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Surtees Workmate 5.5
  |  First Published: July 2009



All good boats have a pedigree. Their best design features are be born from experienced boating people applying hard earned lessons to the design of the vessel. Such is the case with the Surtees boats.

Surtees isn’t a well-known brand – yet. In fact up until the 2009 Melbourne Boat Show many boat enthusiasts would haven’t have heard of them at all unless they keep an eye on the fishing and boating scene in new Zealand.

Surtees has in fact been sold in Australia before, but under a different brand. The boats were manufactured here under licence at one stage.

However the Surtees brand is set to burst onto the scene out of Russell Cairns’ boat yard in Warrnambool. Russell as made a very astute decision to stock these boats, as they suit the offshore and open bay scene in Victoria and Tasmania extremely well.

The Boat

The boat we tested was the Surtees Workmate 5.5m. At first glance this boat is all about fishing and fishing efficiency. It is a no nonsense boat that is designed to take anglers in comfort and safety to the fishing grounds, allow you to fish with stability and plenty of room and get you home safe and sound. So how does it do all these wonderful things?

Finish and fit out

This boat, while looking very workmanlike, is particularly well finished. It is a plate boat, which means that all seams are fully welded, the floor is fully welded in and the internal structure is basically bulletproof. The structural strength of the Surtees is amazing – six fully welded internal stringers sees to that. The plate is fully welded throughout – I doubt you could break one of you tried.

Around the transom there are some very smart ideas, such as the transom pod doubling up as a live bait tank. This is achieved by leaving the top of the pod open and then plumbing it in. If bigger engines are fitted then the pod is enclosed for strength, but with the recommended 90hp engine attached this is a great idea.

Internally the finish around the cabin is very good with all edges finished properly and gauges and other electronics well mounted. The windscreen and surrounds are very clever, the way that it folds down to facilitate storage is extremely smart. This operation can be done in as little as five minutes from full clears assembled to folded down and ready to poke back in the garage.

The floor/workspace is perfect for the active angler. You could hold the proverbial piscatorial barn dance in here; there is enough room for two anglers to be hooked up on tuna or snapper at the same time.

The massively wide gunnels are also good for the angler. There is heaps of room for rod holders on top, as well as plenty of room to park the backside while waiting for a fish on a nice day. Toe holds all the way around means no crooked legs and un-duly sore backs when playing bigger fish as well as allowing something to brace against when tackling a tuna in less than ideal circumstances.

Ride

This is where Surtees really starts to separate away from the rest of the pack. The Surtees range are developed in New Zealand where rough seas in the form of a short sharp chop are an everyday experience. If a boat can’t cope with that sort of water in New Zealand they don’t stay on the market too long! Surtees has been around since the early 1990’s when Neil Surtees made his own boat. From that humble start Surtees now make around 300 plate boats a year.

That same sort of water is what we get a lot of here – Port Phillip slop, Western Port slop and current, and swells and sloppy seas offshore. The boat is built with a serious deep V so that it cuts through the chop and delivers a smooth-as-possible ride. As many experienced boat operators will know the deep V means good ride but isn’t so hot on stability at rest or while slow trolling. Many companies have tried to overcome this issue in a variety of ways – some work better than others.

Surtees has an innovative solution that uses the very medium that causes the problem to begin with – water. Under the keel is an open section that fills as the boat comes to rest. This helps hold the boat firmer in the water to make it more stable – the principal is the more weight along the keel the less the boat is inclined to sway and rock unduly.

On top of that to make the ride better when underway a flap can be closed to keep water in the hull and make the ride even smoother. Simply open the flap and the water comes out as you get up on the plane. A great and simple idea that works very well indeed.

The ride

The day we tested the 5.5 at Warrnambool was perfectly suited to this boat. A 2-3m swell was swinging past the end of the breakwall with a small sea on top of that. This would be a typical day that you’d be out in this boat chasing tuna and the chop was similar to a normal day in the bays.

The boat scooted around all over the swells with no trouble what so ever, and even in a following swell with the boat only just on the plane it tracked very straight. Pop a bit of power into it and the nose cuts through cleanly with no real inclination to jump waves unless really pushed.

I really dislike a rough ride, so I try as much as possible to avoid it – the Surtees Workmate 5.5m makes it very easy to maximise the conditions and enjoy the time on the water. Going into the chop was as good as you’d find in a plate boat and heading across the swell and chop we stayed nice and dry. At full noise on the calmer stuff we did experience a little spray being sucked into the helm, but nothing of any concern.

Power

The boat was fitted with a 90hp two stroke Yamaha, which pushed us around with no trouble at all. In fact I still had the boat on the plane at 2600 revs, so it is very tractable indeed. The boat was tested with Phill Jones and myself about, so including safety gear and so on we had over 250kgs of weight on board. The boat didn’t flinch with this weight aboard.

The recommended power range is between 75-115hp, but the 90hp fitted was perfectly adequate. If you were going to spend plenty of time with larger loads then you might opt for the 115hp or if you were going to spend a lot of time at altitude in the Snowy Mountains or in Tasmania.

Fishabiliy

As I said to start with, this boat is a fishing boat. If more creature comforts are required there are other models in the Surtees range, but this boat is all about the angler. The open rear deck with everything out of the way is perfect for bay and offshore anglers alike, and together with its good stability at rest will suit the keen snapper and whiting angler on the bays.

The wide gunnels add to the feeling of safety in the boat, and in combination with the bait board at the back and options such as deck wash and live bait tanks you will be at right home chasing snapper, cubing yellowfin of Bermagui, enduring the marathon of bluefin off Portland or even the great offshore fishing in Tasmania.

The massive forward hatch is fantastic for anchor droppers. A normal sized person can easily access the anchor, drop it over the side and retrieve it without having to be like Houdini to do it. Full marks there.

Towing and storage

This is where this boat excels. The whole package is able to be towed by the family sedan: the whole shooting match is less than 1800kgs – and that is family sedan weights. The trailer is a typical Dunbier model that is of course corrosion resistant and light – easy to store and reverse.

The windscreen and canopy fold down very easily as I explained earlier, meaning that it only needs 1.8m of headroom to store. This is again another key element to making it a family fishing boat.

In conclusion

The package price of this boat as tested is around $38,500. That’s right, 38 and a half grand for a boat that is purpose built for bay and light offshore work, comes with the canopy and side clears, a sounder, underfloor fuel tank and a heap of other stuff.

Add to that its fantastic on-water performance, clever fishing-based innovations and its easy tow, easy store nature and you would be easily convinced to take the drive down to Warrnambool for a closer look.

The boat tested was provided by Russell Cairns Marine at Warrnambool, who are the state dealer for Surtees Boats. Russell has other models in stock and can fit either Yamaha or Mercury engines to these boats.

Facts

Features

Water ballasted hull for superior stability

6 fully welded stringers

Fully welded tread plate floor

Sealed underfloor buoyancy

2 x Under floor storage bins

Large dashboard area

Toughened glass screens

Large forward hatch

Boarding ladder

Large shelves side/aft and front – ideal for dive bottle storage

Separate anchor locker

Four rod holders

Bow roller and bollard

Bow, side and stern rails

Ample hand/grab rails

Thru transom burley pot

Side graphics

Spray deflection chines

Smooth non pounding hull design

Facts

Specifications

WATER BALLAST320 litres
FUEL TANK80 litres
BEAM2150 mm
WEIGHT412 kg
OVERALL LENGTH5.5 metres
RECOMMENDED HP70-115 hp
FREEBOARD710 mm
Pricing (as tested)$38,520

Pricing includes hard top roof inc side curtains, Nyallic Paint, deck grip pads, fold away back bench seat with deck grip, 2 x fold away seats, padded: plumbed live bait tank, GME GX600 Marine Radio, Lowrance X125 Sounder, Compass, 90hp Yamaha 90AETOX outboard, 17P SS Prop, power trim & tilt, speedo & tacho, Dunbier trailer and safety equipment to the value of $500.

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