By: Norman Holtzhausen

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  • Trade-A-Boat

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A no-nonsense boat for those on a budget, the New Zealand-made Surtees 5.5 Workmate has a couple of neat tricks up its sleeve, says Norman Holtzhausen.




Featuring a self-flooding ballast tank, six fully-welded stringers, a six-year hull warranty and a unique self-loading trailer-catch, the Surtees 5.5 Workmate is a lot of boat in a small package.

Even so, storing a trailerboat is often a problem, and many purchasers go for a smaller craft that'll fit in a standard garage. However, Surtees has come up with a hardtop and windscreen package that can fold down, reducing the total height of the boat on the trailer to about that of a standard 4WD wagon - which means this boat can be stored in a greater (or should that say "smaller") range of garages.




The boat has an open layout, with a lined forward area of a cabin with two bunks, though it's a stretch to call the cabin suitable for overnighting. A large alloy hatch provides access to the bow area, where an anchorwell holds the anchor and rope. Two broad, lined parcel shelves provide lots of storage, and there's generous space under the bunks.

The dash layout is simple and our test boat had only the standard engine gauges. There's sufficient space for mounting a 7in fishfinder/chartplotter in the dash as well as a VHF radio. Although the standard pedestal seats are not adjustable for height, there's a hinged footrest to accommodate different-sized occupants.

Under the cockpit floor is an 80lt fuel tank, with a fuel gauge set just below the level of the deck (to avoid damage). The tank filler is on the floor between the pedestal seats. A wet storage area is set in the rear under a removable aluminium hatch and this can be drained into the flooding keel when the boat is on the trailer. An optional baitboard, with further rodholders, fits into a mounting point in the transom.

Hanging off the stern is an Evinrude E-TEC fuel-injected, 90hp, two-stroke outboard. Its small size and lighter weight is a good match for this boat, rather than a pricier and heavier four-stroke.

On the boarding platform is a ladder on the port side, that swings up flush against the transom when not in use, while on the starboard side a removable berley pot is set into the boarding platform.




The test day promised to be unpleasant as we headed out onto the harbour in a 25-knot wind with a sizeable chop. We were probably the only small boat out there on the day, and we expected to take a pounding, but as soon as we powered up the Evinrude the benefits of the Surtees hull became obvious.

Measuring 5.5m in length with a beam of just 2.15m, the deep-vee hull (18° at the stern) coped well with the conditions. We were in light trim and so the boat fairly bounced off the tops of the waves. Once or twice we managed to get totally airborne but the landings were no problem, thanks to the lack of planing strakes and that soft riding, deep-vee hull.

Hitting the swell side-on did result in spray coming into the boat, but that was to be expected, and overall I think the chines did a good job of directing it away. We could have allowed the boat's ballast chamber to fill and then closed the release gate, giving us a more comfortable but slower ride. Instead, we made a fast trip over to a sheltered bay where tried out some of the boat's other features.

At rest the flooding keel fills with 320lt of water, and it's an excellent stabiliser on this relatively light hull. Two people moving about the boat are no problem so it'd be a stable fishing platform. The hull also holds a turn well at high-speed. The 90hp Evinrude is perfectly suited to the boat, providing quick acceleration and ample top speed. As power is applied, the ballast chamber empties almost instantly and, conversely, the boat settles down quickly when it comes to rest.

We weren't able to measure fuel consumption but the economy of the E-TEC system is well known. The 80lt fuel tank should provide for a whole day's fishing for a couple of mates without risk of running dry.

Despite the conditions we managed to maintain 20kts heading back, something few boats of this size would have considered, and back at the beach we ran straight up on the sand, enjoying one of the benefits of an alloy hull. Once the trailer had been backed down the ramp and the self-loading latch set, it was a simple matter of powering up until
the boat connected with the latch and was secured.

Overall, this is a nice little package with the performance to punch above its weight. The hull weight is just 420kg yet it feels like a bigger boat, thanks to the high freeboard (710mm), water ballast system and deep-vee hull.

This is a great boat for a couple of mates out for a day's fishing.




The Surtees 5.5 Workmate comes packed with innovative features, like its alloy hardtop. The front is held by pneumatic stays with a system that allows it to be pulled down until it meets the windscreen. This position can be used when towing the boat, or to reduce wind and spray coming over the windscreen if you haven't fitted clears.

Reducing the boat's height is a simple matter of unclipping a couple of catches and swinging the hardtop back into the cockpit. The same goes for the windscreen, which leaves the cabin roof as the highest point of the boat. The whole process takes just a couple of minutes.

Inside, the unlined cockpit is open and well-suited to fishing, with good storage and comfort. The test boat had no step-through transom but this is an option.

The flooding ballast fills as the vessel drops off the plane to quickly settle and stabilise at rest. This empties almost instantly as the power comes on, enabling the boat to leap onto the plane. A gate can be shut in rough conditions, holding the tank full to reduce the pounding effect of a head sea. Alternatively, the ballast can be kept empty, floating the vessel higher when driving onto a trailer.

Another great feature is Surtees' self-launch and retrieval system. It works a treat and renders either process a true one-man affair. For launching, the trailer is reversed down the ramp in the usual way, and the trailer latch lifted to engage a hook on the boat. The safety chain is undone and winch pressure is released to allow the weight of the boat to come onto the latch. At this point, the winch cable is unhooked and the counterweight slides along an arm until it's closest to the boat. All that's needed then is to hop aboard and power gently forward. This relieves pressure on the catch while the counterweight causes it to drop down and disengage, allowing the boat to slide gently off the trailer when the motor is taken out of gear. Retrieval is just as easy.



On the plane...

Excellent handling

Self-flooding ballast tanks

Pneumatic alloy hardtop

Self-launch and retrieve system



Dragging the chain...

Ergonomics could be improved






Specifications: Surtees 5.5workmate




Price as tested (approx): $45,900 (ex Deegan Marine)

Options fitted: Painted sides, Nyalic coating, folding windscreen and garaging hardtop roof, rocket launcher, cabin carpeting, cabin seating with vinyl squabs, cabin and deck lighting, bait station with rodholders, single-axle braked trailer and more

Priced from (approx): BMT package from $34,990 with 90hp carburetted two-stroke (ex Deegan Marine)




Type: Deep-vee monohull

Material: Aluminium

Length (overall): 5.5m

Beam: 2.15m

Weight (hull only): 412kg




Fuel: 80lt

Rec. HP: 90hp

Max: 115




Make/model: Evinrude 90hp injected two-stroke

Displacement: 1296cc

Weight: 145kg

Propeller: 17in Viper




Deegan Marine

102 Eastland Drive

Ulverstone, Tas

Phone: (03) 6425 2238





Surtees Boats

2909 State Highway 30

RD2 Whakatane

New Zealand

Phone: +64 7 322 8461




Originally published in TrailerBoat 261.


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