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Tested by Erwin Bursik
AT A GLANCE
Rated min hp: 2 x 60hp
Rated max hp: 2 x 90hp
Power as tested: 2 x 60hp 4-stroke Yamahas
WHEN Don Jarratt (left) told me he was in the process of designing a ski-boat I was both surprised and extremely interested, because over the last 30 years Don has made a name for himself as an icon in South Africa’s leisure boating industry.
His reputation for great workmanship and styling on his constantly evolving range of speedboats/bowriders/ waterskiing and pleasure craft is legendary. The news that a ski-boat was now going to be built in his large and exemplary factory in Jacobs, Durban, sparked a lot of interest.
Style and finish are vital in the market in which Don has traditionally been involved, and he has always been a trendsetter in this area. As a result, I was not surprised to witness through the design stage, plug construction and eventual first boat out of the mould that here indeed was a beautiful craft in the making. The final product, the Benguela 530 CC, was unveiled at the National Boat Show in Johannesburg — and she certainly made a splendid impact at that venue where she really shone amongst illustrious company.
Bill Harrison, of Natal Caravans and Marine, one of the companies marketing this craft, had fully rigged the Benguela 530 CC for her test off Durban directly after her return from Johannesburg. He presented her to me at the Durban Rod and Reel Club harbour slipway so that her performance and pedigree could be determined in the waters off Durban.
It turned out to be a baptism by fire for her, but she came through it with aplomb — testimony to the thoroughbred that she is and vindicating my belief in her and Don.
CONDITIONS FOR TEST
KwaZulu-Natal’s beastly easterly blew all night, and it blew so hard that not even the land breeze so prevalent in winter could stop it funnelling into Durban harbour’s new entrance. The outgoing spring tide was no less ominous at the notorious harbour entrance bar, and despite the wider harbour mouth, the sea outside was even worse as we fought our way out.
A sensible option would have been to turn around and scuttle to safety and the calmish water of the harbour. Circumstances, however, forced us to push on and try the open ocean, and once out there make a final call. The conditions were really bad, but behind the wheel of the Benguela I felt confident and safe, so we proceeded — and I was very pleased that we did.
LAUNCHING AND TRAILERING
Don makes all the trailers for his craft at his factory, and the substantial ski-boat-styled trailer on which the Benguela 530 was resting was very sturdy. It is also practical and should provide both an easy slipway launch and an easy beach launch when the need arises. Whilst I have not experienced her with a beach launch or retrieval, I see no reason why this trailer would not perform as well as she did when retrieving the Benguela 530 from the low water at the slipway.
Bill had just towed the rig to Johannesburg and back with his Mazda BT 50 3-litre 4x4 and was full of praise for the way she towed. With his vast experience towing all types of crafts on a varied array of trailers, I rate his opinion very highly.
MOTORS AND CONTROLS
Bill opted for twin Yamaha 60hp 4-stroke motors for the initial test, as well as when displaying her at the boat show. One of the reasons they chose to fit slightly lower powered motors than would normally be fitted to this craft was that it makes more sense to determine first how she would perform using the 60hp 4-strokes, and then up them for future craft, rather than testing her with excessive power and then coming down.
The twin Yamaha 4-strokes started and ran beautifully and complemented the craft in both style and appearance. For harbour launch conditions and a full four-man crew aboard, she performed within specifications for this application. There is, however, no doubt that this craft needs slightly more horsepower overall, and especially for surf launching conditions. I feel a pair of 75hp motors would be a perfect fit for the 5.35m Benguela CC.
The twin Yamaha 60s swinging 13-pitch props were a pleasure to operate, and on the flat water in Durban harbour she achieved excellent speeds. She peaked at 6 000rpm on a straight run down the Maydon Wharf channel with four of us aboard. While the motors were undeniably sluggish during out-of-the-hole trials, she soon picked up speed after getting onto the plane and the power curve evened out.
Bill had mounted Yamaha binnacle mounts on the right-hand side of the helm station. They were very smooth in operation, although my experience at full throttle indicated that the controls needed to be raised a bit to enable the skipper’s hands to have more grip room when full throttle is applied. Hydraulic steering is the norm these days, and the steering on the Benguela was both smooth and positive during all stages of the test.
No matter how beautiful a boat looks nor the length of her pedigree, nor how well she is constructed, she will only be as good as her performance on the water. So while my hopes for the Benguela 530 CC were high, I wondered how she would behave out at sea and whether the state of the sea would allow me to perform the full range of on water trials needed to gauge her overall performance.
I watched her intensely as Heinrich Kleyn skippered her through the harbour mouth, all the time trying to keep up with her while skippering the photo boat. I also took careful note as I photographed her during the ensuing display exercises, to get an appreciation of her hull-over-water ride. At the same time I noted how she was spreading the cleaved water she had to get through in the more than rough conditions. I would eventually add my onboard evaluation to these observations to obtain as clear a picture as possible of this hull’s performance.
After sheltering in the lee of Vetch’s Pier, we were eventually able to swop boats and I had the Benguela 530 under my control.
To say the sea was bad is an understatement. It was possibly the second-worst sea I have ever done a boat test in. Any skipper who has experienced a bad north-easterly in the immediate vicinity of Durban’s beachfront will know just how bad, steep, churned-up and ugly the sea can get in that area with a 25 knot wind blowing over a sea that had been building up all night.
This craft, with her seemingly rounded bow profile and sharp bow/shoulder design, adopts a marginally bow-up stance as she takes on the head sea. On board I could see why I battled to keep up with the Benguela 530 on the exit run, as she not only easily moves through and over the oncoming heavy chop, but does so with an amazingly soft ride. This ability to top a crest and not pound down on landing allows for a more constant SOW to be maintained, without throwing the crew around or giving all aboard a constant drenching. Sure, in many instances we did get wet, but I doubt any boat without a full cabin or surrounded by full clears would have been spared the wind-driven spray.
As I moved her from a direct head sea to a starboard beam sea and ran the shoulder of the swell that traditionally moves into this area because of the shallower water, I was able to up the throttle and make this craft come alive as we raced in towards the Umgeni mouth. She rode beautifully, requiring only moderate lateral trimming to hold her starboard sponson tight into the building swell and against the tangible wind-blown chop.
The fun part of this test was the long run back to the harbour entrance. After repositioning the crew so that the weight was marginally aft, and trimming out the motors a tad, I started the rollercoaster ride back to port with the north-easterly pushing us and churning up the road ahead.
It is in this type of sea that all the oddities of a craft’s hull design tend to show up. Yawing, broaching, digging in, and such like. I am pleased to report that the Benguela 530 passed with flying colours.
As we raced forward I never once felt scared, never felt the craft wanted to do her own thing or that I had to fight against her. She pulled out of the slide down the big face of the following seas without any tendency to yaw or dig in, and what could have been a bad run turned out to be quite fun. Don’s substantial straking on the forward section of the tunnel design seems to be a big advantage under the above conditions.
A series of trolling trials and simulated surf work was not easy in what were technically “get back to the harbour ASAP” conditions, but they gave me an insight into what the craft is capable of. Seeing she was basically underpowered for surf conditions, I was surprised at how quickly I was able to follow a set that peaks over Limestone Reef, then turn her fast enough to get over the nasty following sets that continually bombarded this area.
Furthermore, using the block on the end of Vetch’s as protection and as a marker, I was able to wait for a break and then bounce out and, bearing to port, run the swell line and make it out to safety. With four biggish crew members and marginally sufficient power, I was surprised and pleased with what I achieved.
There are only so many variations one can make to the deck layout of a 5.3 metre craft, so it is more the actual design of the top deck moulding and finishes that make a world of difference. Don has positioned his helm station/console reasonably far forward, thus providing a good sized aft fishing deck, while still having a seat in front of the centre console and space to move between that and the seating right forward.
The centre console itself was rather spacious as no instrumentation other than the rev counter had been fitted. The steering had been positioned fairly far to the port side which is a little unusual. However, I found it very practical, as it allowed more space for the binnacle-mounted levers and in real terms seemed to force the skipper into a midships position and within the full protection of the windscreen.
The rod racks on both sides are fitted under fairly high gunnels. They proved practical for storage of the various styles of rods being used.
I liked the full transom which had motor wells, a transom step and a good sized livebait well incorporated into it. The main deck area has a more than adequate array of stowage hatches, both under the seats and within the confines of the centre console. The below-deck fish hatches are of a good size, are easy to access and are held in place by very neat hardware.
In the rough seas we experienced I found the seating proved great, both to sit on and to support oneself against when being thrown around. One’s ability to move around the craft, hang on and even fish was impressive.
In the area of the finishes built into the top deck mouldings, as well as the added fittings and hardware, the “Don Jarratt touch” was blatantly obvious. His years of pandering to the fastidious requirements of the leisure boat market have provided him with the ability to produce pretty and functional craft.
It was these niceties of finish in the moulding, fittings and upholstery that I really appreciated. It’s very difficult to describe this quality in a few words, but when one gets onto the Benguela 530 CC, the finishes — be they nicely curved mouldings or great quality extras — combine to make the Benguela 530 a very special craft.
Having seen this boat through all her construction and finishing stages, I know that her beauty is a lot more than skin-deep. If that’s not good enough, Don Jarratt has 30 years of reputation as a premier boat builder to uphold, and I can assure you that the Benguela 530 CC will only enhance that reputation.
The Benguela 530 centre console fits into a range of offshore fishing boats that has a lot of competition, but Don is not perturbed. He knows that the boats he manufactures are top quality craft. Now that the sea trials have been completed, which she passed with flying colours, Don knows he has a boat that is indeed worthy of being added to the Angler Boats range, a lovely craft which carries his personal guarantee and stamp of excellence. •