As anyone who has experienced it will know, the Rip, at Melbourne’s Port Phillip Heads can be an eerie, and even scary place on a boat. Given that the tides here are in a constant tug of war between the energetic swells of Bass Strait and the vast contents of Port Phillip Bay’s 2000sq km of water, all focused on a narrow entrance barely 2km wide, and you start to appreciate that the forces in play can be considerable. Throw in a strong wind and a veritable undersea of structure, and you can have the perfect storm, literally. Which, as it turns out, pretty much describes the conditions we encountered on a recent run down from Williamstown, 60km north of the Heads at the top of the bay.
We were aboard a new Robalo R242 centre console sportsfisher, with a pair of muscular 200hp Hondas purring away behind. The folks at importers Robalo Australia had topped up the cavernous 568lt fuel tank and waved us off on what started as an extremely pleasant day on the bay.
We’d decided to aim for the Heads after hearing reports of big kingfish and barrel bluefin tuna and were appropriately armed with some serious fishing hardware. Plus the big Robalo.
Robalo is part of large American boatbuilder, Marine Products, which also manufactures the high-end range of Chaparral sports boats in Nashville, Georgia. Both Robalo and Chaparral were established in the 1960s, enjoying prolonged success from their impressive worldwide reputation for quality manufacturing and innovative design.
Robalo’s advanced foam-filled Hydro-Lift hull features composite fibreglass construction, infused with Kevlar. We’ve tested Robalos in the past and can vouch for the factory’s claims of quicker planing, high speeds, excellent sea-keeping and good economy, due to wide reversed chines and lifting strakes that reduce drag. Robalos are also soft-riding and deliver confidence-inspiring handling and steering, especially when you’re in an area like the Heads when it’s in a bad mood.
While conditions were relatively benign to begin with, the change to a run-out tide, combined with a strengthening southerly, saw the seas soon coming at us from all directions. Wallowing walls of water would suddenly stand up behind or abeam of us, requiring constant vigilance on the part of the skipper.
Rather than head in immediately, we decided to pit the Robalo against the Rip and, I have to say, we came away more than impressed with its ability to handle large and confused seas with a minimum of fuss. At no time did we ever feel that the R242 was out of its depth and it proved to be a very nimble, stable and predictable craft in conditions that would have challenged many larger boats.
Of course, there’s much more to the Robalo and it manages to pack a lot of capability into its 24ft (7.23m) by 2.67m beam (wide load restrictions apply) hull.
With a real on-water wet weight of around 3400kg without passengers, it translates into a soft-riding boat, especially when teamed with a 22-degree variable deadrise design with a lovely entry. Weight is carried down low, with very wide reverse chines and full-length strakes giving terrific lift and directional stability.
Open up the throttles and the big Hondas let you know there is a lot of horsepower working on the stern, as the twin V6s rocket the big hull effortlessly over the 43knot (80km/h) barrier. She has terrific grip and manoeuvrability, even in tight turns.
SAFE AND SOUND
The Robalo R242’s seakeeping abilities make a trip to distant fishing grounds a breeze and, more importantly, it will return you home again safely. You can travel offshore comfortably with great fuel efficiency at a speedy 20 knots (37km/h) at 3700rpm, which equates to a range of around 300nm (550km), while the big chines and flared bow will keep the nose high and dry.
As a gamefishing platform, the R242 is a well-balanced and very stable craft, especially for those long hours livebaiting or trolling. She’s got big, broad shoulders and a high waistline offering terrific freeboard and tall, secure coamings.
The big Robalo is as much at home as an entertainer as it is as a hardcore sportsfisher. The transom allows plenty of room for the twin rig outboards as well as a small boarding platform either side. The starboard side has a nifty extendable ladder and a small rear doorway that’s ideal for loading and boarding, but obviously far too small to boat a large pelagic.
The convertible transom is a ripper. It features a huge, full-width, 115lt livebait tank, with two access hatches and a divider. There’s an ingenious fold-out rear lounge and the entire inner transom hinges upwards, giving terrific access to the bilge, plumbing and electrical componentry, including the twin batteries.
The R242 is beautifully trimmed with triple French-stitched premium upholstery throughout, including the thick padded coamings that encircle the whole boat. The moulded sides are fully enclosed and include rod racks and storage as well as toe rails for security when tucked in for a long fight on stand-up tackle.
The centre console features a fibreglass T-top and is pre-rigged for outriggers, plus a four-rod rocket launcher, LED lights, overhead radio box, a neat wraparound windscreen and a well-proportioned dash with room for twin 12in multifunction displays. There are clear illuminated gauges and well-marked toggle switches, Lenco trim tab controls, comfortably placed dual binnacle controls, stainless steel tilt steering wheel, dual drinkholders, a glovebox and a moulded footrest.
The powder-coated alloy structure is neatly moulded into the fibreglass console, creating plenty of space for the walkaround sides and handholds for the crew.
The thickly padded, dual-bolster seat unit also features an alloy frame and more rodholders, plus a large esky underneath. For soaking a bait at anchor, I’d like to see a flip-over backrest or similar seat option, but otherwise it’s a great working arrangement.
It can be difficult getting a centre console past the purchase post if there’s no enclosed head, so Robalo has come up with a ripper design, with the entire front of the console, including the moulded seat, hinging to the side, exposing a private toilet compartment, which can also be used to stash extra gear if needed.
There are large, smooth-lined wet and dry tanks under the floor, and big scuppers to the rear for safety and easy cleaning.
The bow converts from a lazy day bed to an elevated sportsfishing stage in seconds and boasts another bait tank and enclosed storage underneath.
The front is rimmed with a recessed grabrail and the deck hardware includes a Lewmar anchor winch, with stainless bow fitting and pop-up cleats for secure mooring, plus a freshwater shower in the transom.
It’s little wonder that Robalo enjoys such a strong following in the US and increasingly abroad. Their boats ooze quality, with great attention to detail, excellent construction, clever use of space and the ability to easily switch from gamefisher to glamorous entertainer, which makes them a good proposition for Aussie and Kiwi boaties.
There’s also lots of solid engineering and sound boatbuilding skills underneath that gleaming gelcoat, providing skippers with confidence whether headed out wide or tucked into their favourite bay.
ROBALO R242 CENTRE CONSOLE
Length overall: 7.32m
Weight (dry): 2177kg
Fuel capacity: 568lt
Power as tested: 2x Honda BF200 four-strokes
Base price: $149,999
Price as tested: $179,750
More information: Robalo Australia, tel (03) 9397 6977. Web: robaloaustralia.com.au.