The history of Surtees

Though a number of years have passed since this history lesson was first published in 2006, Surtees’ origins have stood the test of time…

Surtees’ tradition of strong, stylish construction began when boilermaker, Neil Surtees, began building his own aluminium jetboats to thrash around the wild white water of the central North Island rivers near his home town, Kawerau.

It wasn’t long before other boaters took notice asking him to build boats for them, and, from a polyglot collection of sheds on the main road near Kawerau, Surtees Boats was born.

Later, Surtees switched boating codes and became a keen fisherman; bashing out over the Whakatane River Bar to fish the Bay of Plenty, from East Cape to White Island.

Coastal fishing out of bar-harbours required a totally different sort of boat and Surtees put his mind to the problem. He identified the need for a boat with a deep Vee hull form, for optimum cut through and seakeeping ability, but shallow enough to keep her steady at rest while fishing. A problem which had plagued designers for decades.

Surtees’ solution was water ballast – a ballast tank low and central in the hull which filled up at rest and then drained within seconds of the boat getting under way. Each of the Surtees models, from the 5.5m Workmate to 6.7m Weekender, has a fully-welded water ballast tank in its bilges.

By 1999, Surtees’ Bar Crusher 5.5m, with its durable aluminum construction and practical layout, was already a market winner, and two years later it took out the 2001 Hutchwilco New Zealand Boat Show Under 6m Boat of the Show award. It repeated that feat in 2002, 2003 and 2004, and collected trophies at Boating and Fishing Shows in Hamilton, and at BIA Boat Shows in Christchurch.

Surtees sold his share of the business a few years ago but the Surteesname still stands for quality construction and innovative engineering.

The company introduced a 6.7m Weekender to its range about a year ago (2006) after being contacted by people with 6.1m Barcrushers, who requested the same boat but with a little extra size and few more ‘home comforts’.

Generally, aluminium boats are much more presentable these days and have gone from being hard-core fishing boats-for- the-boys to very well finished, general-purpose boats for the family.

A major factor in improving the finish of alloy boats is the single-pot polymeric coating Nyalic, says Wills. The clear resin was developed for the US space programme and used on the Apollo space capsule and Lunar Rover. All Surtees boats are sprayed with a generous coating to maintain external alloy in bright, new condition, and guard against electrolysis and corrosion.

Surtees’ original collection of sheds and garages has evolved into an ordered production facility with specialised premises used to complete each phase of the building process. What started as a one man operation 15 years ago (2006) now employs 30 people.

Many of the Surtees workers own Surtees boats and smoko often evolves into boat design forums.

Neil Surtee’s basic design, the shapely deep Vee hulls, without strakes, and with noticeable shoulders forward – to accommodate the water ballast and ensure an even trim at rest, has pretty much remained the same.

They are certainly tough, as one anecdotal report recounts.

"One of our 5.5m Workmates came unstuck on the bar at Port Waikato and rolled back and forth in the surf for a couple of days before they got a line on it and winched it ashore. The insurance company brought it back to the factory – but all we had to do was put a new top on it – the hull checked out okay."

Each Surtees has a 5mm alloy hull with six, fully-welded longitudinal stringers, integral buoyancy, water ballast and fully welded tread plate deck, and this welded lattice of stringers and bearers obviously kept the boat intact.

Nowadays (2016) Surtees have continued to develop innovative safety and comfort features in a very clean lined, serviceable and attractive range of designs.

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