Southernsportz 720 HT

Introducing the newest addition to the Trade-A-Boat team, the Southernsportz 720 HT - a versatile all-rounder, and a great office boat!

Southernsportz 720 HT
Southernsportz 720 HT

The litmus test of good trailer boat design lies in usability and versatility. The smartest, fastest craft might be good in flat conditions, but unfriendly or even dangerous in choppy seas. Conversely, a heavy, high-sided craft might be comfortable in a seaway but more likely to struggle for performance in lighter conditions. Its all about horses for courses and the old adage of compromise.

At Trade-A-Boat, our requirements for a project boat were many and varied. Foremost we required a photo chase boat. A chase boat must be fast and manoeuvrable, yet relatively stable. It must also provide reasonable shelter, while being open enough in the cockpit to shoot comfortably from most angles. The boat should also be capable of being fished both inshore and offshore, thus meeting magazine requirements to cover and compete in fishing tournaments. Lastly, but equally important, an ideal project boat should provide enough creature comforts to cater for staff and client outings. It is a big ask of any boat and a decision that requires careful analysis.

It was evident from the outset that a hardtop design was the only sensible option given our offshore fishing requirements. The next question therefore was whether to opt for an enclosed hardtop or an open hardtop design. While an enclosed hardtop offers better overnight possibilities, the open hardtop is more user-friendly for entertaining and therefore better suited to the magazine staff's needs.

After viewing the Southernsportz 720 Open Hardtop at the Christchurch Boat Show and again at the National Boat Show at Mystery Creek, a decision was made to approach Southern Boats of Dunedin with a proposal to come on board as the official supplier of Trade-A-Boat's first project boat. The team at Southern Boats could see benefits for both parties and agreed to provide a stock 720 Open Hardtop design for a period of 18 months. The boat duly arrived on schedule and was delivered to Southern's Auckland dealer, Auckland Marine Centre. Auckland Marine sales manager Gary Hatton and his team agreed to fit the boat out as sponsors came on board with gear and equipment to finish the project. The end result is a credit to everyone involved and the finished product must rank as one of the best-equipped and sharpest looking aluminium trailer boats on the water.

The Company Southern Boats was established in 1999, but company founders Mike Coombs and Gary Moore first joined forces in 1997. Both men quit their jobs with a Dunedin boat builder and struck out on their own, establishing the firm of MG Engineering, which operated out of a tin shed in Fairfield.

Coombs and Moore built about 20 boats in their first two years of operation, developing their designs and product range as their skills improved. In 1999 a third partner, Alan Renfree, came on board bringing management skills to an operation that was developing fast.

The partners then established the Southernsportz brand and moved premises twice as their business continued to grow. Southern Boats are now based at Mosgiel and the company now concentrates exclusively on the 5.3m to 8.2m Southernsportz range of cuddie cabin and hardtop designs.

The quality and finish of their product has come a long way in a very short time. The company now employs 13 full time staff and is on target to build close to 70 boats this year.

The 720 Open Hardtop is one of Southern's most popular models, accounting for nearly one third of all production. It is a design that has continued to evolve with subtle changes over the last two years resulting in a 2002 model that reflects a bias towards comfort and handling. Company manager Renfree says that early models were optimised as hard working, hard wearing fishing boats with little emphasis on passenger comfort or trimmings. They were, says Renfree, skinny, shallow-hulled boats with a considerably finer entry and less topside height than those manufactured today. Recent changes have seen 150mm added to the hull, with a corresponding reduction in the height of the hardtop. The hull has been lengthened and the chine width has been increased 150mm. This, together with the flattening of the variable deadrise at two thirds of its length back to 20 degrees at the transom, has improved all round performance.

The changes have resulted in a boat with better proportions and a sweeter profile without compromising stability or strength. The new model also reflects closer attention to detail and styling with the addition of a fibreglass helm station facia and fibreglass mouldings for the king/queen seat combos on both the driver and passenger sides. The finish is further enhanced with quality upholstery, two-pot epoxy paint on the topsides and Nyalic coating on the deck and superstructure to protect the aluminium finish.

The 720 is a solid boat by any reckoning with a 5mm hull and 4mm topsides, deck and cabin top. The cockpit has a solid 4mm chequer plate floor welded over four full-length bearers providing stiffness and strength. The hull is described as having an exaggerated gullwing shape to give the boat lift and to ensure planing speed is easily attained without the need for large amounts of horsepower. All Southernsportz models have a reverse chine, which, as the photographs show, effectively deflects wash down, giving a dry ride even when throwing the boat into and out of tight turns. The chine is most notable when running before a sea, giving powerful lift through the mid-bow sections, which aides safety and driver confidence. The 720 has a well engineered portofino stern with a walkthrough transom gate on the port side and a solid fold back aluminium boarding ladder. The aft deck combing is a generous width and houses the petrol filler for the 180-litre under-floor fuel tank and wells for the drop-in bait board and ski pole. Non-skid adhesive further enhances safety when stepping on to or off the transom.

A lot of thought has gone into storage, reflecting in part the shift away from a dedicated fishing package to an all-round family boat. Anglers are well catered for with full-length rod shelves on each side of the cockpit and four rod holders, two on the stern quarter and two on the cockpit deck. A rocket launcher across the rear edge of the hardtop accommodates a further six rods. A second parcel shelf has been built in under the tuck of the transom for skis and ropes, fenders and the like. There is generous storage under the king/queen seats and these are easily accessed by lifting off the rear squabs. A glove box has been added on the passenger side for smaller items such as keys and cell phones. There is also generous dry storage under the twin vee-berths up forward. Again, parcel shelves within the cabin cater for smaller personal items. The cockpit has a large underfloor bin designed specifically for dive bottles or other bulky objects. Batteries, battery switches, oil mixer, bilge pump and plumbing is all located under the rear cockpit shelf, making the cockpit wide and uncluttered. Fish bins can be added as an optional extra and are designed to hook over the rear or side parcel shelves, preventing movement under way. These have upholstered lids that double as seats where required and stand on feet, which makes for easy cleaning of the cockpit sole. The helm station is well protected by the hardtop overhang, which extends well beyond the combo seats, thus providing all-weather shelter for those seated behind the driver and passenger. The hardtop windows - all safety glass - are angled well back, keeping instrument glare to a minimum. Both the passenger and driver side windows are fitted with latches and can be slid back for ventilation. The Mercury 200 Optimax outboard is supplied with Mercury's SmartCraft instruments that fit nicely into the moulded facia. These include speedometer (mph) rev counter and engine trim position indicator. A fuel management computer is fitted to the console along with a BEB Marine switch panel for lights, CD stereo, bilge pump and instruments. Like most hardtop designs, the driver position is set back far enough to allow both a seated or upright driving position and both the driver and passenger seats are adjustable. The windscreen is tinted and provides good all-round visibility. Foot rests have been welded to the forward bulkhead for both passenger and driver and there are generous passenger handholds on the aft edge and across the top of the hardtop.

The cabin is surprisingly roomy and designed to stay dry, with a sizeable bridge deck separating the cockpit and cabin. There is an appreciable step down into the cuddy, which contributes to good sitting headroom below. The twin vee berths are full length and an infill squab is provided to form a large double. A chemical toilet has been installed between the vee and is enclosed with a sliding hatchboard that ensures it doesn't fly around when underway. The cabin sides and hardtop are nicely lined and there is good natural lighting from twin perspex side windows and an overhead Weaver deck hatch. All up, the cabin provides a comfortable sanctuary from the outside elements and presents genuine overnight possibilities.

The ride
The recent two-day Gulf Harbour Fishing Tournament provided the perfect opportunity to get to grips with the boat in a variety of sea conditions. We departed from Orams dry stack before dawn in flat calm conditions with four anglers, bait, ice, 180 litres of fuel and a large chilly bin stowed in the rear of the cockpit. The 200 Optimax made light work of the load and climbed easily onto the plane at about 3000rpm with no obvious change in attitude. At 4500rpm the 720 literally leapt out of the hollow. On flat water, the boat cruised comfortably at 34 knots at 4500rpm and 37 knots at 5000rpm. It would be safe to assume a top speed of about 40 knots at 5500rpm. The deep vee transom and relatively fine bow entry ensured a comfortable and predictable ride, with no hint of backwash finding its way into the cockpit. The boat does require correct trim and won't tolerate people moving about too much in the cockpit. While fitted, trim tabs were not necessary for the trip to the Noisies, which, as far as the fishing was concerned, provided nothing more than fresh air and a spectacular dawn.

Our next leg across to Little Barrier was a bit more challenging with a rising northerly breeze and one-metre swell with the odd whitecap developing in the gulf. It was this leg that showed the real value of deep vee, fine entry hull design. Despite pushing the boat harder than necessary, the crew stayed dry and comfortable despite the odd heavy landing as we powered off the tops of waves. Again, the reverse chine did a good job of keeping things dry in the cockpit.

As is common to all hardtops, the helmsman and front passenger preferred to stand, which, in my opinion, is more comfortable and secure than being seated. It was noted by several inexperienced crew how true the boat steered with no obvious want to crab or slip in the troughs. Fuel economy figures from Mercury's on-board computer recorded consumption figures of 53 litres per hour at 5000rpm and 44.5 litres at 4500rpm. This gave speeds of 37.5 and 32 knots, respectively. The fishing at the southern end of Little Barrier was ordinary indeed - nothing was brought in worth mentioning. What is worth noting is that four anglers fished for several hours without tangling lines or stepping over each other, which says a lot about the wide, open cockpit layout. While serious fishers might want to limit their fishing crew to three, the 720 coped remarkably well with the numbers and onboard activity. Being a deep vee hull, the boat tends to move about at rest, but this can be minimised by properly balancing weight and crew.

The third leg to Kawau Island was in moderate conditions with a 15 to 20 knot cross wind and a beam-on swell. Like all hardtops, leeway was noticeable and trim tabs were required to keep the boat tracking across the swells. The tabs took some getting used to but proved their worth, countering the effects of the wind, making life considerably easier on the wheel. All up the 720 proved to be an excellent all-round package and received top marks by those new to power boating.

At no time did the boat feel unstable or require an experienced hand at the helm for anything other than berthing in a cross wind. The open cockpit provided ample room for fishing and storage while the generous topside height ensured we remained dry at anchor, even in quite a large swell. The Maxwell Freedom remote anchor winch proved a Godsend over the two-day tournament, taking the hard work out of what can be an onerous task in heavy conditions.

Although we didn't land anything worthy of a prize, we felt like winners anyway and returned to Orams confident that our new Southernsportz 720 HT would more than fulfil our requirements.

Words and pictures: Steve Raea.


Keep up to date with news from Trade-A-boat or like us on Facebook!