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BUILT FOR THE LONG HAUL
Tested by Heinrich Kleyn
ALMOST every year most of the big boat building companies make serious changes to some of their boats, both to try keep up with the demand of their customers, and also to stay ahead of their competition. We see evidence of this at the annual National Boat Show in Johannesburg where there are a few new designs on display, as well as numerous upgrades and modifications to older boats.
At the beginning of this year I was involved in the testing of a custom-built 8-metre Lee Cat Walkaround, and recently I was invited to test the new improved Lee Cat 800 Walkaround. I was keen to see what changes they had made and couldn’t wait to put her through her paces.
The impression I got of this new 800 Walkaround is that she still has that distinct Lee Cat look, just more modern and neater. She’s similar to the previous 800 Walkaround, but when you see the two craft together in the water, a vast difference is immediately apparent. Although they’re the same size, the new 800 Walkaround just looks so much bigger. This is not just a boat, it’s an investment.
While the hull of this Lee Cat has stayed the same, they have raised the deck, and by doing this they have managed to give her more flotation. Talking about flotation, Lee Cat is moving away from using bottles and foam to fill the hull. To improve strength and flotation they now fill the hull with an imported high-tech foam.
By raising the deck, they have also raised the gunnels which means you will automatically have a drier ride and, while fishing, will be more comfortable leaning against the gunnels.
On to the console ... The whole front console is a single solid moulded piece, although the front could be changed to look more like a sportfisher by adding stainless-steel. The deck inside the console area has also been changed and non-skid flooring has been moulded in. The back of the deck is now rigged more like that of a serious fishing boat, but it could be changed to facilitate diving for dive charters.
Everything on this boat is done by very professional people. When you order a boat from Lee Cat, they are prepared to go the extra mile for their customers and build the boat to your liking.
We’ve always known that Lee Cat produce good, strong craft, but this boat’s trip down from Joannesburg to Durban proved the point: their hulls are really tough!
While towing You Wish down to Durban after the boat show, Carl Lee was involved in a slight accident. A big truck on the road behind them went out of control, crashed into the engines of the boat, breaking one off completely and badly damaging the other one. The force of the impact dislocated the trailer’s hitch as well, and by the time Carl had realised what had happened, the boat and the trailer were overtaking him on the left-hand side of the tow vehicle — and straight into a cement barrier.
How badly was the boat herself damaged? Hardly at all. The engines were a write-off, but aside from that there were only a few scratches here and there that could be repaired very easily.
They finally made it to Durban in time for the test — with the boat still on the trailer which had been reattached to their truck. I tested this boat after the engines had been replaced and I could not fault them visually nor on the ride.
The weather was horrific on the day of the test, and when we left the harbour I knew it would be a huge challenge to take pictures in this kind of sea. We had a big easterly swell that was all over the place, so it took a great deal of concentration and effort to get her lined up for the photographs.
I was accompanied by Carl from Lee Cat and one of their representatives in the Seychelles, Robert Clarke. It’s always useful to have somebody on the boat that’s involved in manufacturing the craft. While you’re testing the boat, all sorts of questions do pop up, so it’s great when you can get the answers you need straightaway.
The new Lee Cat 800 Walkaround I tested was fitted with two 150hp Suzuki four-stroke motors with counter-rotating props. I test many different engines and I like feeling the power of these big engines and experiencing how quietly they run. It’s amazing how responsive these motors are, even on a big boat such as this.
With a top speed of just over 30 knots at sea, an impressive out-the-hole ability — even after a turn as tight as she was able to do — and a planing speed on one motor hovering around 20 knots with the starboard motor trimmed right up, I believe she is more than adequately powered. Caution may dictate a higher choice of power, though, especially if you load a crew of five or six persons and traditionally launch from a beach.
Personally, I would probably increase the power to twin 175 or 200hp motors because I believe in being overpowered rather than under-powered.
The lowdown torque on the motors was impressive, and these 150hp Suzukis ran extremely quietly and smoothly on idle and through the range of trolling speeds. They also started instantly at the turn of the key. Indeed, they were a pleasure to use through all phases of the review.
Throughout my time with her at sea I constantly compared the ride of the old Walkaround 800 with that of the new improved 800 Walkaround. Seeing as they had an identical below-gunnel hull design, was there really any difference?
Initially I felt there was no difference, but the more I played with the new craft, the more I began to feel that both during trolling trials and at speeds up to 17/18 knots, her hull-over-water performance was a lot lighter and easier to control with the trimming facilities available, as well because of the change in flotation medium. She was easy to trim at low-to-moderate speeds, and I was able to get her to cruise steadily and very comfortably over long distances.
The controls allow either separate motor trim or, at the flick of a switch, trimming of both motors in tandem. The latter has a role to play, but it is the lazy man’s method of trimming. I believe that constantly playing with the individual trim buttons better orchestrates the craft’s forward momentum over the vast variety of sea conditions one experiences.
Testing a boat in these conditions is actually ideal because it allows you to see what a boat really can do. Cruising at about 20 knots, the change of course had no substantial effect on the ride of the craft. Hydraulic noise from the tunnel hardly increased, and only a negligible degree of pounding was experienced — not bad considering the sea we were riding in and speed of the craft. All that is needed to perfect the ride is a skipper who knows what he is doing and knows how to read the sea, and the rest of the crew will have a smooth, comfortable ride.
The ride back into the harbour entrance was also a breeze. Remember that this area is notorious for peaking swells when the flow of water on an outgoing tide conflicts with the prevailing swell and wind. After I marginally lifted her bow and held her port transom tight into the water by marginally trimming up the port motor and trimming down the starboard motor, she rode beautifully.
A craft’s reaction throughout the various trolling patterns and speeds is critical, because it is during the long trolling hours we spend at sea that comfort is really important. The 800 Walkaround sits firmly in the water and is not subject to excessive lateral rolling, especially during the slower trolling speeds from 1.5 to 5 knots. Faster than that, as required when pulling marlin lures, the speed allows for the trims to be brought into effect to obviate lateral movement. During the 360° large troll trials I undertook to engage the sea at every conceivable angle, she did everything I asked of her, comfortably and dry and stable enough for the crew to work the deck.
On the drift she lies side-on to the wind, thereby suiting the jiggers and dropshotters, whether they are in the aft fishing area or right upfront in the bow lounging area. Boarding her from the sea could also be done comfortably if you wanted to convert her into a diving charter boat.
The aft deck design follows the traditional ski-boat layout with a large, removable coffin-style fish hatch, seating and rod holder that is bolted into position. There are no below-deck hatches in the sponsons other than the sealed areas for a 150 litre fuel tank in the aft of each sponson.
In the false transom on both sides of the craft are two good-sized livebait wells, plumbed to ensure a constant supply of water to keep one’s valuable livies healthy all day.
Using the walkway between the gunnel and the side of the dodger cabin, access to the forward area of the craft is relatively easy. There is open access to the anchor, so working it would be very practical.
The fully-enclosed helm cabin provides comfort and protection from the elements, be it rain, sea spray or sun. This area primarily houses the helmstation and forward dry lockers, plus seating designed to be practical for a fishing boat and those who fish on her. Good headroom and the tinted glass on three sides ensure that the inside of the wheelhouse is largely free from glare.
Helm stations tend to be largely personalised within the constraints of the moulded front bulkhead, and the 800 Walkaround is no exception, other than the basic layout which has been developed by the Lees after years of experience. As I mentioned before, this area could be changed to a stainless, more sportfisher-like look if preferred.
I personally found the centred helm position to be very practical in certain circumstances, but it took a bit of getting used to because it was different from the conventional side placement. The central positioning is positive in that it allows one the ability to spread the instrumentation gauges and radios on both sides of the steering and throttles, all within easy reach of the skipper.
Lee Cat Boat Builders have continued to enhance the quality of their finishes both in the mouldings as well as the hardware they incorporate into the craft for the recreational and charter boat markets. You Wish, the latest out of their Port Alfred factory, is a prime example of the lengths they go to to produce a craft that is sound in construction, is aesthetically pleasing, practical in use and has great finishes, both with regard to the basics and accessories.
If you’re looking for a top quality, solid, stable and seaworthy craft, make sure you have a look at the Lee Cat 800 Walkaround. •