Theodores galore

Chris Beattie | VOLUME 23, ISSUE 4

Six days, five Theodores and enough whiting to feed an army. We put the Theodore Coastal 720 through its paces…

Most boat launches tend to be fairly brief and clinical affairs. Journalists are summoned, boats are primed and readied, and briefings are conducted. Then it’s a case of out on the water for a couple of hours and a few photos, followed by some keyboard pounding back at the office to get the article out on deadline. Wham, bam thank you ma’m.

But earlier in the year, I received an invitation with a difference. Myself and other selected marine journalists were invited to attend a special six-day, on-water event hosted by one of Australia’s emerging trailer boat builders. We would assemble in Adelaide, before a day’s run down to Kangaroo Island at the bottom of the Gulf St Vincent. Our base would be Emu Bay on the island’s north coast and we would venture out each day for some fishing and exploration, before returning to Adelaide at the end of the week.

It was a big effort to undertake for any boat manufacturer, and not just from a logistics point of view. Having a group of experienced boat testers on your craft for nearly a week is a major statement of faith and confidence in your product because if there are any serious flaws, thousands upon thousands of boating enthusiasts will soon know all about them.

FAMILY AFFAIR

Theodore Marine is a family-run business based in Adelaide. Jim Theodore is the man at the helm, ably assisted by wife Leica. The pair oversees a small, enthusiastic crew of around 20 staff, spread evenly between the boat building and Port River Marine Services boat repair and chandlery businesses.

The boat building activity is focused on the company’s Coastal 720 range of trailerable boats, which first hit the water in 2005. The 720s are aimed squarely at the serious end of the market: fishos and divers who occasionally chase their quarry out of sight of land and who also want a little comfort and cruising capacity built in.

For our event, the company had assembled a number of variants of the Coastal 720, including the new Hardtop model, the Soft Top and Open. Owners were invited to come along for the trip, which would involve assembling at the company’s Port River boat yard, where we were given a tour of the facilities and inspected a couple of boats in various stages of construction. It was a good opportunity to see what’s beneath the Gelcoat – the ‘skeleton’ of the boat, so to speak, and in the Coastal 720’s case, they are obviously built tough, from the solid fibreglass stringers – Jim doesn’t believe in using timber or foam below decks – to the sturdy, hand-laid hull construction.

As longtime boat builder Jim Theodore explained, the original concept of the 720 came from plans to build boats for coastal rescue and government work, so it was primarily intended to be a boat that would be able to handle tough conditions, when necessary. All boats are built in accordance with Australian AS4132 standards and to 2C Survey specs. Recreational trailer craft don’t have to comply with these stringent standards, but Jim believes that the construction quality adds integrity to his boats and promotes buyer confidence.

“Fully hand-laid boats are much stronger than standard production boats, because there’s twice as much glass used in the hull,” explained Jim. “We don’t use chopper guns or cored sections in our boats. It means they’re heavier than many other boats, but the extra weight contributes to better stability, a smoother ride and quieter running.”

After loading our convoy of five boats with enough provisions for the week, we headed out into the Gulf on what turned out to be a beautiful early Autumn day. As it transpired, it was pretty much the same scene that would greet us each and every day for the remainder of the week. The sun was out, the sea was flat and the run down to Kangaroo Island was mostly smooth, save for a few ‘speed bumps’ as we crossed Backstairs Passage, which separates the island from the mainland.

Our HQ was a spacious villa at Emu Bay over-looking Investigator Strait to the north of Kangaroo Island. We would be based here for the rest of the week, ambling down to the local jetty each day to board our respective Theodores. Speaking of which, all were sterndrive configuration, with various choices of diesel power, ranging from a 260hp Yanmar to a 300hp D4 Volvo Penta boosted by a super charger/turbo charger combination, which Jim Theodore ran in his own ‘flagship’ Hardtop.

CAPACIOUS COCKPIT

My initial impressions of the Coastal 720 were of its overall size and length (just over 8 metres LOA) and the comparatively vast expanse of the cockpit. These craft are obviously built with serious fishos in mind and as we came to understand over the following days, there is little to fault in terms of their ‘fishability’.

Much thought has gone into the cockpit layout. It is a deep and wide working area (2.5m beam) that allows easy movement when hooked up, as we were to find out. Each day saw us out and about in search of something for the dinner plate, mostly in the form of Kangaroo Island’s legendary King George whiting. And we were rewarded with occasional kilo-plus fish that were as much fun on the end of light tackle as they were good eating at the end of the day. But the 720’s well thought-out cockpit made the job so much easier, with toe holds around the edges of the self-draining deck and plenty of room everywhere to stow gear and stack rods. We didn’t have much need for the transom-mounted live-bait tank, but when it was drafted into play, it proved large and efficient enough for the job.

Another impressive aspect of life aboard the 720 was its stability at rest. Jim puts it down to the combination of wide chines that run well forward along the hull and are low enough to stay in the water at rest, plus the 20-degree deadrise at the stern. The result is a boat that is easy to fish from when the wind and seas get up; a particular advantage when three or more anglers are vying for space when the bite is on.

On the other side of the transom is a large and solid swim platform that is accessed from the water via a sturdy fold-out ladder. There is no transom door for wrestling big fish or lugging heavy diving gear aboard, but Jim says he doesn’t like them because of the risk of flooding.

“I’ve seen an instance where someone has tried to untangle line off a prop in rough seas with the door open, and the boat was swamped,” he explains. “It’s really not worth the risk, in my opinion.”

A quality plumbed bait prep station capped off the transom, with four stainless rod-holders adding to the already considerable rod storage capacity, including coaming stainless items and the overhead rocket launcher. A portable barbie can also take the place of the bait prep station at the end of the day.

Other cockpit features include a solid, 5mm-thick 300-litre (500-litre optional) aluminium fuel tank, moulded engine hatch with gas struts and top cushions, moulded forward storage bins that double as passenger seats and a large 200-litre storage well/kill tank.

HOME AT THE HELM

Most skippers would feel right at home at the helm of the 720. A combination of practical touches, good design and owner feedback has resulted in a well laid-out dash and helm, with everything easy to see and reach. Visibility through the safety glass windscreen is good, standing or seated, and there are hand-holds within easy reach. Jim’s Hardtop, on which we spent much of our time, used a Raymarine combination sounder/plotter/radar unit, which proved extremely efficient and useful during our time aboard. It’s worth noting that, from a security point of view, all electronics are built into the console.

Controls for the Volvo QL trim tabs came in handy from time to time, given the large silhouette presented by the Hardtop in a cross breeze.

Both companion and skipper travel in comfort perched on well-paddedad justable pedestal seats, with moulded footrests being useful when the seas get ugly.

Access to the cabin is via a sliding, lockable door to port. It’s a spacious, welcoming compartment, especially given the amount of overall length dedicated to the cockpit, and is made more so by the fact that the roof is almost full-width, with only a modest space allocated for what is really a token walk-around. The cabin is fully lined, with plenty of cushions to support a couple of large fishos on an overnighter. There is also provision for a chemical toilet.

At the pointy end is one of the 720’s most welcome features. While there is hatch access to the bow via the cabin, anchoring is simply a matter of pushing a button on the helm console. The Stress Free electric winch and Sarca anchor had plenty of use as we chased whiting around the Kangaroo Is coastline and saved a lot of strain and pain for the less-than-athletic occupants.

Of all the craft on our trip, Jim’s Hardtop boasted the most powerful D4 300hp Volvo Penta engine, and I have to say it seemed ideally suited to the 720. With its combination of a supercharger for down-low punch, and a turbo for maintaining boost at higher revs, there was always plenty of power on tap – enough to have us skimming across a fairly placid Investigator Strait in a 2000kg-plus boat at a tad over 70km/h. We also spent some time on a 260hp D4 Open model and found that, while outright speed was a little less, the hull and engine combination was still more than up to the task. As Jim explained, a range of power options are available, depending on buyer preference.

The 720 came effortlessly onto plane and maintained a relatively flat running angle once underway.

With fuel prices heading for stella heights, Jim says the diesel inboard/720 hull combination on his Hardtop is good for around 20 litres per hour at 20 knots, which works out to a range of around 550km.

“The fuel consumption and performance compare really well with much bigger boats and with fuel prices rising, we’re now seeing interest from people with 30 to 40ft boats,” he said.

ROUGH STUFF

While we enjoyed unseasonably calm conditions for most of our Kangaroo Is sojourn, it was in rougher going that the 720 displayed one of its most impressive qualities. Heading back to the mainland on our last day, Backstairs Passage, the 20km expanse of water between Penneshaw on Kangaroo Is and Cape Jervis on the mainland, was in a state of extreme restlessness. We found ourselves in a wind-against-tide situation that had waves rearing from all directions, requiring some deft helm work from our skipper. Initially, we approached it fairly cautiously, but within a kay or two we were ploughing through the 1-2m chop at around 25 knots and with almost reckless abandon. We were in the Open, too, totally exposed to the elements and expecting to come through the ordeal battered and soaked. But the ride was exceptionally soft and the hull maintained its course resolutely, despite being pounded from all directions. It proved a very dry ride as well, Jim putting the ride and dryness down to its deep forefoot, fine entry at the bow and long reverse chines.

It was a good test of the hull and the Coastal 720’s performance, handling and ride in less-than-ideal conditions, and served to underline what a thoroughly well thought-out and executed craft it is.

In addition, there were several other nice touches that became more apparent as the week unfolded, including extra pop-up cleats midships for springer lines when berthed, a fuel tank dip stick for accurate fuel readings, plenty of sturdy grab rails everywhere they’re needed, double stainless hose clamps everywhere, swaged fuel lines and an overall very high quality of finish and attention to detail.

Which helps explain why Theodore Coastal 720s are not at the lower end of the pricing spectrum. A base spec model will relieve you of $135,000, while a top-of-the-line Hardtop with the 300hp Volvo, quality electronics and all of the other option boxes ticked can work out to around $180,000 or more.

“A typical 720 buyer is someone who has owned a few boats and knows exactly what they want. They’re after a soft-riding, dry boat that they can take offshore with confidence and they’re not afraid to pay for it,” said Jim.

Jim says buyers can start with a fairly basic Open or Soft Top and, if they feel the need, have them modified and upgraded later at the factory to any standard, including retrofitting a hardtop.

From a towing perspective, the 720 is right on maximum width at 2.5m and can weigh anything from 2.2 to 2.5 tonnes, depending on configuration. Throw in another 780kg for a deluxe roller trailer and you’re looking at something in the league of a Toyota Landcruiser or Nissan Patrol to haul it to water. So, while some would tend to leave an 8m boat in the water, there is still the option of trailering if you’re so inclined.

Having spent some time aboard, I can say that the Coastal 720, in its various guises, has obviously been designed and built by someone who is passionate about boat building and has spent a lot of time at sea. Jim Theodore is also someone who pays attention to his customers and what they want to see in a boat. It’s a solidly-built, rugged and dependable craft that is likely to find a lot of friends amongst offshore fishers and divers.

For more information, call (08) 8242 0788, or go to: www.theodoremarine.com.au.

Footnote:In late May, Theodore Marine scooped the pool at the 2008 Australian Marine Awards, with a runner-up for the Hardtop in the overall Boat of the Year category behind Riviera’s 4400 Sport Yacht, as well as taking out the Fishing Trailerable Over 6m category. The Open took out the Dayboat category and the Soft Top received a Commendation in the Cruiser Trailerable Over 6m category.

SPECIFICATIONS: THEODORE COASTAL 720 HARDTOP

Length overall: 8.04m

Beam: 2.5m

Weight as tested: 2500kg (wet)

Power rating: Up to 300hp

Power as tested: 300hp

Fuel capacity: 3-500lt

Base price: $135,000

Price as tested: $180,000

PERFORMANCE

RPM KM/H RPM KM/H

1500 17.5 2500 51

1800 26 3000 64.5

2000 34 3500 75

2200 42.5


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