TESTED: FORMULA ICON 58
There are No Excuses for the Formula Icon 58 being the best long-range fishing boat operating in NZ. With 1800 horses on tap, she can race to the fishing grounds quicker than Black Caviar, well almost
It’s one thing to roll cookie-cutter hulls off a production line, spray them down, dress them up, and thrust them upon a comparatively undemanding, harbour-cruising public. It is quite another to craft a custom offshore-capable vessel for one of Australasia’s most experienced and discerning boat owners. It’s a challenge that accepts No Excuses.
And it was the challenge New Zealand-based Formula Cruisers accepted when it took ownership of the brief that would evolve into the big, red beast on these pages appropriately dubbed No Xcuse.
It seems a challenge is something this survivor of a company is up for. A veteran of 25 years in a tough industry, Formula Cruisers has evolved to survive a global recession which has devastated the once robust NZ launch-building industry. For many years the company built a sturdy range of semi-production vessels to meet the needs of the local cliental.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s many would say the ubiquitous Formula 4000 was the very embodiment of the all-round Kiwi family cruiser/gamefisher. By the late ’90s, high-performance imports from large-volume overseas manufacturers put the squeeze on the local industry, and the smart, like Formula Cruisers, were forced to rethink their approach to survive.
Constrained by a tiny domestic market and facing an ever increasing flood of comparatively cheap production cruisers across a border with few barriers to importation, made any large-scale production facility unviable.
Success would mean producing a product with an unarguable value proposition. A semi-bespoke craft built specifically to handle the challenging (there’s that word again) local sea conditions without any compromise on style and comfort seemed to fit a vacant
niche – and thus the Formula Icon was born.
WEEKLONG SEA TRIAL
My first experience on the new-generation Formula Icon cruiser a few years previous came by virtue of an ultimate sea trial – a weeklong adventure to prove the hull worthy of its reputation for superior seakeeping, functionality and comfort. If we caught a few fish along the way, well that would be a bonus.
The vessel was the new Formula Icon 54 and over the seven-day period we would enjoy the extreme ends of the recreational boating spectrum. We explored seldom fished grounds more than 100 nautical miles from the mainland, steaming for a full day and a night to get there. Freezers full, we returned to land in building weather to enjoy the pleasures of coastal cruising: diving, light tackle fishing and just mucking around on an excellent boat.
My lasting impression of the Icon 54 was of a vessel which stood head and shoulders above the many production cruisers I had repeated similar trips aboard. At the time it was the first modern vessel I had trialled featuring the aft galley and fully opening rear window, which has now evolved into the semi-express styling seen on many of last year’s new releases.
I was also very impressed with the build quality and ride. Heavy ship-like coamings and high flair complemented the evidently stiff hull to produce an impressively soft and dry ride in most of the conditions we experienced in the more than 400 nautical miles travelled. The hull has a very resolute feel akin to that I have experienced in this country with the likes of Randall or Precision.
The next time Formula Cruisers came to my attention was at a social gathering with former colleagues – professional fishos plying their trade as guns for hire throughout the Pacific.
Rumour had it one of the industry’s most experienced owners had commissioned a Formula 58 Icon to replace his existing gamefisher in the relatively remote port of Gisborne, on the North Island’s far eastern corner.
This was big news because the man in question had a reputation for breaking new ground on the long-range gamefishing front. Having already experienced success driving one of the Southern Hemisphere’s most ambitious projects, pioneering the awesome Wanganella Banks as a recreational fishery, whatever he was building was going to spend plenty of time at sea, that was for certain.
Even knowing what to expect it was hard not to be impressed when the opportunity finally came to visit No Xcuse in person. The big, red boat rested benignly at the dock on a mirror-still day, tethered by an array of oversized hawsers that clearly suggests things can change rapidly here.
Gisborne is a port with a reputation for sorting the men out from the mice. As a rule it’s a working port famous for its giant tuna – caught for profit rather than pleasure – yet sitting among a fleet of "steel" boats the glamorous 58 Icon looked completely at home and equally up to the task of coping with whatever the sea gods choose to throw in its path.
WORK AND PLAY
Climbing into an enormous cockpit the boat’s brief was immediately apparent. Professional and uncluttered as a whole, the devil is in the detail. Clearly the result of input from both boat designers and professional fisherman it’s a well thought-out work space, where every scenario has been considered and designed for.
Three separate sets of oversized killtank/refrigeration holds disappear seamlessly into the floor. High-volume bait tanks and tuna tubes are slotted into the rear gunwale, all fed by the best quality pumps with quick-access lids to keep up with a frantic bite cycle.
Adjacent and forming the entryway to the saloon, a raised platform complete with a comfortable but hardwearing lounger provides an elevated observation platform, a home for the custom tackle lockers and an extra barrier to any seawater sloshing around on the working deck below. With that reality in mind, deep drains and massive scuppers acknowledge the testing environment the vessel will find itself operating in.
I was also pleased to see another feature seldom offered on boats claiming to be in this category. A proper head, which could offer an extra shower, is located outside in the cockpit. Over the years I have operated several workboats offering this option but rarely see it on a recreational vessel. It is one of those features some view as quite odd at first but after you have enjoyed the convenience of such a dedicated wet area you wonder how you ever did without it.
THE TOOL SHED
Before we moved inside (and while the motors were still cool) I took the opportunity to check out the engineering department. This boat is powered by a triple Zeus pod installation by Cummins and to be honest I was expecting to find a cramped, little hobbit hole of an engineroom designed to keep midget contortionist mechanics in gainful employment.
Day-to-day access is via a generously proportioned hatch in the cockpit floor, so clearly at least one normal-sized person is expected down there. The working space below decks was in no way as bad as I had feared, it should be perfectly functional for all but the biggest jobs which, even on a boat doing as many sea hours as this one, wouldn’t come up more than biannually (and provisions had been made for the eventuality). What’s more important was the high quality of the workmanship. Everything is oversized and tolerance designed to cope well beyond the worst-case scenario with multipoint locking and airtight seals on all the hatches. In a boat built to expect the worse this is expected of course but still great to see.
Forward of the engineroom and behind another watertight bulkhead is the accessories room. A fair description, if by accessories you actually mean fishing tackle. I swear Poseidon himself doesn’t have a better outfitted tackle locker than this boat. And it all fits perfectly with relatively straightforward access to whatever shiny toy is appropriate for the day’s activities. Oh, and there’s also a 17.5kVa generator, a watermaker and various other essential items of equipment – air-con and a washing machine from memory – in situ.
As readers will note in the images hereabouts, for a big boat built to operate in conditions that may not always be particularly tropical the saloon and the elevated section of the cockpit flow together in a completely open and unobstructed way. Troy Woods, general manager of Formula Cruisers describes the approach as being based on the express boat, only with an enclosed flybridge.
To my eye it’s more of a hybrid blending the strengths of both ends of the spectrum for overall improvement that could be bigger than the sum of the parts. The beauty of express boats is that on the fair weather days the open layout is both eminently functional and extremely pleasant to live on with its natural indoor/outdoor flow. The downside is that the interior of the vessel (and the passengers) can take a battering from the elements when things aren’t so delightful and the lack of a flybridge is considered a handicap by serious fishing captains and can restrict the space available in the saloon if a full control station, with all the fanciest bell and whistles, is shoehorned in. No Xcuse’s hybrid setup solves this issue, with options to fully enclose the saloon in a tempest, and does it in style.
FOLLOWING THE BRIEF
And speaking of style this Formula Icon 58 has it in spades on the inside, albeit in a typically pragmatic Australasian way.
An open saloon with a solid timber and expandable dining table leads through to a very large galley forward on the same level. The table itself is mounted on an oversized ram allowing it to be easily converted to extra bedding. I really like the generous proportions of the table and lounger setup. It is easy to imagine yourself whiling away an evening with a good glass of wine discussing the day’s events with a group of likeminded mates.
The galley mentioned above again speaks volumes of the brief. It’s not flashy but it is superbly functional and built to be used at sea. A raised edge on the massive bench top is designed to prevent accidents and the appliances in place are of the best quality available on a boat. A long day’s fishing calls for generous and hearty meals and the kitchen needs to be able to cope.
Here in the saloon and everywhere throughout the boat Formula Cruisers have opted to use fabrics and furnishings that both look great and will stand up to the rigours of the boat’s brief – an important consideration when trying to maintain resale values. The right balance of solid timber, stainless steel, polished glass and hardwearing fabrics has been used to present a vessel that looks quality all day long without appearing ostentatious and unpractical. Full marks from me here.
I think it is fair to say Formula Cruisers hasn’t tried to reinvent the wheel in the vessel’s accommodation areas. A spacious master’s cabin sits amidships to port with a private en suite. Opposite and to starboard, a two-berth crew cabin offers comfortable accommodation for deck crew. Forward in the vee another large cabin features four single berths perfectly laid-out for a four-man snoring competition.
What is important to note about the accommodations is that they all feature beds at least two metres long and are comfortably and durably furnished. A separate head and shower completes the offering bringing the total number of heads on the boat to three.
THE BEST TILL LAST
Recent times have seen flybridge-style boats less favoured than single-level vessels. Some of the reasons are valid but for mine, you just can’t go past a decent flybridge for getting the job done on any boat that considers itself a serious fisher. And No Xcuse presents an excellent version of the classic semi-enclosed bridge.
Again Formula hasn’t broken any ground up top, they’ve just done a very good job of getting a proved model even better. Externally the lines are spot on, accentuating the low-profile lines of the vessel while adding to its imposing look at the dock. The same furnishing philosophies from downstairs have been carried to the bridge including the liberal application of even more of that richly toned solid timber. In keeping with most modern sportsfishing boats run by professional skippers, the bridge easily converts to his lodgings. It allows him a little privacy at night and it’s no big issue to cast an eye over the instruments for peace of mind in the wee hours.
If the skipper is pleased with his bunk he’d be delighted with the helm station. Only the very best gear has got a look in on No Xcuse.
Luxurious Navigator helm chairs offer a place to rest his behind in front of a dash dominated by three 19in Furuno monitors. These screens display every item of essential data imaginable via a Furuno Navnet system and a WAASP directional sonar and computerised bottom-mapping system. Supported by a MAQ drop-down 360-degree sonar and a 3kW Furuno FC1150 sounder this skipper really doesn’t have any excuses.
The chance to plonk my own behind in that inviting chair couldn’t come soon enough, although I would have to admit I was so dazzled by the awesome power of the display I probably didn’t pay enough attention to the awesome power of the three 600hp Cummins-driven Zeus pods at my fingertips.
Readers of Trade-a-Boat will be aware the whole system is computer controlled so there are still only two engine control levers – the third engine is called upon as needed by computer.
As we have often stated, the joystick-controlled pod drives make easy work of any docking procedure, but I was quite surprised by how much power it delivered in the open as I careered around as if chasing a fish.
The mucking around out of the way it was time to get down to serious business and in flat conditions and with Troy assuring me I could cut loose, I did just that.
For a big, heavy offshore boat No Xcuse makes no apologies for its bulk. She roars out of the water with only the electronic governing of the Cummins creating any lag. It is a fun experience to have open license with this sort of horsepower at your fingertips and one worth the price of the airfare to this remote destination.
Soon enough we were blasting along a shade under the hull’s spec’d maximum speed of 36kts. Probably not the most fuel efficient travelling speed but a hell of a lot of fun regardless.
The brief for this boat was to build a highly capable, long-range fishing boat capable of catering to a fairly hard-core crew in style and comfort. It had to look good, yet be robust enough to handle unexpected conditions for as many hours, or even days, as it would take to get to safety. For the most part it would be treated like a lady but every so often it could expect to be whipped like a mule when circumstances, or hot fish, demand it.
To all those points the company has exceeded its brief. In summary I would be happy to suggest that No Xcuse could well be the best long-range fishing boat currently operating in that country.
Well done Formula Cruisers.
› Class-leading sea performance
› Robust build and outfitting
› Exceptionally well set-up and provisioned cockpit and flybridge
› Designed to cater capably for a demanding crew
› Good speed on tap and highly manoeuvrable
› Large fuel capacity
› Damn good-looking
› Nice hybrid between full express and enclosed saloon
› Tight in the engineroom
[TRADE-A-BOAT SAYS… ]
In summary I would be happy to suggest that No Xcuse could well be the best long-range fishing boat currently operating in that country.
SPECIFICATIONS: FORMULA ICON 58
MATERIAL FRP composite
TYPE Planing monohull
LENGTH OVERALL 18.35m
PEOPLE (NIGHT) 10-plus
WATER 1000lt (plus watermaker)
MAKE/MODEL 3 x Cummins QSC 8.3 via Zeus pods
TYPE Electronic six-cylinder turbo-diesel
RATED HP 600 (each)
DISPLACEMENT 8.3lt (each)
Hanger 3, Hudson Bay Road,
Hobsonville Air Base, Hobsonville,
Troy Woods – Sales and Marketing Manager
Mobile: +64 21 555 344
Phone: +64 9 416 4836
Originally published in Trade-a-Boat #439, May 2013
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