BOAT REVIEW Bluefix BoatWorks NorthCape 40 Commercial Gramac IV

February 2017 Launch Reviews
Words by Jeff Strang. Photos supplied.
Build Quality
MODEL Bluefix BoatWorks NorthCape 40 Commercial
BUILDER Bluefix BoatWorks
CONSTRUCTION Foam core epoxy composite
LOA 12.2M
ENGINE 2 x Yanmar 6CX 509hp
Cruise Speed 25 knots
ACCOMMODATION One cabin bunkroom for four
  • Second NorthCape exported in 2016
  • Custom Commercial model
  • 50-50 cabin-work deck split
  • Functional layout
  • Built to meet Australian 3B survey
  • Part-time commercial fishing boat
  • Accommodates a wheelchair
  • Owner is an experienced seafarer
  • Built in Opua
  • Great looking boat

A rising star proves that with the right
experience and attention to detail great
challenges can lead to great results.

Australian Mick Vawdrey knows a thing or two about what it takes to be successful. In 1974, he founded Vawdrey, a family-owned, truck body-building business for smaller companies and owner-drivers, and grew it into one of the country’s largest and most innovative independent trailer builders.
Mick’s also a serious fisherman and knows a thing or two about top-quality boats, owning an impressive list of vessels any knowledgeable reader will recognise as representative of some of Down-
Under’s most esteemed designers – Steber, Randall, Azzura and now, Bluefix Boatworks.
These boats have been used to fulfil a broad range of roles. For example, the 34-foot Steber’s primary task was commercial longlining for snapper in Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay. The newly-commissioned NorthCape 40 Commercial will replace that boat, as well as undertake a few tuna trips off the Victorian and South Australian coast.
The 76-foot Azzura designed by Alan Warwick has travelled the South Pacific extensively; Vawdrey making special mention of his particular love of the northern Fijian islands and the big game fishing
successes he’s enjoyed in those waters.
There’s one last point to cover that makes Vawdrey’s many accomplishments all the more impressive and adds important context to the story of this custom NorthCape 40. Due to a serious motorcar
accident in his youth, Vawdrey’s been confined to a wheelchair for virtually all his adult life.
Chatting to him there’s evidence this challenge has driven the man to find unique solutions to problems where and when they appear. He certainly seems driven and unafraid to innovate and implement.
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It’s probably not understating things to suggest the challenges Vawdrey faces to pursue his passion and part-time profession as a fisherman require a high degree of planning, design and execution. Routinely going to sea with only one other crewman, there’s few on-board tasks he doesn’t occasionally attend to personally, making considerations like access and height imperative to the all-round function of the vessel.
Cutting a long story short, from a point of view of getting exactly what he needed in a working vessel, Vawdrey found his ideal boatbuilding and design partner in Brad Rowe and his wife Charlotte of Bluefix BoatWorks in Opua.
Established in 2010, Bluefix has quickly cemented a reputation for first-class boatbuilding and repair work. Specialising (but not exclusively) in top-end sportfishing boats, Rowe’s pedigree is
well-known in the industry.
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A true craftsman, Rowe has enjoyed a lifetime on the water associating and fishing with some of the best professional captains to ply their trade in the South Pacific. He knows what makes a great boat, and more importantly, how to build one to endure the challenges thrown at it.
A phone call with Vawdrey, followed up with overnight drawings, got the relationship underway. At Vawdrey’s end, the exact specifications of what would be needed to facilitate his unique demands would be drawn up, while Rowe’s job would be to design and implement the solutions to the highest level.
And that’s exactly what was achieved. Replacing his commercial longlining Steber 34, the brief was
always to build what is primarily a commercial fishing boat to the particularly tough Australian 3B survey standards.
The boat would obviously require detailed and innovative thinking to service Vawdrey’s wheelchair requirements, offer a high-performance electronics package to ensure fishing performance, look great and arguably most important of all, be extremely durable. Built with a foam-core, epoxy composite, says Rowe, “this boat will outlast us all.”
The single level NorthCape 40 Commercial’s overall length of 12.2m is split 50/50 between a generous aft working deck and the enclosed cabin spaces, including a large saloon and helm station,
a twin-berth forward bunkroom and a substantial shower room/head with full wheelchair access.
As a working boat the layout is eminently functional yet still looks classy thanks to Rowe’s exceptional eye for design. It’s all about curves and clear working space. Every aspect of the vessel has a defined purpose with thought put in to how it will be used and maintained. Touches of teak trim are a nice detail to the otherwise clean white surfaces and stainless fittings.
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The work put into producing a top-notch helm station is mmediately apparent. A semi-circular layout places the skipper in the focal point of an array of top-notch electronics including WASSP’s sea-floor mapping technology and Furuno’s vaunted TZ Touch TimeZero nav-station.
Quickshift controllers run the shaft-drive Yanmars via bulletproof TwinDisc gearboxes, supported by hydraulic bow thrusters on a joystick controller. This whole setup is repeated in a slightly simpler version in the cockpit, handy to where the longline is being operated.
The helm seat itself does not have maritime roots. Instead a Kenworth truck-seat offers comfort to the man in command. Not only does the system offer a superior ride to most marine versions, its air compressed ram allows it to be lowered to suit Vawdrey’s wheelchair level and then lifted to a vantage point appropriate to maintain a safe watch through the wide, curved glass windscreens.
Vawdrey’s request for a full-sized household fridge has easily been accommodated, and with that fully-stocked and the functionally-sized galley in place, the crew will no doubt be well-fed on all excursions.
Externally, every fitting and tool seems oversized, appropriately so for the work the boat will be asked to do. Large stainless cleats and robust handrails will please a professional sailor’s eye, as will the use of hydraulics to drive everything from the anchor winch to the bow thrusters and the longline hauler.
The roof is easily accessed with handrails to ensure safety at sea. It also provides a home for the liferaft, fishing and navigation lights tower – as well as the Seaworth demisting system’s integrated air intakes.
Meanwhile, down on the massive fishing deck the hydraulic line hauler awaits its work partially sheltered by the roof overhang and side clears; staying warm and dry is a priority in Victoria’s famously blustery Port Phillip Bay.
Twin 500-litre ice holds are serviced by a Sealand Dometic freshwater icemaker capable of producing 250kg of ice every 24 hours. The fresh product is delivered to the holds via an automatic piping system.
All this heavy-duty gear belies the NorthCape 40 Commercial’s seriously great looks. Outwardly a trained viewer would swear they were looking at a hot-to-trot sportfishing boat ready for action in any of the world’s top blue-water locations.
It’s not until you get up close and look around that you notice she’s outfitted for tougher work duties. It’s hard to imagine there’s a better-looking commercial boat in Port Phillip Bay, possibly anywhere in the world right now.
A quick look around the engine-room spaces tells a story of a team dedicated to ensuring very little maintenance would be required for some time.
There’s protective coating on every fitting that could conceivably suffer from corrosion. This level on attention on any new boat is rare and speaks volumes of both Rowe and his team’s experience at sea, as well as their dedication to providing the best possible final product.
Opting for proven, reliable shaft-drives coupled to commercial spec’ed twin Yanmar 6CXs – a low 509hp relative to capacity – should also ensure long hours of trouble-free operation.
The vessel still performs though – Vawdrey says a 25- knot run down Port Phillip Bay was one of the factors that convinced him he’d made a great decision commissioning the boat. Rowe demonstrated the vessel’s vibration-free manoeuvrability to me during my visit and I’ve no doubt Vawdrey will be even more impressed when he gets onto a few southern bluefin tuna.
The total build time lasted 17 months including design and delivery, with the vessel recently being delivered to Vawdrey’s home base on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula. When I spoke to Mick on the phone he was happily sitting on the vessel planning his next trip.
An Australian surveyor visited the project every three months to ensure the 3B Survey’s rigorous standards were met throughout the building process. A number of considerations are in place to ensure this standard was met, including freeing ports to supplement the already oversized aft scuppers.
A manual bilge configuration with stainless steel bilge lines offers three separate draw systems. It’s accessed in the cockpit – there’s no need to enter the engine-room should the system be required in an emergency.
The engine-room structure itself is built to withstand a 30-minute burn time and that’s assuming any sort of fire could outlast the fixed fire system. The manual bilge system could also be added to the firefighting effort if needed. Not only is the boat beautifully constructed – it’s exceptionally well set up
to deal with the unexpected.
As stated earlier, Vawdrey knows boats and the fact that he found and selected one of Down-Under’s best builders in Bluefix’s Brad Rowe to create his latest vessel speaks of his experience with the industry and with business.
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When asked for his lasting impression of the experience and his first impressions of the final product, he had two important things to say: Firstly, working with Brad and Charlotte had been an
absolute pleasure from start to finish. The level of personal attention and follow-up he received from them is second to none. Second, Vawdrey is simply delighted with the boat’s level of finish. Every hidden corner and nook and cranny has received the same level of professional detail as the all the
glamour and curves of the vessel’s exterior.
It’s hard to say more than that.