This customised workhorse from Clark is built tough for offshore duties
SECTION: Boat tests
THERE’S BEEN a boat on the market for years that has proven very popular with professional fishermen and amateurs alike. It’s the Clarke Abalone, built as a solid, open workhorse or fitted out to give a bit of passenger comfort.
I took a drive up the expressway to Marks Point, just past Swansea, to test a new production from the Clark factory. A Clark Sea Ranger 5.7m Centre Cab had been modified to meet the 5m Abalone centre console specifications. The boat was a custom job for proud Central Coast owner Mitch Spruce, who wanted all the features of the Abalone 5.0 on a 5.75-metre hull so he could fish the wider grounds in relative safety.
On the day of the test, as luck would have it, the swell was more than five metres, making the entrance impassable and limiting all testing to inside the Swansea Channel. Shame, as I would’ve liked to have seen how this hybrid performed outside.
Hanging off the back of the boat was one of the new breed of Suzuki four strokes. After a few years’ absence, Suzuki is now back with a vengeance in this country with four-stroke motors as well as smaller two strokes, distributed under the Haines Group of companies. With models from 2hp right through to 140hp, these outboards sport features that I’m sure will make other manufacturers take a second glance.
The test boat had a Suzuki 115hp Direct Injection four-stroke spinning a standard 17” alloy propeller. At idle, it was hard to know if the engine was running, it was that quiet. Under load, the motor gave out a hushed gurgle that did not interfere with our conversation.
It was a beautiful sunny day as owner Mitch and Shane Lawrence from Fishermans Warehouse slipped the boat into Swansea Channel. The dual-axle Marlin trailer with teflon skids and override brakes was overkill but, because Mitch wanted to explore and fish the whole of the East Coast, it was a wise choice to get a tough towing setup.
The Suzuki fired up first time and we set off towards the opening road bridge to start the test. The boat has a very basic layout with just a centre console and no seating whatsoever. An optional bench seat with a reversible back can be fitted behind the helm for those who require a bit of comfort.
The 109mm wide coamings made for a temporary place to rest the bottom at rest or trolling speeds and, at a height of 710mm from the floor, kept you well inside. The rear passenger grab rails helped when the boat was under way but we all held on to the rigid side grab rails around the centre console.
A small raised foredeck holds a tiny drained anchor well (with internal cleat) that is a waste of space due to its size. Fortunately, under the well there is an open area in the hull where anchors and heaps of rope and chain can be stored without cascading over the deck. The bowsprit has a small plastic roller and the split bow rails are strong enough to tie mooring ropes to. A large cross bollard acts as an anchor post and is strongly welded to the foredeck. The chequerplate floor laid nose to stern is rock-solid, non-slip and gives the boat mass and rigidity.
With a cockpit nearly four metres long by 2.2 metres useable width and with no seats, there is a mile of room to work. Small, above-floor three-quarter pockets run from the stern to amidships and will hold hand casters, gaffs and other fishing paraphernalia.
The motor hangs off a fully-floating pod with handy side boarding platforms. The rear grab rails follow down the transom and act as hand holds when climbing aboard. The port side transom door allows big fish to be slid straight into the cockpit and was well secured and unobtrusive.
The battery box is on a raised platform under the transom with still enough room to raise the lid, undo the vents and check the electrolyte. Above the battery is the in-line water separating filter. A large underfloor bilge pump, set in the lowest part of the hull, will quickly expel any surplus water. A small compartment set in the top of the transom will hold a few drinks on ice but is too small to be converted to a live bait well.
Engine controls are mounted at 45° on the starboard side of the console and working the throttle/gear lever was easy when standing. Vision through the plastic pane on the console is excellent and there’s enough room on the smallish dash to mount a sounder/plotter. By unfastening a couple of clips, the top of the console, complete with all-round navigation/anchor light, can be folded down for those who have limited height in their garage.
A fuel filler flush-mounted in the coaming feeds the more than adequate 140 litre cruise tank. Twin breathers allow air to escape when filling, avoiding annoying blow-back. Just past the console, two outward-opening hatches in the chequerplate floor allow storage directly in the hull. It would be advisable to install platforms in these areas to keep items up and away from any water that could congregate.
I took over the controls and gave the boat a few twists and turns on the flat water to see if there were any noticeable quirks. Mitch had extended chines fitted up forward to dispel water well away from the boat and this was noticeable as spray was sheeted back nearly parallel to the water. With the metal floor, the boat was heavy and showed no sign of slap as we crossed our own wake. In reverse the pod didn’t allow water to boil up and pour into the transom well.
Doing a flat-chat 5900rpm, the rig flew across the channel at around 60kmh. The Clark 575 got a bit twitchy at this speed as it groped for traction and I felt a lot more at ease after dragging the throttle back to a sedate 4500rpm. At rest, with the three of us leaning over the gunwales, the boat had a slight dip but not enough to cause concern.
Pushing out 84.6kW of power at 5500rpm, this four-cylinder, 1950cc donk had no problem getting the big hull and three blokes up on the plane in a flash. When getting out of the hole, acceleration is more like a two-stroke. Weighing in at a meagre 189kg, it is one of the lightest motors made for the power produced.
Specifications on these new Suzooks read well. The 115hp had all the features. Double overhead camshafts with an offset drive keep engine size to a minimum. Four valves per cylinder make for efficient fuel burn. The sequential multi-point digital electronic fuel injection gives fuel only when needed, for improved economy and extended range. The injection system constantly monitors engine performance, adjusting ignition and fuel flow to each cylinder up and down the speed range.
The fully-enclosed timing chain is bathed in oil and has an automatic hydraulic tensioner to prolong life between services. There should be no more flat starts, as the alternator on the 115 puts out a cracking 40 amps, a bonus if you run heaps of electronics on board. This also maintains a full, constant charge to increase battery life over the long haul.
The donk also has a computer diagnostic system which allows mechanics to trouble-shoot quickly and reduce service time. The new engines comply with the very strict emission standards set by Europe and the US.
The dark blue hull with ‘go-faster’ decaling made for a pleasing profile on the water but, as Mitch pointed out, the one and only brief the manufacturer had was to make this a dedicated fishing platform. Without giving the boat a true work-out on blue water, it is hard to give a comprehensive sea report. However, all manoeuvres carried out in the channel came out positively and the boat reacted well to the limited test with no hiccups.
Clark Sea Ranger 5.7 Abalone Centre Console
|Weight (hull only)||500kg|
|Length on trailer||7.10m|
Anchor well; battery tray; flush engine pod; boarding platforms; underfloor flotation; 4 x rod holders; passenger grab rails; side pockets; carpeted marine ply floor; navigation lights; bow sprit; bow roller; split bow rails; transducer bracket; 100L underfloor tank; painted hull & graphics; tachometer; trim gauge.
OPTIONS (as per test boat)
Centre console (fold-down); chequerplate floor; rear transom door; 140L underfloor tank; 27MHz radio; compass; fuel separating filter; 800gph bilge pump; 2 x extra rod holders; 4-way fused switch panel; fuel gauge.
Total cost as tested: $34,995.00 drive-away. Includes trailer, all registrations, safety gear and on-water instruction.
Boat supplied by Fishermans Warehouse, 804 Pacific Highway, Marks Point (near Lake Macquarie), NSW 2280. Ph. 02 4945 8922, fax 02 4947 7262, mobile 0427 755 477 or visit www.fishermanswarehouse.com.au