Surtees 6.1 Bar Crusher
Surtees Boats has grown steadily from a hobby operation 15 years ago and is now a significant player in the aluminium boat market. Geoff Green responded to the challenge of their 6.1m Bar Crusher and took one to sea off Whakatane.
Surtees Boats is owner-operated by Neil and Jan Surtees, and their factory is situated on State Highway 30, about 20 minutes drive out of Whakatane. They produce ten models based on three hulls that range in size from 5.5m through to 6.7m. The two most popular model designations are the Workmate (available in 5.5m, 6.1m and 6.7m hulls) and the Bar Crusher, which is available in 6.1m and 6.7m sizes.
The Bar Crusher models have a fixed hardtop with toughened glass windows, while the Workmates are generally sold with a canopy or adjustable hardtop with clears.
Neil began building boats 15 years ago when he built a few jet boats for personal use. Other jet boaters, then a stream of fishermen, divers and charter operators, recognised the high quality of his work and found their way to his workshop door.
Surtees Boats now employs eight staff, up 100% from just two years ago when I visited to review the Surtees 5.5 Workmate, and the need for more production space is driving the construction of a fourth factory on their 10ha site.
The growth is fuelled by demand for their product in New Zealand and Australia. An Australian distributor sells their boats under the Bar Crusher brand, and these are exported as finished hulls with the windscreens and hardtops inside. Neil expects the Australian business to reach 200 units per year.
In New Zealand, most of their boats are sold direct because Neil likes the peace of mind a factory fit out gives. "I know every boat is completed to a standard that will sell another boat."
All Surtees models are built using the same construction method and have a flooding ballast tank along the keel line. The 6.1 Bar Crusher is built with a 5mm bottom, 4mm sides and 4mm checker-plate floor. It has six stringers that run from the transom until they run out in the bow. The stringers are welded to the hull along their entire length and gussets spaced about every 400mm are welded between them. The 4mm checker-plate floor is welded in place in three sections, and Neil says the floor triangulates the hull and the sealed under-floor air chambers provide emergency floatation.
"It's a super strong construction method and I tell everyone to thrash their boats."
Once launched, Neil helmed the 6.1 through the Whakatane bar and out into the 1.25-1.75m swells off the coast. The forecast was for 2m easterly swells and although there was only a light chop on the top, they were relatively close together and provided a good test for the boat.
I must be getting conservative in my old age because when I took over the helm, I initially set the boat up to run into the head sea at about 20-21mph.
It was a very comfortable speed, and you could have travelled a great distance with the wife and kids aboard because the boat sat flat (with a bit of down trim on the engine), eased over the swells and did not break free of them. But Neil was obviously bored with progress and was keen to give the boat a work out. He reassured me it wouldn't get out of line if I increased speed.
I took it up to 30mph (about 4,500 rpm) and was pleasantly surprised. It rode well and was very predictable, even though the extra speed meant we busted out the back of some of the bigger, steeper swells.
Running with the swells, 30mph was a very comfortable speed, and once again the Bar Crusher was predictable, dry and rode very well. However, Neil was keen to further demonstrate the attributes of his design and suggested I give it full throttle. Naturally, we experienced a fair bit of air time, but I had lots of lightly loaded fun with the speedo registering 40mph and the tacho showing 5400rpm. Once again, the boat impressed. It had good balance and landed with a stern first attitude, and when we did bury the bow in the swell ahead, it tracked straight and remained dry. But you can only stand so much fun, and because I didn't want to be on and off the throttle and continually concentrating, I backed off to 30mph again. Although we traded off 10mph, we gained a great deal of composure and I thought 30mph was good progress in the conditions.
Running across the swells and light chop, I gravitated to 32-33mph because I found this speed dry and comfortable in the conditions.
Feeling very confident with the boat, I helmed it back in through the Whakatane bar, which was relatively benevolent for this stretch of water, although the outgoing tide, strong river flow and opposing easterly swell combined to create the odd ugly wave with a steep face and no back. The bar was a bit like a washing machine in one localised spot and there were a few big holes where we buried the bow to the fairlead. The Bar Crusher lived up to its name, and remained predictable, responsive, dry and soft riding in these conditions.
Despite the river current, it was an easy matter to drive the boat onto the trailer and the auto-capture feature on the trailer held it in place while we transferred to the dock.
Boats fitted with an under-floor fuel tank have the filler and fuel gauge installed directly on top of the tank. This means the filler is in the centre of the cockpit, close to the cuddy entrance, but Neil says this offers many advantages and only one possible disadvantage. The downside is potential fuel spillage in the cockpit when filling the 150-litre tank, but the advantages are much faster filling with no blow back, less plumbing and a fuel gauge that doesn't need a sender unit.
The fuel tank is installed towards the front of the cockpit with a storage locker that will take two dive tanks (plus some other gear) behind it. The bilge-pump sump is behind the storage locker and it was interesting to note both were equipped with jumbo drain bungs that exit into the open ballast tank below (the ballast tank settles the boat at rest and gives it good stability). Internal drain bungs are a worthwhile feature, because you can easily put them in at sea if you forget to do so at the ramp and you can remove them while travelling to drain water inside the boat should the bilge pump become inoperable.
Neil prefers fixed or folding side-mounted seats, because they cost less and do not segment the floor space. "The floor area around a pedestal is really of no practical use, but you can store a chilly bin or fish bin under a side mounted seat," he says.
The review boat had fixed, side-mounted brackets with swivelling bucket seats, and they were well placed when sitting or standing at the helm. Other seating options include back-to-back seats, a combination of side-mount and back-to-back seats, or pedestals seats if you really prefer them.
The base-model 6.1 Bar Crusher has a full transom with a full-width boarding platform that spans the top of the outboard pod. The battery, oil reservoir, trim pump and fuel filter are fitted under the aft deck on an open shelf. The review boat was a little more developed. It had a cutaway to create a "walk-through" transom and the battery shelf was enclosed with a locker door hinged along the lower edge. With the locker door opened, a seat squab fitted to the inside created a basic bench seat across half the width of the transom. A live-bait tank was fitted under the walk-through.
As I mentioned earlier, the main item defining the Bar Crusher from the 6.1 Workmate is the fixed, structural hardtop (a rocket launcher is supplied as standard). The hardtop has generous headroom (1.9m) and even during our high-speed antics, I didn't come close to connecting with it.
It was easy to access the bow using the side decks, but it was just as comfortable to use the barn-door hatch in the cuddy foredeck. From here, you could reach the anchor well and capstan (when fitted) while standing in the generous hatch opening.
The cuddy was lined and out-fitted with upholstered bunk squabs available off the options list. Other items off the list included a full cabin bulkhead and lockable sliding cabin door. The door slides behind the port cabin bulkhead when open, and provides privacy and security options not available with an open cuddy (a marine toilet can be fitted in the cuddy). Recommended power for the 6.1 Bar Crusher is 100-150hp. The 130hp Yamaha had ample power and was well matched to the boat. A base model 6.1m Bar Crusher fitted with a 115hp retails for $41,500, including GST.
If you are in the market for a nicely built 6m alloy boat that offers all the practical advantages of a hardtop and a good handling hull that the builder invites you to thrash, you should check out the Surtees 6.1 Bar Crusher. And even if you don't want to thrash your purchase, the 6.1 Surtees is still well worth looking at.
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