Fi-Glass Dominator

Since it first made a buzz at the boatshows back in 1974, thousands of Kiwi families have towed the Fi Glass Dominator to launching ramps to fish, dive, ski and just have fun. But even the best of boats must move with the times. Lindsay Wright sampled the new Dominator.

Fi-Glass Dominator
Fi-Glass Dominator
The 30-year old design needed modernizing, says Fi Glass production manager Stewart Hydes, to blend in better with the rest of the Fi Glass range. "The rest of the range have a commonality of style but the Dominator was different - so we've just brought it into line with the Warrior, Senator, Lightning and Firestar."

Fi-Glass founder Frank Simpson (72) still has a hand on the reins in the design department and along with son Griff, who is managing director, made the changes to the timeless Dominator design. "The Dominator has been a very good boat for us over the years," says Griff. "In 30 odd years we've built close to 3000 of them." Basic hull shape remained the same but three different deck styles have been added in that time.

First thing to go was the plumb transom which was replaced by a more shapely compromise portofino style stern. "It meant we could mould new seats right into the stern - they're lower and safer than the old ones," says Stewart. Like the old Dominator the new transom retains a core of klegecell closed cell foam for stiffness. "It won't get waterlogged or soggy over the years as people change motors and drill holes in it for fittings."

The Dominator's underwater shape was left pretty much the same, with an 18 degree vee deadrise for stability and control. However, for a boat of this size it is considered to be deep vee hull. There have been some minor tweaks to the strake design to improve the boats performance and ride.

One major change was the stylish scalloping on the sides which also, by virtue of its shape, add rigidity to the hull and help deflect spray. The flare on the bow of the 5.05m long hull was also slightly reduced - but otherwise retained as a solid feature of the previous model.

The old model's backwards opening hatch has been replaced with a 550mm by 700mm side-opening model in tinted perspex and a mock walnut finish added to the dash panel. The panel was also sloped to make the gauges easier to read when either standing or sitting. Another addition is the separate, self-draining anchor locker, with a mooring cleat fitted into it forward.

Moulded storage bins have been added under the cabin berths and the new back-to-back passengers' seating sits atop a large, easily accessible storage area.

The freshened-up Dominator has already scooped best fibreglass boat awards at a number of boat shows and several owners of older style Dominators have reported being "thrilled" by the changes. "The thrust of the development was to bring the best entry level boat to the market, but keep the price below $30,000," says Stewart.

The first step towards getting acquainted with the Dominator, was a tour of the company's factory at Bromley in Christchurch. Both hull and deck are built in female moulds to a lay-up configuration and laminate thickness based on over 40 years of building the Fi-Glass range. A web of solid glass frames and stringers provides extra strength in the bilge area, which is then filled with buoyant foam.

Fi-Glass is New Zealand's oldest and most well established production fibreglass boat builder and the experience shows. Almost everything on the Dominator; stainless steel hand and bow rails, moulded plastic bucket seats, upholstery and trim is sourced from the 20 staff working in the factory, or nearby contractors.

All boats in the Fi-Glass range comply with the Marine Industry Association's Compliance Plate Code (CPC); an industry initiative which ensures that all compliant boats attain stringent construction and equipment standards, including being unsinkable when swamped. The manufacturing process is independently audited on a regular basis to ensure compliance and a CPC plate affixed to the hull, all backed by a six-year hull warranty.

One upside of the strict quality control is that Fi- Glass boats maintain their value. "We often hear stories of tidy, earlier model boats being sold for close to their original price," says Stewart.

Boats built from the original mould are marketed in Australia and New Zealand as Firecrests and 30 were sold throughout dealerships in Australasia last year. Other boats have been sold to Noumea and moves are afoot to export to markets much further afield, for example in the northern hemisphere.

The Dominator's custom trailer, with a natty tread grip moulded on the mudguards, are built at the same factory to tow the 750kg family fun boats. "Many trailer manufacturers build their trailers out of box section - but we use C-section because it's easier to wash out and less likely to rust," Stewart pointed out.

On board, there is a long padded shelf either side for handy storage. The cockpit is lined with grey UV-stabilised outdoor carpet and extra storage space is provided under the stern seats. A single swivel skipper's seat can be provided with an optional Softrider pedestal and adjustable base. There is space above the dash for additional electronics. A generous padded area surrounds the Mercury controls beside the skipper's seat.

Outdoor carpet covers the deck but sales representative Grant Harman says that many people who fish from their Dominators prefer the standard speckled polyester finish.

Cabin headroom is a bit short for my 1.86m frame but access is easy and lounging quite comfortable. Likewise the bunks are compact and perfect for kids, or adequate for an afternoon nap.

Idling out of Lyttelton's Naval Point marina, the Dominator climbs easily on to the plane with the application of moderate throttle. Fi-Glass recommends somewhere between 60 and 90 horsepower for the Dominator and the test boat had a 90 horsepower Saltwater Series Mercury bolted to the back. The battery and space for up to three tote tanks, or an oil tank if necessary, is located against the stern, covered by a clip-on, padded vinyl cover.

The first impression is how quietly the boat skips across the steep south westerly chop. The Mercury could take some credit for that, but the foam filled hull and solid floor must are also very effective noise and sea slap dampeners. The Dominator is rigid with no kidney jarring bash or pounding.

Next we wind the boat out downwind and register just under 45mph (39 knots/ 72.4kph) on the speedometer at 6000rpm. The chill wind glances off the wraparound perspex screen and the whole experience is exhilarating but comfortable.

The Dominater is very responsive to engine trim and the Teleflex cable steering loads up until optimum trim is achieved. I found the standard Teleflex plastic wheel a bit hard to hold with cold fingers but I suspect that, once the patina of newness wears off, that will improve.

Comfortable cruising speed was 30mph (26 knots/ 48kph) at 4500rpm and, according to Grant, the Mercury was draining about 20 litres per hour from the tote tank at that speed. I felt that 70 horsepower would also do the job for the Dominator but he pointed out that bigger motors equate to better resale because a potential purchaser may be looking for a boat to ski behind. A Dominator, packing 90 horsepower, will readily pull a skier from a deep water slalom start. The boat is stable underway with two people aboard.

Though the Dominator is an entry level boat, built with a keen eye on the bottom line, there is nothing in the finish or performance to suggest cheapness. The test boat carried a price tag of $29,366 but bare hull packages start at $14,034.

Which puts Dominator owners afloat in the modern version of a maritime Kiwiana classic, with some of the best backup in the business.

Specifications Fi-Glass Dominator
Price (with trailer): $29,366
LOA: 5.05m
Beam: 2.04m
Trailerable weight: 850kg
Engine range: 60 - 90 horsepower
Deadrise: 17.5 degrees

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