NEWS & REVIEWS
THEODORE COASTAL 720
Rick Huckstepp | 1 September 2005 | Red Book
A flexible fish-fighting machine, the Theodore Coastal 720 was a finalist in three categories at this year's AMIF Boat of the Year competition. Rick Huckstepp makes this unique trailerboat prove its credentials
"Good things come in glass" was, decades ago, an advertising slogan aimed at moving Australian consumers from tinned to glass packaging. While not used these days, it most likely still rings in the ears of some of the older fibreglass boatbuilders whose products are up against a plethora of plate and sheet aluminium, carbon composite and polycarbonate hulls.
In comparison with some Australian states, South Australia has a relatively small aluminium boat manufacturing sector turning out hulls in a variety of designs for just as many purposes: houseboats for plying the River Murray, work boats for the extensive oyster leases around Coffin Bay and smaller dinghies for general use.
Being an ex-pat South Aussie, my neighbours as a kid were Dolphin aluminium boatbuilders, and those boats were well and truly looked upon as "out of the norm". I was just a little tacker fishing out of a bondwood tub powered by a Seagull outboard. My first fibreglass boat was a Sundowner, still manufactured in probably the same configuration two decades later.
About 25 years ago a shipwright by the name of Jim Theodore was setting up Port River Marine on the edge of Adelaide's main inland waterway, building yachts and servicing the commercial sector with dry-docking facilities.
Being a small ship surveyor and working so closely with the commercial trade, he gleaned a wealth of ideas from those that know - the skippers on the water - and combined them with his own experience to come up with what he believed would make the ultimate leisure boat for the waters around South Australia.
These ideas were first applied to a mould about five years ago, but the completion of the project remained a fairly low priority due to other more pressing jobs. The moulds sat in a shed for some time with Jim working on them when he could until his wife Leica pushed the completion date by entering the unfinished product in the Australian Marine Industry Federation Boat of the Year Awards.
From there the boat came together and was dubbed the Theodore Coastal 720. It made its way to south-east Queensland to vie for one of the prestigious awards. In the face of very stiff competition it sailed in for some pretty impressive accolades. In a first for the awards, the boat was a finalist in Fishing Boat Trailerable, Cruising Boat Trailerable, and Dayboat categories, and received a commendation award in Cruiser Boat Trailerable and Dayboat categories. This was an amazing result for a manufacturer putting its first ever craft to the test in the most competitive field in the Australian boatbuilding industry.
SMOOTH AS SILK
The judges performing water-testing for the awards had a taste of the 720 on the Broadwater in sedate conditions, with a brief run out over the bar, but TrailerBoat grabbed an opportunity to test the vessel in its home state waters prior to the Adelaide Boat Show.
Often, the physical specifications of a boat can be misleading as to its potential performance. The real measure is in the boat's handling characteristics on the water. While the old adage that there's no substitute for waterline length usually holds true, sometimes smaller boats can outperform larger ones by virtue of better hull design. The Theodore Coastal 720 is a good example.
While it's a fair lump of boat on its trailer, by comparison to other boats in the 7–8m class it's actually quite compact and streamlined. On the water, the 720 performed like a smaller agile trailerboat but exhibited offshore performance found in much larger boats.
Its deep forefoot is something every boat that plies choppy conditions regularly should feature but most rarely do. Its ability to cut through metre-plus wind chop effortlessly without any bone-jarring slams was truly amazing. A flared bow up to the gunwales turned water down and away as it ate the sea conditions on the day and the big wake off the 42ft Riviera we were using as a camera boat.
Its silent operation through such conditions was a good indicator of its clean lines and rigidity in the hull that has come about from extensive knowledge in fibreglass constructions. The fact the boat is built to 2C survey is also reassuring once you've left the land behind, and is testament to the strength and quality of this particular boat.
Below the deck, a very deep and complex hollow-honeycomb fibreglass stringer system gives strength to the hull while the gelcoat finish on the topsides was as impeccable as this boat's performance.
The cabin offers enough comfort, especially the berths, to sleep two on well-upholstered cushions that cover dry stowage space and a Porta-Potti-style head. A hatch in the forward bulkhead opens to allow access to the windlass and chain locker and sidepockets reinforcing the hull and offering additional storage.
This cabin has a sliding lockable door that's wide enough for large people to pass through without banging heads, shoulders and knees.
The hardtop has been purpose-built to accommodate taller people and offers plenty of headroom. Supported on a stainless-steel frame, it's nice and strong and has a hardened glass screen wrapped around the helm station, complemented by sturdy grabrails and high quality clears. Jim is in the process of building a hard cabin for this boat, which will appeal to those in colder climates.
The helm station is neatly laid out with a single binnacle control right to hand. The seating modules were split level with the forward section rebated below a rear-cushioned seat that provided additional dry stowage areas.
The roomy cockpit features plenty of sidepocket space, and the engine box has a padded top with a grabrails to accommodate extra passengers.
A large baitboard sits above a livebait tank in the transom bulkhead and this may be lifted out to gain access to the steering equipment secreted below.
PERFORMANCE AND HANDLING
Leaving the ship lift, we motored through soupy fog till clear of the port limits. Lifting the lid on the engine box reveals a 285hp Volvo Penta turbo diesel that really makes this rig boogie — but might not be in everyone's budget, as it adds more than $30,000 to the price of a bare boat. Other power options from Volvo Penta and MerCruiser are available; the new 200hp MerCruiser diesel would be an option to consider.
The engine noise for a diesel was minimal and tweaking the binnacle throttle made the Theodore jump up effortlessly. Bringing it back off full throttle the boat did not fall into the hole, merely slowed until trolling speed was attained. During this time the boat maintained a good "bow up for big sea" attitude. The advantages of the deep forefoot could be felt, making traversing chop a non-event with no banging whatsoever.
At the helm this boat is very responsive and obedient to the wheel and all manoeuvres at all speeds were done with the least amount of effort. This included full lock turns at 30 knots! Putting the hammer down to 3850rpm realised a cracking 40.8kt (78kmh). Backing off to a cruise rev range of around 3000rpm, the GPS showed 31kt (59kmh) at which stage fuel consumption was in the vicinity of 30lt/h. Incidentally, the Theodore was fitted with trim tabs, which were not required during the test at any time but might be useful in strong cross-winds or with heavy loads aboard.
In the fibreglass department, I haven't found a trailerboat that rides as soft as the Theodore in choppy conditions. It eats up the types of waves generated by wind over the shallow gulfs in SA, which are similar to those found in Moreton Bay and many other bay areas on the east coast.
You won't have to stay inshore with this rig either. Big-sea capability and long range fuel economy make it possible for this boat to stretch its legs offshore on plenty of occasions.
If diesels and sterndrive legs are not your cup of tea, don't fret. Jim is looking at designing an outboard transom for this rig which will complement it and allow some impressive performance with some of the big four-strokes that are on the market today.
High coamings make a safe cockpit
Plenty of power and great economy
Excellent build quality
Fantastic finish inside and out
Great handling in choppy conditions
Good weather protection
Boat needs big 4WD to tow
Diesel engine as tested makes boat expensive
At this stage a limited dealer network on the east coast