Hailing from across the Tasman, the Fi Glass 530 Firestar should be sparking up some strong interest from family-fishing boat buyers this summer.
The extra strong Australian is drawing in a lot more competition from overseas and it’s not all from America. Among the new brand vying for showroom attention is Fi Glass from New Zealand.
This South Island builder was one of the first to build fibreglass boats in Kiwiland and over 50 years it’s built over 10,000 boats.
The Fi Glass brand is being imported here by Berowra Water Wholesale, the same company that brings us Bayliner and American Crestliner. The team at BWW are very impressed with the Fi Glass quality and believe it will also impress Aussie buyers this summer.
And there’s reason to believe that Fi Glass will be notching up a good number of sales. The finish and styling is impressive and the brand is especially well-priced thanks to the low Kiwi dollar value.
Assuming our mining juggernaut will continue to keep the Aussie dollar flying we might expect to see more of these Kiwis on our waters and launch ramps.
According to company CEO Griff Simpson, Fi Glass wants to be more than just a token brand. He says they want to be an important player in the local trailer boat market and are prepared to listen to what Aussie buyers want.
Our first impressions are Fi Glass has got off to a good start. The first models we have seen are well finished – and well-priced. Fi Glass uses a moulded fibreglass stringer system in their boats so there’s very little timber in the construction.
They also apply Klegecell closed-cell foam in the bottom to add strength. This foam also gives the boats enough buoyancy to stay afloat even with the bungs out!
Recently, I had the pleasure of putting one of the Fi Glass models through its paces. The 530 Firestar is a top seller in NZ and should strike interest this side of the Ditch with its comfy cab and big, roomy cockpit.
Like all her sisters the 530 Firestar features a variable Vee bottom that ensures it’s pretty soft riding in choppy waters. The deadrise at the transom is 21-degrees, which is about as much as you want to use in a boat this size, says Griff Simpson. A freeboard depth of 78cm also ensures she is suitable for some close-range offshore fishing.
As the photos reveal the 530 Firestar has a very comfortable interior and nice pedestal seats. The cockpits can seat four people and you’re going to love the price. Our test boat supplied direct through BWW came to just $35,790, including 90hp Mercury outboard, trailer, road cover, folding bimini, 27Meg radio and sounder. Even allowing for a four-stroke upgrade you’re still going to like the price.
Design: The 530 Firestar is one of four new models that Griff developed jointly with his dad Frank Simpson in 2000. The design has been tweaked since then but essentially remains a clean-looking boat with a modern, fastback transom.
What you notice about the 530 Firestar at first sight is the clean bottom design with just one set of strakes each side close to the chines.
The chine edges have a very distinct, downturn but are not very wide. Fi Glass believe most fibreglass designs overdo the strakes and this detracts from the ride plus generates too much noise.
The variable-Vee bottom is designed to ease the ride in choppy water and help the Firestar get quickly onto the plane. The topsides are very smooth and only broken by small, spray-deflecting spray edges below the black rubber gunwale.
The cabin structure is not heavily built-up like many Australian boats and the fastback transom helps to give the Firestar an almost petite appearance.
Another surprise for buyers is the actual hull weight is lighter than an equivalent size tinnie cabin boat. Hull weight is just 430kg. This ensures the boat is both easy to trail and doesn’t need a lot of horsepower to get it up and flying.
Dimensions are 5.35m overall, 2.04m beam and height on trailer of 2.1m. With a trail weight of around 1,000 this is a boat you’re going to find easy to tow with a single-axle trailer and park at home. It’s certainly carport-friendly and undercover stowage means you can keep the nicely finished interior neat and un-weathered.
The above weight range makes the boat suitable for towing behind medium size cars and SUVs like the Mazda 6 (1500kg) Toyota Camry (1200kg) and Subaru Forester AWD (1400kg).
And if you’re still hesitant about taking on a relatively unknown brand, be assured that Fi Glass backs all its boats with a six-year, written transferable warranty.
Performance: As you can see the 530 Firestar is not unlike Aussie boats in style. However, there’s just a whiff of Kiwi difference. For starters the boat looks less bulky, sportier in style and has very clean, understated graphics.
Our test boat sported the option of a stainless steel bowsprit, but the way the Firestar comes standard, and assumedly the way Kiwis like it is without a bowrail. I rather like this approach as it saved unnecessary expense and keeps the cost down.
Meanwhile, you can reach the anchor point quite easily from within the cabin hatch.
There is also good access aboard via the fastback landing step. It’s a shame they don’t include the stainless boarding ladder as standard because that would round out a nice rig for family boating.
Slipping the Firestar into the water we noted how the light hull floated off easily, even though it has a deep Vee. Once we were on the water we motored along with few revs as the 530 Firestar needs little horsepower to push it along.
As we passed the slow zone we gave the Kiwi craft the gun and noticed the variable deadrise hull keeps the bows down on acceleration. This is a really good feature and ensures Firestar gets you into fast mode quicker than most boats this size.
While driving the boat at speed over a light bay chop, the race pedigree of the hull came to the fore. The hull sits nicely and slices through small chop very easily.
High speed turns were also easily executed with the Mercury 90hp two-stroke and there really wasn’t anything we could fault the boat on here.
The only thing dragging our test down was the rough performance of the Mercury motor. It is high time Mercury pensioned off this old technology. I’d strongly suggest you pay the extra dollars for a clean-tech four-stroke and do yourself a favour.
Overall, we liked the handling of this boat. She responds well with the standard mechanical steering and the bucket seats support the driver and passenger well when travelling
At-rest stability was also surprisingly good and this bodes well when you eventually go fishing.
Power: The 530 Firestar is rated for single outboards 70-130hp, however,
it seems really nicely suited to the
90hp as tested. As said already the
test was only spoilt by the smoky two-stroke Mercury. Putting that issue aside the GPS speed results are still quite acceptable.
3500rpm 18 knots
4500rpm 25 knots
5500rpm 31 knots
Most boating families will be happy with these speed results even allowing for the fact you would be going a knot or so slower with five people aboard.
Actually, this boat is rated to carry up to six people so there might be times when you would want a bit more power! In which case I would suggest you go with something clean-tech within the 100-115hp range thereby not overdoing the costs and yet improving bottom torque.
This will be much better suited to the boat when you have a big payload of people aboard.
In regards to the fuel, the 530 Firestar comes with an 80-litre in-floor fuel tank with deck filler and sender kit. It also comes standard with an electric bilge pump, Nav lights and switch panel at the helm.
Hydraulic steering is also a factory-fitted option but only necessary if you went to a bigger motor in the 115hp-130hp size range.
Deck layout: Kiwis tend to do things a little different but I’m glad to say the front end of the Firestar will seem fairly familiar. For starters, it comes with a proper bow anchor well, bow anchor roller and anchor bollard.
Behind this is a cuddy cabin that extends almost to the gunwales and has a large, glass-topped fore-hatch. Big guys can reach the anchor from here, which is the general idea with this practical design.
I found the cabin a bit on the small side, however, very comfortable and nicely upholstered with attractive padded vinyl backrests, seat cushions and side shelves. There’s also carpeted hull liner and fully moulded seat base that produce a clean attractive finish to the cabin area.
The back of the cabin is open for good light and air ventilation and they’ve cut away the passenger dash for easier access.
The helm dash provides a neat console with room motor instruments, 4-gang switch panel, and sports steering wheel. There’s also a fully-recessed throttle box and the neat, padded panels at the side and across the dash edge.
Firestar’s are some of the nicest looking pedestal seats I’ve seen in a cuddy boat this size and I give them full marks for having moulded footrests as well.
Back in the cockpit you also get raised side pockets for fishing/ski gear, carpeted floor and carpeted hull liner. And right at the stern there’s two moulded quarter passenger seats and a vinyl curtain covering up the messy stuff like batteries and oil bottles.
Rounding out a very neat, clean interior is two stainless steel rod holders in the stern quarters plus recessed mooring cleats. Options you can add include a raised cutting-board, extra rod racks and a sounder. Our test boat was fitted with a basic sounder, however, you could order something a bit flashier like a Garmin sounder/GPS chartplotter.
Verdict: With this boat Fi Glass is going to put some competition into the entry-level trailer boat market. What’s more they are going to make a few buyers reconsider buying an alloy boat over a fibreglass one. This Kiwi newcomer is a neat rig, which rides very smoothly and would be a great boat for handling the summer sea breeze wind chop.
These days I think many people are looking for dollar value and you get this in a boat that doesn’t need a large vehicle to tow it. Also, the ability to use the 530 Firestar for a variety of uses like family picnics, water-skiing or fishing is pretty attractive.
Kiwis apparently don’t believe skiing and fishing are mutually exclusive as their brochure shows them fishing with the ski pole in place! Well, that’s the Kiwis for you, God love them.
If the cuddy is not quite your style Fi Glass also do a runabout version of this hull called the 530 Senator. This version provides a raised ‘fisherman’s foredeck’ that gives you a walk-through windscreen plus pretty good bow stowage for all your gear.
I might mention both the Firestar and the Senator also give you the option of back-to-back seating. This is a great idea that seems to have gone out of favour in Australia, however, is really useful when family boating. Years ago I actually found this arrangement quite good for fishing. Perhaps it is something for boat brands to consider again in the great scheme of things.