Project Orange Roughie
  |  First Published: July 2011

Boat re-builds aren’t new – there have been plenty of these projects done over the years in a variety of publications.

There have been build-ups from a new hull like the one done by NSW Fishing Monthly Editor Tony Zann in 2010, and the resurrection of old hulls in other mags.

These are always fascinating projects, not just for the actual rebuilding, but also the planning – what considerations are needed before you start to cut bits out?

This project came about after I saw a top little boat at the Tasmanian Bream Classics that David and Aaron Mercer had done at innovative Tasmanian company Penguin Composites. What was once a meek little Haines Hunter V133 became an amazingly versatile little sportsfishing boat.

Subsequent to this the boys have done another build-up on an old 15’ Caribbean that has been extensively profiled on the Tasmanian web site www.sportsfishtasmania.com.

Given that there are plenty of these old boats laying around doing nothing but gathering dust and cobwebs, we (my wife Nicole and I) decided we’d like to get in on the action and do something similar.

A quick chat with the Managing Editor and the plan was hatched to follow the build-up through the pages of Victorian and Tasmanian Fishing Monthly.

I am in no way an expert in fibreglass or boat modifications, so David Mercer at Penguin Composites will be overseeing the project. The ‘Man of Glass’ is the expert here, and we will be relying on his skills to transform this Orange Roughie into a beautiful and modern family fishing vessel.


What we were after was a cheap hull, preferably on a decent trailer that would be big enough for us to tackle the highland lakes such as Great Lake and Arthurs Lake, and cope with the Tamar River and Georges Bay. The engine wasn’t important, as we’d planned to pop a new donk on the back in any case.

Generally you don’t find bargains in the local newspaper (we are never quick enough), so we just kept our eyes peeled as we drove around Tasmania on our normal business.

The first boat we tried to get was an old Bell Boy on the side of the road at Bagdad, near Hobart. As it transpired we weren’t quick enough, and a keen punter beat us to it.

A week or so later and Nicole rang me when I was in Brisbane with a possible candidate. A few hurried texts with photos, the call was made, a deal haggled and project Orange Roughie was off to a flying start.

The boat is a 5.2m Pride – the exact model and year I do not know – any help in this area would be greatly appreciated. It was fitted with an old 140hp Evinrude, which while I don’t doubt is a good engine, it didn’t fit with our plans, so the owner gladly separated it from the hull.

Once the cash was exchanged, we set sail for home at Great Lake.

This is where the adventure started.

The trailer is very much under-gunned for a hull of this size. The wheels were the 9” type, which are only held on by the wheel bearing, no wheel nuts at all. There was a spare, they were all pumped up, so were we, and off we trotted.

Brighton was the first stop, where we called into a handy hardware store to get a few tie-downs – the old bit of rope just made the distance.

Then all plain sailing along the Midland Highway to Melton Mowbray, where we turned off to heap up the hill towards the central highlands.

Four kilometres along the road we had our first flat tyre. After dropping the wheel bearing in the dirt (not recommended), and changing the tyre, we headed towards Bothwell.

Five minutes before we got to Bothwell we had our second flat tyre! Mmmm, not a good look.

I propped the boat on the side of the road, left my father-in-law to babysit it, and headed into Bothwell to try and get some tyres fixed. For those who have been through Bothwell will know it isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis, but Greg the local mechanic got me going again, and after a 3-hour wait we rescued the boat (and my father-in-law) and managed to get to Bothwell.

Leaving it with Greg to get some decent tyres underneath it for a few days, we finally got it home to Miena just as the snow was beginning to fall, three days after we left Hobart!


The boat was set up as a ski boat, and had some very mouldy old back-to-back seat fitted. The colour scheme of black over orange wasn’t exactly wonderful, hence the name Orange Roughie, but it was starting to grow on us.

Stripping the seats out was the easy bit, then the carpet was flung out, side panels cushioning were unbolted and a whole range of zinc and stainless nuts and bolts were removed. The windscreen proved a tad more stubborn, mainly due to it being held on with nuts and bolts. The nuts were underneath and I couldn’t manage to lie in the building snow, so using the theory of ‘use a bigger hammer’, I drilled the bolts out and then popped them through with a hammer and punch.

The steering got the flick, as did an ingenious (?) steel plate on the transom that was used to adapt a long shaft engine to a short shaft transom.

Now that the bits and bobs were removed, we could quickly see that the under floor was going to need some attention, but the transom looked reasonably sound.

That’s a job for the ‘Man of Glass’ at Penguin Composites to sort out.


This is the fun bit, deciding on how this is all going to end up.

Our basic plan is to have an open deck sportsfishing boat with raised front and rear casting decks, two side consoles to get us out of the wind as we blast up the lake, positive buoyancy for safety, the latest in engines on the transom and a 24volt bow mount electric up the front.

Our fishing needs are quite varied, and as we have a fishing-addicted near-three year old daughter, we have to consider gunwale height and other safety issues. We fish the highland lakes a lot, but a move to lower altitudes is planned for the spring, so the boat will need to cope with saltwater applications like the Tamar River, Georges Bay on the east coast and even a little offshore work on a nice day.

We need to be able to store a variety of gear, such as long fly rods and plenty of spin gear. We like to have lots of gear, so we will need to store tackle boxes, lunches and other essential gear.

The trailer will be a total re-build, as the current model is vastly insufficient. As this will be a reasonably heavy rig, a tandem trailer is the go, and carpet skids like the American bass boat trailers is the current thinking. I will build this myself; after building several horse floats and trucks in a past life I reckon this shouldn’t be too hard.

I am very open to engines – I expect a 100-115hp will be ok, and I have an open mind for brands and technology. When I was guiding we had at various stages a Yamaha, Evinrude E-Tec, and Suzuki and couldn’t fault any of them. Over the years I have driven heaps of Honda’s and Mercury’s and they are all great engines, so the choice will be a difficult one, and thankfully one that doesn’t need to be made just yet.

This is all very fluid, and the great part of the process will be the changes along the way.

This is the first part in a series – the next instalment will be once Penguin Composites have struck the first blow and we can start to see project ‘Orange Roughie’ progress.

To see more of what Penguin Composites do, visit www.penguincomposites.com.au.

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