Anglers concerned about rising fuel costs might well take a second look at this new longboat styled tinnie.
With due respect to the teachers of creation, boats are pretty good advertisement for the evolution theory. Craft we enjoy today simply didn't happen; they came about through an evolutionary process of earlier designs and quite a few wrong turns.
One of the best examples of the boating evolution process I've seen of late is the FBT 7.3 centre console. This craft hails from the Fiji Islands, however is actually an evolution of a tinnie range originally built in Australia.
As you can imagine there's more than a hint of the Islander longboat in the FBT 7.3. After all, longboats are the backbone of the Pacific Islands and as natural to these parts as coconuts and swaying palm trees.
However, this is quite a different beast to previous longboats I've tested, especially as it's made in aluminium and has a decent freeboard to keep you safe.
Indeed, this Fijian built 7.3m could well be a craft that Aussie fishermen find useful for coastal and estuary fishing. Particularly in light of recent fuel price rises it's low power needs strike a very positive cord.
Recently we caught up with this island newcomer during a Gold Coast test session. Expatriate boat builder, David Payne made the switch to Fiji some years ago, however previously built the well-known Express range of tinnies in Australia. A key feature of those boats was the clever clip-lock system for joining panels. The result was a lightweight, very fuel-efficient tinnie.
Since moving to Fiji, Dave has successfully blended his Express concept with the slimmer, longboat concept. The result is a very practical, easy driven craft that gets on the plane with remarkably low horsepower.
It's 7.3m long, yet with a slim beam gets by happily with just 60hp on the transom. That's about a quarter of the power of most seven metre trailer boats!
The other good news is the FBT costs only $30,000 ready-to-go and is very economical to run because the motor isn't working too hard. No wonder it's been a success in Fiji, where it's used by quite a few hotel resorts as well as island communities.
Admittedly the Aussie boating scene is much more conditioned to the wide beam craft, though we have seen a few longboats sold up in our tropical north, especially by commercial operators.
Perhaps the FBT 7.3 has come at the right time to challenge the 'fat boat' market domination. Certainly if fuel prices continue to rise it could win a lot of buyer interest.
Design: In typical Aussie style David has a pretty colourful interpretation of the FBT name – let's say it means something like "flaming big tinnie." Whatever you call it the FBT certainly gives you quite a bit of fishing space within its 7.3m overall length.
It might only be 2m wide but the combination of high freeboard and a centre console steering station makes the FBT 7.3 pretty user-friendly for Rec fishing. With some 130cm of hull depth you get the sort of the internal freeboard you don't get in most longboats.
The whole style of this boat is reassuringly familiar to Aussie eyes. The alloy construction, clinker topsides and interior layout are all known elements even if the hull is somewhat longer than what we're using to hooking on the towbar!
Admittedly that long hull might pose a problem for parking in the garage, but otherwise you'll love the light and easy to handle hull.
With a modest, all up trail weight of about 1000kg (with fuel aboard) the FBT 7.3 is easily trailed by popular cars like the 2.4-litre Camry or Subaru Forester.
In keeping with craft of this type there's not a lot of Deadrise in the stern hull sections. Instead the good ride in open water comes from the combination of slim beam and sharp bows. It also makes for a craft that's easily beached and operated between island communities who don't have the benefits of boat ramps, or boat harbours.
Also with a mind to crossing open waters the bows have a reasonable amount of spray-deflecting flare to help keep the ride as dry as possible. However, the real key to this design is the low weight due to the clip-lock construction system and lack of welding. In fact, all internal components are riveted so there's no welding at all. This actually makes for a stronger hull because there's not the danger of cracking along weld lines.
The innovative construction method also means the builder has been able to lower the bottom gauge to 3mm, and the topsides toe 2mm so even with internal framing the FBT hull only comes to 395kg.
Other features of note include the wide side decks and maxi-sized gunwales. The latter not only look smart they could be skinned with PVC to make a really excellent hull fender.
There's a choice of colours, but the test boat looked pretty stylish to me with its azure blue hull, red waterline and crème interior. It certainly helped to confirm the fairness of these nonwelded hulls.
Performance: David has been working towards the easy-driven hull concept for some years now. I can well remember his last Express model was a big, open tinnie that had many of the elements of the boat we see here except the slim beam.
However, the FBT is definitely an improvement over David's earlier work in terms of ride and performance. Running out through the Gold Coast Seaway it was quickly apparent this island-hopping craft is exceptionally smoothly and easy riding in lumpy water.
We were encountering a seaway of at least 1.5m but the FBT just seem to glide through the liquid mountains without banging, or flying spray. The lean hull just seemed to effortlessly carve through the tops of the approaching waves and leave very little fuss in its wake.
Admittedly David was picking his course carefully for best results, but no more than you would driving any other trailer boat. It was then I glanced at the speed and saw we were averaging a speed of at least seventeen knots.
Believe me that's quick in lumpy water and says a lot about the efficiency of these types of craft.Yet again I was reminded why slim boats are the dominant type right throughout the Pacific and South East Asia.
I was also pleased to find the FBT quite comfortably when we stopped offshore. While I don't think it would be safe to take an open boat like this wide offshore, it's fine for the close coastal and estuary fishing most of us do.
On flatter water the FBT ran nicely and achieved good speeds for the modest horsepower on the transom. In fact, I couldn't believe how easily it came on the plane and didn't struggle to get over the 'hump.'
Power: The Tohatsu 60 strapped to the transom is actually the maximum power you can fit to this tinnie.
That's certainly good news because even with a conventional two-stroke motor you're not spending a heap of money on fuel. Indeed, Australian agent Brian Weller finds he's flat out spending more than $30 for a whole weekend of boating.
The following speed figures confirm the point:
3500rpm 17 knots
4500rpm 24 knots
5500rpm 30 knots
Possibly you could even step down to a 50hp, but my guess is the 60hp is probably the best bet if you want good all round load-carrying capacity.
I might mention there's no in-floor fuel tank with this boat, but you do have stowage space in the rear locker (and console) to carry two or more 25- litre portable fuel tanks.
Deck Layout: As you can see there's not a lot to report on here, but what there is makes for a simple, practical craft that provides heaps of fishing space from bow to stern. Indeed, the elongated cockpit actually makes it easier to spread your fishing mates out so you're not getting in each other's way.
Starting at the bows there's a short, curved foredeck with bow-roller and mooring cleat but no anchor well. The anchor stows under the foredeck while grab rails along the sides provide a point to tie off an anchor, or a keeper bag.
The floor is slightly raised in the for'ard area for improved casting, but otherwise provides a one-level platform that's going to be suited to a wide range of fishing styles including saltwater lure casting.
There's a big stowage box ahead of the console so you could sit two, or even four passengers and stow their gear underneath.
The console provides a comfortable steering position and dash space for motor gauges and electronics like the sounder and VHF radio. The helmsman actually sits on the rear locker with a cushioned seat providing room for two people. So in total there's seating for six people.
Fishability: The roomy cockpit with side decks provides a good fishing area and allows anglers to work a fish right around the boat. There's also an in-floor kill tank and a potential high casting deck at the stern with the cushion removed from the rear locker. It's also pleasing to see the standard boat come with a pair of rod holders and a boarding platform with folddown ladder on the transom.
Out of interest, you can also buy the FBT in a tiller-steer version without console or paintwork if you wanted a really no-frills fishing machine.
Summary: We are pretty much conditioned to fat boats, but with looming high fuel prices yet again on the horizon maybe it's time we revisit the long, lean concept. There's no doubt these craft are much more fuel efficient than the ones we're used to operating and quite good riding as well.
All that said I don't expect a revolution in market trends overnight, but then perhaps the FBT might find a market niche amongst some progressive thinking, environmentallyminded fishos.
Not everyone follows the crowd and I reckon there's some amongst us who believe we should be making a real effort to use less fuel, whether we can afford it or not.
And just to complete the enviro credentials of the FBT you'll be pleased to know it uses recycled plastic PET bottles instead of foam buoyancy. The bottles not only are less likely to burn, but won't absorb water over time like most foams. In short, there are plenty of reasons to feel good about buying this tinnie besides catching your own fish.