Black Cat 8.9m

The very capable 8.9m Black Cat fills a gap in the market, has the ability to travel fast and offers a lot for its size. Geoff Green went aboard to talk to the designer, owner and builders.

Black Cat 8.9m
Black Cat 8.9m

The owner of the first Black Cat 8.9, Stan Vear, previously had a Smuggler Reefrunner powered with a 225hp outboard for five years. In the first four weeks after Primate was launched, the Vear family logged more than 300nm and Stan says there is no way he will go back to a monohull.

"It's awesome. The family love it, because it's so stable."

Primate was built by Fibreglass Marine, who also contract mould the Cat Concepts NZ38. The 8.9 project began 18 months ago when Fibreglass Marine partners Howard Hughes and Harry Vear (Stan's brother) decided to fully utilise their moulding skills and equipment by developing their own boat.

Harry and Howard have been in the fibreglass industry more than 30 years, and their experience includes eight years contract laminating at Markline and mould work for Salthouse Marine Group.

They approached Roger Hill to design the 8.9 because of the NZ38 relationship and because they had a mutual friend who recommended each to the other.

Howard says they gave Roger an outline of what they wanted, and that brief included a hardtop with wrap-around windscreens and aft-angled coamings.

Roger says he had a fair bit of data to work from, having done an 8.5m aluminium boat and a slightly larger cedar-composite boat before designing the 8.9.

"It was a relatively long-term project for Fibreglass Marine, who developed the boat on a restricted budget and parallel to their main work flow. After supplying the hull and deck lines, Howard, Harry, Peter Webster and myself did the layout primarily by eye. I think the collective approach achieved an excellent result, because the boat looks good and it has generous internal space for its size. The whole project is a credit to the can-do Kiwi attitude.

"Primate is pretty quick and I don't advocate everybody will want to do 38 knots, because it can be a little hard to hang on and not too comfortable for the family. But there is always the option to run the engines off load, which will give a 30-knot cruising speed with good economy and long engine life." Stan thoroughly enjoys using the boat's fast top speed, but generally cruises around 4000rpm (27.5 knots) to optimise fuel economy.

"But the boat wants to go fast and it's quite capable of doing so in choppy conditions. According to the engine instruments, we burn about 23 litres per motor per hour at 4,000rpm."

A fuel flow analysis, conducted by Dieselcraft Evaluations for Trade-A-Boat magazine, measured the fuel burn at 21.4 litres per motor per hour at 4,000rpm, slightly less than the Optimax readout.

A second deck mould is being made to create a stern-drive version of the outboard-powered Black Cat. The plug was nearing completion when I visited Fibreglass Marine, and the alternative configuration features a central bait station and full-width boarding platform. Howard says the stern-drive version has more cockpit area, because, without the outboard wells, another metre is available inside the boat.

"There is more usable space and it will make the boat look a lot bigger," he says.

Roger thinks two Mercruiser 120hp four-cylinder diesel stern drives are ideal power plants for the 8.9.

"With these engines, it will cruise about 25 knots and have the same efficiency as a boat moving at higher speed."

The Black Cat is built of composite materials and Howard says it's well over-engineered for peace-of-mind. Most of the laminates are laid up using polyester resin, but vinyl ester resin is used in the outside laminates under the waterline for osmosis protection. Knitted fibreglass fabrics, rather than woven fabrics, are used because they are a lot stronger than woven materials. Thirteen millimetre balsa cores are used in the bottom sections (the NZ38 uses the same core) and the first four metres of the wing-deck are constructed with a 25mm balsa core. The topsides, deck and hardtop are cored with foam.

Both versions of the Black Cat are available as hull and deck packages for about $96,000. The packages include more than the hull and deck because of the way the boat is moulded and constructed. They include the galley and dinette mouldings (part of the deck mould), and the toilet/shower and main bunk modules. Howard says the hull and deck packages are basically ready for engineering, engines and final fitout, with wiring, plumbing, gas lines, upholstery and covers.

A 100mm gap exists between the top of the tunnel and the saloon floor. Two full-length stringers are glassed into this confined space.

"They bond the deck to the tunnel, and make the boat very stiff and strong. We want to ensure every hull is correctly built, and are not prepared to sell a boat without joining the hull and deck ourselves. This means the shower/toilet module and bunk moulding must be sold as part of the hull and deck package, because they are fitted before attaching the deck."

The Black Cat is a relatively small boat, but the design team has made the most of the space available. A quarter-berth is fitted in each hull under the saloon, the combined toilet/shower is fitted forward in the port hull and the main cabin fills the forward section of the starboard hull.

The quarter-berths are fitted at floor level in the hulls and are about 2.2m long by about 800mm wide. Natural light diffuses into the quarter-berth openings through the saloon windows above and a reading light provides illumination at night.

Stan and Helen Vear have two daughters - one three and the other six - and Stan says the quarter berths are their domain.

"They love them and are quite at home in there with their toys."

The combination shower toilet module is created by a separate two-piece liner. The top and bottom sections join about 300mm from the deck, so that in essence the sides, bottom and small vanity are a single entity free of joins. It's an easy-to-clean space and the moulding working is good quality. The electric toilet pumps to a holding tank, and an overhead Weaver hatch provides ventilation and light. It's very difficult to photograph small spaces, but the Black Cat's shower/toilet space is comfortable and well thought out for the boat's size.

The main cabin in the starboard bow can be closed off from the remainder of the boat with a lightweight fibreglass door. The fore and aft bunk is set above the tunnel, and steps built into the bow give easy access to the bed. Stan says there is considerable storage available under the steps, under the bunk and in a bedside locker that opens into the port bow.

He says the first time the family slept aboard, everyone slept all night. "Compared to the Smuggler, it sits very quietly in the water and there is no chine slap."

Two halogen reading lamps are fitted above the bunk and the BEP switch panel at the helm controls a light on the deckhead.

"We've also got LED deck lights that wash the saloon floor and cockpit with a soft light for navigating around the boat at night without disturbing people. They draw about 0.5amps per hour, so they stay on all night with the anchor light."

The combined saloon/galley/helm area within the hardtop is open at the back and Stan says the next project is to fit a camping canopy over the cockpit.

"It will have headroom, weather-proof the cockpit and provide an exit onto the central boarding platform between the engines," he says.

The compact galley is to starboard in the saloon, and a gas califont heats the hot water to supply the sink, vanity, shower and cockpit shower. The califont breathers exit into the saloon above the galley bench.

The Taylor-Made windows on each side of the hardtop slide open and the starboard one provides additional ventilation above the galley bench.

Primate carries 100 litres of fresh water in each hull.

"I think it's enough for this style of boat," says Stan. "We bring bottled water aboard to drink and use the boat's supply for cooking and showers."

The Vear family doesn't have a dinghy yet - they intend buying a small inflatable and carrying it on the hardtop - so they anchor close to the beach and use a stern line to pull the boat to shore. Stan says with the engines tilted up, Primate only draws 450mm and wading ashore is no problem. "You hardly get your knees wet."

He says the transom design gives good access on and off the boat, and the platform area is also great for fishing.

Two large lockers in the cockpit sole give access to the tankage, engineering systems and storage space under the cockpit. The fuel tanks (one 200-litre tank in each hull) are positioned well aft under the outboard wells, with the water tanks fitted in front of them. The water tanks finish about 350mm in front of the inside of the transom, so the vast majority of under-floor area is available for storage. The oil reservoir and primary fuel filter for each engine are fitted against the front bulkheads, which also carry items such as the Sureflo pump for the deck wash.

The fuel flow and performance trials conducted by Diesel Craft Evaluations showed the twin 150hp Mercury Optimax outboards powering Primate returned a top speed of 38.3 knots.

Howard says the Black Cat doesn't need twin 150hp outboards unless you like to travel fast. It was designed to run efficiently with engines as small as 90hp.

"Twin 115hp outboards would be a good match."

With these engines and a comprehensive fit-out that included toilet, shower, four burner stove and fridge, the package will sell for about $170,000. Fitted with twin diesel stern drives, it will sell for about $213,000.

Black Cat 8.9m
LOA: 8.9m
LWL: 7m
Beam: 3m
Draft: 450mm (heavy)
Displacement: 3.5 tonnes (heavy)
Recommended power: Twin 90-150hp
Fuel capacity: 400 litres
Water capacity: 400 litres
Price: Packages from $170,000
Boat supplied by: Fibreglass Marine, Beachaven. Phone: (09) 483 2147

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