JBS 5.5 Centre Cab Review

Issue: October 2003
Manufacturer: JBS 

People buy plate aluminium boats because they’re rough and tough ‘ the boats, not the people ‘ and because their interiors can be easily customised. The harshish ride almost all plate tinnies offer is something tolerated, because on the average plate aluminium boat buyer’s priority list, ride comes after rough and tough. At a glance the latest JBS Marine 5.5m Centre Cabin looks like any other plate aluminium centre cabin offshore fisher; albeit a particularly nicely finished and neatly laid out one. 

Even a fairly close inspection only reveals that everything is in much the place you’d expect. In fact, there’s only one thing missing and funnily enough; it’s what makes JBS boats stand out from the crowd. A JBS hull has a uniquely shaped forefoot, which presents a much finer entry to the water than similar hulls, slicing into any chop and turning water away to reduce those familiar bumps and bangs dramatically. 

If our test boat had almost everything you’d expect from a well-built plate aluminium boat, which it did, the bangs and bumps were the only thing it thankfully didn’t have. Cliff Joshua, the man who created the unique JBS hull and founded JBS Marine, has now retired after half a century building boats. He started out building in timber, before turning to aluminium in latter years, because as a ‘mad keen’ fisherman himself, he shared the predilection for metal boats, so many Aussie fishermen have. 

It required some lateral thinking though to utilise and ultimately adapt a concept he’d learned in timber ‘ bonding multiple timber strips to form a fine entry ‘ and it solved the harsh ride syndrome. Cliff worked out a system to welded geometrically shaped aluminium strips to form the compound curves necessary to create a fine forefoot. The alternative is to stretch form the aluminium sheets, but that process was out of the question, because it involves expensive machinery and even then, presents other problems introduced by inherent changes to the metal’s molecular structure. 

Cliff built his unique plate aluminium boats on a small scale for some years, satisfied to deal personally with customers and go fishing between boats. Some years ago he confessed to me that he was his own worst enemy, because at the time he’d retired three times only to find he couldn’t live with the inactivity between fishing trips. Eventually, Cliff was forced into ‘proper’ retirement and his unique JBS Marine boats almost disappeared altogether. But there’s a happy ending to this long story, Cliff’s sons Malcolm and Wayne have now picked up where Cliff left off and if our test boat is any indication, they are carrying on with a fine family tradition. 

JBS Marine continue to be a ’boutique’ boat builder, a proverbial tight ship operation happily avoiding the negative aspects of volume production to deliver boats more crafted than built and complete with highly personalised service throughout the ordering process. The bottom line is that the JBS 5.5 Centre Cabin hull delivers on all of the promises made above. The ride across choppy water is a significant improvement over what long experience has taught us is the norm for boats of its type. That finely shaped forefoot simply works and works very well indeed. At speed, you do notice that the JBS hull needs different trim angles than might be expected, although that comment must itself be qualified by our (incorrect) expectation that this is just another plate aluminium boat. 

Aft the JBS hull features a fairly flat 12- degree deadrise, which makes it an easy hull to power. Malcolm Joshua told the Modern Boating team that many of these hulls are supplied with a 90hp outboard, but that the family who ordered this one wanted more power and opted for a 115hp Suzuki fourstroke outboard. Other JBS boats we’ve tested in the past were a delight ergonomically, you just don’t find things to trip over or stub toes on and when an unexpected movement had you reaching for support ‘ there it was. We’re happy to report that all of Cliff Joshua’s commonsense hasn’t disappeared. 

The interior of this particular boat is a little on the Spartan side. For example, there’s no padding on the seats inside the centre cabin, they’re carpeted and while you certainly can sit there, it means the storage bins are storage bins. It’s up to individuals to customise these boats, but that’s how this one’s owners wanted it. Given that the owners have all kinds of boating activities in mind, the centre cabin becomes a mix of private change space, shelter from the weather and of course, a storage ‘shed.’ Standing at the helm, protection from the elements offered by the windscreen and shade bimini above the helm station in the test boat was quite good and could easily be made complete with the addition of a full set of clears. 

In a boat like this it’s important to be comfortable whether seated or standing and we couldn’t fault this one either way. Foot rests are where they should be and so are the inevitably necessary grab bars strategically placed for times when ‘jaysus’ bars would be a better name. The deck isn’t self draining, which is actually sensible, because by the time the average 5.5m hull carries its deck high enough to reliably self drain, the centre of gravity is raised too far. 

A shelf across the inside of the transom looks like it’s going to interfere with leg support when working in the cockpit, but looks turned out to deceive and it was actually tucked away under the covering board nicely. One of the few things we didn’t like was that the bait board was welded into place atop the aft bulkhead ‘ although presumably a removable one is a simple matter of specifying same when ordering. Leaving the cockpit is easy either through the wide transom door, or via a couple of steps up onto the side decks to go forward. 

We thought the side decks an appropriate compromise between saving space inside the cabin and allowing enough foot space to prevent people going forward stumbling over their own feet. Once in the bows, there’s just enough space to conduct the business of anchoring, while the legs are supported hands free and if you’re into pelting lures from here, there’s ample room for that too. 

There is space on the cabin’s bow end for an upholstered seat, although this boat’s Spartan fit-out meant one was missing here. There wasn’t much rod storage in our test boat making racks for the kind of rod inventories sportfishing types carry another of the things to be added as individuals see fit. As a boat set up for a family to enjoy the boating life generally, including a little fishing, our test boat left nothing to be desired.

Words by Warren Steptoe