By: Mark Bracks, Photography by: Mark Bracks

Mark Bracks took Excelcraft’s Sapphire 5.8 for a turn on the water and reckons he’s found a real gem

Many boaties have dreamed of creating their own special craft and turning it into a business. Some have been fortunate to establish multi-million dollar companies from their vision but, for many, it’s thoughts of, "I could do that better if..."
Simon Bennett, proprietor of Excel Marine in West Gosford, NSW, is one of those with dreams of creating the ‘perfect boat’.
He bought the business three years ago after a career as an automotive engineer and I suspect thoughts of building a unique creation had at least a minute bearing on his change of business.
"I’ve always been into boats and often thought about building my own, so I decided to have a go," Bennett said.
"The aim was to build a heavy-duty boat that was comfortable enough to go out with the family one day, then the next head outside fishing with a few mates and do it better than the rest.
"Everything has been done from the floor up with the help of a few other people."
Whatever the dream, it’s a brave move to enter the plate boat business but Bennett believes he is filling a niche in the central coast market and didn’t seem too nervous having TrailerBoat turn up for a test after christening it the Sapphire just two days previously. In fact he couldn’t have been keener.
After sampling the Excelcraft Sapphire 5.8, his first recreational fishing vessel in only its third time on the water, I can understand why.
Pardon the pun, but the Sapphire 5.8 is a gem - a remarkable craft for a first up effort.
His passion for the craft was evident as he let me loose to clamber over the craft at Woy Woy boat ramp. A few knuckle raps on the hull provided an indication that it’s definitely not your average tinny!

Bennett says the craft weighs 900kg without the engine, and is constructed of high tensile aluminium plate with 5mm bottom, 4mm side and topsides, a 6mm transom with a 10mm keel.
The beam features inverted chines and the forward half of the hull has been extended 70mm from the sides to double as a splash deflector.
All plates are cut offsite to CAD measurements, with Simon and his team putting the pieces together with the latest pulse MIG welders.
Under deck, there’s Microlen Closed Cell Buoyancy Foam – the best on the block according to Simon - and a 160lt fuel tank.
With its 5.8m overall length and 2.4m beam, it all adds up to a solid craft.
On the computer are 4.8 and 6.8m versions with three different cabins including a centre console, with Bennett saying it’s just a case of stretching or shrinking the hull design as the CAD takes it all into account.
At the moment there is no boarding ladder to mount the 215cm x 60cm deep ‘pod’ but, like any craft these days with a stern rail, it’s easy from knee deep water to jump up and over the 12cm wide transom.
There’s a cleat and scuppers either side for deck drainage, with the transom rated to carry 200kg.
In the centre of the transom is a baitboard that can be locked in four different positions, the hole doubling as the ski pole attachment with fuel filler beside.
The deck is huge (235cm deep and 180mm wide) and, proving it’s a work in progress, the 72lt bait tank was bolted to the deck and plumbed the evening before my test.
There’s plenty of security, too, with 70cm of freeboard behind the pilot decreasing to 67cm at the stern, four rod holders around the gunwales and 210cm x 15cm storage racks underneath.
The racks are high off the deck and, as such, the bottom of the stainless steel rod holders could do with rubber boots to save skin being taken off as you reach for something.
The cockpit is well thought out. It is practical, spacious and comfortable. The swivelling passenger and fully adjustable pilot’s seats (soon to be improved) sit on 50cm-high pedestals. Directly behind is a lower seat atop a 30cm x 35cm x 25cm icebox, and beside both pilot and passenger are further storage areas.
The tilted, six-spoke Bay Star wheel is surrounded by Suzuki tacho, speedo, fuel, and trim gauges, with space for a compass. There’s also the Matrix Hummingbird 87c GPS, Navman VHF, and beside the wheel are nav light, bilge and bait tank switches.
Directly below is a conveniently placed four-shelf tackle box. The passenger side also has one as well as a lockable glovebox in front.
The five-piece tinted wraparound opening screen - also made in-house - is a beauty. It provides plenty of protection and excellent vision when you are sitting down.
There is enough head room under the bimini for a tall person and attached is a very strong rocket launcher that can hold seven rods.
Massive storage lockers form part of the bulkhead in the helm, separated by four deep shelves that act as steps through to the bow and anchor well.
The bowrails are 27cm high, and there’s a forward cleat as well as the bow roller, but as a deep sea mover an anchor winch would be a nice touch.
It’s not often that an opportunity is offered to be the first person apart from the creator to take the helm of a boat, but Simon couldn’t have got me in there quicker as we boarded to motor to the lower reaches of the Hawkesbury River at majestic Pittwater, which boarders the northern reaches of Sydney.

The addition of the spray deflector, the inverted chines and the power of the 140hp Suzuki four-stroke with three-blade 14x19 alloy prop combine to push it out of the water onto the plane rapidly.
Topped out on flat water, the Sapphire hooks along at 56km/h at 5600rpm, while steady motoring sees the tacho ticking over at about 4000rpm at 35km/h.
The spray begins from half way on flat water, demonstrating the balance of the craft as the deflector works exceptionally. I don’t think one drop of water made it onto the deck.
Once past Lion Island, the gently rolling one to 1.5m swell was too much of a temptation and it didn’t take too long at a crisp clip to get airborne. The entire boat was soon out of the briny. Bracing myself for the first smash of the hull, it was like landing on a mattress. The fact that there was no loud smash of metal on water and no jarring of the body inspired a lot of confidence.
The hydraulic steering seemed a little heavy, but this is nothing to be alarmed about because it is responsive and direct. As for the handling of the hull during turns, it holds a line very well and has to be pushed pretty hard for any indication of cavitation.
It handles a following swell with aplomb, tracking straight and true, but after a few minutes I was wishing for a larger swell to see how the Sapphire would handle tougher conditions.
The craft is plated for seven people and is a true all-rounder, offering great performance and well thought out features that could easily handle 200hp hanging off the stern.
Considering it is a first attempt at an outside craft it would be unfair to criticise the ‘faults’, which should be considered more as suggestions as the design template is refined.
Bennett and his entire team should take a bow and be very proud of what they have produced.
Get in early, because once the word gets out there will be a long waiting list.

Durable, heavy-duty craft.
Well thought out.
Ride and handling

Needs a removable stern seat and table
Lack of anchor winch for deep sea fishing
Incorporate bait tank into transom
Exposed sharp edge on gunwale rod holders


Specifications: Excelcraft Sapphire 5.8

Price as tested: $65,800 
Options fitted: Microlen closed cell buoyancy foam, carpet, bait box, cutting table, extra storage, VHF radio, Hummingbird sounder, hydraulic steering, rocket launcher, bimini, safety equipment, drive on multi-roll bogie trailer, two-pack epoxy paint, ski-pole, ice boxes
Priced from: $49,000

Material: Aluminium plate, 5mm bottom, 4mm side and topsides and a 6mm transom with a 10mm keel
Length overall: 5.8m
Beam: 2.4m
Draft: 35cm
Deadrise: 15.5°
Weight: About 900kg

HP: 150
Fuel: 160lt

Make/model: Suzuki DF140TX
Type: Four-cylinder, four-stroke
HP: 140hp
Prop: Three-blade 14x19
Displacement: 2044cc

Excel Marine P/L,
2/22 Dell Road,
West Gosford, NSW
Phone: (02) 4323 1811
Fax (02) 4325 5105

Originally published in Trailerboat #203


Want the latest stories delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the free TradeBoats e-newsletter.