BlueWater Magazine Boat Test – July/August 2001

By David Lockwood

You’ll fall in love with this Mistress – and it need not be under cloak-and-dagger secrecy. That’s right, even the wife would approve of such an extramarital affair of the heart. thus it was love at first sight for David Lockwood, who was charmed by the physical chemistry of this kiwi built gameboat.

A fighting chair, pair of riggers and teak deck don’t make a gameboat. The mark of a battlewagon these days seems to be, err, a five-star designer finish. Marble and granite, leather or Alcantara,

Italian chrome fittings and Art Deco or Aztec themes are all the rage. Add a plasma-screen television, a spread of whizzbang electronics, a couple of big diesels and a paid skipper -and there you have it.

Not so Mistress. A real gamefishing boat, it has no chintzy finishes; designer line~, imported toilet-brush holders, or interior decorator-driven fittings. Far from being a motel afloat, Mistress is a shrine to real fishing boats. It has timber joinery, brass portholes, overhead racks swinging heavy-tackle outfits… And it has romance.

Inside, the custom-made 49-footer exudes a traditional feel almost reminiscent of one of Bob and Dolly Dyer’s gracious old gameboats. But at the same time, the NZ-built Mistress packs the latest electronics and fishing gear including, need I say, a fighting chair, pair of riggers and teak deck.

Whichever way you look at it, Mistress is a good-looking gameboat. There’s no mistaking the sexy Carolina lines derived from a gentle flare in the bow, a hard chine and two strakes underwater, and a sheer that melts into the transom like a knob of butter on a slice of hot toast. And there’s no mistaking this is a handcrafted gameboat built with a lot of nous.

The aptly-named Mistress is the other love in owner Barry Alty’s life. An experienced angler, Alty has finally found the time to fish as often as he wants. His first gameboat was a 36-footer built in NZ almost 15 years ago. Gold Strike worked as a charter boat along both east and west coasts of Australia. Alty took a lot of the good things from Gold Strike and put them into his plans for Mistress.

Essentially what Alty wanted was a live-aboard boat in which he could head away with the family; while at the same time he wanted a thoroughbred gamefishing boat with pretty lines and serious fish-catching capability. (He plans to mix it with the locals in Cairns this season).

Respected Kiwi architect and boat builder Don Senior, just 54 years young, designed the warped planing hull for Alty’s former boat Gold Strike and his latest love, Mistress. This is something Senior does largely by eye, with a pencil and rubber; and has done for more than 200 boats.

Business has doubled for custom gameboats in the last five years, Senior says. Both Australians and Americans are coming knocking for his traditional but signature designs. AIty stuck with Senior because he had such a good run with Gold Strike. The seaworthiness of this boat was such that if there was someone out there fishing, you’d be out fishing, too, Alty says, adding he could run at 2Okt on the autopilot, down 3m seas and swells.

The main difference with Mistress is it has a short directional keel. The boat has been designed to have a lovely natural running angle whereby it lifts on its aft sections while presenting a sharp bow with the big Carolina flare to the waves. With hull plans in hand, the next consideration was who best to build Mistress.

Alty toyed with the idea of having Mistress built from foam sandwich, which is something the Kiwis probably do better than anyone else, before he was set straight by Senior. Mistress had to be built from wood and Senior just wouldn’t have it any other way. Why go for a timber -built boat in these times of high-tech construction?

“We’ve had 100% success with this system and it’s really easy to individualise. You’ll get 100 years from your boat and then you can start counting over again. We’ve been putting boats together this way for over 30 years,” says Senior.

“Sure, it works out a bit dearer than a fiberglass boat but we’ve had such huge success with it that we dare not change it. This construction means you carry a bit more weight than a foam sandwich boat, but that’s not a bad thing in a gameboat.”

In NZ, there is no better builder of cold-moulded composite timber and epoxy boats than a chap named Alan Tong. And with that recommendation, Mistress began taking shape. If there’s one word to describe the hull it is solid
The bottom is fashioned from five skins of 6.5mm ply, while the top sides have four skins of the same thickness ply. The ply is African Gaboon sourced from a factory in Israel that produces marine ply to Lloyds Survey standards.

After being glassed over there’s nigh a sharp edge to be found and Mistress, in at least this sense, looks more like a foam sandwich product than a timber boat. It goes to show what you can do with microballoons and epoxy and ply.

The ply is saturated in epoxy and glass and vacuum bagged for uniformity. Huge longitudinals and stringers provide stiffness, yet at sea Mistress doesn’t feel. so much stiff as soft and alive. The feeling of Mistress at sea is a combination of timber traits and warped hull designs.

“The warped hull will give more lift at cruising speeds than a deep-vee,” explains Senior. “Mistress has been optimised to travel at 2Okt and its hull lifts nicely at these speeds. Most of the lift comes from the transom which has a 14 o run aft. That’s deeper than most warped hulls which carry around 10dregrees.”

At 2Okt or a tad more, Mistress is as comfortable as a marlin swimming in warm water. It is this moderate-speed performance and the economy and comfort you get from it that you want in a gameboat. The reality is that 3Okt isn’t a speed you can maintain very often.

Senior considers Mistress one of his best boats yet. With twin 610hp Volvos, it does 3Okt top-end and an easy 22kt cruise. It is an efficient boat as evidenced by the size of its engines. Twin V-I0 or V-12 motors aren’t needed even though the boat displaces a hefty 18,600kg.

The boat’s layout, meanwhile, is a fusion of Alty’s and Senior’s ideas. He may have used a pencil and rubber to draw the boat’s lines, but a wealth of experience is reflected in the layout The build quality is nothing short of excellent I reckon this is the nicest interior I have ever seen on a gameboat

As for the engineering, Alty puts it this way… ” A boat’s more like a city, with three power systems, and a lot of technology packed into a short space that needs to survive in a tough environment,” he says. “I’ve spent a lot of time in boats all around the world and I applied a lot of the lessons I’d learned. Don put it all together and added some nice touches.”

The generator, for example, is on tracks so you can get to the alternator at the back of the unit, the engine vents have filters to stop salt ingress, and there are eight fluoro lights in the engine-room so you never have to deal with shadow while you are working. All the boat’s skin fittings are actually recessed into the hull below the waterline so as to maintain a smooth, slippery surface. These are small things but signs of a lateral thinking boat-builder.

A lot of the credit for the finished product must go to the boat-builder, however. The work of Alan Tong is art. From the moment of conception to the point of Mistress being launched in NZ took more than a year. Some 13,000 labour hours went into the boat

The antipathy of an ‘assembled’ production boat nor a motel suite with flamboyant finishes, Mistress is a work of art with American cherry and Vavona burr joinery to die for and a sense of romance that makes you want to sit down with a Hemingway novel. Outside, it’s all serious fishing boat.

Its broad 4.95m beam leads to a useful amount of cockpit space with lots of amenities, wonderful storage areas, more fridges than
a gourmet deli and everything you need to prepare baits. The one-piece teak coamings are wide enough for Fat Albert to sit on, while the fly-bridge overhang and side annexes make the fridge tops a great place to park yourself out of the sun and spray while watching the lures or baits dance in the wake.

Underfloor you will find a big lazarette with a holding tank, 6OOlt/day water maker, batteries (up high in case of seawater ingress) and a keel-mounted base for the genuine Murray Brothers chair. There is also plumbing for the tuna tubes. With one pump running off the engine and the other off an inverter; you can keep your baits alive even when the engine isn’t ticking over.

The hatch just aft of the chair holds the three tuna tubes in varying sizes with removable inserts for easy access to the baits. There’s a livebait tank with perhaps 2OOlt capacity accessed through a bifold hatch. Alty has kept livies going for four months in the tank, which has no plumbing as such but holes in its base to allow clean water to pass freely into the tank.

Underfloor you’ll also find a big killtank, also with straight- through ‘plumbing’, while the self-bailing cockpit drains out through side scuppers as well as scuppers in the transom. The side draining system has been fashioned in such a way that no pools of water remain trapped on the teak cockpit sole.

Flanking the wide saloon door on the starboard side is a bait storage centre comprising a fridge/freezer and brine tank. The lid on the top fridge cabinet forms a step in the ladder leading up to the bridge. Handrails make the passage easy going when beam-on to the sea.

Opposite is a another bait freezer with teflon top -for rigging baits -set in a storage cabinet with five drawers loaded with rigging gear and a collection of tried and proven lures from various Pacific fisheries. The engine shutoffs are alongside, plus saltwater and freshwater deck washes, while storage for ancillaries hides under the step up into the saloon.

The solid teak coamings, while prone to splitting, are fashioned with wonderful curves and the deck height is such that you don’t have to think about getting a good footing at sea – it just comes naturally. Tag poles are to port, gaffs and de-hookers to starboard under the coamings, while the Murray Brothers chair with yellowfin-tuna insignia and beautiful high-gloss finish stands out.

Deck gear is also topnotch. The rodholders are the solid-bottom Pompanette type that don’t jam when a 1301b bent butt is loaded up. Oversized hawse pipes lead to twin cleats – one for the docking line and one for the fender rope – and there are downrigger sprockets for the scad lines or towing livies around billfish and bait schools.

The modest Volvo six-cylinder inline motors, and aft mounting of such things as the water maker, leave plenty of servicing room in the engine bay. Accessed through a hatch in the saloon floor, the filters (with drip trays) and strainers are right there for pre-departure checks.

Everything that can be painted in the engine room and everything that can be made stainless has gone that way. There’s a cabinet for spares including belts and filters, while the engine bearers are massive things that stretch virtually to the bow.

Serious sound insulation and inherently quiet motors contribute to the cruising pleasure on Mistress. The Volvos have a long stroke for more low-end torque than some revvy motors. The theory Alty subscribes to is that the extra low-end torque will stop the boat bogging down in rough seas.

I also noted a 3600 transducer for the Furuno surround sonar. Alty has already spotted a striped marlin on the scanner in NZ. The fish was holding 2OOm out, but it failed to bite. The unit has a 300m range. Other features under the saloon floor include a 2500W inverter, 24V charger and 240V fridge units. The wet exhaust system exits the transom corners but even it seems quieter than normal.

Port and starboard fuel tanks carry 3500lt for a cruising range of around 8OOnm on Mistress. During the boat’s delivery from NZ to the Gold Coast, via Lord Howe Island, it ran on the ship’s tanks at around 1Oknts for three-and-a-half days.

For all this, however, the interior is something really special. This boat is so beautiful inside it almost induces a love at first sight affair. The feeling is that of a traditional timber gameboat, the lighting is akin to an old waterfront bar and the finish is as perfect as any handcrafted boat you will find anywhere. Camel-coloured Italian leather has been used on the L-shaped lounges to port and starboard of the saloon, but not in a chintzy way. The lounges have fully-lined drawers below and there’s a Vavona burr dinette with a secret locker for the decks of cards. Both lounges doubles as sea berths.

A cream-coloured thatched fabric is used for neat drop blinds which cover the boat’s sealed saloon windows. Big aft windows offer a view back into the cockpit, the blue and gold carpet lifts out for cleaning, while Cherrywood floor margins add a sense of class. A neat touch was a central handrail running down the saloon roof so you can move forward in a seaway.

All the Cherrywood joinery is finished in high-gloss and the light headliner and white epoxy panels makes the cross beams jump out. The big coss beams hide wiring and air-conditioning ducts. There’s not too much wood, just clever use of it, and every piece is grain matched. Hopefully, the photos reflect the standard of craftsmanship on Mistress.

There’s no aft galley; like so many NZ-built boats, but a timber treasure behind the false windscreen, with a kind of day service area to one side and entertainment centre with appliances opposite. Fiddle rails and neat integrated handrails in the timber edging make for a galley that is easy to get around.

Amenities on the port side include a deep chest freezer; huge fridge with pub-like door and timber facia, oval servery and benchtops, high-gloss Cherrywood flooring and an icemaker. There’s a deep sink and microwave oven set in the wall and a sound system and television facing back to the dinette.

Opposite you come across dedicated drawers holding coffee mugs, others with cutlery, a big under-sink storage area with automatic lights, an underfloor hold for provisions, and a four- burner electric stove with pot-holders. There are lots of drawers, cupboards and cabinets, and, says Alty, after a $600 grocery shop the galley cupboards in Mistress still look bare.

Courtesy lighting from a 12V Italian lightmaker lead down steps from the galley to the accommodation. Contained within the big Carolina-style foredeck are three cabins and two heads. Blue and gold-pleated bedspreads, lots of lovely timber; soft-touch buttermilk-coloured Courtesan wall liners and blue carpet create a clean, classy effect. The interior decor’s courtesy of Alty’s wife.

The open-plan crew/kids cabin to starboard has single bunks and, because it is not enclosed by a door; offers quick access back into the saloon. All bunks and beds have inner-spring mattresses, full headroom, storage in hanging lockers and beneath, and sleeping room even on the bottom bunk.

A so-called skipper’s cabin to port features a small transverse double bed. Positioned near the middle of the boat, it’s a stable cabin in which to get a good night’s rest. There’s standing room at the entrance of the cabin and an ensuite which you reach by climbing a step.

The skipper’s own bathroom comes complete with overhead lockers, Granicoat benches with a single mixer over a sink and a built-in soap dispenser; and hard-wearing mock checkerplate vinyl floor. There’s an electric loo and a shower; of course.

But the piece de resistance, set behind a giant Cherrywood bulkhead, has to be the master cabin in the bow. It has all the luxury demanded by a domestic director; but charterboat owners could easily slot two double bunks in here should they prefer.

Alty says the master suite is almost a mirror of that in Don Senior’s own boat, Anziano. It has a lovely warm feel derived from planked timber walls, architectural timber trim, curved timber cross beams, false brass portholes and two pet heavy-tackle game outfits in overhead fasteners.

You also get a stately queen-size island berth with timber-featured bedhead, a full-length hanging locker with five drawers, separate air-conditioning controls, a big hatch for fresh air and down-lighting with bedside controls. It goes without saying the master cabin has an ensuite with a full shower stall, Vacuflush loo and stylish fittings.

Despite having a cool alloy tower from our own Black Marlin Towers and all the supports needed to keep it upright, the bridge offers an uncluttered panorama of the ocean. Ahead, the bow looks big enough to land a chopper thanks to the flared topsides, while you get a commanding view of the cockpit.

There are two big lounges that could double as berths, twin Raeline helm seats, and a white liner with a good non-skid underfoot, plus a built-in icebox and overhead radio cabinet. Three pop-up cabinets in the dash each hold a display for the plotter, radar and sounder.

Overhead is the searchlight control and Volvo electronic readout panel which lets you download diagnostics and send them to the factory over the Internet. The gauge says we are consuming 61t of diesel at idle. There is the station controller in case you want to drive from the bridge, a repeater facia for the HF radio hiding inside the console, lcom VHF with foghorn and loud hailer, and a variety of visual and audio alarms.

The console itself has lovely handholds, engine gauges under a cover, and the main switchboard for the boat mounted away from punters on the port side. There’s a neat chart locker with an overhead chartlight and a Clarion stereo remote so you can tune in or out of the action.

There are forward facing downlights and plenty of storage in the bridge, which has been well planned and a good example of the kind of ground-up integration you get in a custom boat. Access to the bridge is easy enough up over the cockpit fridge and ladder. Keep going and you reach a tower with bird’s-eye views, fold-down seat and repeaters for the GPS/sounder.

The only thing missing is, well, a steering wheel. Alty prefers instead to mount toggle switches alongside the throttles. You change direction by merely flicking a toggle with your finger this way or that. For close quarters, the Mathers Micro Commander electronic throttles, which have a special tensioning device added for security, are all you need to manoeuvre Mistress.

On the plus side, the lack of a steeling wheel gives a lot of room in which to stand while facing the transom and backing down or a fish. But I must admit, I found driving without a wheel something that takes getting used to. The toggles are quite sensitive and this new chum to the system was guilty of oversteering on occasions.

My own shortcomings aside, it was a joy to travel on Mistress. The boat seemed dry in the calm conditions and it felt entirely comfortable running into the lazy swells like a battlewagon heading off to war. The little round-up I induced through oversteeling downswell certainly wasn’t apparent with the boot’s full-time skipper at the helm.

Needless to say, Alty is a happy man with his new Mistress by his side. Designer Senior says he too is happy because the boat does everything he set out to achieve. And the builder; Alan Tong, deserves a rap for the impeccable craftsmanship.

The interior of Mistress goes away from the trend to five-star hotels and embraces a nautical and traditional fishing-boot feel. But it does it while delivering a level of luxury deserving of the five-star status.

In this sense, Mistress is a model other boat builders might like to follow. It sets new standards in how areal gameboat should look.