The Modern Boating team spends so much time in great new boats, but few brands have ever impressed us the way this boat did.
Issue: June 2004
Manufacturer: Pursuit Boats
You don't see many "new brand" boats hitting the market, so when one does come along the team likes to go over it with a fine-toothed comb. So, when the Pursuit 550F, an all-new boat from an all-new manufacturer, presented itself the team's collective ears pricked up. And with good reason as it turned out. Why ? Because the Modern Boating team spends so much time in great new boats, but few brands have ever impressed us the way this boat did. Surprisingly, both above and below the water the Pursuit's hull is quite conventional.
Yet the Pursuit 550F is an excellent example of a popular theme, the 5.5m offshore/ inshore, fishing/family day boat. There's nothing new, dramatic, or outrageous about this completely fibreglass hull. She had a Mercury OptiMax 130hp outboard bolted to her transom with a full height aft bulkhead separating the engine from the boat's interior. Like many of her type, the hull's keel featured a prominent planing "plank" and two pairs of strakes. All quite the norm actually, but the perfection is in the execution. The man behind Pursuit Boats, the 550F is the first cab off the rank so to speak, is Noosa-based marine upholsterer Warren White. Warren, "Wozza" to his friends, refers to it with tongue in cheek as his "love child".
Pressed a little further, still tongue in cheek of course, he admits he's something of a perfectionist. And that's so obvious, we're not even going to try applying superlatives about standard of finish or attention to detail he's taken during the construction of the Pursuit 550F. Then, to cap off a most unusual chain of events, after literally falling in love with Wozza's love child at first, we had to test her twice. Our first attempt, on central Moreton Bay near Victoria Point, was plagued by conditions wild enough to rule out any photography that day. Even during the second attempt, on the relatively sheltered middle reaches of the Noosa River, we still encountered blustery conditions and the resultant messy surface chop.
Not that this phased the Pursuit's hull, although it did cause quite a bit of extra spray that she effective spat aft. However, in the rougher conditions encountered on the first day, the hull tracked like an arrow and rode as soft and dry as you could expect of any 5.5m boat. The Pursuit 550F hull is far from just a pretty face and rates right up there among the best of its class in quite limited company. Boat builders such as Cruise Craft, Seafarer and Haines Signature have been turning out 5.5m cuddies for generations and doing them extremely well I might add. So, for the all-new Pursuit 550F to step into such company is remarkable.
In the style department, we've already stopped ourselves from going overboard with superlatives about a boat with looks that speak for themselves, so we'll focus on ergonomics. It's a section of a boat where looks can be deceiving. Starting at the sharp end, there's a moulded bowsprit, split rail and a selfdraining anchor well large enough to house a stack of offshore rope and chain as well as a sizeable anchor. Getting to the ground tackle is easy through an enormous hatch in the cabin roof, but there's more... and it only becomes apparent when you have to get up there to handle the pick in rough water. It's just how well the edges of the hatch support your body, leaving both hands free to handle ground tackle. The low-profile cuddy certainly looks good, but it comes at a cost, because it lowers headroom in the bow end of the cabin. However, move towards the cabin bulkhead and there's plenty of room for taller folk to sit. At 1.95cm, the bunks in the cabin are also quite generous for a cuddy.
A portable toilet is an option that sits beneath the bunks in the bow. And there's a wide storage shelf around the periphery and ample under-bunk dry storage. Entry to the cabin is through the opening in the bulkhead on the port side, which is more than ample for medium size people. But there's also a cleverly designed cutaway in the centre of the bulkhead to accommodate taller people. On the downside, as far as aesthetics go, there is no carpet lining the cabin, although I doubt many fishos would mind, but that's about the only "maybe" negative we could find. On the other hand the balance between aesthetics and headroom verses cockpit and cabin space within the boat's length, are as close to perfect as any compromise could be.
Driver and passenger comfort coupled with steering wheel and control ergonomics in any boat destined for offshore use are critical. Get any of them wrong and the discomfort just won't go away. But discomfort isn't a feature on the Pursuit. Did I mention the new "UltraA ex" steering system fitted to the test boat ? We haven't encountered this brand before, but its performance was faultless. Seated, or standing, everything is where it should be including a screen frame set below the driver's standing line-of-sight and above a seated one.
There were footrests for helm and passenger, a helm seat slide, grab bars where you need them and plenty of room in the dash for mounting all of those important electronics that get us from Point A to B. Wozza's upholstery background was clearly evidenced by the workmanship that has gone into the pair of deeply upholstered helm and passenger bucket seats. In the test boat these were mounted on pedestals, but moulded seat risers containing storage lockers are optional. Yet another option is the stainless steel Targa bar/rod rack shown here. A bimini top shading the helm area was fitted to this, but Woz left it off during the photo session.
Aft of the helm station, the cockpit is a work of art. The gunwales are high for leg support and that all important for a fisho "toes tucked under" support, is provided right around the cockpit's periphery. Recessed grab bars and mooring cleats complete the topsides. There's a split-fold cushion seat across the transom, which during the transition from cruising to fishing mode can be easily removed to provide uninterrupted access to the transom. The upholstered coamings shown in the test boat are an option even blood and guts fishos might like, because they make the cockpit an even more comfortable place to fish from in rough water. A handy bait preparation station sits above the transom and it's another option most fishos would take.
Half of the workbench hinges up to reveal a sink and each aft corner contains a bait-well, either or both of which can be plumbed. The folding boarding ladder on the transom is an option fishos will likely do without, but families usually go for. A more luxurious "C" version of the 550F, aimed more towards family cruising than the 550F's accent on fishing, is already on the drawing board. If it's half as impressive as the 550F, it should be something to look forward to. So much for the pretty stuff, what about the grunt ? A 135hp outboard is the recommended power for the Pursuit 550F and a direct injected two-stroke 135hp Mercury OptiMax proved to be an excellent and appropriately spirited match. Out on the water there was little bow lift under acceleration from displacement speeds to planing.
Effortless is a word that springs immediately to mind. Cranked really hard into a tight turn it was possible to induce a bit of "wheelspin" from the "Vengeance" prop actually, to be correct, it was ventilation, you hear a lot of talk about cavitation, but that's a far nastier beast than this. Even so, the application of more power accelerated the boat away, a reassuring virtue in the aerated water situation of bar crossings. In blustery conditions through a light chop the Pursuit hull/Mercury 135 recorded the following speed to rpm readings: 9.1 knots at 2600rpm, the hull actually starts to plane at just over 8 knots, but is solidly planing at 9.1; 12.4 knots at 3000rpm; 27.5 knots at 4000rpm; 35.7 knots at 5000rpm; and 39.4 knots at 5500rpm (WOT).
The 550F's full height transom kept any engine noise intrusion into the passenger area to a minimum, making the Pursuit 550F/Mercury OptiMax 135hp outboard combination a quiet one in addition to its performance virtues. Wozza's new Pursuit 550F was an impressive boat in all senses of the word and right up there with the best boats of this type that Australia produces, which is quite a feat for a first effort. With a starting price of around $35,000, or as tested $51,865, she's also pretty good value for money.
Words by Warren Steptoe