REVIEW: Phoenix boats

MOST production boats built by Australian boat builders come out of the factory rigged to handle general sportfishing applications. Many of these boats can be further optioned up to suit owner requirements. But even the best production boat will struggle to compete against a custom built vessel designed to exacting specifications with significant owner input. So it was interesting to examine Offshore Hooker, a 7.7m plate alloy sportfishing boat custom built on the NSW South Coast, with both the builder and the proud new owner.

Rod Brown is well known in boating circles for his work with Predator Boats. These tough-as-nails plate alloy vessels were extremely popular with commercial operators and hard-core game fishermen. More recently, Rod has established Phoenix Boats, based at South Nowra, again producing commercial and recreational vessels. The newest boat to come out of the Phoenix factory is the aptly named Offshore Hooker. Owner Andrew “Cookie” Cook commissioned the vessel after checking out what was available in the production plate alloy market. He liked what he saw but none of the boats he examined really fit the bill in terms of optional extras or customisation.

An initial conversation with Rod about a new boat was followed by some months of planning and research. Cookie and Rod both worked closely to design a boat that encompassed all of Cookie’s requirements. Following the design process, a WA-based naval architect drew up plans for the hull and the build began. As an interesting aside, I watched this boat’s construction via social media. Ben Blades, a keen young local angler whom I’m friends with on Facebook, works for Rod and he posted various images as the boat began to take shape. As soon as I saw the first pictures of the hull I thought it would make for an interesting article.

Soon after the boat was completed I arranged with Rod and Cookie to meet them at a local ramp to head out for a ride. Sitting on its alloy Transtyle trailor, with the Reelax riggers set up, the boat looked like an absolute weapon. The distinctive WA hull design, with its sharp bow and raised sheerline, matched nicely with the classy X Factor wrap featuring a school of yellowfin hunting baitfish. As I walked around the hull, I noted aggressive chines, a big boarding platform and wide gunwales. As you’d expect from a boat builder of Rod Brown’s experience, the welds and overall finish was top notch. At 7.7m long with a beam of 2.5m, the boat looked massive on the trailer. Tow weight is about 3300kg, meaning no major dramas for Cookie’s V8 diesel Landcruiser. An equivalent fibreglass boat would be significantly heavier and would probably require a small truck as tow vehicle.

Once Offshore Hooker was launched, I put the Fisho Bar Crusher 670HT in the water to use as a camera boat. Sea conditions were ideal with a low swell and no wind. We motored offshore a few miles to get a few shots and I then jumped onboard the big Phoenix to check out the cockpit and cabin layout. As expected with a boat of this size, the cockpit was huge with plenty of room for at least four anglers to comfortably jig or livebait. Cookie’s a very keen kingfish angler so plenty of room for active sportfishing was one of the key design features he required. I noted plenty of gunwale-mounted rod holders, plus more across the top in the rocket launchers. You can never have enough rod holders in an offshore sportfishing boat …

At the transom, a set of nifty circular hatches provided access to large, rounded livebait tanks. Round tanks are favoured by offshore anglers as the baits can’t damage themselves against corners as found in standard square tanks. A set of custom made slimy tubes on the outer edge of the transom will doubtless come in handy this summer for pitching baits at teased up striped marlin out of Jervis Bay. Like many offshore anglers, Cookie likes droplining during the cooler months when the current slackens off. Waterproof 12v plugs for his electric reels, plus a plug to provide 240v shore power if overnighting at a marina or wharf, are neatly positioned in the coamings.

A big plumbed kill tank is positioned aft just in front of the transom. This is foam insulated and would be ideal for ice slurrying kings, snapper or tuna. Hatches in the transom provide access to storage space and the gunwales are nice and high to enable an angler fighting a big fish to comfortably “lean in” and brace himself. Inside the wheelhouse style cabin are two “skipper” style chairs and plenty of standing room. Hatches in the plate alloy roof allow for ventilation and the 6mm toughened glass winscreen provide an expansive view almost across the entire beam of the cabin.

The dash is dominated by twin 12-inch e Series Raymarine MFDs. The Raymarines are powered by a CP570 CHIRP sounder module in conjunction with a CP100 unit. The big CHIRP transducer is mounted at the transom with the smaller sonar/down vision transducer for the CP100 through-mounted in the hull. Cookie also opted for a Raymarine radar and autopilot. The marine electronics were professionally installed by Matt Adamson at Culburra-based Emjay Communications. There’s plenty of storage and accomodation in the cabin with infill bunks providing enough room for overnighting. Cookie has five children and one of his specifications was to get a boat with plenty of room if one or other of the kids wanted a lie down in the cab.

Bearing in mind I had only limited time aboard, one of the things I really liked about this boat was the extra wide gunwales at the bow, meaning you could easily traverse around the cabin. Offshore Hooker isn’t a centre cab or true “walkaround” but there’s plenty of room to safely access the bow, which always comes in handy. Another aspect to consider with this boat is that it’s built solid. Some mass produced boats are marked as being “plate” but are constructed with only 3mm aluminium. Offshore Hooker is a true plate boat in that it features 6mm bottomsides and 5mm on the sides and frame. The deck and cabin are constructed from 4mm plate.

The self-draining hull is filled with bouyancy foam (which also acts as a sound absorber). Foam lined compartments against the rear cabin wall act as coolers. Cookie says ice in these compartments lasts for days, making the boat ideal for extended family holidays in Jervis Bay or for hard-core gamefishing trips.

I didn’t get much of a chance to see how the boat performed – Cookie, Rod and Ben were keen to head out wide to chase tuna after we got the pics – but Cookie says the twin 175hp Suzuki four-strokes provide plenty of power, pushing the big plate hull to a top speed of 42 knots, while being economical and efficient. For example, a recent trip to the shelf to troll and also dropline saw 105 litres of fuel used. That’s pretty good for a big, heavy plate alloy boat. Given the 500l underfloor tank, Offshore Hooker obviously has plenty of range.

All up, I think it’s safe to say that Cookie is pretty wrapt with his new boat. Everything he wants is where he wants it – which is exactly what you expect with a custom boat. And Rod Brown’s heritage with Predator Boats means Cookie can be assured that Offshore Hooker is built to go the distance. Interestingly, Cookie said Offshore Hooker was price comparable to the production boats he looked at. It’s generally assumed that custom boats are significantly more expensive than equivalent mass produced models – it seems that’s not the case with Offshore Hooker …

For more info on Phoenix Boats visit the website.

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