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Still something special after five years, we revisit a standout fibreglass Top Ender-style boat that begs the question: why would anyone bother importing a US bass boat?

This boat and I have some history. It all began when I tested its ancestor, a Haines Traveller TD149 dinghy and history records that I liked a prototype for a new model based on it so much I bought it! Getting on for 7 years later, that boat remains my soul mate and that’s ‘nuff said about a now timeworn story...

From “my” prototype, the Haines Group worked away for the best part of 2 years while I was in and out of progressively updated versions culminating, when I was a judge at a “boat of the year” type event, in what’s now called the Signature 485SF. It should have won, and would have, if certain fellow judges ever travelled north far enough to see what goes on in the real world...

Which brings us to 2012 and the Haines Group asking me to revisit the Signature 485SF with the wisdom of hindsight.

Before getting onto that though, a quick refresher about the 485SF is in order. The 485SF is built with a new production process the Haines Group developed called “Rivale”. Essentially, instead of traditional application of resin to mat, laid up inside a female mould, Rivale injects tightly-controlled amounts of resin into a two-piece mould already containing fibreglass matting.

Because quality and quantities are so precisely controlled, a boat built with Rivale is at the same time thinner, lighter and considerably stronger. The process is also environmentally friendly due to control of emissions inside the enclosed mould.

The 485SF’s interior (deck) and hull mouldings are then bonded together with another Haines Group process it calls “Nexus” — space between the deck and outer hull is foam filled to create a singular unit of formidable structural integrity.

How successful the 485SF’s been is no surprise to me. I’ve tested about 5 different ones, and fished from a couple a fair bit. Friends of mine have bought them, and are as similarly besotted as I am with the prototype, including my mate Scott Mitchell (widely known as “Scotto” going back to his previous fame with Alpine Angler) who lives in Hervey Bay where local conditions are stretching a 485SF’s job description. Another mate, Gordon Triplett (who actually works for the Haines Group), regularly runs the width of Moreton Bay and crosses South Passage bar in his…now that’s bending the job description towards the point of catastrophe for, what is after all, a fairly-low-sided hull as offshore fishers go.

I went back to an original test of mine to find I said the 485SF is “the softest ride, driest, most predictable boat its size I’ve ever tested.” For what it’s worth, given the wisdom of hindsight, and a heap more water time later, I wonder if I shouldn’t have described this boat’s ride and rough water handling in more glowing terms. Yep, it’s THAT good!

Reflection though brought me to contemplate an aspect of the hull design I hadn’t thought too deeply about until now — how high its sides are. The 485SF sticks out of the water further than the American bass boat style so popular these days. For example, when you look at what Gordy, Scotto and I (yes, even I have been seen launching over a certain beach down Iluka way and fishing offshore) do fishing wise, those low(ish) sides get a bit debatable.

One aspect of Alex’s original Top Ender concept that’s evolved over time is a trend towards ever-higher sides. Lots of Top Ender derivatives now have sides so high Alex would struggle to see over them. Offshore safety and paranoia about scaly reptiles in the north explain (and to some extent justify) the altitude gain and that brings us to an interesting point to discuss.

Just a few days ago, I tested a quality-brand Top Ender with the now well-accepted higher sides and, while my paranoid mind praised the top hamper, the other bloke that talks inside my head was going “hang on a minute...”

This boat’s sides were about average for the current high-sided fashion. Boy oh boy, when any kind of breeze gusted onto one side or other of the bows, while running at speed, it was like someone had pulled the motor onto lock. Bloody hell that boat caught some wind; it was a bitch of a thing to steer!

Do Top Ender sides really NEED to be as high as current fashion makes them I wonder? My boat drifts great in side-winds, thanks to its low(ish) sides, and you never notice a gust onto the bows at speed. As for crocs, no-one’s arguing about higher sides there but, flamin’ hell, people are selling Top Enders and buying bass boats… a decent croc would hardly have to lift his head out of the water to slide aboard one of them.

So in a few words, how does the 485SF shape up with the benefit of 5 odd years of hindsight? Better than ever I reckon, I just have to wonder why anyone would import a bass boat when we have the 485SF. Must be the yee-hah factor eh!


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