Formula Icon 54 Boat Test

Formula’s imposing Icon 54 made quite an impression with gamefishermen when the first model arrived in Australia from New Zealand in 2009. Now the original design has been enhanced and tweaked in a new version for comfortable live-aboard cruising. Keith Johnson took a long ocean cruise to review these clever updates on what is a very big 54-footer.

Formula Icon 54 Update Boat Test

Boat Test Formula Icon 54: A NEW ICON
Author: Keith Johnson Photography: Bryce Taylor

This boat test ran in ISSUE 86 of BlueWater magazine – AUG-SEPT 2011

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

Your first impression of the Formula Icon 54 will probably be how big it looks for a 54-foot boat. The imposing bow, combined with an 18ft 6in beam, gives it the appearance of a much larger vessel. Our review of the previous version of this Icon appeared in BlueWater Issue 74.

The eighth of these hulls from New Zealand boat builder Formula was recently splashed in a modified layout that has been customised to suit its owner. Soon it was bound for a trans-Tasman journey to the small port of Kiama, about 70 miles south of Sydney.

Unlike its predecessor, this boat hasn’t been designed as a hard-core fishing platform. The owners wanted a boat with a few extra creature comforts as it will be used for family weekends in Jervis Bay or for cruising interstate to Queensland’s Whitsundays for a week or two. As Formula is a semi-custom builder, none of the owner’s requests were a problem. The end result, whilst still being a very fishable vessel, is testament to Formula’s ability to provide a customised boat designed around their client’s requirements.

Such is Formula’s confidence in their product, they offer a 10-year structural warranty on hull, decks and substructure. Also of interest is the way Formula structure the purchase of every vessel. In these days – when even large boat builders around the world are teetering on bankruptcy – paying money up front and then hoping you eventually get your boat can be a real worry. Not so with Formula: they structure your payments, so as the boat is being built you have ownership at every phase, and all parts purchased for your boat are owned by you. And if that’s not good enough the company owner will offer his personal guarantee.

Testing Conditions

I joined the crew aboard the Icon 54 in Kiama for a trip to Port Stephens some 160 miles to the north. The east coast was experiencing its first cold snap of the year with 30 knot westerlies straight off the snow fields and temperatures ranging from 2-10ºC. As we exited Kiama harbour we were welcomed by a two-metre southerly swell and a nasty short chop.

Troy from Formula pushed the throttles up to 1850rpm, giving us about 23 knots burning 220 litres an hour, and that’s where they stayed until we arrived at Port Stephens.

There were no bone-jarring lands, no pounding; in fact the boat handled the conditions with absolute ease. Except for being surrounded by an ocean of white caps, sitting in the quiet of the enclosed flybridge you would never have known it was blowing 30 knots outside. The lack of noise whilst underway, both upstairs and in the saloon, was quite outstanding. Talking on a mobile phone I had trouble convincing a caller that I was actually underway 20 miles out to sea.

Unfortunately, the performance was being marred somewhat by a dirty hull and props, so it was difficult to get accurate speed and fuel-burn figures. From Formula’s initial sea trials with 2000 litres of fuel, 600 litres of water and eight people on board they recorded 167 litres per hour at 1800rpm for 22.6 knots; 206 litres per hour at 2000rpm for 26 knots; and a top speed of 32.5 knots. Trolling speed of eight knots burnt a miserly 15 litres an hour. At eight knots the boat displayed a nice clean wake with a couple of clear alleys to pull lures. Equipped with supershift gearboxes, pulling baits is possible at any speed.

The warped hull with its variable deadrise is constructed using a rigid grid system. First the hull is laid up using vinylester resins and vinylester emulsion mat. A one-piece grid is produced in another mould, then bonded to the inside of the hull. This will support engines, bulkheads etc and give the hull enormous rigidity. Hull sides and deck are foam cored, and the entire structure is vacuum-bagged to reduce weight and increase strength. Even though the boat comes out of the mould gelcoated, it is then faired and sprayed with 2-pack Altex paint to give it a long lasting and mirror-like finish.

The 11.2 square meter cockpit, large by anyone’s standard, boasts a heavy-duty Relax chair or the owner’s option of two dining tables. Although the purists would argue that the large swim platform mounted on this boat might make chair fishing quite difficult, the swim-board is actually built as part of the boat and comes complete with its own livebait tank. So unlike other vessels where they are simply a bolt-on affair, you don’t have to worry about this one coming unstuck whilst backing up hard on a fish. In fact the shape of the underneath of the swim-board actually lifts the transom in reverse – the guys from Formula recorded over 11 knots going backwards in calm water.

Storage And Comfort

Built into the port side of the transom is a large livebait tank with a window. On the starboard side is a rubbish storage compartment. Two hatches in the cockpit floor give access to a massive amount of storage space underneath. There are two rear-facing lounges positioned against the saloon bulkhead: an ideal spot for the angler and crew to relax while waiting for a strike. Under the port lounge is a 24V freezer capable of holding some seriously large baits or enough frozen food for a couple of weeks away. Under the starboard lounge is yet more storage. Down both sides and hidden by small hatch doors are storage tubes for gaff handles and tag poles.

I particularly liked that the owner decided to do away with the dayhead at the entry to the cabin. This has been converted into a fishing rod and gear storage area capable of holding some 20 outfits. We all know you can never have enough rods on board. Around the side combings are the normal storage lockers, although I noticed they decided to do away with the toe kicks.

The new step arrangement is an improvement on previous models, giving easy access to the wide sidedecks and bow. A football team could fish off the bow, as the area up front is that huge. It’s certainly capable of taking a larger-than-normal tender and was equipped with a 450kg Davco davit.

Downstairs there have been a few major changes from the previous model. The most significant would be the new cabin windows. They have been both lengthened and enlarged to let in more light and allow a better view of the outside world. The entrance to the internal stairs has been shortened, which has had the effect of opening up the lounge area substantially. This boat has gone back to having a front windshield, as the owners wanted to let in more light. Although with the newly enlarged side windows I hardly think this would have been a problem, and they missed out on some great storage space.

The galley is positioned at the rear of the salon – a great idea that seems to be catching on amongst the more savvy boat builders. An electrically operated window opens into the cockpit which really does give the galley that indoor-outdoor feel. All the normal appliances you would expect on a boat of this calibre are there, including a domestic-sized Fisher and Paykel fridge with customised interior and latches, plus an oven, microwave, cook-top and dishwasher.

To the right is the electrical control panel. Except for the SSB and VHF radios the boat is entirely 24V with AGM batteries supplying 660 amps for house power. A BEP Marine CZone system gives you state-of-the-art control and monitoring of all AC systems via a touch screen. The Mastervolt combination 130-amp charger and 4kW inverter will keep fridges and other appliances going whilst the 240V is off line.

Room For Fun

Moving forward, the huge dinette to port is easily capable of seating half-a-dozen big blokes. It is mounted on an electrical pedestal, so it can easily be converted to a double bed. Facing the dinette to starboard is another lounge.

There are three cabins downstairs. The master cabin is to port with a full walk-around queen bed and ensuite. Forward in the bow is another queen-sized bed which shares the second bathroom with the other guest cabin. The third cabin has two reasonably sized bunk beds. A Raymarine night-watch system is fitted in the master cabin to warn of pulled anchor whilst sleeping. The cabins and interior were finished in high-gloss cherry wood with walls and
ceilings covered in hard-wearing ultrasuede. Of course, all finishes are customised to the owners’ choice.

The flybridge is accessed via the internal staircase and it is here that the major changes have taken place. The bridge has been extended by some 600mm and is now enclosed on all four sides with side windows – giving the area an entirely new profile.

The owners have chosen to have the steering forward which is far more suited to cruising. If you’ve ever tried driving a boat at night with a rear steering position and enclosed bridge you will know why they chose to go that way. Twin navigator helm chairs are supplied for the skipper and mate; and visibility was excellent whilst seated or standing.

Three Raymarine E140 hybrid screens take care of the navigation and fish-finding needs. CCTV cameras to the engine room, anchor and rear cockpit will help you keep an eye on things that are out of direct sight.

The large lounge features a bar fridge and entertainment unit, with a pullman that converts into a double bed. This will be a popular spot for those extra guests or maybe a lucky skipper. In fact, you can sleep up to ten people in beds aboard this 54-footer.

The electrically operated rear window drops down to open up the bridge and also improve forward visibility when driving from the rear station. Move out through the rear doors and there is teak seating running the width of the bridge, perfect for whiling away the day watching lures.

Easy Access

Engine, bow and stern thrusters-controls are positioned on the port side. Standing at the controls, the cockpit’s visibility is reasonable, although not what you would expect on a full-blown gameboat. Parking the boat from this position should be a breeze.

A hatch in the cockpit floor gives access to the service room where the batteries, Racor fuel filters a fuel-quantity sight gauge and even a washing machine are housed. Keeping the filters outside the engine room will make the chore of changing filters child’s play.

The engine room is entered from the service room through a water-tight door in the rear bulkhead. Twin 825hp MTU series 60s linked to ZF gearboxes with supershift transmission are housed in an immaculate white shell. There is plenty of room around the engines, and I was able to access both sides for servicing with no problem. An automatic oil-change system is fitted to both motors and the generator. All equipment has been thoughtfully positioned for ease-of-access when servicing, something other boat builders might put a little more effort into.

It’s when you start to crawl around the more hidden areas of the Icon 54 that you really start to notice the build quality. The boat feels like a mini-ship; everything is solid and over-engineered. I guess in some ways they are a product of their environment, as the Kiwi waters aren’t known to be forgiving.

Building a boat such as this is not a cheap exercise when compared to some of the production craft available. But if you’re after real quality and customer service then you get what you pay for, and the owners of Formula Icon 54 hull number 8 were certainly happy with their decision.

Highlights

  • Flexible build-plan due to ability to customise.
  • Soft-riding hull.
  • Very quiet whilst underway.
  • Excellent build quality.
  • Good after-sales service.

General

  • Material: Solid GPR hull with resin-infused, vacuum-bagged decks and flybridge
  • Hull Type: Warped-plane variable deadrise monohull
  • Length: 16.4 metres
  • LOA: 17.7 metres
  • Beam: 5.65 metres
  • Draft: 1.2 metres
  • Displacement medium ship: 24,000kg
  • Fuel: 4000 litres
  • Water: 1000 litres
  • Holding tank: 270 litres

Engines

  • Make/model: MTU Series 60
  • Type: turbo-charged diesel with common-rail fuel injection
  • Rated hp: 825hp
  • Displacement: 14 litres
  • No. Cylinders: Six
  • Max rpm: 2300 constant rated
  • Gearbox: ZF 2.192:1 with Supershift transmission
  • Propellers: ZF Faster 34 x 41.5 inch

SPECIFICATIONS: Formula Icon 54
Options fitted: Chatfield outriggers, upgrade electronics, cockpit freezer, satellite TV, cockpit tables, watermaker, rod locker and SSB radio. 

Formula Icon 54 Update Boat Test

Boat Test Formula Icon 54: A NEW ICON
Author: Keith Johnson Photography: Bryce Taylor
Supplied by: Formula Cruisers, Auckland NZ

This boat test ran in ISSUE 86 of BlueWater magazine – AUG-SEPT 2011

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