SURTEES 8.5 GAMEFISHER REVIEW
Its customers were asking for it and now New Zealand builder Surtees has delivered. The company’s new flagship, the Surtees 8.5m Gamefisher is ready for action and sure to reel in more Australian boaters to the marque.
Note: this boat was tested in New Zealand.
Cost aside bigger is generally always better and after falling for Surtees’ superior build quality, clever tricks, fishable features and smooth ride, its customers begged for more. The new, bigger 8.5 Gamefisher is arguably its best trick yet. In true Surtees style it wouldn’t settle for anything but the best, taking a painstaking year to design and build using only the best materials available.
Surtees markets its boats as ‘built to fish’ and it’s no secret they come packed with clever features to help fill the bins. The cockpit is large with an equally large bait station featuring a freshwater tap, four angled rodholders and two cup/sinker holders. The wide, thigh-high gunwales have a further three rodholders and complementary refreshment holders per side. Two further rodholders on the transom are specifically angled for trolling lures.
A canvas shade extension offers some sun protection, while still allowing plenty of open casting room. Although it does impede access to the eight rodholders in the overhead rocket launcher when extended, it can be slid back into the hardtop or completely removed when required.
A removable walkthrough transom door drops into place to reduce water intake when backing down on a rampaging marlin, with the easily-accessed and viewed livebait tank directly below. Two large underfloor bins provide plenty of catch and dive gear storage. A dropdown rear seat is also a good spot to sit while wrestling with a shrunken wetsuit. There are also plenty of additional features and customisation options available.
After a late-evening photo-shoot I dragged the Surtees team out of bed bright and early with the promise of blue skies to show off the 8.5 Gamefisher’s pristine paint job. It took a while for the sky to respond to the invitation, but at least there was plenty of chop and swell around early on to put the boat’s credentials to the test.
Heading out to our destination we took the opportunity to unleash the 300 horses bolted to the stern along the way. Pushing the big Surtees way past the realms of recreational use proved no issue for the solid hull. High-speed turns were tight and cavitation free, and running at WOT through a snotty sea left all our joints and fillings intact.
The flooding hydraulic keel holds a whopping 600lt and can be opened and closed with the flick of a switch from the helm. The crappy conditions allowed this feature to be fully tested and it does make a noticeable difference to the ride in rough water by reducing hull lift and forcing the sharp, strake-less hull to slice through. You lose a bit of speed and holeshot but gain plenty of comfort. As a comparison, at 5000rpm with a following sea and the ballast closed we recorded 30kts. Flicking the switch to open and discharging the ballast saw our speed climb steadily to 33kts for the same revs.
The 150hp Honda four-strokes have a great sound to them, which isn’t too loud considering all that grunt – smooth would be an understatement. Of course, having two engines makes the sound and smoothness even better, and they also enhance manoeuvrability. But how well would the big boat go in the unlikely event of one engine failing? Well, we couldn’t get it to plane on one outboard (with the other trimmed right up), but at 3000rpm she’s doing 9kts, which should still get you home quicker than a tow would. Single outboard and diesel inboard options are also available.
LOADED AS STANDARD
The team at Surtees is full of good ideas and a lot of features that are optional extras on its smaller boats are standard on the 8.5 Gamefisher. In fact, everything apart from the electronics and engine(s) comes standard.
One user-friendly upgrade is the hydraulic ballast flap, which is easily operated via a switch on the dash. Anchoring is also simply controlled with a substantial Savwinch drum winch, offering an electronically-controlled variable-speed drive for working different depths. It also comes loaded with 200m of anchor warp.
Surtees has gone to a clear Perspex front hatch over its usual aluminium model to let more light into the cabin. This is further complemented by plenty of large glass windows all-round. A full LED lighting system provides an attractive glow after dark, with underwater lights for an extended fishing fix.
Sliding windows open both front and back and a rear window drops down to allow good ventilation. Large bi-fold doors open out onto the cockpit to ensure great flow in and out and keep the skipper in touch with the action out back. There’s also good headroom throughout, with plenty of under-seat and under-floor storage to maintain a clutter-free environment. The hardtop is insulated for year-round comfort and reduced condensation.
As is the case with all Surtees boats no space has been left underutilised. A comfortable L-shaped couch lies to port with a drop-down table and bunk extension creating a second bed to complement the large double berth up front. The table twists sideways to create extra standing room if required. Stylish anti-slam drawers are located at either end.
Twin gas hobs and a freshwater sink lie to starboard, with a 75lt electric fridge neatly fitted beneath the deluxe helm seat, itself featuring a flip-up bolster for either back-of-leg support or extra standing room.
Up front, 1.9m bunks with in-fills allow two people with long legs to enjoy a cramp-free night’s sleep. An electric toilet resides below with a privacy screen available as an option. This boat will comfortably overnight three adults or your average family of four with younger children.
REAP THE REWARDS
Expansive views, a well laid-out dash, ergonomic controls, and automatic trim tabs certainly make the 8.5 Gamefisher an enjoyable and rewarding boat to helm. Of course, the sports car-like performance and smooth, predictable ride also helped in this regard. Relinquishing the helm was no easy feat.
At almost 3.5 tonnes she’s certainly a big, solid boat to be towing around, but with a capable tow vehicle no fish will be safe. The Surtees-built tandem-axle trailer features braked stainless steel callipers on all four wheels, and the Carlisle Hydrastar electronic braking system means any able vehicle can be used to tow it without requiring specialised wiring. The electronic controller simply plugs into your cigarette lighter allowing the trailer’s braking force to be adjusted to suit. With Surtees’ clever self-loading trailer catch (check your Australian dealer for availability), launching and retrieving was a simple drive on/off affair, which, judging by the look on their faces, left many other boaties at the ramp feeling rather jealous.
Surtees Boats managing director Phil Sheaff explains why they’ve decided to go bigger: "A lot of guys with Surtees 6.7s and 7.3s wanted a bigger boat and wanted that boat to be a Surtees. With us not having a bigger model they had to go to other brands, so we decided to go after that market. We’re really happy with the outcome and tried hard with the styling to make sure the 8.5 Gamefisher looks like a Surtees."
All Surtees boats are built from start to finish by one boatbuilder, who gets to weld their initials on the outboard pod to instil a sense of pride in their workmanship. Sales manager Cliff Schick says it also creates a sense of camaraderie between customers and staff down at the boat ramp.
Surtees boats are in hot demand; at the time of writing the company has 126 on its order books. Sheaff says Surtees is also making inroads in Australia: "We’ve got a really good network of dealers in Australia now, with two in Victoria, two in NSW and one in every other State."
This year Surtees celebrates its 20th anniversary, and the fact that it’s never had a hull failure. To commemorate the milestone plans are taking shape for a special edition Surtees. Hinting at what it might look like, Sheaff said: "The first boat Neil Surtees built was a 6.1 Barcrusher so we thought we might revamp it, but possibly take it up to a 6.3m or 6.4m hull, which would fit nicely between our 5.8m and 6.7m models."
Even with 21 boat show awards to its credit, Surtees Boats isn’t resting on its laurels nor will it sacrifice build-quality to increase profits. Schick explains the obsession with quality: "Our boats come with a six-year worldwide hull warranty. We send them up to the Pacific islands and also have a few in Vancouver, Sweden and England now, so imagine the cost if something failed over there. That’s why everything’s over-engineered on our boats."
Schick says with its production numbers it would be more economical to import parts from China, but that’s not going to happen on his watch.
Surtees has just installed a state-of-the-art paint booth to allow better quality control and a quicker turnaround to try and keep pace with demand. Every boat that leaves the Surtees factory is CE-rated and is also built to meet Survey standards, only requiring a windscreen swap to 6mm clear glass to get approval. It’s one of only a select few New Zealand companies to achieve the stringent CE certification.
› Sleek, stylish and feature rich
› Excellent Surtees build-quality and innovation
› Capable offshore vessel
› Crisp handling
› No cabin ceiling grabrails
Surtees’ biggest and cleverest offering yet certainly sets the bar very high. Its head-turning looks, comfortable accommodation and all-round capabilities make it a winner in my book. With the new 8.5 Gamefisher, heading out wide in comfort and style is all but assured.
PRICE AS TESTED
Twin 150hp Honda outboards.
RPM SPEED FUEL BURN RANGE
800 2.9kts 2.4lt/h 653nm
1000 3.9kts 4.2lt/h 501nm
1500 6.3kts 6.9lt/h 493nm
2000 7.2kts 11.1lt/h 350nm
2500 9.5kts 18.9lt/h 271nm
3000 13.2kts 30lt/h 238nm
3500 20kts 46lt/h 235nm
4000 24kts 54lt/h 240nm
4500 27kts 56.3lt/h 259nm
5000 30.5kts 72lt/h 229nm
5500 34.8kts 92lt/h 204nm
*Sea-trial figures supplied by the author. Fuel-burn is for both motors combined.
MATERIAL Aluminium (6mm hull; 4mm hull sides and topsides; 3mm cabin)
TYPE Planing monohull
LENGTH OVERALL 8.65m
WEIGHT Approx 3400kg
PEOPLE (DAY) 10
MAKE/MODEL 2 x Honda BF150 VTEC
TYPE Four-stroke four-cylinder petrol outboard
RATED HP 150 at 5500rpm (each)
REC. MAX REV RANGE 5000 to 6000
FUEL SYSTEM Fuel injected
DISPLACEMENT 2354cc (each)
DRY WEIGHT 217kg (each)
PROPS Solas 14 x 21
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Cnr Nepean Highway & Ponderosa Place,
Dromana, VIC, 3936
Phone: (03) 5987 0900
Fax: (03) 5987 0500
Originally published in Trade-A-Boat #438, April 2013.
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