Smart Boat Workhorse

By: KEVIN GREEN, Photography by: KEVIN GREEN

Presented by
  • Trade-A-Boat

A day spent with veteran game fisher Neil Francis and his smart boat Workhorse got the adrenaline going.

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"It was a rogue wave, as high as a yacht mast, so I shouted at the boys to look out just before it grabbed us and the water nearly came up to me on the flybridge but I gunned the engines in reverse to slow us as we surfed down its face," recounted champion game boat skipper Neil Francis. It was major test for his recently acquired Cresta 32 with its twin Cummins 355hp which saved their bacon that day near the edge of the continental shelf at Port Stephens. A good soaking was all part of the challenge that this successful game boat and his young crew including son Jake relishes when the marlin season is on. "We’re having the best blue marlin season in NSW, that I can ever remember," recalls the veteran and multiple tournament winner; including the last Interclub event out of Port Stephens.

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For almost 50 years the Francis family had many game fishing boats all bearing the same name "Dealne" across the transom until last year when they bought the 1970s built Cresta and renamed her Workhorse. All their former boats consistently fished and competed for the highest recognised game fishing tournament trophy on the east coast, the NSWGFA Interclub tournament, also known as the NSW State Championships of game fishing. Starting with father Keith, then Neil and now 30-year-old Jake, the family relish the challenge of big game fishing. Former marina owner and self confessed boat addict Neil admits to having owned "about 50 boats" in a career that’s included marina management, boat building and his major passion of game fishing. Stepping down from his last boat project, a stylish Caribbean 40 –"The bloke made an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I gave her away then bought this old Cresta 32 as sort of stop gap."

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Afterwards Neil found himself enjoying the rather Spartan but sturdily built Cresta, and I can see why. As a former commercial fisherman, it even appealed to me as well because it was a very much a back to the basics kind of boat. Fairly narrow in the beam, so it didn’t slam when we blasted offshore from Pittwater, and easily held its course thanks to a fairly deep Vee hull that was thickly laid up of solid glass. Topside there was a utilitarian look with tiny hatches and strongly built flybridge tower. Inside, it clearly shouted ‘bachelor pad’ with the shaft drive engine box dominating the floor space behind the galley. Forward was a large forepeak with double mattress and bathroom just behind. Plenty of storage as well, which was pretty good for only a 32 footer. The main deck had thigh-high bulwarks surrounding the game chair. "Ideal height for leaning against when working a fish," explained Neil. Clever mods included the wet exhaust with a U-bend –"So when we back up fast on a fish the engine intakes won’t get swamped." Essential deck gear included a live bait tank and twin tubes of flushing saltwater to hold live fish on traces; with no marlin board to hinder fast reversing a large stern scupper door is used instead for landing fish.


All that their recently acquired Workhorse lacked was the smarts to help Neil and the boys be competitive in the game tournaments so his market research eventually led him to a full Simrad installation last year.

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"We needed the best sonar definition to chase the marlin but also to catch the bait fish, and found the Simrad Chirp to be unequalled." Working the edge of the continental shelf where they troll at about 6.5kts, Neil can easily identify species as Workhorse moves. "The Evo3 menus allows me to customise exactly to my needs, so for instance I’ve got the 1kW sonar on dual settings for deep and shallow."

The S5100 sonar can reach 10,000 feet and a wide power range (28 to 250 kHz) allows Neil to target specific depths producing big, crisp arches with clear target separation. During that last tournament it helped crew member Mark Mackey hook a 133.5kg blue marlin on 15kg line, along with a 188kg one for his mate Jeremy Voltz; while son Jake secured the tournament win with a 135.7kg blue caught on 24kg line. "This tournament puts everyone to the test, the boat, the crew and all of your gear over three full days fishing in tough and demanding conditions," recalled Jake Francis.

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On the steering console, Neil’s right-hand screen does the sonar the left-hand Evo3 is for chart plotting and radar. Each screen has been inbuilt to moulded fibreglass boxes made by Neil, and it all is neatly done with nothing out of place. The Navionics charts suits him nicely and the AIS VHF overlay – using the NAIS500 module – is ideal for plotting a course round the ever-present coal boats off Newcastle as Workhorse motors north at 22kts. The four-foot Halo 4 open array has a range of 64 miles and comes with preset menus for Harbour, Offshore, Weather and Bird modes as well as custom settings.

For the long haul out to the continental shelf the Simrad AP44 autopilot gives Neil a rest from the flybridge. A useful feature the AP44 has for these longer trips is a No Drift Mode. It integrates GPS navigation with auto-steering, using your position to counteract the effects of wind and tide. Another feature for fishos is running automatic trolling patterns.

User-friendliness is probably the best overall feature on the new Simrad systems. Especially the hybrid touch screens that are daylight readable. 

Check out the full feature in issue #503 of Trade-a-Boat magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest boat news, reviews and travel inspiration.


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