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Boat test: 485 Mako Cat by Alf Stessl
  |  First Published: February 2014



The waters around the Australian coastline offer some of the most consistently uncomfortable ocean conditions in the world. There are solid southeasters along Queensland and southwesters in Victoria and SA – and then there is Tassie. You don’t want to take that on in a small boat, particularly a mono hull.

But Aussies, being the innovative thinkers they are, got to work on developing and improving catamaran designs, because two hulls breaking the water has to be better than one.

Catamarans of one form or another have been around for quite a while, and some are much better than others. Some of the larger ones with their heavy fibreglass hulls and large twin engines give a dream ride in the rough stuff but you certainly pay for in it fuel bills and maintenance.

Then there have been the aluminium cats with twin motors, some lighter than their glass counterparts, some not. Most of them have come and gone.

Now we’re seeing a newer breed of cats that cut down on fuel and maintenance by using a single engine, while still trying to achieve that soft ride the cats are renowned for. Some succeeded, others did not. For the most part they seemed to be small companies with big ideas and little experience which, in the dog-eat-dog world of the boating industry, saw many of them disappear into history.

So when I got the call to have a look at the new cat on the block I felt a small degree of trepidation. I was determined to approach it with an open mind though, as it can be difficult to get a cat just right for open water. It won’t work if it’s just a box with a pontoon on each side as some have been.

And then I found out it was by Alf Stessl – an innovator in Australian boating for so many years. He has many great and different hull types to his name and a reputation for excellence in the finished product, so I was excited to see what he had come up with.

In Alf’s early days he made mono hulls, then mono hulls with track rails for greater stability, then the tri hulls and now he has thrown his hat into the ring with his new Australian Power Cats.

Ride and performance

The Mako Cat comes on its own purpose-built aluminium trailer with mechanical override brakes for easy drive on and off launching and retrieval. Being a small boat you don’t need a massive 4WD to tow it; a family 6 or even 4 cylinder car will pull it. It also takes up less space at home so it already scores points.

The pontoons and sides are 3mm aluminium with continuous welds on all parts of the vessel.

At the ramp it was perfect boat testing weather – a nasty 25 knot southeaster with gusts to 32 knots had been blowing for about 12 hours and the swell was up a bit and the ocean was filthy slop. Just what cats are built for. Launching was simple, back down the ramp and drive it off the trailer. Gone in less than 60 seconds.

The ramp is in the lee of the wind so it was smooth going until we turned the corner and copped it. Cruising on about 4000 rpm and doing just under 20 knots I was sitting on the skipper’s chair. I never sit in boats. It had been a while since I had been in a cat, and when we hit the first of the chop I closed my eyes, waiting for a spinal fracture.

It didn’t happen. The 4.85m boat hit a solid chop at 20 knots and it just puffed over the sea like it was a light morning breeze.

If I had to find fault I’d say there needs to be a passenger grab bar because in any boat you need something hold onto to stop you from swivelling on your seat when turning. I have since been told that this has been addressed.

We powered into the swell for a kilometre or so, and a few times I expected to get that bone-jarring crunch that happens when you hit a chop wrong. But there was no crunch, and I decided I could get used to this.

Then it was time to get side-on to a now very nasty sea, and the Mako Cat just took it all in its stride. There was just the slightest of spray coming from the odd broken chop as it hit the sides, but not enough to really wet you or slow you down.

We slid along for a while just trying to see if I could get a pontoon to dig in, but there was no chance of that. We went straight as an arrow.

Now for the scary part. No matter who you are, taking on a 2m swell with about the same amount of broken chop on top and pushing down the face at speed can make you take a deep breath. There are many boats I have ridden in that I would not even try to take that on, let alone a small boat that I had never piloted before.

This was a test and you have to know, so down she went and out we came. Not a sign of broaching and as smooth as silk, so we did it again with the same result. Now with a bit of confidence it was time to hit the waves from every direction and have some fun, and for the next 10 minutes that was what we did. We got a bit of air a few times, all while sitting and not even looking like getting jolted.

Now it was time to see how she went at rest so we stopped in the slop. As you would expect from its width, the cat was very stable at rest. Despite the poor conditions it was very easy to move around, with no hip hop or even the soft shoe shuffle. Even with 2 of us sitting on one side of the wide gunwales it didn’t even look like becoming unstable. And no water came over the sides or splashed up through the transom motor well, as can happen on some boats.

We headed back into calmer waters to see how she travelled, and at 5400rpm we hit 29 knots. Getting there at 1000 rpm saw 3 knots, 2000rpm 6 knots, 2900rpm we hit the plane at 13 knots with the wind, 4000rpm 18 knots and 5000 rpm 25 knots.

Heading into the wind we planed at 9 knots with the wind under the hull giving us extra lift and a lower planing speed.

The good thing about the single engine on the Mako Cat is the turning capabilities. It turns almost in its own length and doesn’t list the opposite way to a mono hull as cats with twin engines do. This makes it drive and feel just like a mono.

The steering was smooth and precise with the single cable non-feedback system, and the smoothness and quiet economical running of the Evinrude E-Tec 90 was exceptional. You could go a long way on the 75L underfloor fuel tank.

The E-Tec 90 had more than enough power with its 15” stainless prop to match the hull. The maximum rated outboard is 115, and if you put one of those on the back it would be a weapon.

Layout and Space

The 2.25m beam in this boat gives you a heap of extra room. I don’t own a pet cat but you could swing one and not hit a thing in the work area. There was more than enough room to put a large fish box and still have a heap of room for fishing. All the rest of your safety and standard gear would store away up under the front of the boat or in the ample underfloor and side pocket storage.

The extra large anchor well has more than enough capacity to hold all your rope and anchor, and the roller is solid as it is on all Stessl boats. Access to the well is through a generous access door in the windscreen.

The floor is fully carpeted with hatches for easy access to the bilge pumps in each pontoon. It is finished off with bow and gunnel rails for extra safety, nav lights and a transom door opening with ladder for easy boarding.

Fishability

This will make an exceptional fishing platform. Everyone has different fishing styles but this boat could be adapted to anyone’s personal taste. The internal freeboard is 580cm so the gunwales are not so high as to be up under your elbows and are just high enough to give you confidence when moving around.

With plenty of rod holders in the gunwales when fishing and the optional extra of overhead rocket launchers for more rod storage, tonnes of room to move around and the optional fully-plumbed large live bait tank/livewell, bait board and plenty of room for nets, gaffs and tag poles, the possibilities are endless.

So for inshore and estuary to offshore gamefish, this boat is suited right down to the water to suit any needs.

Thanks must go to Leisure Coast Marine at 20 Princes Highway Fairy Meadow (02 4284 4803) for the test boat and time. The price of the boat as tested was $46,700, with packages starting from $39,100 with a 90hp direct injection motor.

There is also a larger 5.3m version available as a raised front hard top runabout. There would be some room in that one.

So as cats go this is not a lion or a tiger in the large end of the range, it is more a snow leopard – agile, sleek and highly manoeuvrable at speed, and beautifully finished. It’s really worth a look if you are serious about a soft riding practical fishing platform.

Facts

485 Mako Cat

Length4.85m
Beam 2.25m
Depth 1.3m
Internal freeboard580 cm
Hull weight500 kg
Length on trailer5.8m (approx.)
Min hp60
Max hp115
Transom shaft lengthExtra long only
Max. load550kg
Max. people5
Fuel capacity75L under floor.
Motor as testedEvinrude E-Tec 90hp

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