The longer I was aboard the big Southwind, the more it appealed and the more possibilities that sprung to mind. But there is one last thing that you should know about utes ... own one, and all your mates will want to borrow it.
Germany may have given us the passenger car, and America the flat-top truck, but it took an Aussie farmer to put the two together and invent the ubiquitous 'ute'. Legend has it that the grazier wanted a vehicle that could cart hay around the paddocks, and carry his family to church on Sundays, so he cut the back out of his old Ford and welded a tray in its place. So well did it work that generations of farmhands and tradesmen have followed suit, throwing their tools and cattledog in the back on work days, then their girlfriend in the front for a Friday night on the town. There is no more useful or versatile vehicle.
It was perhaps only a matter of time before the ute concept should be applied to boating, given the need to carry lobster pots, fishing nets, marker buoys, machinery and so on, and again it was Australian inventiveness that came to the fore. Southwind, the locally-based fibreglass boatbuilding arm of Yamaha Marine, has developed a range of so-called 'utility boats', starting at 5.20m and extending through 5.8m and 6.7m to a new 7.7m flagship. They're uniquely 'ocker' - rugged and reliable, with a greater emphasis on capacity than comfort. All are based on the 'longboat' style which, as has been said, has been popularised more by Asian countries, where countless thousands ply the river highways. The hulls are 'long' only in relation to their beam; they could, more aptly, be called narrowboats. The Southwind utes are every bit the sensitive new-age '90s version, being sleekly moulded in fibreglass, running Yamaha outboards, and bearing snazzy stainless steel hardware.
In the 770 format it is entering the luxury domain in terms of performance, fitout and price. Like the original farm ute, it has the flexibility to handle both work and play. Indeed it happens to be price-listed with Southwind's recreational runabouts, not its UB-brethren, which is a pointer to Southwinds marketing intentions. The 770 is also designated the 'Offshore', an indicator as to where it will spend much of its time. It can be fitted out for deep-sea diving, fishing, cargo haulage or general resort and marina duties - you name it - and with twin 265ltr tanks (optional) it will run a long way between drinks. The hulls, of course, can be constructed to 2C Survey standards for commercial and charter work. In the case of the 770, engineers from Yamaha Japan helped determine the support structure and lamination, using a sophisticated computer system to monitor the stresses on a prototype hull. This ensured that production boats could be built with maximum strength in key areas and weight spared where not needed. It is, at over 25ft, a genuine maxi trailable, so weight saving was critical. The hull tips the scales at the one tonne mark; a trailer, twin 130hp outboards and fuel load take the total to 2.82 tonnes.
Trailable length is an intimidating 9.12m and height 3.26m. On the water it doesn't seem that big. It somehow lacks the sense of dominance and power inherent in many sportscruisers of the same length; rather, it feels like a large runabout. That said, it still has a tremendous capacity for payload and passengers. As a dive boat it can accommodate 6+1 commercially and 8+1 recreationally, while in a fishing role there's room for four to operate in comfort. At the bow there is enormous depth, with the coaming running at waist height and the bow rail nudging the midriff. The sheerline yields a more conventional thigh-high support towards the transom. Along both cockpit sides are two rod/gaff storage holders (Southwind is experimenting with one long holder) and recesses for a fire extinguisher and EPIRB. The steering console is a nicely rounded unit that provides adequate protection for the driver and one passenger, both of whom would most likely be standing. There's ample dashboard space for mounting two sets of engine gauges and twin throttles, plus a compass. Radios and electronics have to be mounted overhead, however, and thus a stainless steel T-top becomes almost obligatory (if the threat of melanoma didn't already make it so).
The bow area has three tiers, with the anchor roller, bollard and windlass (optional) at coaming height, the anchor hatch on the middle level, and a general stowage bin forming the lower step. From there the cockpit floor runs flat right aft to a pair of storage seats, between which is a flap that facilitates self-draining through to the outboard well. The twin motors look quite low to the water, but it's an illusion wrought by having a large cut-out stern. On the test boat were twin long-shaft Yamaha 100hp four-strokes, weighing 164kg apiece, and these proved an excellent match in every aspect. At a 750rpm idle, when the motors are barely audible, they spur the 770 to four knots. A 10-knot minimum plane speed comes at 2700rpm, and from there it's a rapid progression to the 31-knot top speed at 5600rpm. The high destroyer-like bow cuts a swathe through oncoming seas, chucking spray well to the side. Only a moderate amount blew back aboard over the weather gunwale as we headed out through Sydney Heads.
The 770 rides softly on its moderately veed hull sections - 200 amidships and 18.50 at the transom - and turns with great adroitness. If you're expecting a traditional '25-footer' ride it takes a little time to adjust to what seems a slight initial tenderness. Stability is more than adequate, however, and would only improve with added load. One thing that really surprised me was the electric steering from Morse, which Southwind was trialling as an alternative to hydraulics. It was finger-tip light yet could be left 'hands-free' without wandering off line. Its only shortcoming was a slight timing lag; move the wheel too quickly when berthing and the steering takes a few seconds to respond. No doubt you'd get accustomed to this. Actually, the longer I was aboard the big Southwind, the more it appealed and the more possibilities that sprung to mind. But there is one last thing that you should know about utes ... own one, and all your mates will want to borrow it.
Story by Mark Rothfield.