Recognize this New Zealand-made boat? Yes, it’s made in Invercargill, yes, it does have positive flotation and yes, it’s a pontoon-style boat. No, it’s not a Stabi-Craft, although at first glance the lines look similar, but they are quite different boats.
New Zealand is well-known for its huge range of boats. What we see imported to Oz is only the tip of the iceberg.
Huett Marine at Cowan, just north of Sydney, needed a range of plate-alloy boats to fill a gap in their comprehensive range. After a lot of research, they came up with the Aqualine. Marketed in NZ as Kiwicraft, these boats have that tough-as-nails thread running through them, just like most brands constructed in the Shaky Isles. I was the first journo to have an extensive look at the new Aqualine 550 and I think Huetts are onto a winner here.
It was a shocking day: Strong southerly winds, overcast skies and occasional rain showers. The disadvantage of this weather is that the pics turn out a bit dour and I have to continually wipe the camera lens. The advantage of bad weather is that the boat gets a real work-out and shows its true colours.
After the launch at Parsley Bay ramp at Brooklyn, we headed to a very chopped-up Broken Bay. I ran my eye over her as Craig piloted the Kiwi thoroughbred through the moorings and down the river.
Up forward is a self-drained plastic bin that acts as an anchor well. It can hold a mile of warp as well as a sand or rock pick. A crucifix bollard, a small sprit and a roller complete the hardware up the pointy end.
A smoked hatch opens up, and standing on the bunk cushions, gets you right over the ground gear. The full bow rail is solidly welded.
The tinted curved windscreen protects a huge dash that can accommodate wide-screen electronics with ease. The cuddy and dash are fully lined, giving the helm area a bit of class. All this lining noticeably reduces hull noise and there is none of that dull drumming associated with plate boats.
The quite large cuddy has comfortable cushions and sitting headroom. An optional infill is available to make it into a wide bed. Light enters through the tinted hatch and slit windows on either side. Small porthole hatches give weather protection to articles stored in the cuddy.
Standard Johnson analogue gauges gave speed, engine revolutions, trim and fuel status. While the skipper has a plain, non-adjustable pedestal seat, the passenger enjoys a king/queen arrangement with storage under. Standing or sitting gives a great view of what’s happening up front with no restriction from the screen.
The throttle lever falls nicely to hand and was responsive and smooth. To the right is a six-gang waterproof switch panel, while the wood-grain dash adds a touch of luxury. Above is a six-shooter rocket launcher with a tab to fix a GPS or radio aerial and all-round white light. This whole tower can be lowered if height is a problem when storing the boat.
Deep side pockets run the length of the cockpit, although they are not wide. I would have liked to see more rod holders come as standard; only two flush-mounted holders are supplied but they have a tag with a hole to fasten a safety line so the outfit won’t fly overboard.
A well-positioned, removable bait and rigging table is affixed to an A-frame that doubles as a place to attach a ski rope. Over the back is a full-width swim platform with grab rails and an extra-long telescopic boarding ladder that will please those who have trouble trying to get back in the boat when it’s in the water.
Hanging off the back was a 115hp four-stroke Johnson spinning a 17” propeller. Flat-chat at 6000rpm on still water, we hit 67kmh (42mph). But this is not a speed machine, it’s more a rough-water boat and we soon found out this was its forte.
Lifting up a full- width transom interior cover reveals the battery, water-separating fuel filter, 1100gph bilge pump and the battery switch. The transom door helped access in and out.
A plumbed live-bait tank can be fitted flush into the transom if required. Two small stern cleats are there for mooring and there was a fuel filler in the transom with the breather integrated into the cap. Underfloor fuel capacity is 110 litres.
On the transom below the water line are stand-off plates for mounting transducers, bilge pumps etc. without piercing the hull.
One thing I loved on the Aqualine was the all-round, thick, fender-like rubbing strip. Most boats have a gunwale strip, usually made of metal or fibreglass, which attracts wharf and jetty rash and soon looks terrible. The Aqualine has this thick, forgiving guard that allows for a few little mistakes when coming alongside.
Broken Bay was a mess – strong winds bashed against a racing tide, standing the waves up like a picket fence. I hit the first one and she cut through it like a knife. How soft was this hull? The next waves were on to us in a flash yet the Aqualine relished the messy conditions with ease and my fillings were still in my teeth!
It was one of the softest-riding tin hulls I have had the pleasure to be in. Heartened, I pushed the throttle down to see how much head sea this girl could take. She just loved it and although there was a bit of spray intrusion into the cockpit, on some boats we would have been soaked to the skin.
On board with me were Craig Huett and Rodney Harris, the owner of Aqualine, who had flown out from NZ the previous day especially for the revue on his boat.
In a following sea, the Aqualine steered straight and true with no inclination to dig her bow in. Abeam was the same, although it did get a bit wet inside, especially when the wind blew.
At rest, she heeled a touch with the three of us hanging over the gunwales, then held, courtesy of the pontoons.
This boat has six separate sealed compartments plus positive buoyancy in the sides and all Aqualines are approved to be in survey. This is one tough little ship.
The down side is that it’s not as beamy inside as most 5.5-metre boats on the market. However, it sure makes up for it in rough-water performance. It’s one of those boats you have to test on the water to reveal its inner beauty.
Deadrise20° at transom
Hull construction4mm plate
Hull weight480kg (approx)
Max capacity6 adults
Rear boarding platform, all round gunwale rubber, 2 rod holders, fairlead, drained anchor bin, off-floor battery shelves, pedestal helm seat, king/queen passenger seat with storage, bow rail, 110gph bilge pump, water-separating fuel filter, four-way battery switch, transom frame and ski hook, bait and rigging table, lined cuddy and dash, bunk cushions, 110L underfloor tank, rocket launcher, telescopic boarding ladder.
|Optional extras: Rear bench seat, deluxe cutting table and bait board,||bimini top, full covers, graphics, bunk infill.|
|Price as tested including braked Tinka trailer with spare wheel, all registrations, safety gear, tie-downs and on-water instruction if required:||$42,000. Boat supplied by Huett Marine Centre , 1131 Pacific Highway, Cowan, NSW 2081. Ph 02 9456 1444, fax 02 9456 2477, email: --e-mail address hidden-- website||www.huettmarine.com.au|
0031 or 0039 (facing left or right)
Sleek lines, stable pontoons and an aggressive 20° vee give the Aqualine 550 plenty of open-water pedigree.
The cockpit has plenty of room for two anglers and access on the water or on the trailer is first class.
The deep forefoot, capped by the 3mm pontoons, provide plenty of fine wave entry and spray deflection.
The cabin is fully lined for additional noise dampening and there’s an optional infill to provide a huge sleeping area.
Anchoring access is through the plexiglass hatch and once you get there there’s a roomy drained anchor well, solid bollard and smooth roller on a sprit.
The telescoping boarding ladder, combined with the transom door, makes access a breeze.
The woodgrain instrument panel adds a touch of class to the helm.
Cockpit height and space is fine for two or maybe three anglers. The battery, fuel filter, 1100gph bilge pump and battery switch are concealed by a full-width cover..Reads: 3771