Issue: June 2002
Manufacturer: Kingfisher Royale
How does one become a boatbuilder ? More accurately, how does one become a builder of big cruisers ? These questions lead inexorably to the next – why would one want to become a cruiser manufacturer ?
A big, modern powerboat is one of mankind’s more complex creations. To build an attractive boat that is sea-kindly, to suit a multitude of tastes at a competitive price, is a task beyond the imaginings of most mere mortals. Brain surgery is comparatively easy; rocket science a piece of cake.
I can answer none of these questions, but Gold Coast builder (builder of buildings, that is) John Vella had long harboured a desire to build big cruisers. He had owned several and knew what he wanted in a boat. The logical extension of that reasoning is that other buyers may want the same attributes, or at least many of the same attributes.
Many boat owners reckon that experience has taught them more than the builders know and they do nothing about it. But fate dealt the budding boat builder a remarkable hand. John Vella’s daughter Angela had spent some time overseas and came home with her new husband, a Norwegian by the name of Per Andresen whose business card listed his profession as naval architect. If the recipe for developing a new line of cruisers was not complete, at least several of the ingredients were at hand.
Meanwhile, over on Brisbane’s north side, marine retailer Russell Wright was looking for a new challenge. Russell had owned the highly successful Sundown Marine for many years and was (is) a man of substance in the boating industry. He was a man of substance in the sport, too, a throttle-man for Stephan Ackerie’s offshore racer. Russell put up his hand to be part of Project Kingfisher.
The Vella team would mould the hulls, Russell would fit them out and market them. Now the Kingfisher ingredients were in place – the concept, the driving force, the designer and the marketer.
About six years ago John and Per started work on the first Kingfisher, the 48, using 2m models to help shape the hull. Four years ago the first 48 was built. The new boat was well-received, but potential buyers wanted bigger, so the team started work on the 50 and then the 56.
Russell Wright sold Sundown Marine to concentrate on Sundown Cruiser Sales, Kingfisher’s only sales outlet. As this is written a new factory is building at Yatala, between the Gold Coast and Brisbane, so moulding and fit-out facilities will be brought together. The plan is to limit output to 15-20 boats a year and give buyers considerable choice in layout and equipment.
“We wanted to avoid the production-line sausage syndrome, where all the boats are exactly the same”, says Russell.
The Kingfisher 50 hull has variable deadrise, from 33 degrees at the bow to 16 degrees at the transom and the company’s publicity material suggests and illustrates alternative layouts for the interior, four in total. One arrangement shows the galley one step down from the saloon, in the forward position beneath the main windows. The others have the galley aft, against the main bulkhead. The sunken galley layout has the dinette on the same side as, and adjacent to, the galley so serving is particularly easy. All configurations have only one helm station, on the flybridge.
The interior is classic in design, style and execution. The first, and overriding impression on entering the saloon, is of gloss . The teak trim is sprayed with two-pack and oven-baked in a car paint shop, before being assembled into the hull.
And it shows. The off-white, near-cream padded vinyl liner and leather upholstery (an option) with the right amount of glossy teak looked pretty good to me. It would be easy to overdo the wood, and for the teak to be too dark, but the team has struck a nice balance.
The accommodation layout is straightforward. The master stateroom is in the bow, with ensuite, island double bed, hanging locker, plenty of shelving and cupboards. Immediately aft to starboard is the second bathroom. The two guest staterooms, on the boat we photographed each had two single berths, mounted fore and aft in the starboard cab while in the port cabin they were stacked, one fore and aft and one athwartships. This; however, is the area where the options are exercised – Kingfisher’s drawings show a variety of berth arrangements in these two cabins.
The galley features a convection microwave and glass-top hotplates. The window behind the galley opens so the cockpit can be served directly. The full-height fridge/freezer is mounted behind the teak-panelled module on the starboard side, a structure which includes the control panel. On the flybridge the steering position is aft; ahead of it is a seriously nice curved lounge.
The Kingfisher 50 has a solid feel when under way. In a short run like this you cannot determine beyond reasonable doubt that a boat is well-built, but this 50 certainly feels like it. Like its big brother the 50 lifts and planes easily with minimal nose lift.
The pics show that little spray is thrown at speed, though conditions on the day we took the boat out could not have been kinder. Like all big boats it pulls a substantial wake just below planing speeds, but the wake flattens right out once planing velocity is reached.
This is an important aspect of boat behaviour on every waterway. But it is particularly important on The Broadwater where many, many locals pass the time sitting in tiny tinnies, feeding the fish, and they get a bit cranky if the big boys misbehave.
Over the years this conflict has become an undeclared war; if a complaint is made the jet ski-mounted water police will track you down, knock on your hull side and request an explanation.
The Kingfisher 50 is a big 50; this is a wide hull at 5.10m, and it looks tall, in both freeboard and superstructure.
The hull is roomy, all of which adds to the sense of substance which seems, at least in the short time I had to poke around, to be supported by construction quality.
There’s a hint of Mariner and Riviera about the side window profile, but the people involved with this project appear to have achieved their original ambition to create a distinctive new cruiser line.
See what happens when the kids go overseas ? You never can tell exactly where it may lead.
The Kingfisher Royale 50 Sports Flybridge test boat was fitted with twin 480hp Volvo turbo diesels, which including davits and bow thruster, pushed the purchase price to $800,000. These engines give the Kingfisher 50 a top speed of 26 knots and a comfortable cruising speed of 23 knots. Engine option upgrades are twin Volvo 480 turbo diesels, for an additional $35,660, or twin Volvo 610 turbo diesels for an extra $82,840.
The engine room is extremely spacious, a mechanic’s delight, because there is ample room around each engine for work to be carried out without having to squeeze between bulkheads and the likes. This also makes skipper’s access for daily inspections and servicing an easy affair. Sound proofing and fire proofing are a standard feature on the Kingfisher 50.
Story by Barry Tranter