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Project Boat
  |  First Published: February 2004



Gale Force 550 Offshore

SECTION: Boating

I'VE BEEN lucky enough to enjoy fishing from a Gale Force 4.8 centre console for around three years. The process of fitting out this boat originally appeared in QFM as a project boat review in late 2000 and into 2001. I chose glass simply because of the superior ride and seaworthiness, and on a rough day offshore the fibreglass Gale Force hull has proven itself time and again with its soft and dry ride.

The success of fibreglass comes down to hull shape, of course, and the plain truth is that metal can be worked, bent, pressed, or tweaked only to a certain point – end of story. On the other hand, the shape of the fibreglass hull depends on the mould in which it is made. Complex curves and performance-enhancing features are virtually limitless, such is the manufacturing process which sees a wet, soft, pliable material form into a rock hard finished product.

We've had the 4.8 boat fishing for bass in impoundments, toga in the trees at Borumba, tuna in Moreton Bay and Mooloolaba and fishing for mackerel and tasty reef fish off Iluka in New South Wales. Anything I've asked of that boat was achieved without fuss.

On some January mornings at Iluka, when the local alloy fleet opted not to launch at Woody Head because of the size of the swells running across Shark Bay, we'd sneak Castaway in for a quick hour of running around and come back with two or three nice, fat spotted mackerel for our trouble. And the Dunbier multi roller trailer made launching and extracting the boat from the beach at Woody Head a non-event.

My leaning towards fibreglass hulls goes a lot further than association with just one boat, of course. Over the last three years (in which I have owned the current 4.8 Gale Force) I've reviewed at least 50 powerboats of various sizes – both alloy and fibreglass – for the national magazines that I write for and while the ride of some of the alloy (and plate alloy) hulls are claimed to come close to that of fibreglass I have always noted the difference.

GALE FORCE 550 OFFSHORE

For an angler who loves offshore fishing some things are just too hard to resist. Around four months back Tony Le Mesurier of Gale Force casually mentioned he was putting a 5.5m craft together for a keen fisho. I visited the factory, saw the hull and I liked what I saw. There was 0.7m more length than my existing boat, more beam, yet not a great deal more weight.

The sleek underwater lines hadn’t changed – still the fine entry with plenty of beef in the shoulders to guard against broaching, the same 21-degree deep Vee going down to a 30cm wide planing plank aft and those same massive reversed outer chines that gripped the water at rest and in hard turns. Tony tells me that the new hull – a great offshore craft, hence the name – is being rated for engines from 70hp through to 115hp, with a 90hp two-stroke as the optimum power plant.

I had already decided that I was definitely staying with Gale Force. My 4.8 had proven its worth over the three years I had owned it and no other manufacturer I know of offers the amount of customising that Tony Le Mesurier does. Tony is a keen fisho and understands the need to alter certain things for the individual.

And when it comes to value for money the Gale Force is streets ahead. I have reviewed craft that ride just as well but you pay up to twice the money for the completed package. When it comes to serious open fishing boats where flow-coat is standard finish on decks and floors instead of gel-coat (with nothing sacrificed whatsoever in regard to ride or handling) these Galeys are hard to go past.

Built like tanks, with hand-laid glass and massive fibreglass under-floor stringers to brace the hull and ensure great rigidity, many Gale Force craft have been put into full commercial use.

Features list

Looking down a list of optional features for the new boat saw me ticking virtually every single item that I had chosen for my Gale Force 4.8. Obviously I got it right first time up.

In the 550 Offshore the casting step up front would remain the same as in the 4.8, only it would be larger. The ice box under the console forward seat would stay, as would the large forward storage hatches – both in the bow and step – in which I could house the battery for the Minn Kota Riptide 55lb thrust electric motor plus safety gear and the other necessary odds and ends that are always necessary on fishing trips.

An insulated and plumbed livewell in the port quarter would again double as an aft seat while the huge under-floor storage hatch / fish box in the cockpit would also remain the same. Internal rod racks for three rods per side would remain standard but I opted for a larger side pocket and this time it would be installed on the port side.

The hull liner, scoffed at by folk who looked at it in my 4.8 and said it would be hard to keep clean – wrong! – was there as first item on the list. This stuff is vital for protecting the tips of expensive fly rods against chafing or rubbing while travelling at speed.

The only real issues remaining were for me to work out how I could best use the extra 0.7m of internal space and the positioning of the 86L under-floor fuel tank. We needed to maintain the sweet balance of the 4.8 model and at the same time allow for the larger engine so that the scuppers servicing the self-draining floor were a decent height above the water. On a positive note, so far as balance goes, the extra length equates to a lot of extra buoyancy aft as well.

Denise and I decided we would move the console forward only a short distance, which would give us a lot more room forward in which to work the long G.Loomis fly rods. On that score we opted to lower the bow rails just a little to make flyfishing even easier. Tony had invested a fair amount of time in working out balance points with the previous 550 Offshore and I relied on his judgement in leaving the 86L fuel tank in virtually the same location beneath the centre console.

Seating would be again pedestal style, with floor bases which would allow us to leave the seats at home when flyfishing if conditions warranted it. Our standard procedure when tuna fishing in Moreton Bay is to stand while moving about searching for fish, so seats aren’t required on those trips. On the other hand, the mackerel at Woody Head are far more obliging. In the past we’ve usually left the seats aboard and often we have hooked fish – and played them to a standstill – while seated. That is indeed deluxe flyfishing.

Bait fishing meant that the seats were turned around to face the stern while the rods were placed in holders on the gunwales or held in the hand.

Choosing the engine

When it came to choosing the engine for the new boat it was dead easy. First, it had to be a two-stroke. Sure, four-strokes have their place, and their quietness is legendary at idle, but the power does take a while to develop. For dams, rivers, and the bay they are fine but when push turns to shove offshore and a big wave is about to spoil the day, only a two-stroke really has the instant pick-up to get the boat the hell out of it. And the power-to-weight factor cannot possibly be overlooked. Checking out the weight of current four-strokes in the 90hp (optimum power) range against the equivalent available two-strokes saw a difference of many kilos.

Evinrude's new direct injection E-Tec motors had impressed me immensely when I attended Bombardier's press day in July. As I saw it, this new engine offered the best of the two-stroke's performance factors with incredible new quietness, smoothness, and reputed strong fuel economy.

To be frank, I have reviewed enough craft with four-stroke engines on them to be aware of their virtues and shortcomings, but Evinrude's E-Tec has almost the quietness of a four-stroke engine with the added attractions of far less weight, far fewer moving parts and that instant two-stroke responsiveness. Other bonuses include a three year warranty and three yearly service intervals: things we do not see other manufacturers within the industry keeping well away from at this point in time.

And these E-Tec two strokes are totally smokeless. You read it correctly: smokeless! At the press release day in July 27, 2003, other sceptical journos and I looked for any sign of oil smoke from the eight craft in use and we never saw one hint of it from any of these new engines from the Bombardier stable.

The E-Tec certainly is also unbelievably silent thanks to very effective sound proofing and new engine design, with CARB (2008) 3-star emission standards (industry leading) and from the results we experienced on the test day there was no shortage of instant power on tap. No surprise, then, that I have opted for the three cylinder 90 for Castaway II.

And the trailer? Dunbier again, naturally. I found launching and retrieving the 4.8 Galey on conventional ramps very easy thanks to the multi-roller system, and for beach and bankside dam launching the extended draw bar really came into its own.

In next month’s issue I’ll take you through the layout of the new Gale Force 550 Offshore in detail and maybe outline some early impressions of the E-Tec's engine's performance.

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