BOAT TEST: ARGUS E35
A 35-footer powered by twin 90hp outboards halves its creator’s previous boating-fuel dependency. DAVID LOCKWOOD reports
It's a well-worn cliché that there are only two types of Gold Coast boaters: those who have run aground and those who are about to. The fearless - and fateful - take to the so-called Broadwater en masse on most sunny weekends in all manner of knockabout craft.
Of course, the waterway is a misnomer, barely two metres deep in parts, with sand banks that shift on a whim, and a tidal race that can scuttle an underpowered sailboat. Everyone complains about it and the issue of dredging is a hot topic, especially among big boaters.
It's this reality that gave rise to the Argus E35 power catamaran, a boat that's very much a product of its environment, designed to go places without breaking the bank or, worse, hitting one. Should you inquire you will learn that the "E" in the model designation stands for economy, ecology and exploring. But it might stand for something else again like, well, I thought, efficiency.
Like a lot of catamaran converts, the man behind this Gold Coast-built boat came from a sailing background. However, it didn't take long for Gary Pacey to discover the Gold Coast was no place for a keel yacht. Thereafter, he embarked on a voyage of discovery aboard a power catamaran.
Pacey was cruising places fast, but at a cost of 3.5lt of unleaded petrol per nautical mile. With a 400lt fuel tank, it didn't equate to a big range and, he will tell you, beyond the Gold Coast lie plenty of great boating waterways that do call.
FATHER OF INVENTION
As Pacey couldn't find a boat that fitted, he built his own. It helped that his business had been supplying electrical, refrigeration and desalination equipment to the marine industry for 12 years and that, in the last four years, he was manufacturing electrical and dash panels and distribution boards.
Thus, the Argus E35 is the mother of invention. Unsurprisingly, impressive electrical systems are a feature aboard. The self-sufficient cruising cat doesn't need a generator for its AC appliances. We'll get to them.
Meanwhile, the hull owes everything to world-acclaimed catamaran designer Roger Hill, a Kiwi who has been commissioned to build more than 150 big and small cats.
Using full displacement hulls with a 13.5:1 length-to-beam ratio, the Argus E35 is a low draft, low-drag, and low wash boat much like a commercial fast ferry or RiverCat. While there are diesel inboard-engine options for those who intend clocking up big hours, Pacey is quick to point out the advantages of today's four-stroke petrol outboards, not least being initial cost.
The other great thing is the cat requires only modest horsepower to zoom about: twin 90hp four-strokers, in fact.
Built in a female, the Argus has a solid fibreglass bottom, with vinylester resin below the chine, and composite foam construction above the waterline and on the decks. There are fore and aft watertight bulkheads just in case, and structural foam-cored fibreglass keels that let you rest the boat on the dry without damaging running gear.
Now to the electrical system. Three 32V 170W solar panels feed into the house battery bank that's connected to a 3000W/70amp inverter/charger so you can run the microwave (two hours for a whole roast chook) oven or a couple of 240V induction cooktops.
Rather than be built-in, the cooktops are freestanding so you can move them from the galley up to the cockpit to whip-up dinner outdoors. Hot water was, in fact, a wastewater refrigeration system providing "warm" water of 28°C during our icy 14°C test day. I'd go for another system for true hot water.
Battery monitors and auto-charging systems linked to a CAN-bus switching system take care of pretty much everything including ensuring engine-start power irrespective of house load. For that purpose, there are two 225amp Lifeline batteries for 24V power, with single 12V 55amp engine start. The boat comes with a 15amp shorepower lead and connection, too. Naturally, lighting is all LED.
Plumbed for a desalinator, the E35 otherwise carries 400lt of freshwater, and an impressive outboard flushing system. Press a button and freshwater is forced through the cooling system for a predetermined length of time before shutting off automatically. Thus, at the end of the day, you only need hit the flush switch and walk away. The solar panels top-up your batteries and keep the fridges cool.
Meantime, like most eco abodes, ventilation is via opening panes of glass above decks, and a power-vent in the windscreen, with simple 12V fans to assist down below. The galley with fridge drawer, solid counter tops and storage is portside, the head with shower is across the way, with the forward section of both hulls harbouring double-bed cabins with hanging lockers. Oceanair insect screens and blinds cover the escape hatches.
Headroom is lofty, the light timber joinery and white liners adding to the sense of space, while Pacey went to quite some effort to maximise storage space using Tupperware containers mounted in pockets. Back in the saloon, there's an L-shaped lounge with pleated leather upholstery and a separate three-seater lounge.
We were quite impressed by the size of the cockpit and see immediate applications for fishing given that it overhangs the water. For outdoor pursuits, the underfloor storage will also be appreciated. A top-loading fridge/freezer adds to the utility.
There are walkaround decks and room to tote a tender on the hardtop. Small nets in the bow could be improved but are nonetheless handy for dangling a leg, while sipping a drink at anchor. In respect of anchoring, you shouldn't budge on the Sarca pick and 65m of 8mm chain.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The twin 90hp Suzuki outboards on the demonstrator consume 28lt/h at 16kts, equating to 1.75lt/nm or half of what Pacey was burning previously. Top speed of 20.5kts results in 65lt/h, but one rarely runs at wide-open throttle except when crossing river bars.
If you slink about at just 8 to 12kts you will use just one litre per nautical mile, claims Pacey. Using a 600lt tank, the cat's range is quoted at anywhere from 400 to 600 nautical miles. The frugalness also owes something to the hulls' relative light weight. On the scales, the cat weighs just 4200kg.
The idea from the outset was to create a cat that can bound through skinny water, venture offshore, easily undertake long-weekend cruises and roam to places like Hervey Bay. For Sydneysiders, the Argus E35 would be a great Hawkesbury explorer, easily negotiating the shallow Swansea Channel to Lake Macquarie, if not play holiday boat at Port Stephens. After Broughton Island, you could range up the serpentine Myall River to the namesake lakes.
In fact, when you take a closer look at many of our silting waterways, be it the Gippsland Lakes or the Murray, or the naturally skinny South Aussie gulfs, there's a lot to be said for a cruisy outboard-powered cat. Most powercats in the market are geared mainly to fishing and diving, but this one will excel at both while consuming about half the fuel, and doubly as a moveable holiday house.
(Facts & figures)
AT THE HELM
The electronic Glendinning throttle controls on the E35 give the cat a big-boat feel, while very good vision extends from the central helm bench seat through the surrounding safety glass windscreen. Advance the throttles and the cat just glides up, with no real change in running attitude, and no lag or undue load. Thus, the 14in props with typical 16 per cent slip seemed a match.
As with most cats, the boat leans out in the turns. But it seemed pretty dry on the test day and, with better saloon doors, noise levels will be reduced some more. We didn't have a rough sea to test that aspect, but do note a wave-breaker in the tunnel that should help stop slap.
PRICE AS TESTED
$450,000 w/ twin 90hp Suzuki outboards, fully loaded, and options
Raymarine electronics upgrade and optional internal fairing ($12,000) in place of vinyl liner finish
$438,000 w/ twin 90hp Suzuki outboards
MATERIAL: Solid glass bottom to survey standards with composite hull and decks
TYPE: Full displacement power catamaran by Roger Hill
LENGTH OVERALL: 10.7m
WEIGHT: 4200kg (dry)
HOLDING TANK: 50lt
MAKE/MODEL: 2 x Suzuki DF90
TYPE: Four-stroke DOHC 16-valve petrol outboard
RATED HP: 90 (each) at 5300 to 6300rpm
DRIVES: Outboard with 14in props
Cat lovers are sometimes considered kooky and advocates of multihulls are known to be downright mad. But there's good reason that most commuter and commercial craft in the world today are catamarans. The "E" in the Argus 35E could so easily stand for efficiency.
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