Issue: January 1999
While the Eagle Ray is many things, handsome isn’t really one of them. But seaworthy, stable, safe, practical – it could certainly be called all of those.
This clever 5.2m craft is designed for a purpose, that being to cross bars and ocean swells with more assuredness than a little boat has a right to offer. Diving, rescue work, crab trapping, or recreational fishing are likely uses. It is very much a product of its environment – Noosa Heads in Queensland – which has one of the shallower and more exposed ocean entries on the east coast. The designer, Greg Dodd, is a Noosa local who’s a working Divemaster and also managing director of fibreglass pool and boatbuilding company Panorama.
The Eagle Ray’s unique tri-hull design effectively combines the soft, efficient ride of a monohull with the stability and cockpit configuration of a power catamaran. In some ways it’s akin to an overgrown jetski hull – and has the seakeeping qualities to match. Where it differs from conventional tri-hulls is in the sponsons (outer floats). Instead of being sharply veed, like a lowering of the chine, they are fully cylindrical. Incorporating these floats came at the expense of aesthetics, but from a practical sense it gives the hull superior buoyancy and stability, while presenting a soft turn of bilge to the water.
Throw the boat into a sharp corner and the outer floats slide gently rather than carving like a fin. The same applies when riding a cresting wave – if the bow dips, the hull is forgiving to the external forces, going with the flow rather than fighting aggressively. As there is no appreciable tendency to slew off line when surfing, the 17-footer can be driven with almost gay abandon. It could almost rival the inflatable thundercats as an off-the-beach sport, were it not so practically appointed.
The ‘compression tunnels’ that exist between the main hull and the outer sponsons trap aerated water to provide a cushioning effect. Still, when going out across the bar, the landings can be somewhat harsh if you get this nuggetty customer airborne, because there’s a large under-hull surface area exposed. At least it remains nice and level though. On one high speed run back in, we careered off the back of a wave and free-fell over the trough. Upon landing, a deluge of spray peeled from the bow and headed directly for the centre console steering position.
I ducked instinctively and braced myself for a drenching, but it never eventuated – the big brute of a windshield shielded almost every drop. The high topsides and transom, combined with the inherent hull stability, create a deep and safe working environment in the cockpit, and also make it unlikely that any water will come aboard under normal conditions. But to be on the safe side, the cockpit has self-draining scuppers fitted with non-return valves to allow water to drain out but not in. Looks are again deceiving when it comes to performance.
Square-lined the Eagle Ray may be, but such is the tri-hull’s efficiency that it requires only a 60hp Yamaha to propel it; remarkably low for a 5.2m fibreglass craft weighing 650kg (including motor). Minimum plane speed was a mere 7.7 knots at 3000 rpm, optimum cruising revs of 4500 yielded 21 knots, and it ran to a top of 26.4 knots at 5200 rpm. These figures were based on a light load (three-adults) so if you plan to carry additional dive or fishing equipment I would recommend a 70/75hp as the minimum.
The standard centre-console Eagle Ray is decidedly agricultural in it appointments. For passengers there are thinly padded seat mouldings aft (flanking the outboard well) and in the bow, while the helmsman gets a narrow bench. Storage is incorporated into all these mouldings, including an insulated icebox under the helm seat. Loose items can stow under the console, while anchor gear is accommodated in a sealed bow locker.
The ‘beauty’ of this boat is its ability to be dressed up. There is so much space to play with in the cockpit that you can fit a sun canopy, side storage pockets, bait storage and preparation facilities, rocket launchers, additional fuel tanks, dive ladders or whatever other options you require. Also available is a more conventional forward-steer version, featuring an opening windscreen and an uninterrupted cockpit.
This configuration was favoured by Noosa Coast Guard, whereas Tin Can Bay Coast Guard are apparently equally happy with their centre console. For the package price of $19,250 the Eagle Ray comes with a Yamaha 60, drive-on trailer, marine radio, two rod holders, drink holder, in-built icebox, deck hardware and cushions. For an extra $300 it can be built and commissioned to survey standards, while it can also be purchased at any stage of construction. As such, the Eagle Ray will appeal to those who place practicality ahead of prettiness. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.
Story by Mark Rothfield.