BOAT TEST: NORTHBANK 650HT
Northbank's flawless pedigree shines through in this latest offering. Mark Robinson reports.
Famous and often quoted major league baseball star, Lawrence "Yogi" Berra, once famously said "It's like déjà vu all over again", which is a little bit how I felt when it came down to testing this Northbank 650HT. I say this, because I reckon I have tested every model Northbank Marine has produced during the past decade.
With a pedigree that includes designs by naval architects and the heavy use of CAD/CAM technology, the Northbank vessels are of a uniformly high standard. Manufactured from fibreglass composite, attention to detail has been paid throughout the vessel. In terms of structural strength, you won't find fault as typified by the craft's seven laminated bearers, whereas five is more often found in vessels of a similar size. Also impressive is a hull thickness of 25mm at the keel and 8mm at the gunwale.
LET'S DO IT
The day that I tested my very first Northbank (a 540C from memory) saw Gulf St Vincent in a foul mood, so we firstly stooged around in the Port River for a while, throwing the vessel around in various ways, doing speed readings, popping it up on plane and seeing how tight a turn it could cut before experiencing prop slip - all the things one does to garner info on a boat test. Of course, there was the little matter of delaying as long as possible the moment we had to face that threatening seaway.
Sick of my stuffing around, the builder at that time, the late Jaan Lindsaar, grabbed the helm from me, swung the craft around, pushed the throttle way down and we leapt onto the plane and headed straight for the ugly seas at the mouth of the Outer Harbour. To this day, I swear that I left finger indentations in the stainless steel passenger grabrail.
We hit the first swell and flew through the air, my knuckles and face as white as the glossy gelcoat adorning the craft, but then made the first of many remarkably soft landings. Yep, Jaan kept the hammer down as we flew fast and low across the ugly gulf chop, the Northbank making small beer of it, slicing through the steep faces with its fine forefoot and throwing the spray well to each side. Well, most of the spray anyway.
Then we explored each and every running angle you can imagine; parallel to the seas, running before them, taking them on at a three-quarter angle on the bow, running down-sea at 45°, and regardless of our approach, the craft performed admirably throughout the neck wringing we dished out to it. All of it, at a faster speed than you would expect a vessel of its size to be capable of doing.
Thus began my admiration for the Northbank range of boats, an admiration which saw me become a happy owner some years down the track, and my experiences during that time did nothing but reinforce the early impressions of seaworthiness, safety and travelling comfort in rough seas.
Well, the 650HT continues the tradition with its fine forefoot and 21-degree deadrise at the transom. With a hull length of 6.5m, an overall length of 6.8m and a beam of 2.44m, it's a fair lump of boat and yet it gives the impression of a somewhat larger craft when onboard. Pleasingly, despite its soft-riding qualities the craft is very stable at rest, a virtue appreciated by all who spend time onboard, not just the fisho fighting the big 'un.
The cockpit is roomy, high-sided (a nice safety feature) and has stowage under the sole as well as a large killtank, while the side shelving is roomy and should comfortably take all the rods, boat hooks, landing nets and other paraphernalia the typical fisho seems to need.
The hardtop is high, wide and handsome with excellent headroom, and while it's light and airy, it totally protects its occupants from the elements. Charging along in a chop doesn't result in any water reaching those onboard, whether comfortably ensconced in the generous helmsman's or passenger's chairs, or simply standing between them admiring the view through the large three-panelled windscreen.
On the test craft, the Mercury instruments, plus a marine radio and compass completed the dash layout, but there is plenty of room to accommodate a nice range of electronic equipment.
As well as providing excellent shelter, the hardtop features sliding side windows, which give excellent ventilation either underway or at rest on those sweltering summer days. A fair bit of thought has gone into the design of this vessel, with a generous anchor locker up forward, a decent-sized hatch in the cabin roof and a split bowrail, which, while being stylish, is high enough to also provide a practical benefit. Speaking of stylish and practical, the moulded bowsprit and anchor fairlead both look and work well.
A transom door and a boarding platform make both ingress and egress a cinch and the stainless steel fold-down ladder makes climbing back onboard from the water a simple task also, assisted by a well placed grabrail.
This 650HT was powered by a 6lt Mercury Verado supercharged four-stroke outboard, which is listed as having a prop-shaft rated 200hp. An in-line six-cylinder engine, this 24-valve, direct acting, double-overhead cam unit utilises SmartCraft DTS electronic throttle and shift, and provides impressive performance.
While the vessel is rated for a power range of 175 to 250 ponies, I reckon the 200hp unit fitted to the test craft was ideally matched to the hull.
With just a light touch of the throttle, the Northbank rose seamlessly onto the plane, while a more vigorous push saw it leap ahead very spiritedly indeed. Both in acceleration and in handling, the 650HT was easy to drive and responded instantly and accurately to input from the stainless steel destroyer-style wheel.
A Revolution Four propeller, with a diameter of 14in and a pitch of 21in was driving the boat on the day and seemed well suited, although this may not be the unit finally settled on for general use. It certainly worked extremely well getting us out of the hole and validated Mercury's claims that this four-blade stainless steel prop is right up there for both traction and acceleration.
Given that the motor was brand-new and rev-limited by the factory, in our speed trials, we did not run it past 4800rpm. However, before I boarded, Shane from Christies Beach Marine ran it out to 43kts. A substantially higher speed should be achievable when the motor can be run out to 6400rpm. The underfloor 250lt fuel tank should provide a reasonable range for most waterborne activities one would pursue in a craft of this type.
Like its sister ships in the Northbank range, the 650HT's ride was faultless, although the occasional jar was felt when running with a cross wind, a jarring typically produced by the craft leaning into the wind and therefore landing on one side of the hull rather than squarely on the vee-bottom. Trim tabs would take care of this very simply and in my opinion, every high-sided, hardtop monohull on the market would be better for them also.
But boating is not all about roaring around or fishing aggressively, there are times such as between tides where a bit of a snooze is called for, or a bit of time-out to lie down and relax and here the cuddy cabin appears inviting enough for such activities. The craft's double-decker storage shelves are a practical and space-saving idea; of course, storage compartments are found underneath each bunk.
A careful appraisal suggests that this vessel provides very good value for money at the asking price of $96,990, as tested including trailer. The towing weight is approximately 2500kg depending on fuel load and the amount of gear carried aboard. However, Northbank can do a base model for $84,990, or alternatively, a fully-optioned craft that will come in around $105,000.
I found nothing to fault with the 650HT when it comes to value for money, performance or hull quality and finish. It looks good, performs well and should give any owner a long run of safe and comfortable boating.
WHAT WE LIKED
NOT SO MUCH
Plain interior finish but built to price
Price as tested: $96,990
Priced from: $84,990
Length overall: 6.8m (inc. bowsprit)
Hull length: 6.5m
Rec. max. HP: 250 (185kW)
Weight: 2500kg (BMT)
Make/model: Mercury Verado 200
Type: Supercharged straight-six outboard
Rated HP: 200
First published in TrailerBoat #248
Want the latest stories delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the free TradeBoats e-newsletter.