Boat test: Surtees 4.85 Workmate

By: John Willis

Dewar_110328_2035.jpg Dewar_110328_2035.jpg
Dewar_110328_6215.jpg Dewar_110328_6215.jpg
Dewar_110328_6383.jpg Dewar_110328_6383.jpg
Dewar_110328_6384.jpg Dewar_110328_6384.jpg
Dewar_110328_6393.jpg Dewar_110328_6393.jpg
Dewar_110328_6405.jpg Dewar_110328_6405.jpg

After a tough, no-frills workhorse you can depend on when the crap hits the fan? John “The Bear” Willis reckons the Surtees 4.85 Workmate lives up to its name.

Boat test: Surtees 4.85 Workmate



So you think your boat's tough, do you? Well, I tell you what - I'll match the Kiwi-built Surtees 4.85 Workmate against any competitor and come out unbruised. Because if any craft could perform the boating equivalent of the Maori Haka, this is it.

This is a boat that will stick with you when the going gets tough. Its strong plate-aluminium armour will handle seas and conditions well beyond its class, and all that adds up to extra peace of mind when you head to sea.

We put the little Workmate to the test on a sloppy sea and a confused Southern Ocean swell breaking over a reef just outside Warrnambool Harbour, on Victoria's rugged and aptly-named Shipwreck Coast. The boat took it all in its stride, displaying a confident yet playful approach to seas that would have had many others heading for shelter. Its compact 15° vee hull, with six fully-welded stringers, runs, jumps and lands in a smooth and comfortable manner, and that's a testament to its solid 4mm plate-aluminium construction.

Sure, she's no show pony and the fitout is minimal, but that's also a part of the Workmate's beauty. This is a no-nonsense workhorse for fishers and divers - a strong, practical package that doesn't cost the earth to purchase or run. You can get yourself into this strong and capable little performer for well under $30,000, and it can easily be towed by your average family car. For the money you actually get quite a comprehensive package, and if I was packing the car for a lap of the country, I'd certainly be taking the Workmate along for the ride.




The old KISS principle - Keep It Simple, Stupid - has been used to great effect here, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. The overall layout is simple and practical, although a little more storage wouldn't go astray. The little cuddy affords a pretty good helm height whether sitting or standing, although I did find the Workmate to be more of a "sit down" style of boat, even in the slop. Access to the bow is excellent for a little cuddy, and there is a small bowsprit, individual anchorwell and short bowrails for convenience. Although there are two welded bow cleats there is no way to lock the chain into place, so I'd consider the addition of a split locking bollard to ensure the pick is held securely in rough conditions.

The cuddy offers some space to keep fishboxes and safety gear under cover, but there aren't any compartments or bunks, so individuals will have to customise the space to their needs, or stump up the extra for the optional cabin seating and storage. There is a pair of small sidepockets, but I emphasise the word "small". I really liked the elastic life jacket retainers. These line the internal cuddy walls and will keep your vital safety equipment accessible and in easy view, instead of becoming a damp, rotting mess under a seat box.

The checkerplate floor runs throughout the entire deck from bow to stern. Its non-skid work surface is easily cleaned and maintained, but remember that any water on the deck can run straight into the cuddy cab, so you'll need to store anything in watertight containers.

The dashboard is minimal, but entirely suitable and practical. The windscreen isn't just a bolt-on accessory; it's formed as part of the cabin construction, with a strong frame. This frame also becomes a grabrail as well as a wind and spray deflector, combining well with the toughened glass windscreen to provide the occupants with decent protection.

The driver and passenger do got a pair of simple aluminium seat boxes. I'm glad Surtees has gone for the superior strength and storage of this configuration instead of cheap pedestals found in some boats - they're bloody dangerous for big blokes like me. The plastic moulded seats are quite suitable and surprisingly comfortable, and they come with removable cushions and swivel mounts.




Moving back into the cockpit we find nice wide coamings with four recessed plastic rodholders. Personally, I'd swap them for stainless or alloy items, but they'll do for most bread-and-butter fishos. Full-length sidepockets offer strength and storage, and while there's no toehold to lock into I found the freeboard quite comfortable.

The walk-up-style transom is very fishable. There are mounting positions on the floor for two 22lt portable fuel tanks, leaving room under the floor for a large killtank. Having portable fuel tanks eliminates having to tow your boat to the petrol station, or carrying extra jerry cans for refuelling. They are also easy to keep clean, and they don't really need separate fuel filtration systems, especially when combined with the more forgiving carburetted engines. Underfloor fuel tanks are optional, but again it's more money and this is a premium-quality yet budget-oriented package. The floor drains to an easily accessible bilge recess with pump. The workstation is nicely finished off with an aluminium cutting board with rodholders, and there are grabrails over each side to the boarding platforms.

I liked the half-pod transom config-uration of the little Surtees. It has twin rear platforms with a fold-down dive ladder and plenty of room for batteries, oil bottles, pumps and associated plumbing. The transom combines well with small horsepower motors up to the maximum 70hp rating. Our test package performed really well with a good old Yamaha oil-injected two-stroke 60hp engine, while carrying two large passengers. Yep, a carburetted two-stroke - and I loved it! For every reason you can give me to change up to a more expensive new-generation two-stroke or four-stroke engine, I'll give you two reasons to stay with the cheaper alternative (see separate panel, previous page).

The Workmate battled on in rather treacherous conditions and its overall performance both surprised and thrilled me. It certainly lands very softly for an aluminium boat, although the relatively deep vee is understandably a little tender, as well as sensitive to weight and trim. The Surtees has a manually operated gate to trap the water in the flooding keel, the extra ballast helping to stabilise the load. Personally I'd rather just see more permanent weight in the hull, as to my mind a manually-operated doorway isn't an ideal alternative. However, the boat certainly performed well with the weight captured underneath, and there was surprisingly very little difference in the speed figures, with or without the ballast. This indicates to me that the Yamaha has plenty of torque to carry the extra weight, with the horsepower in reserve to punch it out of the hole.

The Kiwis are using a new "Nyalic" paint that is, and I quote, "A clear polymeric resin coating that provides years of protection against chemical, environmental and ultraviolet corrosion on ferrous and non-ferrous metals. When fully cured, Nyalic's smooth, clear finish seals the pores of the surface. Painted surfaces retain their crisp look and do not oxidize, and bare metal surfaces do not oxidize or stain." It sounds like the product we've all been waiting for in aluminium boats, but Surtees has been using it for around 10 years already.

The layout is a bit Spartan but this little Kiwi has won my heart. There are very few 4.85m plate-aluminium cuddy cabins on the market, and this one is a purpose-built weapon. The quality of its construction is superb, and its strong, neat welds only instil further confidence in the product. On the water she's surefooted in uncomfortable and unpredictable seas - in light of her seaworthiness, you can forgive a little tenderness. Like all deep-vees, the 4.85 Workmate likes to get up and run. This is a tough, no-frills, no-nonsense workboat - I guess that's why it's called a Workmate!




The Bear's take on carburetted two-strokes versus new-generation engine technology…

In Australia, emissions standards have not been introduced to most waterways, and - in my opinion - for saltwater applications they probably never will be.

However, increasing performance and decreasing emissions levels are important to us all, so all engine manufacturers are building products to comply with stringent new emissions standards. The Australian marine industry is pushing toward restrictions on importing engines that do not meet these standards. Simply put, carburetted two-stroke engines will not conform to the new emission standards, and will probably be phased out
in due course. However, they are still currently available from numerous suppliers, and they do represent excellent value for money.

In my opinion, I don't think we'll ever see the introduction of retrospective legislation that totally bans non-conforming engines. However, individual waterway managers have the right to restrict non-conforming engine usage, as is already the case on a small number of impoundments and inland waters.




1. Price. There is a huge price difference here - older-style carburetted two-strokes are generally far cheaper than their modern counterparts. In the case of the 60hp Yamaha carburetted engine as fitted to the Surtees 4.85 Workmate, an equivalent Yamaha new-generation four-stroke option would add $1200. If you upgrade to a 70hp engine the price difference is a massive $3300. That sort of money covers a whole lot of fuel, oil and servicing costs.

2. Service costs. Service costs on
carburetted two-stroke engines are considerably cheaper than those for
most modern alternatives.

3. Consumables. Standard TCW3 oil
is acceptable in carburetted two-strokes, and it's generally much cheaper
than oils specifically designed for
modern alternatives.

4. Ignition. Modern direct or electronic fuel-injection requires full battery charge to power the computer for ignition. To my knowledge the exceptions to this rule are the mid-range Evinrude E-TECs, which are claimed to run even without a battery. Most carburetted two-strokes up to mid-range can be pull-started in the event of a battery failure.

5. Fuel Contamination. Carburetted two-stroke engines are generally less prone to fuel contamination problems than fuel-injected engines. Owners of boats with fuel-injected engines should spend more money on premium filtration systems, particularly if their boat is fitted with an underfloor fuel tank.

6. Power. While technological progress is rapidly closing the gap, to date modern four-strokes simply haven't had the immediate punch of two-stroke engines. Fuel-injected two-stroke engines such as the Mercury OptiMax, Evinrude E-TEC and Yamaha HPDI possibly have more immediate power than carburetted engines and are far more fuel efficient.

7. Weight. There have been major advances in four-stroke engine construction, but as a general rule, four-stroke engines are heavier than their two-stroke counterparts. (NB: this can actually be beneficial in some installations, and a negative in others.)

8. Workshop. Most qualified marine workshop technicians can service and repair carburetted two-stroke outboards. However, as a general rule you need fully trained technicians with specific tools and computer programs to service and repair individual brands of fuel-injected, two-
and four-stroke engines.

9. Noise. Modern engines are undoubtedly quieter at low revs. This is important for anglers who want to sneak up on prey, and for smooth, pleasant trolling at low speed. Conversely, at higher revs - and despite manufacturers claims that noise levels on modern engines have been significantly reduced - I haven't always found that to be the case. Many four-stroke engines can create quite an annoying harmonic resonance, particularly in an aluminium hull, and some direct-injected two-strokes can be noisy through their injection and airflow systems. Personally, I generally like the sound of a two-stroke, but others don't. My tip? Do your homework on the engine you want to buy. They all differ dramatically.

10. Fumes. Carburetted two-stroke engines certainly produce considerably more fumes and polluting emissions. This can be very pronounced and a big negative for anyone prone to seasickness. Remember that all new carburetted engines are generally set up to run on a double oil mixture for the run-in period so while they're fumy from new, they do get better.





Lumpy conditions with water-filled ballast

12kts (22.2kmh) @ 3000rpm

16.3kts (30.1kmh) @ 3500rpm

20.5kts (37.9kmh) @ 4000rpm

22kts (40.7kmh) @ 4500rpm

25kts (46.3kmh) @ 5000rpm

27kts (50.0kmh) @ 5200rpm


Note: We repeated the test with the ballast tank open and obtained very similar performance figures. Understandably, we reached a slightly faster WOT speed of 27.9kts at 5300rpm with less weight from an empty bilge. However, the package does feel somewhat flightier with an empty ballast tank.





On the plane...

Strong, tough and dependable

Soft ride

Basic but smart layout

Good bow access

Checkerplate floor

Low towing weight

Low horsepower requirement



Dragging the chain...

Limited dry storage

A bit tender and flighty

No bollard to lock anchor chain

Not convinced on manual bilge-flap









Price as tested: $27,500

Options fitted: Dunbier centreline trailer, saltwater safety equipment, registered boat and trailer

Priced from: $26,500




Type: Deep-vee cuddy-cab

Material: Plate-aluminium

Length: 4.85m

Beam: 2m

Weight: 350kg (hull only)

Deadrise: 15°




People: 5

Rec. HP: 30-75

Max. HP: 75

Fuel: Tote tank (optional underfloor 35, 55 or 70lt)




Make/model: Yamaha 60F

Type: Oil-injected, in-line, three-cylinder, two-stroke

Weight: 105 kg

Displacement: 849cc

Gear ratio: 2.33:1

Propeller: 17in alloy




Surtees Boats

2909 State Highway 30

Whakatane, New Zealand

Tel: +64 7322 8461





Russell Cairns Marine & 4X4

1117 Raglan Pde

Warrnambool, Vic, 3280

Tel: (03) 5561 4354



Originally published in TrailerBoat #271.


Find Surtees boats for sale.


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