Viewed from the bow, the Northbank 650SF is a striking vessel. Her centre-console is high and wide and it accentuates the width of the hull and topsides.
Issue: July 2002
There's no denying that Jaan Lindsaar's Northbank Marine builds strong boats. Boats that stand up to the discerning eye of an experienced boat buyer looking for their next vessel. A person who looks for different qualities in a boat, that are normally overlooked by newcomers to boating. An experienced buyer is often concerned with attributes like hull strength and thickness, ride quality and dryness, helm comfort and ease of anchoring, just to name a few. But what impresses me when talking with Jaan about his Northbank vessels is his passion for building strong boats that meet and exceed the expectations borne by experience.
Viewed from the bow, the Northbank 650SF is a striking vessel. Her centre-console is high and wide and it accentuates the width of the hull and topsides. Approaching abeam and boarding her from the trailer mudguard is like throwing a leg over a horse, the gunwales are so wide. But a quick scout around the vessel reveals her potential. The fishing opportunities of this centre-console are obvious. The 650SF is a true walk-around with high gunwales for generous thigh support and toe under room from bow to stern. Plus, a small step amidships keeps the helm sole dry if there's water sloshing around in the cockpit.
The helm area is wide for a centre-console vessel and provides a rare amount of headroom under the bimini top for all but the tallest of boaters. Short fishos don't despair, there's a step to reduce the reach required to get at the overhead rod rack. A stainless steel wheel, with Hydrive hydraulic steering, is a plus for the driver, as is the swivelling and fore/aft adjustable seat set on a pedestal with storage locker built-in. Further storage is provided underneath the V-berths in the cabin and along the cockpit sides. Another clever feature is a hatch between the seats in the floor that opens to provide an easy step down into the cabin.
Here the Vberths with infill cushions comfortably accommodate two people overnight. Bait wells are sited astern either side of the engine box, with twin batteries located on the port side sitting on a raised shelf. Under the floor a 190lt alloy fuel tank gives the boat an impressive range. The test boat also has a four-shot rocket launcher rod holder above the bimini. The windscreen is toughened, clear glass, while the cabin hatch is tinted glass with that no-expense-spared feel. A substantial bow rail completes the picture, built high enough to be practical without detracting from the lines of the boat. Although centre-console vessels are obviously suited to fishing, other not-soobvious benefits come to mind.
Family and friends can easily and safely board over the bow. Once onboard the bow is safe for children and adults to ride in calm seas. You can marvel at dolphins in the bow wave, or scream with delight as the next wave approaches. Whatever the purpose, a centre-console of this size with a roomy cabin is a terrific use of space and produces a highly useable craft. While not immediately obvious, the construction of this vessel is one of its most interesting aspects, the marriage of a fibreglass hull and aluminium topside.
This innovative construction provides the aesthetic appeal of a fibreglass hull, but retains the strength and ability to extensively customise the topside. Other benefits of aluminium topsides include the ability to weld on fittings such as handrails and bollards. This eliminates the painstaking task of properly sealing the fibreglass once drilled. Oceantech, a versatile designer of boats in various types and sizes, designed the 650SF. The survey-standard laminates and computer cutting of hull plugs and deck plate results in a high-quality finish, which is difficult to discern from an all-fibreglass vessel.
But if that old saying 'a hire car is the fastest car you'll ever drive in reverse' is true, then a test boat is the fastest boat you'll ever punch into a head sea. But boarding the 650SF I knew that the Northbank prototype would have already been subjected to more high speed punishment than anything a boat tester such as I could dish-out. And having experienced one of Jaan's white-knuckle-terror boat demos only recently, I was keen to take this test boat out without him, accompanied only by a boating mate for a second opinion. One of the most eagerly anticipated aspects of the 650SF is the ability of the relatively small 120hp diesel to get such a big, solidlybuilt boat out of the hole in rough conditions.
Admittedly I was sceptical, thinking that the 1.7lt MerCruiser sterndrive might struggle, but with the knowledge that the vessel had passed Jaan's no-nonsense seal of approval, it's off to the ramp. The turbo-diesel starts easily, but now with clean exhaust emissions unlike the diesels of old. Applying about two-thirds throttle, the 650SF lifts out of the hole smartly, cruises with a flat attitude and responds only slightly to a small amount of sterndrive trim once running on the plane. Here the modest MerCruiser proves itself a top performer. Granted, the boat is lightly loaded, but pushing into a stiff sea breeze the diesel is easily able to respond to rapid throttle movements. The kind that are required when confronted by steep waves, which need to be negotiated slowly, then left rapidly in the wake.
The 650SF is a delight to drive. Thrashing around in a steep 1m sea the Northbank vessel meets my expectations at all running angles. Whether it's punching softly into a head sea, or lifting her bow over crests and surfing the troughs of a following sea. Beam onto the swell and wind she tracks straight and is relatively dry, which can be improved by zipping the windscreen in place, something I forgot to do. Like any well designed hull, the 650SF is also a delight to drive badly. That's right. We had her airborne and deliberately turned the sterndrive leg in an attempt to land the boat on one side of the hull. The Northbank refuses to produce that spinalrealignment type of jarring that some hulls do. Standard fit is the 1.7lt, 120hp MerCruiser diesel, from which Jaan claims fuel economy figures of 8lt per hour at 20 knots.
While unsubstantiated during testing, these figures seem reasonable and comparable to other boats. The compact diesel engine is easily accessible from all angles by sliding off the removable engine cover, which is designed to fit snugly against a large lip on the cockpit sole. This prevents water entering the bilge. Owners of sterndrives who have suffered rusted sumps, myself included, will appreciate this installation. The cushioned fibreglass engine cover also cleverly channels water onto the cockpit sole, from where it can escape via the self-draining cockpit scuppers. As tested, this well-optioned boat retails for $67,000. Non-standard fit includes an electric anchor windlass, operable by remote control from the helm, a 27 MHz marine radio, Navman sounder and chartplotter plus the essential bimini top and rocket launcher.
Numerous engine options are available, from single or twin outboards, to diesel or petrol sterndrives. The Northbank 650SF is undoubtedly a terrific offshore fishing platform. But it shouldn't be sold short. Centre-consoles of this type are also great family fun machines, with the all-round access set to delight both adults and children alike.
Words and Photos by Adam Robinson