By: David Lockwood, Photography by: David Lockwood

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There is a strong plate aluminium boat market locally but newcomer TABS continues to make solid inroads into the sector with versatile rigs like the 5660 Centre Cab, writes David Lockwood




I've owned a few boats in my time: practical boats, pretty boats and all kinds of boats in between. The problem with boats built from fibreglass with all the bumps in the right places, a really nice finish and some upmarket upholstery is maintaining them. It's not difficult, mind you, it just takes time. Which is why in this time-poor age, where time is a rare commodity, and we anglers are pretty warn out after a long day on the water, that the hose-it-out tinnie takes some beating.
Tinnies are, of course, one of our enduring Australian icons keeping company with meatpies, kangaroos and Holden cars. But need I remind you, that not all tinnies are the same. Besides those that so perfectly quench a thirst after a day's fishing, tinnies fall into two categories: those that are rolled en masse by a factory; and, then those that are built by hand from thicker plate-aluminium with much greater attention to detail.
There's a lot to choose from in the world of plate-aluminium fishing boats. South East Queensland has more than its share of these fabricators to choose from, including TABS, the subject of this test and a relatively new player making inroads into the tinnie market.
Such has been the reception that TABS is now ramping up production and building bigger rigs to meet the burgeoning offshore-fishing-boat market. The TABS 660 Centre Cabin pictured hereabouts, no doubt getting plenty of air, is the flagship in the boatbuilder's range and a boat aimed squarely at offshore anglers who, for one reason or another not least being maintenance, don't want glass with class.




Though the welds were only fair in parts on the TABS demo boat, there were no sharp edges and - wow! - the sterling silver paintjob looked superb as the boat bounded across the deep-blue sea. But it's what you don't see that matters more. Underfloor is a welded box-grid stringer system that stiffens the hull and, without flexing, helps stop that bugbear of lesser tinnies - cracking.
The TABS factory is confident enough with its construction methods that it backs each boat with a five-year (conditional and transferable) structural warranty. And the 660 Centre Cab is no lightweight, boasting a 5mm-thick high-tensile plate-aluminium hull bottom and 4mm sides. The dry weight of the hull is a not inconsiderable at 1065kg.
Further, all the gunwales, decks and floor are fully welded, creating a self-draining hull with underfloor floatation. The 250lt underfloor fuel tank is more than enough for a long day's trolling with a four-stroke or direct injected two-stroke outboard. And I like the fact that the fuel sender can be accessed through an inspection hatch.
Basic though it is you get a lot of plate boat for your bucks with the TABs 660 Centre Cabin. The boat would benefit from some backyard fitout by a handyman. On its trailer and in the water, the boat looks, and feels b-i-g. It's an especially high-sided and dry hull, with plenty of beam so it's easily driven - amazingly so, in fact - and is nice and stable for offshore fishing. There's a lot of boat underfoot, as suggested by the seven-person stated capacity.
Being a walkaround, the side decks are wide enough to fight a fish around rather than just tiptoeing to the bow. And while the demo boat was a base rig, things like a checkerplate floor, wide gunwales and excellent toe-under space, with high freeboard and terrific buoyancy fore and aft, lay the foundations for creating a great fish or diveboat.
As with all practical plate boats it will be an easy to maintain boat. No need to treat it with kid gloves.




Fitted with an extra-long 200hp Yamaha four-stroke outboard - a 225hp is the maximum power but a 175hp is actually recommended - the demo 
660 Centre Cabin was eager in more ways than one. As a drive-away rig on a Mackay deluxe dual-axle trailer with brakes, Furuno 4100 sounder, marine radio, rear lounge (clip out), hydraulic steering, bimini top (yet to be fitted) and safety gear, it stands you in at just over $77,000. Add some backyard handiwork and you get an affordable maxi trailerboat that, at around 1500kg on trailer, will be an easy tow, too.
But for serious offshore fishing, the boat needs better rodholders than the plastic ones provided, perhaps a pair of outriggers, upgraded electronics including a deep-water depthsounder (transducer bracket provided) and a GPS chartplotter, plus a bigger livebait well and a portable icebox to carry home the catch.
Even in bare-boat form, anglers will welcome the deep and dry transom designed for a single outboard installation. There's loads of buoyancy to carry the weight of a big four-stroke outboard, twin batteries under the transom accessed through hatches, and the demonstrator was fitted with optional duckboard extensions on a so-called whale tail either side of the outboard. You could mount a berley pot or, perhaps, a bigger livebait tank on one of these, while the family and divers will welcome the access to the water when not fishing.
A small (optional) portside livebait tank was fitted to the demo boat, along with a walkthrough marlin door, and some pretty hefty looking above-deck cleats. As touched on, the four plastic rodholders have to go, but that's no biggy. Thankfully, the optional rear lounge, while handy for family days, snaps out and leaves just the backrest to double as a padded coaming.
A saltwater deckwash was fitted to the 660 Centre Cabin, along with side rails and short-side pockets for carrying tackle and hardware. 
No doubt, the inventive handyman will create something clever for gaff, tagpole, rod storage and bait rigging. With boats like this you can mock-up additions with craftwood and head to an aluminium fabricator to have them built.
But full marks for the big (optional) aft underfloor fishbox that's long enough to take a decent mahi mahi, mackerel or morwong. Up one step, the deck continues along the cabin to the bow where a rounded inner edge means it's all perfectly fishable. It is also good to see a big bowsprit, tremendously solid bowrail and deep, carpeted anchor locker for keeping enough rope for deep-water anchoring.
The standard-issue stainless-steel rocket launcher can carry six outfits overhead, and it's from here that I - the dealer - was to run the yet-to-be-fitted bimini top.
Clears would be handy in cooler climes as well. The rocket launcher is hinged to assist storing the vessel, while cockpit storage can be found in the twin seat boxes upon which a pair of simple bucket seats are mounted.
The helm is a basic painted aluminium facia behind a low-profile wraparound Perspex windscreen. A switch panel is provided for lights and pumps, and there was a spread of the latest Yamaha smart engine gauges that titled Fuel, Tacho and Speed, but the multifunction gauges do a lot more and relay engine data, fuel consumption, range to go, and so on. And there was room left over on the dash to mount a decent depthsounder/GPS chartplotter.
In the compact cabin, I found 1.51m long seats that, with infill, create a snoozing area for crew. This might come in handy on slow days - I have been guilty of doing a "cabin boy" myself on occasions - plus there's handy dry storage under the seats for safety gear. You can also use the cabin for rod and tackle storage when switching between target species.




With little weight or fuel in the boat, and a moderate 16º of deadrise, the offshore ride in the sloppy conditions prevailing off Broken Bay was always going to be lively. But the boat did land better than many tinnies and, if driven at sensible speeds, will reward with terrific efficiency and low fuel bills, which is a necessity for many hardworking weekend anglers these days.
In fact, the efficiency of this beamy 2.50m-wide hull was just amazing. While it remained at displacement mode when trolling, with the Yamaha 200hp doing 2300rpm for 7.9kts and 10.1lt/h fuel consumption, the boat soon jumped onto the plane at 2700rpm and 9.6kts.
The slippery hull maintained a level cruise anywhere from 14kts at 3000rpm for 17.2lt/h to 20.3kts at 3500rpm for 22lt/h. Given good sea conditions, 4000rpm produces 24.5 to 25kts for a 28lt/h fuel burn. In other words it will cost you about $45 to reach The Shelf at high speed. Now that's affordable fishing.
At 4500rpm I noted 27.3kts and 32.8lt/h, 5000rpm returned 31kts and 40.7lt/h, while top speed was 39.5kts at 6000rpm for the light ship. Now, none of this is ground breaking, instead the TABs is a dinky-di tinnie awaiting those final, personal touches.
Fillet the catch, hose the boat out, throw in the tackle in the garage and you're done. Beats buffing fibreglass with a chamois any day.




Lots of plate-aluminium hull for your money
Dry and stable fishing platform
Lends itself to customisation
Seemingly strong construction backed by a five-year hull warranty
Centre cabin configuration is a true fisharound
Big, high and dry self-draining cockpit
Big underfloor killtank
Incredibly efficient boat that slips imperceptibly onto the plane
Efficient trolling and long-range cruising
An easy tow




The welds were a bit rough-and-ready in some areas
Plastic rodholders aren't to be trusted for offshore fishing
Small livebait tank with square corners will trap baitfish
Willingness to get airborne and a tad flighty offshore
You need to keep the boat in the water to get the best ride, which might mean travelling at more moderate speeds astern of the fibreglass fleet





Specifications: TABS 660 Centre Cab




Price as tested: $77,135 w/ Yamaha 200hp four-stroke outboard, options, and tandem-axle Mackay trailer
Options fitted: Rear lounge, livebait tank, underfloor killtank, custom bimini, hydraulic steering, Furuno 4100 sounder, VHF radio, safety equipment, and registrations
Priced from: $68,206 w/ two-stroke Yamaha 150hp outboard




Material:   5mm plate-alloy hull with 4mm sides
Length overall:  7.90m
Beam:   2.50m
Deadrise:   16°
Towing weight:  Approx 1500kg as tested; 1065kg (hull)




Fuel:    250lt
Water:   N/A
Rec. HP:   175 to 225hp single outboard




Make/model:  Yamaha F2OOXHP
Type:    60º V6 DOHC fuel-injected four-stroke outboard
Rated HP:   200 at 5500rpm
Displacement:  3.35lt
Weight:   265kg
Drive:    Outboard
Propeller:   Three-blade 17in stainless steel




Enterprise Marine,
1416 Pittwater Road,
North Narrabeen, NSW, 2101
Phone: (02) 9913 7767



All figures supplied as per manufacturer's specifications. Prices in Australian dollars for Australian delivered boats unless otherwise stated.



Originally published in TrailerBoat #229

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