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Gale Force 550 Offshore (Part 3)
  |  First Published: April 2004



IN THE last issue of QFM I discussed some of the major fitout items in my new Gale Force 550 Offshore centre console. In this issue I’ll review the electronics, the trailer and other items that help make the 550 a great fishing boat.

ELECTRONICS, DASH

There’s a trim gauge, fuel gauge, tachometer, water pressure gauge and hour meter recessed into the upper section of the console, with a Lowrance X87 sounder and Ritchie compass mounted on the flat area just behind the small tinted windscreen. The water pressure gauge was an extra, but outboards need unrestricted water flow and it’s handy to be able to monitor the flow at all times.

I’m hoping to have a GPS installed before the serious bass fishing in late winter. The compass has already earned its keep, having guided us home from near Tangalooma to Wellington Point one rain-filled afternoon.

The Bombardier instruments are easy to monitor thanks to their white dials, and luckily the fuel gauge is accurate. I first filled the underfloor tank (the excellent breather allows the tank to fill rapidly) in careful increments, co-relating both pump and boat gauges as the first fill progressed, and it’s great to be able to totally rely upon the fuel gauge. Half full means there’s still 40 litres of unleaded fuel remaining.

The 90 E-Tec is so fuel-efficient that a morning’s run from Wellington Point to the two shipping beacons (E4 and E2) near Moreton Island’s Shark Spit (plus some cruising around to locate macks and tuna) usually costs around $15. When holidaying at Woody Head (Iluka) I could do two offshore trips after mackerel and snapper without having to run into town to buy more fuel. With the 70 two-stroke on the old 4.8m Galey, which had the same size fuel tank, I had to a run into town after a morning on the water.

To the right of the polished stainless steel wheel are the switches for the bait tank, anchor light, bilge pump, the VHF radio in the console, cockpit lights, and navigation lights.

LOWRANCE X87 SOUNDER

My previous 4.8 Gale Force had been equipped with a Lowrance X75 sounder and I was so satisfied with the unit I wanted to keep it – until I saw a Lowrance X87 demonstrated at the Brisbane Boat Show. I decided to get one for the new boat, and the transducer was set into the 550 Offshore’s hull as it was laid up. Tony Le Masurier has installed enough transducers to know what he’s doing and the sounder unit works perfectly.

The X87 has proven itself time and again and is very user friendly. If you can operate a mobile phone you can operate a Lowrance X87 sounder after only a glance at the instruction booklet. One feature I really liked was the ease of nominating a depth range in either automatic or manual mode to maximize displays within the water column. I used this to good effect while picking off snapper with plastics at Iluka, when the fish were feeding just above the kelp beds in Shark Bay.

The sounder has definitely exceeded my expectations with its great definition during saltwater work, and I can’t wait to give it some work on bass in Somerset Dam when the weather has cooled off. For now, we’re making the most of the great mackerel and tuna run in Moreton Bay.

DUNBIER SR533 HD TRAILER

This trailer is a dream to use – the boat flies off the multi-rollered Dunbier so well that a keeper rope is necessary to maintain orderly progress off the six sets of rollers. Just as importantly, given that I usually fish with just one other person, when it’s time to return the boat to the trailer all it takes is to hook up, line up the bow on the first set of rollers and start winding the winch. The hull self-centres beautifully and my wife Denise (aka The Little Winch Wench) reckons it’s just as easy for her to retrieve the 550 as the 4.8, our first Gale Force.

The ‘HD’ in the model name means Heavy Duty. This trailer is solidly constructed and has been set up with an optional draw bar extension which I rely upon for beach launching.

CASTING AREA UP FRONT

As a sportfishing boat that’s purpose built for lure and fly casting, the 550 Offshore came with good sized casting deck up front but we improved upon this again. I saw a need for a mackerel/tuna/snapper sized icebox, so I asked to have one made to compliment the casting deck. Tony crafted a custom-made fibreglass icebox that sits directly behind the casting deck and effectively doubles its size .The icebox can be padlocked into the boat when holidaying or camping and large bungs allow it to drain without being removed from the boat, which is very practical.

Next, I approached local marine upholster Attila (ph. (07) 3806 3075) to set up a marine carpet covering for the whole front section and he did this in about 10 minutes. The heavy-duty marine carpet is held securely in place with six press studs up front, while a Velcro section at the rear holds the carpet down over the back of the icebox. To access the icebox or forward deck hatch, all you have to do is unfasten the Velcro strips and simply lift the carpet forward. Taking it out to wash it is just as easy.

In all, the carpet covered casting area is 1.8m wide and 1.3m deep. Smoko is very pleasant up there but above all I’ve found it fantastic for flyfishing. When sneaking in on a tuna, I can strip line from the reel and rely upon it to sit on the carpet until I’ve made a cast. Sections of fly line fouling up on themselves not only wreck the cast – if a tangle hits the guides with a fish pulling like the Tilt Train bound for Cairns it’s panic stations!

THINGS THAT MADE A GOOD BOAT BETTER

It’s very satisfying to see various items combine to make a boat really good. The 550 is far roomier than the 4.8 and, courtesy of the 90 E-Tec, is a better performer and much cheaper to run. In rough Moreton Bay chop that extra length and beam has proven itself time and again.

That Baystar power steering has been a blessing – there’s no need to constantly steer in chop or swell as the boat looks after itself. Other neat features include the four upright rod holders mounted around the console base for storing pliers and knives, plus the useful storage within the console that allows me to remove a camera in seconds. Then there’s the big icebox in front of the console which serves as a brilliant mackerel killtank, and of course the extended casting platform. And the trailer makes life very stress-free, too.

In the next issue I’ll discuss the brilliant E-Tec’s performance, plus some of the great fishing experiences we’re enjoying from the 550 Offshore. Fly catches include cobia, snapper, tuna and mackerel, and there’s another month to go. Beauty!

Remember I touched on the sky blue under hull in the March issue? Combined with the E-Tec’s quietness it looks like a real winner. More on that later.

1) Castaway II at the Woody Head ocean ramp. The extended draw bar on the Dunbier SR533 trailer is earning its keep here.

2) The user-friendly Lowrance X87 sounder in action off Peel Island. Note the small section of reef coming into view and the fish hanging above it.

3) This photo from the bow shows the icebox in front of the console, its seat, the first of two rod holders on each side of the console plus the jumbo sized side pocket. That little rail on the stern makes for easy ramp work.

4) The dash and instrument panel of the 550 Offshore is purely functional with all instruments within plain view on the top of the console. Note the console rail, handy when the seas aren’t overly friendly.

5) The casting platform and icebox. The custom made icebox locks into place and has a bung at each end.

6) Now that’s a casting area! Attila’s section of custom fitted carpet has made a single entity out of the forward platform and ice box, and it works like a dream.

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