Formula 21 Review

Issue: September 2001

This story began in 1965. It was during that year that Florida-based boat designer, Don Aronow, designed a 19′ hull for offshore racing. But while the design proved extremely successful, Don continued to modified it until 1969, when he increasing its length to 23′. So began the original Formula Marine.

Aronow went on to design Donzi Marine offshore racers, which later became the highly successful and famous Cigarette Offshore Race Team. Aronow’s reputation as a top designer of offshore powerboats spread quickly. In fact, he was so highly regarded in his field that he was approached by US Customs to build boats that could intercept smugglers supplying the lucrative drug trade, which was operating in and around Florida.

Aronow’s boats had a huge impact on the drug trade. But legend has it that he was approached by underworld figures to design a boat that would outrun the Customs officials’ boats. He declined the commission and was mysteriously shot dead outside his Florida factory in February 1987. Nobody was ever brought to justice for his murder.

What does all this have to do with the boat in this test ? Well, this hull is virtually identical to Aronow’s 19′ offshore racer from 1965. It has the same dimensions – with the exclusion of the pod – and the same variable deadrise, which made it both fast and seaworthy.

The story of the boat you see on these pages started in Darwin when Formula Boats Australia’s Adrian Clancy found a beaten up old Haines 23 in a paddock. Clancy was a keen fisherman so he bought the boat and tidied it up. He used it to fish from for a while, but soon decided it didn’t quite fit the bill for what he wanted. He was looking for a stable and seaworthy vessel he could use for both competition fishing and as a safe family cruiser to take his wife and kids out on.

Clancy discovered that the moulds for the Formula 19 were up for sale. He liked the look of the hull and after some research bought them, then went to work building his own boat. “I wanted to build a boat that could safely cross bars and do some offshore work if needed,” he said.

The boat proved so successful that he started Formula Boats Australia and is now selling them for both pleasure and commercial applications. Modern Boating tested the prototype of this vessel more than 12 months ago. But the hull moulds have now been tweaked to carry both twin and single outboard installations and the interior has also been redesigning to create this latest model. The commercial versions can be put into 3C survey, but all the boats are constructed in the same way, so customers can be sure of the boat’s strength.

The inclusion of a pod, to take either single or twin engines, adds two feet to the 19, giving the boat a LOA of 21 feet. Construction is all handlaid fibreglass with the hull and deck glassed together. The timber stringers are fully encapsulated in fibreglass, as is the 19mm ply floor. Under the floor there’s a 260lt stainless steel fuel tank with stainless lines leading aft. There’s also an underfloor kill tank and an underfloor insulated esky forward of the fuel tank. This can double as extra kill tank. Two bait bins adorn the transom; under which is a pair of storage lockers. The portside locker contains a saltwater deck wash with a dedicated pump. The Formula 21 also has a handy transom door on the starboard side for easy access.

The boat can be purchased in varying degrees of fit-out, but our version was fully set up for fishing. Power was supplied by a single 200hp Mercury OptiMax, which had more than enough power for the job. Two custom pedestal seats provide luxurious seating for the skipper and passenger. They’re gas-adjustable so a perfect helming position is easy to obtain.

The boat features classy Faria gauges, which are mounted for easy reading. GME VHF and UHF radios as well as a GME stereo/cassette provide contact with the outside world.

Clancy has included an electric windlass in the package, because he reckons he got sick of blueing with his mates about who would go forward and pull up the anchor.

Consequently, there’s a reinforced section of the bow holding a stainless steel fairlead for the anchor and chain.

The cuddy cabin is large enough to shelter from the elements in and provides good, dry storage for gear. There’s a large forward hatch for easy access to the foredeck when berthing or anchoring at sea.

The fishing aspect of the boat is obvious with rod holders in the gunwales as well as mountings for outriggers and stainless steel rocket launchers overhead. Two powerful aft-facing deck lights for night work flank this rocket launcher. A sturdy bait board with two additional rod holders is mounted on the transom.

Heading out from Rhyll on Victoria’s Phillip Island, the comfort and handling of the Formula is instantly apparent. The seats were custom ordered by Adrian to give maximum comfort during those long rides to offshore fishing grounds.

Steering was smooth and light, while the handling of the 21 is precise and predictable. The Formula 21 is no lightweight, but the big OptiMax gets it up on the plane easily and efficiently. The waters of Western Port Bay were as flat as a dunny-carter’s hat, so there was ample opportunity to open the throttle to see what she’d do. The 21 skipped along beautifully, with the tacho showing 5000rpm and the speedo indicating 50mph. We eased back for a bit of economy and cruise out onto the open waters off Phillip Island at 4000rpm doing around 37mph.

A light swell was rolling in from the south ruffled by a few knots of nor’wester. This gave us the opportunity to try out the Formula 21’s race bred heritage. The boat had no trouble pounding into the sea, nor did it give any problems running with the swells. Adrian was quick to point out that he’d recently used the boat in a competition off Bermagui and the Formula 19 handled the run out to the Shelf in quite adverse conditions with ease.

It’s also a particularly dry boat. Even as the breeze and chop built on the way back inshore, hardly a drop came back into the cockpit. It’s hard to believe that this is a design from the 1960s. It’s testament to the talent of Don Aronow that, in these days of computer design, his boat can still feel contemporary.

Overall, we found the Formula 21 to be a strong boat that likes a bit of offshore work. It can equally wear the hat of a serious fishing vessel, or a safe family day boat. A lot of thought has gone into the fit-out of the boat, so that it’s both safe and comfortable as well as being extremely well suited to its primary role as a sturdy fishing vessel.

With an all-up towing weight of around 2400kg, the Formula 21 is no lightweight and you will need a fairly large vehicle to tow it. Starting prices for the 21 begin at around $56,000 for a basic package and rise to around $69,000 for the fully optioned boat you see here. Sure, it’s not the cheapest boat on the market, but it’s well built, well specified and can handle the weather and the sea with equal aplomb. For further information contact Adrian Clancy at Formula Power Boats Pty Ltd on (03) 9850 9280.

Engine Room
The test boat was fitted with a 200hp Mercury OptiMax, which as you’d expect, provided more than enough grunt to get the 21 easily onto the plane and to effortlessly take it to 50mph. The OptiMax engines are extremely efficient and happy to be either idling along at 5 knots, or screaming at 5000 revs.

During this test we kept a keen eye on the temperature gauge and it didn’t budge from normal, no matter what we were doing. The 21 is designed to take either single, or twin engine set-ups. Adrian recently built a commercial boat fitted with twin 115hp Johnsons, which he said provided a bit more low down grunt with about the same top-end as the single Merc.

Another option would be to go for twin 90hp engines for a bit more economy, or even twin four-strokes, which would be quieter, but probably not offer the same performance.

Story by Geoff Middleton