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REVIEWED: Haines Hunter 650R Hardtop     

One of Australia’s best known fishing boat builders has pulled one out of the box with its latest serious offshore model. Jim Harnwell reports. 

YOU know some boats are special the minute you step aboard them. This new Haines Hunter is one such boat. I recently flew to Melbourne specifically to review this latest addition to the HH fleet. The test boat is the Melbourne-based boat company’s promo vessel. As HH is a business owned and driven by a keen offshore angler, plans for the vessel include expeditions out from Portland in search of southern bluefin and trips out to Bass Strait chasing makos, as well as road trips north to Bermagui, Port Stephens and even Coffs Harbour.

Designed specifically as a trailerable gameboat, the 650R Hardtop features an entirely new hull design incorporating HH’s famed 21 degree Performance Deadrise Vee plus aggressive reverse chines and a dual single/twin transom rated for a maximum 260hp. The 650R boasts an extra 400mm of deck space compared to the company’s popular 600R, while the addition of a sturdy fibreglass hardtop roof and an excellent support frame in the form of 32mm stainless steel struts will meet the needs of serious offshore anglers.

A session roaring around Port Phillip Bay revealed that HH has got the basics right with this boat. The ride, balance and overall feel of the boat was spot on. We enjoyed some uncharacteristically brilliant Melbourne weather for the test with the bay completely glassed out. While some rough conditions would have been better for the test, the deep vee hull crossed the low swells and wakes with considerable aplomb, with barely a jolt even at almost 40 knots. I’ve been in enough boats to know a good hull when I see one and this is definitely one good offshore hull. Lateral stability tests – three big blokes on one side – revealed minimal lean and the boat felt solid and stable at all speeds from idle to flat out.

I spent some time in a camera boat observing the 650R Hardtop and was interested to see just how well the big chines worked at keeping spray down and away from the boat. A lot of boats create a messy sort of mist of water and spray when they travel at WOT, but this one seemed to trap and control the water extremely effectively. Of course, conditions were ideal – in strong winds and chop you would expect to see a lot more spray flying about, but the flat calm water showed how the design of this hull actually worked. It was like watching a prototype model of the boat in a test tank – those big chines did exactly what they were obviously designed to do. This demonstrates that considerable work and thought has gone into this hull.  

Effective design and attention to detail are two of the catchcries of the Haines Hunter operation these days, and both come about largely due to the influence of the company’s managing director, John Haber, a passionate character who demands perfection in all things. An indication of Haber’s mindset is the fact that all production team members are acutely aware that even the tiniest details, such as ensuring all the screws are lined up on each boat before it leaves the state-of-the-art factory, must be perfect. Each boat is personally checked by Haber himself or one of his senior managers.

You can see Haber’s influence throughout this boat from the clean, open deck space, the well set-up transom and the innovative dash, which has enough room for a 17-inch thru-mounted sounder/GPS (the test boat featured a 12-inch Raymarine C120 unit linked in with a thru-hull 600w transducer). Haber realises that many trailerboat gamefishermen are wanting to mount big, expensive sounder/GPS units in their boats these days so HH designs its consoles to handle top-of-the-line screens from companies such as Furuno, Raymarine and Simrad. 

Apart from the ability to carry the latest marine electronics, one of the other standout features of the dash of the 650R Hardtop as tested was the use of a twin rig binnacle mount as a “pad” for Honda’s remote control. This simple yet effective addition is indicative of the boat’s extremely high standard of fit-out, with the raised pad allowing optimal placement of control cables as well as ease of use.

Controls for the Lenco trim tabs, the Lewmar winch (the boat’s anchor well can also handle a Stress Free winch), twin digital gauges for the Honda, as well as the usual gauges and compass, all fit cleanly into the dash area in front of the driver. An interesting point to note is that this boat, like all Haines Hunters, doesn’t feature a standard fused switch panel to run lights, bilges and so on – instead it boasts a survey rated system of circuit breakers as used by super yacht builders like Riviera and Maritimo. If you get a power surge or something goes wrong, the circuit breaker goes and you simply reset it. No more fiddling around behind dashes changing fuses. 

The hardtop enables vertical thru-mounting of radios with the test boat featuring a Raymarine E49 VHF and a very cool – and loud! – Rockford Fosgate AM/FM radio/CD black box system. A small but brilliantly powerful LED light positioned in the middle of the roof gave enough light, according to Haber, to illuminate the entire deck. Well-made clears provide all weather shelter with any water that manages to seep in being quietly drained by an inconspicuous channel that runs along the inside of the windscreen – another innovative design idea from the quality-obsessed Haber.

As mentioned before, the hardtop is supported by custom 32mm stainless framework. The frames on some boats seem relatively flimsy and you have to wonder how long they’d handle the constant pounding of big seas, especially if you stow a set of game outfits up in the rocket launchers. You’re not going to have that issue with this boat – these frames are built to last, and they look great to boot.

The height of the hardtop is customisable – the test boat’s roof was ideally positioned for me at 183cm. There are further plans to mount a set of Rupp Side Kick outriggers port and starboard on specially designed SS plates welded to the side rails. The six deck mounted SS rod holders are rated to 130lb, which should allow the boat to troll big lures on 80 stand-up for XOS tuna.

I was impressed with the gas strut seats – these provided a bit of “give” and comfort that would help make a long day offshore just that bit more enjoyable. The cabin was smaller than I expected but provided plenty of storage room while being big enough for a quick nap, especially with the optional infill. A decent sized hatch on the foredeck provides access to the anchor well while a bulkhead mounted hatch inside allows you to service your winch.

As mentioned, the 650R Hardtop features a huge deck, with a 240 litre fuel tank located amidships and a 200 litre plumbed and insulated kill tank forward. The boat will feature SeaDek flooring (it wasn’t yet laid when we did the test) with water, blood, etc draining into a well where it’s pumped out by a 1000GPH Johnson pump. The wide, lined side pockets offer plenty of storage options and the padded coamings provide a touch of comfort and support.

The transom of the test boat didn’t feature a rear door or walk-through, with Haber saying that serious anglers seem to prefer a solid transom. An optional side door is available for those who wish access for diving or by which to drag big fish or sharks aboard. A deck wash was hidden away in the transom portside and a solid bait station with tackle storage was positioned in the centre. A removable folding rear lounge is an option (which I’d personally go for). Twin batteries are located in and under the transom; HH advises there is an option for a total of four batteries if needed. 

On the water

As stated previously, we enjoyed sublime weather and sea conditions so it’s hard to include any detail about the hull’s performance other than to say it was fast, stable, clean running and user friendly. Interestingly, the hull remained very quiet, both at rest and underway.  

Honda’s upgraded BF225 four-stroke seemed an ideal mix of power, performance and efficiency. The hull could handle a 250 single or twin 115s. Fitted with a three blade 18-inch SS Solas prop, the Honda on the test boat maxed out at 38.9 knots and 6000rpm, burning 73 litres of unleaded per hour at that speed. A nice fast cruise of 30 knots at 4500 rpm used 35.3 litres per hour, or 16 kilometres per litre. The key troll speed of 8 knots was achieved at 2400rpm, using 11 litres per hour.

At 4000rpm, the boat travelled comfortably at 26 knots and used just under 30 litres per hour. 

Fitted on a braked, tandem axle Easy Tow or Dunbier trailer, the 650R Hardtop has a tow weight of about 2500kg, putting it comfortably in the Pajero/Prado class of mid-sized 4WDs. It would also be a cinch to tow behind a Landcruiser, Land Rover, F250 or Patrol.

  As a stylish, impeccably presented and thoroughly functional offshore fishing boat, the 650R Hardtop deserves very close inspection. 

You definitely won’t be disappointed.

 Haines Hunter 650R Hardtop

Length 6.75m Beam 2.40m Deadrise 21 degrees Fuel 240 Power.As tested, Honda BF225 Tow weight Approx 2500kg Price starting from $85,000; as tested $102,000 Contact: Haines Hunter, 03 9394 1540 or visit www.haineshunter.com.au     

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