I’m sure most readers would remember the Southwind brand of boats. A subsidiary of Yamaha Australia, it didn’t take long for Southwind hulls to earn an excellent reputation for ride and strength. They were heavy for their size, but this gave the boats better ride in dubious conditions.
Yamaha decided to close the doors on the Southwind factory late last year, but a keen group of employees, headed by the old GM of Southwind, Noel Smith, knew that the hulls were too good to let slip. This group subsequently bought the elements of the business and have now started production of Southern Star boats.
And the crew at Southern Star haven’t just sat on their laurels – they’ve employed the experience of Ben Hipkins to help with the ongoing development of the dealer network and to continue the research and development processes that made the hulls so good in the first place.
From a customer’s point of view, the next 12 to 18 months will see a range very similar to the tried and proven Southwind hulls. As the dealer network consolidates and dealer and customer feedback is incorporated into the design process, I’d envisage short-term refinements and longer-term design changes from the end of 2005 onwards.
Current NSW dealers for southern star include Blakes Marine, Leisure Coast Marine in Wollongong, Belmont Affordable Boating at Newcastle, Boatland Marine in Tuncurry and Advantage Marine Services at Cabramatta. We recently organised an opportunity to water test a range of five Southern Star models – from their Dory through to the 6.5m serious offshore boat.
Originally, you could only buy these hulls with Yamaha outboards, but Southern Star have opened up the opportunities for non-Yamaha dealers to make affordable packages with the ‘Classic’ series, or technical and upmarket packages with the ‘Platinum’ Southern Star Hulls.
The test rigs were fitted with a range of BRP technology – from the smallest of their E-TEC outboards through their two-stroke and four-stroke range and up to the beefy 200hp DFI Evinrude.
So, to give you a feel for the range of Southern Stars and what they can do, we’ve compiled some basic facts and figures here for you to compare and contrast.
Starting at the smaller end of the range, the SD500 Dory looked to be remarkably underpowered with the low-profile Evinrude E-TEC 50 strapped to the transom. This was due, in part, to the fact that this is a very beamy open boat – at 2.29m wide, it’s only just twice as long as it is wide.
The Dory is available in a range of fit-ups, from a fully-decked tournament model through to a simple centre-console and – as with the boat we tested – an open, tiller-drive format. This is a simple and effective layout. It has a self-draining deck and it keeps everything simple, with a remote fuel tank under one side of the transom and the starting battery under the other rear seat.
The middle seat is actually a removable storage box with cushions on top. Besides offering the only dry storage in the boat, it’s actually quite comfortable to travel on. A lip on the edge gives you something to grab onto in rough conditions and it’s easy to straddle and sit sideways or to sit facing the bow or the stern.
A basic array of gauges is housed simply in the gunwale coamings, as is the trim-tilt and starting key in Logan River Marine’s fit-up.
With the weight of the hull and the 19° deadrise of the hull at the transom, this rig needed 4000rpm to maintain planing attitude, but when it was up on the plane – which the E-TEC achieved unexpectedly easily – it scooted along at a tad under 50 km/h and, I assume, with remarkable fuel efficiency.
This is the sort of boat for anglers who mainly fish in rivers and estuaries, but who don’t mind scooting outside if the weather is good, or want to load up with a week’s camping gear and take off to a near-shore island for a long weekend.
Length - 5.0m
Beam - 2.29m
Deadrise at transom - 19°
Max hp (2 stroke) - 75
Max hp (4 stroke) - 60
Hull weight - 530kg
Propeller as tested - 15”
Price as tested - $22,990
1) The low-profile E-TEC may look small, but the 50hp was ample horsepower.
2) The dry storage in the removable passenger seats is necessary in this open boat.
3) The Southern Star Dory is only just over twice as long as it is wide, making a huge work platform.
Fitted with a 140hp Johnson four-stroke, the SF550 Walk Round (WR) was definitely the ‘sports-car’ of the fleet. Designed as a semi-serious fishing boat, the narrow walk-round design allows 360° access around the cabin while still maintaining a reasonable amount of space inside.
From the stern forward, the 140 (Suzuki-made) Johnson pushed the rig along to a nippy 70km/h, but the canopy/clears set-up resonated the engine noise and it was definitely the loudest rig of the group from the helm. Either side of the outboard, moulded steps allow easy access to the cock-pit and these are mirrored by a pair of single passenger seat positions moulded into the interior of the transom.
Under the transom, I thought that the battery rigging was a little too exposed, but in direct contrast, the wiring under the helm of all the Southern Stars is the neatest I’ve seen on boats of this class. This means that when you’re in the cabin, looking aft, you see a glove-box sized panel with a light mounted on the cover rather than a bird’s nest of zip-tied wires and fuse holders.
At the helm, there’s a smooth transition between the curved windscreen and the clears/canopy and the pedestal seats for the driver and passenger seem strong and comfortable.
A six-barrelled rocket launcher above the helm position keeps tackle out of the way, as well as providing a mounting position for radio antennae and anchor lights.
Tackle shelves under the aft gunwales are mirrored by internal cabin gear storage shelves above the small bunks. The test model didn’t have storage under these berths, but getting it added is an option for all of the Classic series.
Spinning a 19” prop, the WR jumped easily out of the hole and revved out to 6200rpm at wide open throttle, which means that it could probably take an extra inch of propeller – or give similar performance statistics under a heavier load. That’s probably more realistic when the family gets on board.
To me, this boat is a good compromise as a family boat – enough comfort and shade to keep the missus happy but versatile enough to take out with a few mates for some bay or offshore work.
Length - 5.91m (inc bowsprit)
Beam - 2.30m
Deadrise at transom - 23°
Max hp (2 stroke) - 150 HP
Max hp (4 stroke) - 115 HP
Hull weight - 749kg
Propeller as tested - 19”
Price as tested - $49,990
1) The longboat lines haven’t changed, no matter what the name of the manufacturer is.
2) Everything electronic lives in the console, and it’s big enough to hold it.
3) Plenty of fishing space is what a longboat’s all about.
The UB, or longboat, was one of the most popular boats of the old range, and all of the same seaworthy characteristics of these longboats migrate to the Southern Star UB series. The model tested on the day was from the ‘Platinum’ Southern Star range, which means that it has several of the features that are optional on the Classic series fitted as standard.
If fact, the UB580 that we took for a run was fitted with a 90hp four-stroke Johnson outboard and was a rig that lasted only two days in the yard before Yatla’s Chris Elliot opened the cheque book and drove it away.
Chris has set the boat up for offshore fishing from the Gold Coast – a fact that I gleaned from the set-up (and from scrolling through his waypoints on the GPS!).
From the stern, there’s kill-tank/livewell in the port side and gear storage starboard. On the front of this section, vertical rod holders keep your rigs from bouncing around on the decks.
The driver’s seat features a heap of internal storage plus a backrest that pivots from forward-facing to aft-facing, allowing you to change direction when you’re travelling and/or fishing.
There’s wet storage under the console, which is easily large enough to hold the binnacle mount steering, the sounder, GPS and radio that this boat’s fitted with.
In front of the console, there’s the masses of space that longboats are famous for. The underfloor fuel is 85 litres and sits under this forward deck area. The filler is on the foredeck.
With a 22° deadrise at the transom and the upswept bow, the UBs are very seaworthy boats. They have self-draining decks and can carry heavy loads with proportionally small decreases in performance. Fitted with a 17” propeller, this rig hit 60km/h at WOT.
Length - 5.79m
Beam - 1.96m
Deadrise at transom - 22°
Max hp (2 stroke) - 90hp
Max hp (4 stroke) - 100hpP
Hull weight - 590kg
Propeller as tested - 17”
Price as tested - $35,990
1) You can see from this angle how the narrow walk-around platform gives access to the bow.
2) From the inside, you can see the cabin space and comfortable helm area.
3) At WOT, the 140 is fast and a little noisy.
The SF500 Classic Southern Star is one of the best entry-level fibreglass boats I’ve been in. It’s beamy, quick (with the 90hp two-stroke Johnson on the transom) and well appointed. In fact, it seemed to be not much smaller inside than the Walk Round and it’s only 10km/h slower with a 17” propeller, but $17,000 cheaper!
Up front there’s a hatch to allow anchoring access in the cabin that has two cushioned benches that are too small to sleep anything more than a youngster on. There are also internal shelves that’ll keep dry any important gear. An internal light on the back of the wiring cover keeps you going at night.
The helm seats are as strong and comfortable as any of the boats in the range and the passenger has their own side pocket to store keys, phones and so forth. The dash is simple and effective, and visibility through the curved windscreen wasn’t a problem.
Large rear side pockets hold more than enough family fishing gear and there’s a large bench seat across the transom with passenger handles. A ladder on the port side facilitates easy access for the family.
There are two drained wells in the stern corners that can act as bait holders. I assume these can be plumbed as an option.
The deck is carpeted and there’s toe-room under the side pockets for comfort while offshore fishing. There’s also a small wet-storage area between the driver and passenger seats. It’s a little small for a fish well and a little large for a bait well.
At the helm, this boat was very user-friendly. It performed suitably with a wide range of trim settings and would be a no-brainer to operate for even the most novice boaties.
Remember, though, that you still have to put the bung in!
Length - 5.30m inc bowsprit
Beam - 2.29m
Deadrise at transom - 19°
Max hp (2 stroke) - 130
Max hp (4 stroke) - 115
Hull weight - 620kg
Propeller as tested - 17”
Price as tested - $32,990
1) The SF500 Classic is an ideal entry level rig.
2) There’s enough space for a rest out of the sun up front, but not enough for a comfortable sleep.
3) The full-width rear bench seat gives the family somewhere to lounge in the sun while having a fish.
The SF655 Classic, fitted with a DFI Evinrude 200hp engine, was the big brother of the group. The extra metre-and-a-bit of length in this boat is extremely noticeable – especially as you jump from the 500 to the 655.
Similar in basic design to the 500, the 655 features bunks in the cuddy cabin that you may actually get a few hours’ rest on while waiting for moon to rise out in the ocean. Under these bunks there’s miles of underfloor storage for the gear that inevitably invites itself along fishing with you – wet weather gear, cold weather gear, spares and bedding.
Both the driver and passenger seats feature fibreglass bases that have plenty of internal storage built in. The lids of these storage areas are padded so that a third and fourth passenger can remain seated while travelling.
The cockpit space in this boat is understandably massive and the two passengers that may sit in the rear seats each side of the motor well have a lot of daylight between them and the driver!
A simple rocket launcher above the helm keeps your tackle out of harm’s way, although I’d envisage anyone who’s into fishing machines of this size would be optioning up this model substantially.
At the wheel, this boat is fun to drive. It’s got plenty of punch (200 horses on the back does that) and at WOT, it pulls nearly 85km/h. Spinning a 19” propeller, it planes suitably at an economical 3000rpm.
Length - 6.5m (inc bowsprit)
Beam - 2.41m
Deadrise at transom - 22°
Max hp - 200
Hull weight - 900kg
Propeller as tested - 19”
Price as tested - $59,990
1) Simple design and plenty of storage space are features of the SF655.
2) 200 horses on the back means you’ll never be struggling for power when you need it.
3) All of the Southern Star Cuddy models have neat coverings over the helm wiring looms.