BOAT TEST TABS BULLSHARK P450


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Renowned for its aggression, the bull shark hunts with deadly precision in both saltwater and freshwater environments. With that in mind, John "The Bear" Willis says TABS' new Bullshark P450 punt is aptly named...

BOAT TEST TABS BULLSHARK P450
TABS BULLSHARK P450

Like its namesake, the TABS Bullshark P450 is a purebred assassin with a single-minded focus - that of hunting fish. Its evolution has also resulted in a high degree of versatility, because just like the shark, this purpose-built punt will happily allow lure-tossers to target all manner of sports species - saltwater or freshwater, bays and rivers, you name it.

The parallels between the beast and the boat continue. Both have snub noses broadening to very strong, full lines through their mid-section. Both are sleek, well rounded and hydrodynamic. Both will lift quickly on the attack and approach silently and with supreme stability when stalking their prey. Above all, they are both confident predators.

The Bullshark P450's layout is common to many of today's snub-nosed, pointy punts (or cathedral bows, if you like). There's a large carpeted casting platform up front, a smaller full-width platform in the rear, and - in this case - a single side-console with four alternative seating positions, including the casting slot in the bow. It's a very convenient layout that will keep a couple of tossers (lure-tossers, that is) satisfied for years to come.

SILENT BUT DEADLY

There are many similar boats on the market, so why buy a Bullshark? The answer isn't evident from its appearance, trim, layout, fishability or price. In fact, it's only obvious when you drive it - that hull is so quiet!

Many a lightweight pointy punt has been sent to the scrapyard after having been destroyed by hard but typical sportfishing use and abuse. Weaker models tend to bend and buckle under the stress of long distances over choppy water and being hauled down rough, corrugated roads. TABS, however, describes its range of Bullsharks as "SWP" (Salt Water Punt) models, built tough for long sojourns. The extra strength in their rib spacing is evident by the solid ride they deliver in the slop.

We took the Bullshark P450 - as well as its feisty sister, the Wildfisher - to Victoria's Lake Eildon to sample the pair's charms. I was a bit disappointed on our arrival to find that quite a chop had been whipped up by the stiff breeze, but in actual fact this gave us the opportunity to put the Bullshark's construction - and TABS' claims - to the test.

The Bullshark is made even stronger by increasing the amount of "pressings" in the bottom sheets. These little ribs create enormous strength in aluminium sheet, and actually help to reduce the water slap at both fast and slow speeds. TABS also says it has beefed up the keel extrusion and worked extensively on the bow shape to soften the entry. The company can say what it wants - whatever it did, the result is a solid, sure-footed and quiet boat on the water.

Many flat-bottomed punts suffer greatly from an inability to trim. In fact, some punts have intricate designs that actually create suction, delivering hellish ride characteristics - but not the Bullshark. TABS says it engineered a "Rocker" in an otherwise flat bottom, similar to that employed in surfboard design, and this allows full engine trim to tailor the ride to the load and conditions.

The otherwise flat bottom creates enormous stability at rest, which is just the thing when you're tossing lures. Now if only TABS could get a flat-bottomed boat to turn like a vee-bottomed boat, our world would be complete - but I guess that would be contravening the laws of physics.

You actually need to be a bit careful turning in the slop with the Bullshark, as she does grab a bit. She'll also give you a bit of a pitch and slap if you're trimmed too high. It's not a hull made for manoeuvring in a swell or steep chop, but she's okay in a straight line or in slow turns, and that's quite acceptable for all of the advantages this hull shape allows.

IMPRESSIONS COUNT

Our test boat was fitted with a Mercury 60hp EFI four-stroke "BigFoot", which provided the maximum specified horsepower. It also weighs only 2kg under the maximum weight. It was a brand new engine straight out of the box and I'd love to test it again after a decent run-in. As it was, at 800rpm idle it was quite noisy and rough. Lifting the revs by as little as 150rpm evened it out considerably, and from there it was quite acceptable throughout the range - although (and in contrast to the hull) it was never particularly quiet. It did get a bit better throughout the day, but those looking for a smooth trolling engine will need to investigate further. Alternatively, you can install a bow-mount electric trolling motor such as the Minn Kota fitted to our test boat and let it take over the bulk of stealth duties.

The "BigFoot" certainly did live up to its name, however, by thrusting the hull on to the plane with a flat and even transition. This package just loves to travel at an economical 17kts (31.5kmh) at 3800rpm, with or without trim.

By the time I motored out into the middle of the lake from the Jerusalem Creek ramp it was blowing a stiff 15kts and chopping up considerably. It handled the conditions quite admirably so long as I didn't turn sharply, but I suspect some weight in the cavernous bow storage and killtank recess would undoubtedly help things here.

It hit a top speed of around 32kts (59.3kmh) at 6000rpm at wide open throttle (WOT). I'm not sure if this was because it had hit the speed limiter or because it was flying over the lumps in the highly oxygenated water - either way it was certainly fast enough (and too fast, in fact, for the conditions).

Personally, I'd spend the extra on hydraulic steering. You spend a great deal of time behind the wheel in these boats so why not have some creature comforts? The combination of the "BigFoot" and the mechanical steering (with its lack of feedback) was a bit stiff. We cold-weather Mexicans could also use a small windscreen. Bugger me it was cold, with icy wind blasting down from the nearby, snow-capped Victorian high country - not that you blokes up north would care.

The driver's position and dash layout was really good for a tinnie. I was amazed by the amount of fish and structure captured by the Humminbird 788ci, which was flush-mounted to the console and afforded a terrific viewing angle. The throttle and switch panel were in a comfortable and easily accessible position and so was the steering wheel.

However, a pet hate of mine did rear its ugly head - someone simply has to invent some plug-in pedestals that can be relocated easily. TABS has used the best available, but they could be improved.

The entire underfloor area is foam filled for maximum safety and this also aids noise suppression. There is a full-length sidepocket on the port side that's big enough for a small casting outfit. The sidedecks have short side rails with enclosed navigation lights, but they won't get in the way when casting. Up on the bow there's a mounting position for an electric outboard, with another little Humminbird sounder close at hand.

The fully-carpeted interior features a large casting platform up front with plenty of storage and a large, centrally-positioned and plumbed kill / livebait tank. The battery for the bow-mount electric is also neatly concealed in an underfloor compartment.

While you won't often need to raise them, we did have some trouble with the rear casting platform floors that enclose the portable fuel tank and rear battery compartment. One of them just refused to be coaxed into place, regardless of my less-than-gentle persuasion. It seemed a notch in the panel was a smidge off centre. Not a deal breaker, just a mild annoyance.

THE WRAP

Despite my few criticisms of the Bullshark, in reality I'd actually be pleased to own one. It's an excellent sportfishing machine with terrific features and a uniquely quiet ride.

The layout suits the keen angler and the overall package represents excellent value for money. I'd love to re-test the package to further qualify the engine, but in the main the Bullshark P450 is a fine craft worthy of serious consideration.

On the plane...
Quiet hull
Soft ride
Good internal fitout
Super strong construction

Dragging the chain...
Disappointing engine needs further investigation
Firm steering
Needs pop-up bow cleat
Rear casting platforms are a very tight fit
Poor turning at high speed

TABS BULLSHARK P450

HOW MUCH?

Price as tested: $30,075
Options fitted: Bow-mount sounder, Minn Kota 55lb electric motor with i-Pilot, bimini w/ rod rack, plumbed livewell, safety equipment, Victorian registration, flush-mounted Humminbird 788CI with plotter / sounder / GPS
Priced from: $24,900 (with 50hp four-stroke)

GENERAL
Type: Bull-nosed punt
Material: Aluminium (3mm bottom, 2.5mm sides)
Length: 4.5m
Weight (BMT): Est. 750kg
Length (overall): 4.5m
Max HP: 60
Fuel: Portable 22lt

CAPACITIES
People: 5

ENGINE
Make/model: Mercury 60hp EFI "Big Foot"
Type: EFI, double-overhead cam, four-cylinder four-stroke
Weight: 118kg
Displacement: 995cc
Gear ratio: 2.33:1
Propeller: 15in Vengeance

MANUFACTURED BY
TABS Boats
2 Activity Crescent
Ernest, Qld, 4214
Tel: (07) 5594 6333
Web www.tabsboats.com.au

SUPPLIED BY
Regal Marine
514 Canterbury Road
Vermont, Vic, 3133
Tel: (03) 9874 4624
Web www.regalmarine.com.au

Story: John Willis Photos: John Willis and Alison Kuiter
Source: TrailerBoat #285

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