Bluefix Boatworks - North Cape 34 Boat Test

Walk The Line is the first of a new breed for Brad Rowe and his Kiwi team at Bluefix Boatworks. After earning an enviable reputation in high-quality luxury boatbuilding, Brad’s latest creation delivers a single-engined custom gameboat with handling and space similar to a larger twin-screw vessel, yet with the economy that makes it very attractive to own.

Bluefix Boatworks - North Cape 34 Boat Test

Boat Test Bluefix Boatworks – North Cape 34: FIRST OF A NEW BREED
Author and photography:  John Eichelsheim

This boat test ran in ISSUE 102 of BlueWater magazine – MAR-APRIL 2014

For the complete feature, including all photos and information captions, you can purchase back-issues here

Brad Rowe grew up in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand’s gamefish capital. He spent his formative years boating and fishing with his family and crewing aboard friends’ boats and with local charter captains. As a young man he turned down full-time deckhand positions and a university education to follow his dream of designing and building boats.

“I’ve always been passionate about boats, especially gameboats – I was forever sketching them as a kid. When I finished school I approached my favourite New Zealand designer, Craig Loomes, who acted as something of a mentor to me. When I asked him how you become a great boat designer, he told me to become a good boatbuilder first. So that’s what I did, taking up an apprenticeship with Auckland boat builders Parson and Way”, explains Brad.

On completion of his apprenticeship Brad began work for Vaudrey Miller, a high-end custom yard in Auckland. The work at Vaudreys was interesting and varied. Before long Brad was running the build of a series of superyacht tenders, including a 36-footer for Larry Ellison’s luxury motoryacht Musashi. “It was great work; we used top quality materials and our clients demanded the highest possible standard of finish”, explained Brad.

After several years boatbuilding in Auckland, Brad and his wife Charlotte decided to take the plunge and open their own business in Kerikeri, about three hours drive north of Auckland. The couple bought a block of land, built themselves a house and erected a large boatbuilding shed alongside it. Three years later, the Rowe’s Bluefix Boatworks is thriving, providing refit and maintenance work and servicing high-profile clients like Guy Jacobsen (Hook’n Bull) and others.

While the refit and service aspect of the business is important, Brad has always wanted to design and build boats. Walk The Line is the second of his own designs. It follows his 7.5m outboard-powered trailerable sportfisher Bluefix, which he built a few years ago (reviewed in BlueWater issue 91). Walk The Line is his first full-size gameboat and the first boat out of the new shed.

New Styling

Brad has always admired custom-built American flybridge sportfishers. “I don’t think any New Zealand boatbuilders have built sportfishers to match US designs when it comes to style and fishability”, said Brad, which he suspects is more to do with the Kiwi boating lifestyle than any failings by Kiwi builders and designers. In New Zealand the emphasis has always been on family cruising rather than hardcore gamefishing, and with historically high fuel prices, hull designs have tended towards fuel efficiency rather than ultimate bluewater performance.

Walk The Line, however, leans heavily towards US style, but with a large nod towards New Zealand family boating. The cold-moulded, epoxy reinforced plywood hull combines a fine entry and plenty of flare forward with a moderate deadrise aft.

Brad explained that popular production gameboats like Bertrams and Caribbeans are fuller forward, relying on their weight to punch into a headsea. In contrast, Walk The Line displaces only 7.5 tonnes, so Brad fined-up the entry to compensate, ensuring a soft ride into a headsea without affecting handling in a following sea. Extensive trialling has revealed a seakindly hull for its size.

Fuel And Space-Saving

Brad’s aim is to provide twin-engined performance from a single engine boat, and to take advantage of the savings in space and capital outlay that fitting just one engine affords. Walk The Line has similar interior volume to a Bertram 35, but provides more useable space because there’s only a single Yanmar 440hp engine under the saloon sole.

The single shaft lies in a tunnel for improved efficiency and there’s no swim platform because Brad wanted the boat to back-up well. In any case, the cockpit door is so low to the water, there’s no need for a swim platform or boarding ladder. The boat’s unique 50mm mirror-polished stainless steel belting, through-bolted with no visible exterior fastenings, looks beautiful and is also bulletproof.

Decks and superstructure are foam-cored epoxy composite – a construction method Brad plans to use to build the hulls of subsequent boats. “Timber construction made sense when it was just me working on the boat between other jobs”, explained Brad, “but now with a bigger team, composite building using vacuum bags is less of a problem”.

The Rowes already have an order for a 42-foot sportfisher and strong interest in two more boats, including a 50-foot model.

Fishing And Family Time

With its attractive sheerline, flared bows and no bowrails, Walk The Line is reminiscent of a classic Carolina sportfisher, only on a smaller scale. “I built the boat around my family and the way we like to go boating – weekends away, with fishing a big part of it. She’s a comfortable boat for a family, but I guess she leans more towards hardcore gamefishing than do many of the boats built here or in Australia”, said Brad. “She had to look like a proper sportfisher as well as perform like one”.

Walk The Line has a two-cabin layout, with the master in the bows and a compact guest bunkroom (2m bunks) on the starboard side for’ard. There’s plenty of storage space behind the port settee in the saloon and removing the back cushions creates another good-sized berth, which is big enough for two if you don’t mind cosy.

The portside shared heads, with separate shower box, are generously proportioned for a boat of this size. So is the galley, which uses LPG for cooking and 12V refrigeration as there’s no genset. Good quality leather and fabric in neutral shades were selected for the upholstery, while the headlinings are vinyl. LED lighting also features throughout, including recessed blue lighting in the cockpit. Floors, cabinetry and trim are all constructed from tawa, an attractive New Zealand native timber, and the high standard of interior fit and finish matches the hull’s construction quality.

Ready To Fish

It’s in the cockpit that the boat’s true pedigree becomes clear. It’s big and totally clean and uncluttered, especially since the Rowes have elected not to fit a gamechair, though there’s a dedicated mounting point for one. Brad prefers to use light tackle and stand-up techniques.

A generous 200-litre livebait tank in the transom circulates 3800 litres of fresh seawater per hour –enough to keep any number of baitfish happy. A clever screw-in tuna tube fits over the pump outlet.

Relax outrigger bases are topped by Kilwell ‘Long Reach’ poles, easily deployed from the flybridge. Zip-out clear side curtains mean the outriggers are within easy reach without needing to step onto the sidedecks. While there are no racks or shelves provided under the coamings, Brad explains equipment such as gaffs and tagpoles can be clipped within easy reach along the portside of the deck.

Three lockers are set into the cockpit sole, each with deep gutters that drain into corner cavities under the self-draining cockpit’s scuppers. This ensures water can’t find its way from the cockpit to the bilges, which is reassuring in a gamefishing boat where aggressive backing-up is standard practice.

Side lockers house pumps for the livebait tank, with plenty of dry storage left over. The lazarette over the shaft tunnel also offers storage space and is ideal for large items, including dive gear. A service hatch aft of the saloon door opens onto the engine room, while lifting the carpet and floor in the saloon – a simple process – provides all-round, step-down access to the machinery space for more extensive servicing.

Back-Up Fast

The cockpit door in the curved transom opens outwards, with rubber seals making it completely watertight when backing-up. The transom’s convex profile, along with the hull’s slight tumblehome aft and the prominent rubbing rails on the aft quarters, work in combination when the boat is backing-up. The North Cape 34 can be steered in reverse at up to five-and-a-half knots, and is capable of reaching seven knots in the right conditions, though the stern walks sideways at this speed.

That burst of speed in reverse, while not very steerable, can still be important when it comes to the big fish end-game when the leader is just out of reach. It demonstrates impressive backing performance for a single screw boat and the cockpit stays mostly dry. If a big wave does come over the transom while backing-up, the boat’s rubbing rails form a vortex under the scupper outlets to literally suck water out of the cockpit in double-quick time.

For this boat test we took Walk The Line out to Cape Brett and deployed a few lures with the boat infishing mode, even though we were a month or two early for a realistic shot at billfish. The cockpit is easy to work and I particularly liked the rodholder placement and the angles Bluefix have used. The aft rodholders are meant for heavy-tackle fishing using bent butt rods, so we deployed a couple of those. The middle rodholders of six are angled outwards and the aft pair angled back, though Brad explained he hardly uses those.

Light-tackle outfits, switchbait and casting rods can be lined up across the transom using suction cup clips, or stored in holders on the gamechair when it’s fitted. The rocket launcher will accommodate seven rods and a centre-rigger pole and there’s a good-sized bulkhead tackle locker provided opposite the big freezer.

Views From The Bridge

There’s good visibility into the cockpit from the flybridge helm station, as it is forward over the wide foredeck. Electronics are top-of-the-line and include a 14-inch Furuno Z-Touch and a 1.2kW transducer providing excellent fish-finding performance down to 600m. Wrap-around clears provide shelter from the elements and there’s seating for six and a drinks fridge on the flybridge. A single luxurious, full-function helm seat is complemented by a companion stool, allowing two to sit comfortably behind the modest flybridge console.

There’s a second helm station in the cockpit with throttle, autopilot remote and bowthruster controls. Getting down there in a hurry is no problem either as the two-tier ladder on the portside has wide timber treads and plenty of handholds. The saloon opens nicely onto the cockpit through a bi-fold glass and stainless steel door. A large drop-down cavity window on the starboard side means you can watch the gear – or the flat screen TV – from the comfort of the saloon if you prefer, though there’s plenty of seating on the flybridge as well.

Real Performance

Brad and his team have certainly achieved their performance aims with the North Cape 34. The 440hp Yanmar provides Walk The Line with a comfortable cruise speed of 23 knots and the engineis rated to run all day at that speed (2700rpm).

Walk The Line carries 800 litres of fuel and 400 litres of water, with peak performance achieved when the boat is half full of fuel and water, says Brad.

With flared bows, no front windows and the engine air intake dorades set high on the front of the flybridge, the North Cape 34 is quite happy tackling big seas.

Brad, Charlotte and their two infant children recently ran the boat 160-odd nautical miles down the coast from Kerikeri to Auckland and back again for the On Water Boat Show. On the return journey they encountered three to four metre breaking seas and 40-knot nor’west squalls just north of Auckland. Although the family were forced to take shelter so as not to frighten the children, Brad said the boat performed to expectation. “I wanted it to perform in a following sea, a quartering sea and headsea. I can take my hands off the wheel and she holds a straight line on any one of these angles”, he said.Once the squalls subsided the rest of the trip passed uneventfully, with the boat averaging a fast 23 knots. The Rowes averaged 60 litres of diesel per hour for the whole trip.

We trialled the boat full of water and fuel and with a full moon pushing big tides. We achieved a top speed of 26 knots, though the boat will do almost 29 knots in light trim. At 12 knots (2000rpm), the turbo has kicked in and the boat is planing.

The North Cape offers ample power and responds well to the helm. Her backing-up performance and handling are also excellent – much better than many twin-engined boats, at least in a fishing situation. Her fuel capacity should give a range of 250 miles at cruising speed, but much more in a fishing situation.

Coming alongside the jetty at Paihia wasn’t a problem either, with the Vetus 9hp bowthruster proving its worth in a tight space with a crosswind. It’s not quite twin-screw manoeuvrable, but it’s not far off.

Conclusion

Designed and built by a passionate young boatbuilder with fishing in his blood, the North Cape 34 is a welcome addition to the ranks of Australasian custom sportfishers. It looks and performs like a real gameboat, but it still provides the comfort and versatility that families are after.

A single-engine layout keeps build costs under control and offers advantages in reduced operational and maintenance costs, as well as more useable interior space.

Without compromising on build quality or equipment, Bluefix Boatworks have managed to produce a smart new custom sportfisher at a very realistic price, starting from NZ$680,000.

Highlights

  • Custom-built to a high standard
  • Economical to run
  • Manageable size and distinctive styling
  • Optimised for gamefishing, but still family-friendly
  • Twin-engine performance from a single screw vessel
  • Seakindly handling

Capacities

  • Fuel: 800 litres
  • Water: 400 litres
  • Holding tank: 40 litres

General

  • Material: cold-moulded ply and epoxy hull, foam-core composite decks and superstructure
  • Hull type: variable deadrise
  • Length: 10.5m plus bowsprit
  • Beam: 3.9m
  • Draft: approx 0.9m
  • Deadrise: to 18° at transom
  • Weight: 7.5 tonnes

Engines

  • Make/Model: Yanmar 6LY2AM-STP
  • Type: Six-cylinder direct-injection turbo-charged diesel
  • Rated hp: 440
  • Displacement: 5.813 litres
  • Gearbox: Twin disc
  • Propeller: Bri Ski
  • Cruising speed: 22-23kt
  • Max speed: 29kt

SPECIFICATIONS: Bluefix Boatworks – North Cape 34
Options fitted: 14-inch Furuno Z-Touch chartplotter-sounder-GPS; Furuno autopilot; Fusion entertainment system, including flat-screen TV; Vetus 9.5hp bowthruster; leather, fabric and marine vinyl (flybridge) upholstery, vinyl headlinings; tawa floor, cabinetry and trim.  

Bluefix Boatworks - North Cape 34 Boat Test

Boat Test Bluefix Boatworks – North Cape 34: FIRST OF A NEW BREED
Author and photography:  John Eichelsheim
Supplied by: Bluefix Boatworks Ltd

This boat test ran in ISSUE 102 of BlueWater magazine – MAR-APRIL 2014

For the complete feature, including all photos and information captions, you can purchase back-issues here