could you ask for? Our deer expedition was unsuccessful, albeit very amusing and was certainly a highlight of the inland trip. Self proclaimed hunter Richard Murrell and Aucklander Mike Butt were dropped off on a small island in the lake at dusk and spent the next few hours ‘crashing ‘ aimlessly through dense bush. With a moonless night and only a penlight to guide the pair, any deer on the island would have felt quite safe or had enough warning as branches snapped and boots crashed into uncharted bogs and bracken, to swim back to the mainland to avoid the danger of being shot or more likely being trampled on. The following morning we broke camp early and by 7.30 am were driving away from the lake and back to Invercargill. The weather forecast was for light winds, no swell and cloudless skies. A perfect day to regroup and get the diving and fishing gear wet. Stewart Island was beckoning but time didn’t allow us to visit it, so we headed for the nearby Ruapuke Island, where Greg assured us the paua were plentiful and the blue-cod prolific. He wasn’t wrong! In 1m deep water we snorkelled around taking only the biggest paua. I have never seen so many in one place and it didn’t take us long before we had our limit of 10 per diver. Next it was across to the nearby blue cod hot spot where, as Greg had said, the fish were prolific eaters and again we achieved our limit quickly. Adding some interest to the rather mundane cod fishing we hooked a few sharks and even a good sized barracuda, which all put up great fights on the light gear. Late afternoon we headed back to Invercargill, cleaned the boats, had our first shower for two days and flew back to Auckland. It had been an awesome few days and while we didn’t get to Stewart Island, Greg has invited us back for a repeat performance in Fiordland later this year.
Seven years ago Greg Dawson bought NZ Propeller’s Fyran 600/Suzuki 140 camera boat. Six months ago he took delivery of the Yamaha 225 4-stroke used for our long-term evaluation over the 2003 summer. All he needed was a boat to bolt it onto and the new Dawson Charters would be complete. “After 500 hours trouble-free boating with the Fyran 600, I was looking for something bigger and due to the sort of boating we do I definitely wanted a hardtop”, said Greg. “It had to have the versatility of a family boat when we are up in the Marlborough Sounds and a serious fishing/diving boat hen we want to go to Stewart Island or into Fiordland”. Greg was also looking for a boat that provided the internal comforts of a weekender, with a large cockpit and proven sea keeping capabilities. Living in Invercargill provided a surprising number of local options both in conventional hull design and pontoon boats. “In the end I settled on the Southernsportz 770 HTE from Dunedin because it provided everything I needed at the right price and standard of finish and I also liked the attitude and work ethics of the guys at Southern, something that I myself feel is very important in any business”, added Greg. While Southernsportz will provide some customisation of the interior, Greg chose the standard option as it suited his requirements almost perfectly.
Having spread the test over a couple of days with both offshore and lake conditions, I was really able to get a good feeling for the boat. The Yamaha 225 fourstroke was well matched for the 770 HTE and the best speed I could get on the Magellan GPS was 41mph on Bluff Harbour, which was very good considering the load we had aboard. In the fresh water of Lake Hauroko the GPS dropped only 1mph to 40mph, which was a consistent average decrease throughout the rpm range. The 20 degree deadrise, 5mm thick hull has very wide chine flats and despite having no spray strakes, climbed quickly onto the plane at 2000 rpm with very little noticeable bow lift during the transition. Despite being in the less buoyant fresh water, I would describe it as being a very ‘slippery’ hull that carries weight well. With over 60 hours already on the engine, it was certainly well run-in and the set-up, height and propeller combination was absolutely right for the boat. The rake of the forefoot is gradual with the keel flat sections starting about 2m from the bow, with a nice fine entry that parts the waves with ease. In the mirror smooth waters of Lake Hauroko you could see the effect the chines had as the water was pushed flat and low. When I ran the 770 HTE in Bluff Harbour and out to Ruapuke Island on the Friday morning the seas had gone down from 4-5m and 60 knot SW winds to nothing more than a gentle swell and less than 10 knots of sea breeze. What a difference but it also meant I never really had the opportunity to give the boat a true test in rough water. I’ll have to wait until my return trip later this year. In the light conditions we cruised across to Ruapuke Island at around 4500 rpm @ 26 mph and although the sea was flat, there was still a cold breeze rushing past the outside of the hardtop. This was one time that I really appreciated the benefits of an enclosed hardtop. It was quiet, warm and friendly. Maybe it’s time I sold my bowrider! Five of us were inside with the door closed, comfortable and relaxed, talking about the interesting and very full three days we had just had.
The forward cabin is especially large as the owner wanted to have good overnight accommodation, something that he tested during our stay over at Teal Bay. Being a keen hunter, the boat is going to be used as ‘home base’ during hunting trips to Lake Hauroko and other places in Fiordland. An infill completes a full size berth more than capable of taking two people. Storage is provided under the squabs in deep lockers as well as in wide side trays behind thickly padded backrests. There is adequate seating for 4-5 adults and good light and ventilation through the deck hatch. A head can be fitted under the squabs. The enclosed wheelhouse has a swivelling passenger bucket seat to port and a fore and aft adjustable, non-swivelling helm seat for the skipper. Aft of both seats are two further bench seats, which proved perfectly suitable and were very comfortable on our trip back from Ruapuke Island. The cabin in our test boat was 1600mm from the rear to helm bulkheads, which is 200mm shorter than the standard boat. This was simply because Greg wanted more cockpit space, but had to sacrifice a 3/4 port side berth inside. As our boat was so new, Greg had not had the time to install the fridge, freezer and cooker units, all of which were to be fitted under the seating bases. Add a califont and an external shower and you’ve got all the hallmarks of a weekender. Underfloor storage is an option, although in this particular boat the space has been taken up by extending the fuel tank from the standard 200 to 275 litres. In keeping with his plans for extended cruising, especially in Fiordland, carrying plenty of fuel is essential. The helm is conventional in layout with a fibreglass moulded fascia large enough to flush mount your electronics, although with the protection and space available with the enclosed hardtop style, bracket mounting is becoming more popular. In our case we had a flush mounted Furuno 1623 radar, flanked either side by a bracket mounted Navman Tracker 5500 and a Navman Fish 4500. I found the driving position perfect with everything within easy reach and while the sliding side windows were great, they rattled. As this boat is certainly going to be used at night, either fishing or spotlighting for deer, a swivelling spot is fitted above the helm. Although it worked perfectly on our first night away, there are also plans to fit another couple of fixed lights in the bow for extra visibility when underway. A full width bulkhead divides the helm and saloon area from the cockpit, and while a hinged door is standard, I feel the optional sliding door would be a better choice. It makes better use of space, something that is so important when you have a team of divers and fishermen aboard. If there was a downside to the cockpit it would have to be lack of storage, especially under the sole – there is none. Apart from wide side trays, a stern locker and some space under the Portofino stern, built-in stowage was minimal. However Southern Boats do offer a raised self draining cockpit sole (150mm) and scuppers option, which then provides space for both side and forward underfloor storage. Greg has added a couple of large alloy bins with cushioned tops, but I found that when we were fishing and diving they got in the way. Smaller ones are standard that fit-up against the rear bulkhead and provide sheltered seating under the overhang. The high bait board works well and with the bins removed there would be easy fishing for four anglers and plenty of space for divers to gear-up. There are ample rod holders built into the deck and high coamings mean you’ll need a net or gaff when bringing the big ones aboard. As Greg is a keen diver he made sure that the aft platform and dropdown ladder were suitable for the task – something that was well proven during our Ruapuke Island trip. After two days on-board would Greg have changed anything? “I’m certainly going to add a drop down bow ladder and a few more spot lights and I might add a full canvas camper pack over the cockpit to increase our on-board living area, especially at night, but really I’m pretty happy with everything else. It’s a compromise for me that works and provides for my family boating needs along with my charter requirements perfectly”, said Greg. After two days on-board, will we be back for a trip to Fiordland? What do you think!
- Model : Southernsportz 770 HTE
- Price (Boat Only): $48,760
- Price As Tested: $100,000 (approx)
- Designer: Michael Coombs
- Buiulder: Southern Boats
- Type: Hardtop
- Construction: 5mm/4mm alloy
- LOA: 7.90m
- LOH: 7.70m
- Beam: 2.50m
- Height on Trailer: 3.2m
- Deadrise: 20 deg
- Trailerable Weight: 2.3 tons (dry)
- Engine Capacity: 150-300hp
- Power Options: Outboard or sterndrive
- Fuel Capacity: 275 litres