Gale Force 550 Off Shore (Part 2)
  |  First Published: March 2004

IN LAST month's issue I discussed my decision to upsize my 4.8m Gale Force centre console to a 5.5m model powered by a Bombardier 90hp E-Tec outboard. There’s a lot more to setting up a new boat than just seizing upon an idea though – the whole process comes down to decisions, decisions, and still more decisions!

For first time boaters, choosing a boat is much easier: if it's shiny and new it will probably be fine! Ignorance is bliss. On the other hand, when it comes down to improving upon something that isn't broken and doesn't need fixing, things get tougher.

Fortunately, I was able to rely upon Gale Force builder Tony Le Masurier's input. He showed me a BLA catalogue of marine chandlery and rattled off a list of items he considered likely to improve time on the water. He suggested that a pop-up cleat at the anchor well would be out of the way when easing on or off the bow of the boat, and I heartily endorsed this, having once hung off the bow like a flying fox – caught up by the shorts – on my first Gale Force.

Another improvement is that hatches throughout are now waterproof, and the new boat also has Bay Star power steering linked to a five-spoke metal wheel for fingertip control at all times.

Seats were next. My Gale Force 550 Offshore is a five seater and although there's a seat on the console's ice box, plus two positions in each aft quarter, the main seats are the pair of pedestals behind the console. These swivelling seats were upgraded to deluxe standard for additional comfort in rough going.

I saw the need for a few sets of upright rod holders around the base of the console. Apart from storing spin or bait rods, these rod holders are handy for keeping knives, pliers and the like safe but still at the ready when the boat is bobbing about in big swells offshore.

I also ordered a much larger side pocket. This was constructed with enough room under it to make cleaning out the boat very easy, plus providing a toehold when fishing. Rod racks to take three rods were set up on each side of the 550 Offshore, and again I opted for racks over rod lockers. Sure – lockers are fine if tackle is going to stay in the boat, but for my fishing I saw more value in horizontal rod holders that can keep a fly or spin rod safe yet still able to be pressed into service at a moment's notice. Again, the hull liner meant that fly rod tips were never in danger of being chafed or rubbed while travelling fast in less than ideal conditions.

With its completely open layout the 550 Offshore offers a terrific amount of fishing room, particularly forward of the console. A much wider casting step up front was a top priority, and of course a wider step provides more storage space within. A deep cycle battery plus vital safety gear is stored here with access via a heavy-duty hatch in the step. The step's storage area compliments the forward storage space in the bow which is also accessed via a central waterproof hatch.

Charging the deep cycle battery powering the 55lb thrust Minn Kota will be easily taken care of by the E-Tec's 75 Amp/1110 watt alternator when on the move. The E-Tec 90's battery and the Minn Kota's battery are both linked an easily accessible isolator switch up front, which allows the deep cycle battery to be online or offline as required. The previous boat's system saw the battery online and being charged when searching Moreton Bay for pelagic fish but isolated when heavy use of the 55lb thrust Minn Kota in an impoundment was likely. There’s a charger at home next to the boat, of course.

I've long speculated that a boat's underwater hull colour could influence fish behaviour so, with a view to improving our tuna-on-fly catches, I've opted for a lower hull colour that's about as blue as the sky on a summer day. It's going to be interesting to see just how effective this colour scheme is but there's no doubt the very quiet Evinrude E-Tec is going to have some input here as well. In a later issue of this magazine I’ll report on my findings in this regard and there’ll be no gilding the lily here. I'm going to be frank about the results and if I don't noting any difference I’ll say so. Fortunately, the time of year for tuna to put in an appearance is close by so there should be many opportunities for accurate assessments.

Next month: the electronics, trailer tales and some performance details.

1) Bay Star power steering was a wise choice for the 550 Offshore, the unit fitting neatly in front of the Evinrude 90 E-Tec.

2) Deluxe pedestal seating is a feature of the new boat. When serious flyfishing is on the agenda the seats can be removed.

3) Waterproof hatches up front ensure that no moisture finds its way into the large storage areas in the bow. Note the pop-up cleat in the extended position.

4) A lined and enlarged side pocket makes for easy gear storage. That fitting above the rod rack is a pop-out drink holder – great for the early morning coffee.

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