The Whittley 601 Sea Legend has the finish, fittings, handling and performance to make it the stuff of legends. It's just as much an excellent bluewater fishing platform as a family cruiser
Whittley Sea Legend 601 Review
Issue: September 2002
If you consider its peerage, the Whittley Sea Legend 601 has an impeccable bloodline. There are five models in the range starting with the 5m Sea Legend 500 through to the 7.3m 730 Hardtop. Each is an excellent vessel in its own right and they are all top sportfishing machines.
The Sea Legend range elevates the bluewater fishing boat market to a new level of fit-out and finish. But these boats are also so practical, multi-purposed and extremely user-friendly.
Who would of thought that a purpose-built fishing boat could be awarded the Modern Boating Family Boat Of The Year Award, but that's exactly what the 601's bigger sister, the Sea Legend 650, did earlier this year. This latest Whittley is also set to give the awards a shake next year.
It has already won an Order of Merit at the 2002 AMIF Boat of the Year Awards. By applying the same quality standards of design and fit-out of its renowned cruising range of vessels to the Sea Legend series of fishing boats, Whittley has produced a craft that's just at home chasing marlin as it is on a family cruise around the islands.
According to Whittley, a fishing boat doesn't have to be rough and featureless. They can still have all the little luxuries and creature comforts of their cruising brothers with a bit of careful design and the clever use of available space. But coupled with this high standard of fit-out and finish is its superb on-water handling and performance.
Even though the test boat was only powered by a carburettored Yamaha 130hp outboard, the hull rockets onto the plane and has plenty of "push you back into the seat" acceleration right through the entire power range.
But before the Modern Boating team got its hands on this boat John Hunt, from the Sydney-based Hunt's Marine, said he would have preferred to put a larger engine on the back before the test. But while a bigger EFI two-stroke, or four-stoke outboard, might deliver better overall fuel efficiency, the 130 had more than enough bottom-end grunt and top-end speed.
Heading out across Sydney's Botany Bay, with a 20 knot westerly wind blowing up the exhaust, this hull is extremely stable and doesn't crash and bank excessively. Her 23 degree deadrise makes short work of the small wavelets the westerly wind is flattening out.
At the mouth of the bay there's a reasonable swell rolling in through the heads, but this doesn't phase the hull at all. I don't know about you, but bouncing from one wave to the next with the throttle fully forward isn't my idea of pleasant boating.
Driven sanely in the conditions the hull's deep vee does its job superbly and delivers a soft, stable and dry ride. The boat's top handling can be directly attributed to the hull's extremely sharp bow entry and wide down-turned chines. There's also a planing flat running three quarters of the way along the keel, which is the main reason the hull jumps onto the plane so quickly.
Along the keel there is a brass strip to protect it from chipping. This allows the boat to be beach without the gelcoat being damaged when the family goes ashore at a beach for a picnic.
Stability is also a factor that can make or break a good fishing boat. With two people standing on one side the hull lists only marginally, no more or less than any vessel of this size with a 2.35m beam. Running back into the stiff breeze with the clears in place, but with the front flap open, the clears act like a sail and cause the boat to run leaning slightly to starboard. Remove the clears, or simply close the flap, and the boat tracks straight and level. While it probably isn't a necessity, the boat is fitted with hydraulic steering and driving her is a delight. There are also no flimsy side cabin windows - which have been smashed out by big waves on some boats - only a large hatch in the roof of the cabin.
From a driving perspective, the elevated helm position gives the skipper excellent vision to all points. A factory fitted sounder and GPS unit can be fitted in the space between the engine gauges and waterproof switch panels. The helm station features a sports steering wheel, two multi-purpose Yamaha gauges, an above windscreen grab rail, moulded footrest and heavily padded bucket seats mounted on storage lockers. Also built into the storage lockers supporting the skipper and navigators seat are two swing out quarter seats. These are a handy inclusion especially when trolling. Two people can sit facing rearwards waiting for a "beaky" to appear in the spread.
Both the cabin and helm areas are carpeted, but the main cockpit is non-slip fibreglass so it can be washed down easily. And that's were I find a hiccup with this boat. It's so well finished and looks so good I don't think I could bring myself to messing it up with fish blood and slime. Yes I could!
There's a plumbed live-bait tank and two lockers in the transom, a removable bait station, ski pole and a swim ladder on the starboard side. The live-bait tank hinges down to reveal a shelf where the battery and oil bottle sit. Each of the gunwales are high and heavily padded. They allow an angler to brace comfortably against them when fighting a fish or in rough water. The stainless steel supports for the bimini features a six rod rocket launcher-styled rack and running light. Under the floor are the 170lt fuel tank and a large kill tank, which can be also used as an Esky.
Up in the comfortable cabin upholstery V-bunks and infill cushions conceal the Porta Potti. There are shelves down each side of the cabin walls, under bunk storage and a folding vinyl door to seal off the cabin entrance.
The hull length, not including the bowsprit and swim platform, is 6.1m; she has a beam of 2.35m; and with a 130hp outboard weighs in at 1.49 tonne. Power options are 115hp to 175hp outboard, or 135hp to 210hp sterndrive unit.
Given the smooth running and fuel economy of a sterndrive and the fact that a small sterndrive doesn't encroach into the cockpit, because it sits in the cavity under the live-bait tank, that would be my choice of power.
Other Sea Legends options are a bi-fold lockable cabin door, Problaster deck wash, rear and remote spotlights, a second wiper set and trim tabs. But the team don't think trim tabs are warranted, although they would have come in handy to level the boat when that 25 knot westerly was turning the clears into a sail during this test.
The Whittley 601 Sea Legend has the finish, fittings, handling and performance to make it the stuff of legends. It's just as much an excellent bluewater fishing platform as a family cruiser and let's face it, most boating families normally combine a spot of fishing into their cruises.
At $56,664 this Whittley boat isn't cheap, but that old adage "you only get what you pay for" certainly rings true here and that's a lot with a Sea Legend.
The test Whittley Sea Legend 601 is powered by a 130hp Yamaha outboard. Other engine options are a 150hp FETOX V6 Yamaha, a 175hp V6 DETOX Yamaha, an Evinrude 150 FPXSN, or a sterndrive from 130hp to 210hp.
Speed-to-rpm readings were: 5 knots at 1000rpm; 7.3 knots at 2000rpm; 11 knots at 3000rpm; 20 knots at 4000rpm; and 39 knots at WOT. Both the outboard and sterndrive versions have 170lt underfloor fuel tanks.
Story & Photos by Ian Macrae