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Tested by Erwin Bursik
THERE in front of me were seven Luhrs sportfishers rigged in full splendour inside the convention centre where the Miami Boat Show was held a few years back. It was breathtaking, to put it mildly. They formed an arch with their transoms facing one’s approach, ready for the show-goers to step aboard and view the these magnificent craft.
The memory of that day is indelibly etched in my mind, a lasting impression indeed which again recently vividly came to mind. A Luhrs 41 Open came thundering up behind the craft I was on, on our way out to sea off Durban where I was to photograph her before I boarded her for her sea trials. No picture nor words can adequately capture the sight and sound of this experience.
I certainly did my best, but while one gets a nice photograph, when viewing the pictures one still misses the sound, the thrill and even smell of this sleek craft with her strongly-flared bow thundering up behind one, clearing the choppy sea and throwing her bow wake far and wide. Her sleek, almost thrown-back, racy look, and prominent tuna tower makes her a most beautiful craft whether she is at moorings or racing across the ocean at 30 knots.
I have to admit that it has taken a complete shift in mindset for me to appreciate the express style of sportfishing craft. Even though I have always appreciated their stylish looks, initially I questioned their practicality as sportfishers for serious offshore fishing.
The root of this mindset, I believe, comes from my experiences aboard express sportfishers in Kenya on which I often fish for sailfish. The captain always commandeered the tuna tower from which to skipper his craft, leaving us to while away the day on the deck without his company. It is this latter aspect that was the Achilles heel, in my opinion. There was no captain to talk to during a day at sea, and no quick access up the steps to the flybridge to quiz the captain on the dozens of queries any ardent angler has when chartering a boat to go fishing at sea.
Now that I have personally skippered and fished on many express sportfishers, I have come to realise that I have allowed my own personal wants to decry a very effective system of skippering a sportfisher and maximising one’s fishability. Perched up in the tuna tower while hunting fish, and billfish in particular, one gets a phenomenal feeling of being in tune with the ocean. This is the primary purpose for which craft like the Luhrs 41 Open have been designed.
In tropical conditions, such as those we experience along most of the east coast of Africa, craft such as these really come into their own. A constant movement of air through the saloon and fishing deck area ensures that cool comfort can be achieved without airconditioning.
Sitting up at the top helm station of the Luhrs — the pinnacle of this craft — you are sited higher than on most conventional flybridges, but not as high as the true tuna towers of the Bahamas fleet that target big bluefin tuna. However, it’s still high enough to provide the skipper with a superb view of the sea around him, as well as the wake, lures and fish behind the craft that require his dedicated attention, not to mention the fishing cockpit, angler and deck crew below.
This helm station is fully equipped with controls, gauges and instrumentation that enable the skipper to have complete control of the craft while up top. What I particularly enjoyed on this craft is that there is more than adequate space for another person to keep the captain company during the many long hours of trolling. This has certainly helped greatly to shift my thinking regarding express-style sportfishers.
With the theory now effectively behind me, I need to put down on paper the wonderful experience I had aboard the Luhrs 41 Open. After swopping boats in the flat water of Durban harbour, I took over the helm from Richard White who was skippering this craft on the day of the review. Richard, whose father owns and operates an identical craft out of Durban — Charlie Brown — was understandably totally at home on Big Sea Hunter, which the new Luhrs 41 Open has been named. He is also very vocal in his admiration of this craft.
As we idled out between the new breakwaters of the recently widened harbour entrance, my right hand was itching to thrust the electronic throttle controls forward — a desire that had to be contained until we reached open water. This restriction was due to the ongoing underwater work being carried out on the side of the channel.
My time finally arrived as I called on the twin 655hp Yanmar turbo-charged motors powering Big Sea Hunter to show me how this craft would perform in the easterly chopped ocean prevailing off Durban’s beachfront.
I was not disappointed. As I moved the throttles forward, I could immediately feel her props biting into the water. I felt the thrust while the gentle purr of her motors at idle began to take on an ever increasing growl as the turbos kicked in. The lift onto the plane was exciting as I watched the SOG on the Ray Marine Navigation monitor climb quickly to 22 knots.
Why 22 knots? No reason other than that was the speed she was happy at while cruising across the ocean in a northeasterly course up the coast. The twin Yanmar motors were maintaining a steady beat, almost effortlessly maintaining a speed that was very impressive on a craft this size in a sea that was not all that nice. It was as we were running north that I began to play with the hydraulic afterplaners, initially to settle her lateral trim, thereafter to try and improve or detract from her forward momentum by raising or lowering her bow.
During these trials, and later in a high-speed run up Maydon Channel where we achieved 31 knots at virtually full throttle, this craft showed that her basic hull design tends to dominate her ride to such an extent that the hydraulic planers have only a marginal effect on her ride.
I noticed this most when cruising north at just over 20 knots. Her forward momentum as registered on the GPS varied only marginally when I tried to trim her right up or down. My opinion is that the raw power of her big engines and the way her hull has been designed to plane with a reasonably bow-up stance, combined with the overall weight of the craft — approximately 18 tons — override the marginal effect the hydraulic planers had on her performance. At speeds of 14/15 knots she responded more to bow-up/down trim adjustments.
With the chop over swell that we were experiencing, I had her taking the sea on her starboard beam and she was cruising beautifully. Now it was a case of moving my right hand down a little on the helm to face her into the northeast and head into the sea without reducing throttle. In this sea her strong Carolina-style bow flare comes into its own. Apart from the bow wake being dispersed at greater intensity far and wide and our SOG dropping by a tad — say1H to 2 knots — the comfort was remarkably retained as this Luhrs 41 Open sped across the ocean.
Within the arena of high speed cruising, and here I am talking speeds of 18-23 knots and not the full throttle speeds the craft is capable of, my final trial was the long run back to Durban harbour with the sea and wind directly on her transom.
Those of us who operate out of Durban know only too well the upside-down sea the beastly easterly produces off Durban beachfront. Add to this the sharp entry of the Luhrs 41 Open and one would expect a less than comfortable ride. Look at the accompanying photographs of the craft bow-on and you will see quite clearly how this craft’s bow and shoulders work to control her path through troubled water.
Once I got her lateral trim spot-on, she merrily powered her way forward, almost never reacting to the surging sea and hardly ever throwing us laterally as she ran down the face of a swell and pulled out of the trough ahead of it. Yes, I did use a fair amount of bow-up trim, but then, as I have so often stated, the skipper’s ability to trim the craft to the prevailing sea is vital in order to get his craft to proceed at a speed that will get the craft and crew to their destination as comfortably, timeously and safely as possible.
When we were deep off Glenashley it was really playtime for me. Slipping the main helm station controls into neutral, I climbed the aluminium ladder up to the top helm station to take command of Big Sea Hunter. I have to admit to feeling a degree of trepidation as the craft swayed on the drift in a side-sea, but having watched Richard shimmy up and down on numerous occasions gave me some confidence when it came to descending the ladder after the trials.
Early on in the report I stated my views of what it’s like “upstairs”; now I will comment on the craft’s low speed performance, but always remember this will be tinged by the excitement of skippering from the tuna tower.
With the motors just in gear, the Luhrs 41 Open trolled at a reasonably fast 5 knots, yet produced very little white water in her wake. Working up the troll speed to 6H knots, i.e. sailfish speed, then 7 to 9 knots for pulling lures for marlin, I watched with great interest and from an ideal viewpoint to see the way the wake developed and spread out in what I believe is the general speed range for practical sportfishing. It was great — really great — as I imagined where I would run my lures if I was fishing this craft.
The days of pulling levers or plungers to open the trolling valves and allow the props to slow right down when the motors are idling are over. On the Luhrs 41 Open it’s a case of putting the throttle levers into neutral and pressing two electronic buttons — the trolling valves are open.
Back in gear the minimum speed was reduced from 5 knots to 1H knots. With Big Sea Hunter sporting four Luna-style tubes on her transom, there is little doubt as to why trolling valves have been fitted on this craft.
Finally, from up top the marlin skipper’s ultimate test of ability — backing up on a big marlin. Even this was oh so easy on the Luhrs 41 Open. With the advent of electronic controls, slipping from forward into reverse, as well as using the motors — one reverse and one forward — to slip the craft sideways has become a lot easier. On this craft the way she manoeuvred her transom from side to side, forwards or back wards, was as pretty as it was effective. It made me look and feel good too!
On this craft the open helm station/ saloon that can be enclosed with clears is big, spacious and uncluttered, thereby allowing the free flow of anglers and crew between this and the large, open fishing cockpit. Apart from boasting a very impressive skipper’s domain of chair, controls and instrumentation, there is an abundance of seating as well as a summer galley incorporating an electric grill and a fridge. This means that one does not have to go downstairs into the main saloon and galley when the need for food and drink arises while you’re still busy fishing.
The fishing cockpit is designed to suit both the serious marlin angler as well as those opting for light tackle sportfishing. In addition to the four Luna tubes, Big Sea Hunter has a large livebait circulation tank built into the transom. A very substantial fighting chair takes centre stage in the cockpit — a further indication that her new owner, Willie de Bruyn, is not going to play around in vlak water and has his mind firmly set on targeting big billfish.
A few steps down takes you into the air-conditioned comfort of the main saloon, galley, heads and stateroom. Trimmed in cherry wood with lush upholstery, the transition from the relatively austere working area of the bridge, deck and fishing cockpit is breathtaking. Opulent in design and finishes, it’s practical to use for sophisticated entertaining or relaxing after a long day at sea.
The layout and style really appealed to me, and its high headroom, well designed interior and appointment add substantially to the general appeal of this craft.
Whilst there is only one dedicated cabin, the owner’s stateroom, which is awesome, a further four beds can be created by transforming the designer sofa into a double bed — electronically — and the saloon settee into two over-and-under single bunk beds. It’s certainly an outstanding onboard luxury living facility that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.
For a craft that is 45ft in overall length, she encompasses a lot of boat. Wading through the schedule of what is incorporated on the Luhrs 41 Open, I was amazed at how much goes into a craft of this size and intrigued at how much has to be wired up and powered by the onboard 9 KVA generator.
Above all, the Luhrs 41 Open/Hardtop is an extremely beautiful craft and her ability on the water makes her a sportfisher to be noticed and appreciated.
“Sea Hunter, Sea Hunter,” is a call I’ve often heard come over the radio when billfishing off Richards Bay, with Willie De Bruyn’s deep voice breaking the ether. From now on it will be “Big Sea Hunter, Big Sea Hunter,” as Willie commands the airways.
As the new owner of this magnificent craft, we jealousy wish him many, many, many years of pleasure and lots of fish to add to his already significant tally. •