Diamond in the rough

David Toyer | VOLUME 26, ISSUE 4
The 550 Cuddy is all about smart practicality.
Here is a polished performer unearthed from Australia’s harsh southern waters and worthy of some northern exposure.

The name Northbank isn’t widely known outside the southern states, but this Adelaide-based company is quietly building some of the finest fibreglass runabouts in the country.

By working with, and listening to, dealers and customers at boat ramps and fishing clubs, Northbank has developed a product well suited to its target market.

Constant testing in harsh home waters has helped deliver repeat business and word-of-mouth advertising, with ensuing success being based on quality rather than badge recognition or the number of units produced.

I first tested a Northbank about 10 years ago, at which time there was only a limited model range. It was evident, however, that the combination of a well-designed hull with a clean and smooth interior was going to take some beating.

There was already a fine eye for detail and a good finish. The hull ran smoothly and proved to be very stable on what was a nasty day. From there, Northbank boats have grown in stature and versatility.

Looking at the 550 Cuddy tested recently on Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay, it appears quite conservative. A number of its features have been tried and tested on similar craft, but I like the fact that it doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel.

When you’re this smart and stylish, you don’t need to go overboard with extras.

The cockpit is perfectly uncluttered, which maximises the available work space, and the side decks are the right height to provide good thigh support.

The coamings aren’t unnecessarily wide either, having just enough width to accommodate recessed rod holders and protect the storage racks. The side pockets, in turn, have sufficient volume to hold bulkier items, such as fenders, without compromising toe space underneath.

The underfloor storage bin is a good depth and I like the air struts that hold the hatch open, leaving both hands free while you access the bin.

TIGHT LINES

Where some purpose-built fishing boats have an abrupt, bulky cuddy cabin, the Northbank has a low-profile foredeck and smooth, sweeping lines that combine the deck, hull and screen into one.

It’s more akin to a sports runabout, yet despite the sleekness, the seated headroom inside the cuddy is exceptionally good and there’s easy walkthrough access to the anchor well and bowsprit.

The side-hinged deck hatch opens the boat from the screen right to the anchor well, and because the cabin floor is set down from the main cockpit, there is almost chest-high support when working up front.

Stainless steel bowrails were fitted to the test boat. They look good and help in holding the boat at the ramp or jetty, but with such a superb internal access to the bow I can’t see any other need to add this option.

The cabin isn’t designed purely for comfort, but also for practicality. The moulded interior produces easy-to-clean surfaces, with padded side storage shelves that double as backrests.

A folding rear lounge is standard, offering a simple way of concealing the batteries, pumps and other gear mounted under the rear deck. Though basic, it works.

The forward seats are swivel and slide adjustable plus you can have them with or without arm rests. The pedestal bases also offer a variety of storage options.

The helm seat is set at a good height and will suit drivers of all shapes and sizes. Both the footrest and throttle are placed just where they’re needed.

There are no frills with the helm console, but adequate room for the multi-function instruments and electronics that are used these days. If I had one minor criticism it’s that the glossy white gelcoat finish occasionally reflected back into the screen.

Livebait tank plumbing, power anchor winch and saltwater wash down are among the usual options expected. Northbank also recognises that fishos and family boat buyers can be quite specific in their needs, so it offers customisation, within reason.

HORSE SENSE

In terms of horsepower choice, dealers are offering the 550 Cuddy with engines from 90hp. Having tested the boat with a 115hp Mercury OptiMax, I’d say you shouldn’t consider bolting anything smaller to the transom.

When you weigh up an initial saving of about $700 in fitting the smaller engine against the overall cost of the boat/motor/trailer package, it doesn’t make sense in the long run.

We had two people aboard the test boat and the hull could hold a reasonable and economical cruise speed of around 45km/h at a shade under 4000rpm.

The three-blade, 18-inch, stainless steel Vengeance prop pushed the hull smoothly onto the plane, while easily holding planing trim down around 10 knots (20km/h) at 3000rpm.

Top speed is 29 knots (55km/h) at close to 6000rpm, but, remember, these figures were for a light load. Once all your personal fishing gear is added, along with family members or a few mates, then the 115 would be under the pump.

What’s more, the 115 has been the most popular package for dealer Bay Marine.

Port Phillip Bay boaters have apparently found that the Northbank hull revels in the hard chop prevalent on these shallow, wind-swept waters. Such conditions are similar to those found in the Spencer Gulf, where the Northbanks are blooded.

Our test boat seemed to get better the faster it went. With speed, the 550 gains a bit of lift under the hull, which allows the 21-degree vee to do its job.

Sea Star hydraulic steering made the boat very light and easy to handle.

It remained dry and quiet – the option of a foam-filled hull would further enhance the impression of a soft ride by dampening the water noise.

EASY DOES IT

The KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) principle – though not a stated goal of Northbank – does work in this case. If your first impression is that the 550 Cuddy is “nothing new” then looks are deceiving.

This is a clean and functional runabout, with brilliant forward access and quality facilities, from the seated headroom, through the cockpit with its underfloor storage, tremendous use of the available beam, to the unobtrusive bait tanks built into the aft quarter decks.

There are no moulding flaws to be found, and the attachment of components is superbly done. Price as tested, including trailer, bimini and clears, electronics and seat boxes, was just over $52,000.

All considered, it’s easy to understand why the Northbank has achieved such a hard-core following in the southern trailerboat fishing regions of Australia. Northerners should take note …

SPECIFICATIONS: NORTHBANK 550 CUDDY

Overall length: 5.75m

Hull length: 5.50m

Beam: 2.34m

Deadrise: 21 degrees (at transom)

Hull Weight: 750kg (approx)

Max Persons: 7

Fuel: 100lt

Max power: 150hp 2-stroke/130hp 4-stroke

Power as tested: Mercury 115hp OptiMax

Price: BMT package from $41,744 with 90hp OptiMax

Price as tested: $52,525

For more information: Northbank Marine www.northbank.com.au or Bay Marine, www.baymarine.com.au, tel (03) 9772 1800.


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