A Boat to Go Ape About

By their very definition, convertibles have compromises. It’s only after you have crossed over from casual or fair-weather fisherman to tournament angler that you realise them all. Even some of the apparent made for-fishing production boats fall short by virtue of manufacturing realities. Or a dud hull.

It’s then that custom, hand built, made-to-order boats come to the fore. You may need deep pockets but, hey, you get what you pay for. And in some benevolent way you are creating a boat that will probably outlast its owner. A legacy, if you will.

It was after some years of doing it tough in a production boat that the realization hit home for the Deneen family. Active members of Broken Bay Game Fishing Club in Sydney, and with some notable captures under their Braid belts, the Deneens discovered the hard way that their supposed tournament-class production boat wasn’t up to the task of serious tournament fishing.

“We lost just too many days to bad weather,” says Simon Deneen, beaming down from the decks of their new purpose-built 47-footer, called Gorilla. There’s a caricature of a friendly gorilla’s face on its transom, but it comes as some surprise that the boat is named after Simon’s mum.

“Simon couldn’t pronounce his mum’s name – Gloria – as a kid. So she became known as Gorilla,” says Simon’s father, David, a film director of international repute who fishes for pleasure between shoots. (Interestingly, I also learn Gloria spent seven years of her life as a cook on the marlin boats off Cairns.)

But back to the boat, and who better than Barry Martin from Assegai Marine to realise your long-held dreams for a custom boat? From his first purpose-built liveaboard gameboat called simply Assegai, which I tested way back in 1992, to this, his latest, Gorilla, the Queensland custom boatbuilder has created a real name for himself.

Barry’s Assegai boat tree goes something like this: Assegai (46ft); Aquila, now Mauna Kea (43ft); Azura (54ft); Dreggen (40ft); The Force (40ft); Amokura (56ft); Levante (44ft); Shaka (60ft); Megumi (44ft); and now Gorilla (47ft). With a pair of 700hp C12 Caterpillars, the boat is good for 31 knots and a 400 nautical mile cruising range.

David says: “We set out to build the ultimate gamefisher. If you’re going to do something I reckon you should do it properly.” Barry tells me David was a delight to work with and one of his happiest customers ever.

“We saw Eagle [a Norman Wright-built boat] and liked it,” explains Simon. “We wanted something with Carolina flare that had style and thought a 45-footer would be perfect. Then Barry said a 47-footer would be better and we agreed.” Simon then adopted the role of project manager with passion.

 

NEW HULL FOR THE BEAST

Barry Martin builds each of his Assegai boats by hand, laying up strip-planked western red cedar in a female mould, and then glassing, or encapsulating, the timber with epoxy. This gives a light, but strong, composite layup. Bulkheads are solid, glass-encapsulated plywood. The deck and house are balsa-cored. (Check out the layup pics at www.assegaimarine.com.au/aboutus.html)

 

The four main engine bearers are solid timber longitudinals, glassed in place, which effectively distribute loads and provide added rigidity to the hull. It all seems to work, as I’m yet to hear about an Assegai faltering. All told, Barry says somewhere between 26,000 and 27,000 man-hours went into making Gorilla.

Although a private boat and not in charter, Gorilla is built to survey, with a full bilge manifold system, engine-vent shutoffs and fire-fighting gear. But Barry says the hull shape is a little different compared with some of his previous boats. He has gone away from running strakes and uses a slight convex shape – seen in a cross-section of the hull that runs from keel to chine – to generate lift organically instead.

Gorilla also has tunnels: it is only the second boat after the 60-footer, Shaka, to have them. Shaft angles are down around nine degrees, Barry boasts, adding that this, combined with the radiused transom, makes Gorilla a great boat backing down. “It’s not a bulldozer pushing water, but it scoots along,” he says. And this is something everyone seems to comment on. It’s one fast fishing machine.

Of course, all great custom boats are a collaborative effort, taking into account everyone’s needs. The boat’s crew had input. David also had some requests: “I specified the fridge in the bridge, the camera equipment [Gorilla has a cutting-edge filming system that downloads footage straight to hard drive] and later on I wanted a tower.” Icing on the cake.

 

COCKPIT FEATURES

While Broken Bay is its home port and club, Gorilla headed north to Cairns for a shakedown cruise during the heavy-tackle season. The boat is fitted with the same gamechair – a Mike Burnley-designed heavy-duty stainless steel number – that was in their previous production boat. The riggers are Lees triple-spreader aluminium numbers, but no prizes for guessing the tower’s heritage. A Black Marlin number, of course, with six clearaway rodholders on its feet and a five-stack rocket launcher in the bridge.

The boat has a matching alloy bowrail, heavy-duty grabrails and a good grade of non-skid for safe access to the foredeck in a seaway. There was also a tender and davit up here for transferring crew to shore at, say, Lizard Island. The anchor winch and ground tackle is heavy-duty survey standard, made for hunkering down behind the reef with confidence.

Interestingly, the air intakes are built in the flybridge brow and, with a dorade system, any ambient water is drained away before reaching the engineroom. But, being forward facing, there’s bound to be a great flow of air for the twin 710hp C12 Caterpillars to breathe. More on the engineering later. Broad, with excellent thigh-height support and big teak coamings, the cockpit is built for one thing: fishing. While equipped to tournament level, nothing gets in the way. Such are the benefits of building a boat from the ground up and not building a boat that tries to be all thing to all people.

A deep bait freezer is to starboard, the bait rigging centre opposite, and there are tackle drawers and lure and gear storage just inside the saloon door. The rodholders are all heavy-duty through bolted numbers and include swivel models amidships for the outrigger outfits. I also noted mounted points for the Alvey winch scad lines.

The huge livebait tank built into the transom isn’t in any way intrusive. It includes twin tuna tubes that can be screwed off in a matter of minutes if you prefer to catch a tank of mackerel. There are freshwater and engine-driven and electric saltwater deckwashes, too, plus a gurney for post-fishing boat washes.

Underfloor you’ll find a decent fish-come-brine tank and, get this, one of those Eskimo (280kg per day) icemakers. Together, the bait- and catch-keeping ability of Gorilla is first-class, whether in sweltering Cairns or temperate Broken Bay.

The boat also has four underwater lights and, as mentioned, four cameras that give live views, singularly or in montage form, through the Furuno 15-inch NavNet screens in the bridge and the boat’s internal flatscreen TV.

The cameras are forward facing, rear facing, bird’s-eye view from the tower and, best of all, underwater. Footage can be recorded on the boat’s JVC DVD hardrive, which is linked to a Sony flatscreen TV. Way to fish!

There’s also iPod connectivity, a BOSE Lifestyle system, Satphone and performance-enhanced CDMA boat phone that works from The Reef or Canyons. It is while fishing the latter, off Norah Head, that I first made contact with the boat for the test. And, to prove its mettle, the crew had just released a nice striped marlin.

 

ENGINEERING AND ROD STORAGE

Naturally, Gorilla makes its own water, with a modest 70-litre per hour desalinator that tops up the 9000-litre integral water tank between the engines. Fuel is carried in twin tanks: 2000 litres aft and a forward 1000-litre tank in the separate utility room under the galley. There’s no transfer pump, but there are shut-off valves, so you can draw from both tanks or just one. Also, each tank has huge inspection ports so, should you need to, you can clean them out. Try doing that with some production craft.

The fully lined engineroom is a work of art, with all stainless steel fuel lines, big Racor fuel filters and heavy-duty stainless steel sea strainers. And while there are boats with more room around the engines, all the primary servicing items are located near the entrance. Should you need to effect some more serious work or repairs, then the modular furniture can be removed from the saloon in just minutes. The centrally mounted 11kVa Onan genset has great servicing room around all its sides, too.

Besides the second fuel tank and the desalinator, the forward engineering space houses the fridge motor, Crusair air-con unit, invertor, hot-water tank and pumps. And it’s here that you get your first glance at the boat’s amazing rod storage, with the 60kg outfits swinging from rod racks on the ceiling. An additional 12 game outfits live in a custom rack behind the saloon lounge. In the drawers beneath it, the reels and butts are packed in foam and present like the family jewels in a special vault.

There are also special lure, glove and tackle drawers. And you have to love the rear electric saloon windows that, at the press of a button, turn this lockup 47-footer into a semi-open fishing machine, where spectators can converse from the saloon with crew and the angler on strike in the cockpit.

 

LIVEABOARD LAYOUT

Indoors, Gorilla proves that serviceability and style aren’t mutually exclusive. There are white, moulded wall liners; soft, white, vinyl headliners in the saloon; high-gloss teak door, bunk and window trims; brown leather upholstery; and clever, recessed brown carpet liners that negate the need for press studs.

To which you can add trick bedding, a big bedhead and bathroom ware all sporting the Gorilla insignia.

The saloon lounge to starboard, behind which hides most of the tackle, can seat three. It faces a U-shaped lounge and dinette big enough for four. Ahead of here is the split galley/bar. The two U-shaped sections face aft, encouraging social discourse and allowing the onboard chef to watch the lures or baits as he preps lunch or dinner.

Amenities range from commercial grade stainless steel counters to a four-burner electric cooktop, oven and grill. There is a decent bench-height fridge/freezer, icemaker, grog locker, and a surprisingly abundant pantry, pot and appliance storage. Good use has been made of the area behind the blanked-in forward windscreen.

A central hatch, and hatches in all cabins and head, ensures plenty of natural ventilation, while the low voltage LED lighting is said to create a wonderful ambience at night. The companionway down to the two cabins is accommodating of the owners, with plenty of shoulder room.

The stateroom in the bow boasts a central island double berth flanked by decent single wing berths, under which there’s yet more storage space. The starboard guest/crew cabin has accommodating bunks and hanging space, with the head opposite boasting a gorgeous, high-gloss, teak-topped vanity, top-shelf Tecma loo and gorilla-sized shower. All told, there is sleeping for five, plus one on the saloon settee and another body in the bridge.

 

GORILLA IN THE MIST

The ladder leading to the flybridge is steep by any measure, although gameboats ought not to see too much traffic up top. That said, there’s a decent L-shaped settee and separate lounge, with room to sleep, and I noted storage for spear guns below. Coral trout, anyone?

Along with a fridge in the bridge are twin Navigator helm seats, Palm Beach-style split throttles, a solid

alloy wheel and Quickshift gearboxes. Electronics were all Furuno (with three 15-inch screens), with the marina radios, including HF, in an overhead box. Smaller seven-inch Furuno screens graced the tower, along with a second autopilot, swing-away seats, spotlights and a camera trained on the cockpit (with sufficiently wide angle to catch jumping marlin).

“I said to Barry I want a boat to punch into a nor’easter,” says Simon back at the dock. A nor’easter is, of course, the predominant summer wind out of Broken Bay and, as luck would have it, exactly what was blowing during our photo shoot. But while Gorilla appeared from my hundreds of pics to at times vanish in a cloud of spray, there wasn’t a drop aboard. The boat cuts a path and kicks aside the ocean with a certain amount of primeval (or is that primate?) disdain.

According to Gorilla’s professional skipper, Capt Brett Thomas: “Gorilla is as good as it gets as a seaboat. It’s even better than Mauna Kea, since there are trim tabs and, though the boat pushes more water with them, you can button the bow down and really punch into a headsea.”

After taking the boat to Cairns and back to Sydney, Capt Thomas notes a top speed, fully laden, of 30 knots. Maximum continuous or fast cruise is 26 knots at 2150rpm for 210 litres per hour, while cruise is 23 knots at 1950rpm for 180 litres per hour. But it’s also one of the best boats when backing down, with the curved transom shedding water.

“The scuppers are awesome and it lifts and is very dry,” adds Capt Thomas.

Unsurprisingly, off shore performance is something skippers of Assegai boats rave about. Capt Dean Beech said Mauna Kea was the best seaboat in the fleet. Capt Steve Haygarth misses The Force when the going gets rough. And, interestingly, there have now been three members of Broken Bay GFC who have or are currently running Assegai boats to tame those nor’easters.

Last but not least, the fish like it. In 12 days during the shakedown off Cairns the crew scored nine black marlin to 900lb and lost Godzilla on Gorilla. But it was the 400-pounder that they christened the boat with on Linden Bank that left its mark. The fish stuck its head out of the water, sized up the Gorilla insignia on the transom and charged.

The bill went straight through the hull before snapping off, leaving a memento now worn as a badge of honour on Gorilla, another great Assegai.