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The bare bones project
  |  First Published: November 2015



I have been fortunate in the past to own a tournament bass boat, which proved to be an exceptional vessel for competition and social lure fishing for all sorts of estuary, inshore, saltwater and freshwater fish species. A growing family, changing work commitments and less competition fishing were all contributing factors that forced my hand, and the good old Stratos had to go. After finding my bass boat a new home in Tasmania, the search was on for a new boat that would be more suitable for family fishing in the bay and estuaries, and that would also suit my favourite forms of lure and fly fishing as well.

The quest for a boat

As anyone who’s owned a boat will tell you, there’s no such thing as a perfect boat, but my previous experience owning a Formula 15 led me back to that same hull again. My budget didn’t allow for a Formula, so I decided to go retro and hunt down an old Haines Hunter 445 or 146, which has the same hull shape as the Formula, underneath. The idea would be to find an old hull that was in good order, and build it to my specifications. Sounds simple enough?

It wasn’t long after my grand idea had been floated, that I got a call from my mate Stuart Buckingham to tell me that he’d found a Haines Hunter 146R for sale on EBay. This call came even before my old boat had been delivered! A quick trip the following weekend to visit the owner, and the deal was done. The project was underway.

The hull I chose was only 15ft long, so the challenge was to maximize the fishing and storage room in such a small space. After extensive research into major American brands, I based the basic layout and design on a Ranger 16T. The biggest change to the factory layout I made was to convert a forward-steer runabout to a tiller steer while maintaining the maximum horsepower possible. I made myself a list of ‘must haves’ for the layout, using my past experience in a bass boat to decide the modifications and items I wanted to incorporate.

Before any building and design work could take place, a new trailer needed to be purchased, as the original Tinka trailer resembled more of a spider web than a boat trailer. I wanted a ski-boat style trailer for ease of towing and low maintenance. After talking to a few people in the know, there was only one way to go – I approached Dan Brown from Easytow trailers, and the end result was a custom built, heavy duty ski boat trailer. Dan was an enormous help during the whole design process.

The bare bones project

Next I had to find someone who could make my vision for the hull a reality. Luckily, I found a local boat builder, Adam Wilson from Adam Wilson Marine. It wasn’t until he showed up at my house that I realized our daughters went to the same school – small world! Adam was immediately on board with the ideas I had for the hull, and gave me a more educated opinion on the best way to start the process. He wrote me a list of things to do before he could start work and I was underway.

The first thing I did was strip and gut the hull, and sell off anything that could be re-used like the original engine (still running), windscreen, seats and side pockets. Next I took to the top deck with a grinder, zipping off any excess fiberglass that was not going to be part of the new design. Heaps of fun – but dirty, dusty, and very itchy work! Once this was finished, the new hull shape was really starting to take form.

I was fortunate when I bought the boat that the transom was still 100%, and didn’t need to be replaced. The floor of the hull was a little soft, but needed to be removed anyway to make room for an underfloor fuel tank – time to crack out the grinder again! As well as the floor, all of the surrounding old flowcoat needed to be removed so that the new floor could be re-glassed into place. I’d like to thank my old mate Peter Mazey for his help during this messy process, and for storing my boat for some time while this was taking place.

The boat was then dropped off to Adam at AWM so he could get to work. I had already purchased a 75lt underfloor tank that would be placed along the spine of the floor, but the lack of room required a total re-construction of the underfloor structure. The reconstruction needed the approval of a naval architect, and custom filler and breather tubes integrated into the design. The new fuel tank placement improves the hull’s stability at rest, and allows for a greater range of travel.

Over the life of the project Adam proved to be a real master of his craft. His willingness to achieve what I wanted with the design, and also involve me in the project was amazing.

After the new floor was in, the layout for the decks and storage was mapped out. This was when everything really started to take shape. Rod storage lockers, a big livewell, tackle storage and a food/drink cooler were ‘must haves’ for the layout, and the real basis of the design. The layout had to be functional, and maximize floor level seating and fishing room, as well as providing a roomy front casting platform, big enough for two anglers.

Construction

The bulkhead construction for the deck layout came together fairly quickly afterwards, and Adam completed all of the timber construction for the top of the casting decks as well. Before all of this was sealed and glassed together though, the underfloor fit-out needed to be completed.

Firstly, all of the plumbing, hoses, and connections for the livewell needed to be installed. The guys at Marine Warehouse supplied me with a complete Flowrite kit for the job, which is the same system used in bass boats and other tournament boats. Installing this kit was a breeze, made easy by the ‘Kwik-lok’ hose and fitting connectors – everything just clicked together. Gold! I also installed a three-way Rule pump, allowing pump out, a three way pump actuator, Flowrite timer for the livewell and an automatic bilge pump and float switch.

Next we installed the wiring for accessories, lights, and other gadgets that needed to run underneath the gunnel before the final fiberglass work took place. This I did by hand, but you can buy ready-made looms off the shelf, including a switch panel if it suits your needs better. I installed a factory Minn Kota wiring loom that has an inbuilt circuit breaker –also easy to fit.

After this step, the top of the floor was glassed into place. Adam also glassed the gunnel to the deck itself giving the hull extreme strength and rigidity. Everything except the livewell lids, and the lids for the rod lockers and tackle storage were part of this construction. For the lids I used 12mm king starboard plastic, for ease of installation and maintenance this product has no competition, and is exceptionally easy to work with.

Then the fun really started. Adam spun the hull upside down with a hoist at each end so he could work on the underneath of the hull. I was on hand to help during this process over a few weekends, which involved lots of sanding and elbow grease. The finished product was done with two-pack, not gel coat which looks great and provides a real classy finish. We were also able to tweak the original hull colour to a brighter ‘Kawasaki’ green, which I love!

We flipped it over again, and gave the same treatment to the top deck. As I was planned to wrap the sides of the hull, these were not re-worked at all, except for filling some holes and scratches. Every other inch of the boat was given the treatment, and I have to say that the finished product greatly exceeded my original expectations.

When the engine was fitted to the transom, I was starting to get really excited. Nearly 8 months had passed since the project had begun, and the final bend was in sight. I had never owned a tiller-steered boat before, and I couldn’t wait to get it on the water and give it a spin.

The home stretch

The final fit out of the hull was a whirlwind, cramming in every night after work for nearly two weeks to get it finished before last year’s Vic Bream GF at Mallacoota. I wanted this trip to be the first big one for the new boat and it all came together just in time. There were still a few minor things to be done and changes to be made at this stage, but these were completed over the Christmas break.

In conclusion I am stoked with the way my little rocket came together – it has proven to be a very useful and functional vessel, and a pretty good tournament boat as well. More importantly, this boat allows me to take the family fishing in comfort.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped me during this project, and if I’ve forgotten anyone, I apologise in advance. Adam Wilson, Stu Buckingham, Peter Mazey, Shaun Clancy and Scott Eastwood at BLA, Dan Brown from Easytow Trailers, William and Steve at Marine Warehouse, Riley Tolmey at BRP, Michael Starkey at Frogleys Offshore, Cranbourne Boating Centre, Tackleworld Crabourne & Mornington and Sport Phillip Marine.

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