The all-new Northbank 650HT is a craft with a presence seemingly bigger and bolder than its specifications would suggest. The hard numbers are a hull length of 6.5m, an overall length of 6.8m and a beam of 2.44m, yet it gives the impression of a substantially larger craft when aboard. Paradoxically, it has a taut and nimble feel at the helm, more suggestive of a ski or crossover craft than a large monohull hardtop.
Over the years, I have tested quite a number of these South Aussie-built craft and none of them has disappointed. The 650HT continues that trend.
From an aesthetic viewpoint, I reckon the Northbank 650HT is nicely balanced in its proportions, with a ‘shippy’ look that stirs the blood of this old seadog. And from a practical perspective, the design works admirably, with the generously-proportioned hardtop fulfilling its purpose in fine style. Occupants are highly unlikely to get wet in this boat and in these days of holes in the ozone layer and high UV readings, it’s nice to have protection from the hot sun, wind and waves.
Christies Beach Marine’s Shane Schwarz, who drove the craft while these photos were shot, is a touch under six feet in the old money and the crown of his head cleared the hardtop by a good distance. The three forward-facing and side windows are all nicely sized for good visibility; not only forward, but from either side as well. The relatively spacious helm and passenger seats provide a comfortable ride and thanks to the proven CAD-CAM Northbank hull design parameters, with its fine forward entry and 21-degree deadrise at the transom, this is a very soft-riding craft, well suited to blue water fishing.
Whether sitting or standing, the helm position felt ergonomically sound and the stainless destroyer-type wheel fell readily to hand. A well-placed foot support rail for the helmsman was a welcome feature all too often overlooked on other craft. The passenger also has the benefit of a foot support rail and a well-placed grab rail. Speaking of passengers, the vessel is rated for a total of eight.
Now, our test craft had not been fitted up with extensive electronics, as Northbank takes the sensible view that buyers are generally well-informed enough to make their own choices in this area. The Mercury instruments were there, of course, and a marine radio and compass completed the dash layout which, being quite spacious, would certainly accommodate a nice range of electronic equipment.
All of the Northbanks I have tested are solidly-built vessels and a visit to the factory demonstrates why. If anything, the company has a tendency to overbuild. In this day and age of corner-cutting in manufacturing, this is reassuring indeed in an ocean-going craft.
There are seven laminated bearers in the hull and the hand-laid GRP lay-up is second to none in terms of quality of finish. Hull strength and integrity is further underlined by a lower hull thickness of 30mm. In fact, such is its build quality that all Northbank hulls now come with a four-year warranty against structural defects.
The cockpit is fairly high-sided, which makes for a bit of a reach down to the water to net a fish or rinse hands, but it’s a very good safety feature when children are aboard and also helps keep green water where it should be – on the other side of the hull. A transom door makes boarding easy, whether from the marina pontoon or from the water, with the assistance of a stainless steel boarding ladder, grab rail and swim platform.
A half-width, fold-down seat is situated on the starboard side of the cockpit, the gunwale grab rails are recessed and the fuel filter, batteries and main cut-off switch are readily accessible, mounted on or just forward of the transom. A 250lt underfloor fuel tank should deliver a reasonable range for offshore fishing or coastal cruising.
Under the cockpit sole is a large catch bin and storage compartment, while generous compartments along each side of the hull provide a place for rods, boat hooks, landing nets, fenders and all the other gear that tends to find its way aboard a hardcore fishing craft. There is more storage to be found in compartments below the seats and underneath the bunks in the cuddy cabin.
A typical vee berth arrangement makes up the snoozing section and the berths are of reasonable size, giving the 650HT overnighting capability. Two levels of storage shelves in the cabin are a nice touch and are another example of the thought that has gone into this craft.
The foredeck hatch is a quality item and large enough to work the anchor gear through without too much difficulty. The anchor well itself is both deep and roomy and more than adequate to carry a sensible amount of ground tackle. The split bow rail is very stylish and complements the craft’s lines, yet is high enough to be practical. An anchor fairlead mounted on the bowsprit completes the forward section.
The test boat was powered by a Mercury Verado supercharged four-stroke outboard, with a propshaft rating of 200hp (149kW). An in-line six-cylinder engine, the big Verado is a 24-valve, direct-acting, double overhead cam unit utilising SmartCraft DTS electronic throttle and shift.
Impressive evidence of the Verado’s performance is experienced immediately when the throttle is pushed forward. With this combination of boat and motor, it’s advisable to hang on tight, as the acceleration out of the hole is very quick, indeed. While the vessel is rated from 175 to 250 ponies, I’m certain the 200 Merc was ideally matched to the hull.
On the test day, we were running a Revolution 4 propeller, with a diameter of 14 inches and a pitch of 21 inches. Mercury claims that this four-blade stainless prop provides “incredible traction and acceleration” and I can certainly vouch for that. The motor was brand new and rev-limited by the factory, which is reflected in our speed trials, in which we did not run it past 4800rpm. However, before I boarded, Shane ran it out to 80km/h and the expectation is for a substantially higher speed when the motor can eventually be run out to its 6400rpm maximum.
I’ve already commented on the nimble and responsive feel of this craft, which is due, in part, to the efficiency of the hull at the air/water interface. But the integral electro-hydraulic power steering cylinder, which is part of the Verado package, needs to take some of the credit here, with its light, yet precise feel.
SOFT AND SURE
Rough water performance has been exceptional in all Northbanks I’ve driven over the years and the 650HT is no exception. The forefoot sliced neatly through the wake of other craft, while coping with the notorious South Australian gulf chop and seas in which other craft this size would be reaching their limits. Soft landings are the norm for the 650HT and the only time a jarring thud is experienced is when the craft is hit off-centre from the vee.
I need to make the point that, while I believe it is excellent value for money as tested, there is no doubt that certain aspects of the HT have been driven by price, as a reflection of these tough economic times. An example is the flowcoat finish in the cabin, instead of more expensive carpeting, and the absence of a lockable cabin door.
Another price-driven compromise is the lack of trim tabs as standard fitment, but on a high-sided vessel like the Northbank, I’d be certainly ticking this option. In strong winds, trim tabs are needed to keep the craft upright and landing on the vee of the hull while travelling in strong cross winds.
Nevertheless, to bring a craft of this size, and with this level of fitment, in for $96,990, as tested (including trailer), is impressive and augurs well for its future in the marketplace.
A more basic model can be had for $84,990, while a fully-optioned craft works out to $105,000. Towing weight is approximately 2500kg, depending on fuel load and onboard gear.
For more information, contact Christies Beach Marine on (08) 8387 6411, or go to: www.christiesbeachmarine.com.au. Email enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org. ¿
SPECIFICATIONS: NORTHBANK 650HT
Hull length: 6.5m
Deadrise at transom: 21 degrees
Fuel capacity: 250lt
Power ratings: 175-250hp
Price as tested: $96,990
PERFORMANCE: Northbank 650HT/Mercury Verado 200hp four-stroke outboard
Propeller: Revolution 4 propeller, 14in diameter, 21in pitch
RPM Speed (km/h)