BOAT REVIEW Elite AT43 Huia

February 2020 Launch Reviews
Words by Sarah Ell. Photography and video by Kimi Knight and Roger Mills.
OUR RATING
4 STARS
Performance
Economy
Handling
Value
Build Quality
Specification
MODEL DETAILS
MODEL Elite AT43
DESIGNER Elite Marine Design
BUILDER Allan Tongs Boatbuilders
PRICE AS TESTED $1,047,000
SPECIFICATIONS
LOA 13.2M
BEAM 4.5M
DISPLACEMENT 10500kg
ENGINE 1 x Cummins QSC 600
FUEL CAPACITY 1300L
WATER CAPACITY 700L
Maximum Speed 27 knots
Cruise Speed 22 knots
ACCOMMODATION Three cabins, two bathrooms
HIGHLIGHTS
  • Moulded GRP construction reduces build time to under six months
  • Single engine simplicity
  • Quality touches of a custom boat
OBSERVATIONS
  • Fits a 14m berth
  • Popular sedan styling
  • Twin engine option

Once upon a time, New Zealand had a thriving production boat industry. Now only a few diehards remain. But an established boatbuilding company and designer combo has entered the market, audaciously standing up against the tide of imports and producing a new 13.2m sedan-style cruiser.


The Elite AT43 is a collaboration between Allan Tongs Boatbuilders on Auckland’s North Shore and established designer Bill Upfold. A couple of years ago, Allan Tongs and his son Nigel decided to explore building a production boat, to provide a more consistent workflow and ensure the longevity of their business. They had built several custom Upfold sedans before, so talked to the designer about drawing up a boat suitable for being built from a mould.

“Nigel and Allan approached me to say why don’t we look at doing a production boat? So we had a think about it and worked out what would be a good size,” Upfold says. “There are so many production boats coming in from overseas and we wanted to do something that would suit the way Kiwis like to go boating.”

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Another attraction of a production boat was the way Kiwis are now buying their boats: with the rise of production imports, potential owners are becoming used to seeing what they are going to get and ‘ordering it up’ off a menu, rather than having to conceptualise a custom boat. And, of course, there’s the price: there’s a saving of around 20% compared to a one-off.

“We saw the way forward as being a production boat because that’s what 90% of people are buying,” says Tongs. “People want to walk on board and say ‘I like this’, rather than going through the whole design process. They want to see what they’re getting.”

The Tongs took the concept to the market, finding out what potential owners were looking for. They settled on a sedan style, with an overall length of 13.2m, to fit into a 13.5–14m marina berth, and three cabins (two doubles and a twin).

To keep things simple, they settled on a single engine set-up – a 600hp Cummins QSC 600 with a shaft drive, with bow and stern thrusters for manoeuvrability (although when building the moulds they did make provision for a twin-screw set-up – 2 x QSB 375hp – if an owner wants that). Then the Tongs team got to work.

And there’s quite a bit of work involved in setting up a boat for production. As Tongs explains, it’s a bit like building three boats: first the plug, over which the female mould is built, then the actual boat itself, out of gel-coated GRP. The process will be considerably sped up for subsequent boats, however: Huia is the first boat out of the mould, with number two now underway and hopefully a third under contract soon. The team can turn one around in about six months from ordering.

The Elite AT43 has a similar layout to the most recent custom Elite to be built, the 13.2m Virago (featured in Boating NZ in July 2019). As a departure from earlier Elites, she has a straight galley ranged along the starboard side, aft of the helm station, and a raised dining area to port. She also features the same nifty table solution as Virago, where a central insert can be removed to make moving around two smaller tables easier.

Down below, there’s a double master cabin in the bow, another double to port and a twin bunkroom to starboard, with a head compartment on one side and a shower on the other, providing some privacy between cabins and to make it easier to share facilities.

A second interior layout option is offered in the production AT43, with a more traditional U-shaped galley aft to starboard, with a U-shaped dinette forward, and a settee running back from the helm station to port. Clients can select the interior colours and finishes they want – in this case, lush grey carpet, mocha leather upholstery and American walnut-stained timber detailing.

There’s plenty of space in the cockpit, which can be closed off from the boarding platform by a sliding section pulling out from each side of the transom. There’s a L-shaped settee to starboard around a small table and another settee to port, aft of the lidded, gas barbeque (LPG bottles for this and the gas hob in the galley are stored in convenient lockers accessed off the boarding platform).

The cockpit seating is upholstered in hard-wearing outdoor fabric, so the owner doesn’t need to be bringing the cushions inside all the time. This area is well-shaded, with a solid roof extending back over about two-thirds of the space, and under the floor is a large lazarette. There’s a sink built into transom on the port side too, to deal with fishy hands or other little messes out here. Hella Sea Hawk LED floods light the cockpit.

The saloon can be opened right up to the cockpit, with a sliding glass door and an electric window on the galley side which disappears right down into the rear bulkhead at the touch of a button. HELLA EuroLED downlights provide illumination at night.

Part of the ‘keeping it simple’ plan means there’s no genset, but Upfold says there’s still enough power from the inverter to run the full domestic-size fridge-freezer (and a couple of solar panels of the roof help to keep it cold, too).

At the helm station, owners can specify their own electronics package. Huia’s owner has gone for a pair of large Raymarine screens and a system including a FLIR night-vision camera and forward-looking sonar, for those times you have to move in a hurry in the middle of the night. This owner has also opted for a Sonos soundbar voice-activated speaker system, mounted above the saloon door, and an LED TV screen pops up out of the coaming behind the kitchen bench.

Under the water, the AT43 has a tried-and-tested Upfold hull, featuring the designer’s signature ‘silent chines’ which deflect spray when underway and minimise slapping at rest. Upfold says he’s tweaked the design a little for this model, increasing the width of the spray rails slightly to generate a little more lift.

She cruises at around 22 knots, with a top speed of around 27 knots, providing a smooth and comfortable ride and easy handling. The boat’s classic good looks turn some heads, too; as we are motoring down to Motuihe one curious boatie turns around to follow us for a while and check us out, and another fan posts a video online taken off the Waiheke ferry.

Boat number one’s owner chose the name Huia as a nod to the old tradition of calling New Zealand-built boats Maori names, but it also something rare and special. The logo on the stern includes the shape of a tail-feather from the beautiful extinct bird, a framed poem about it hangs on the wall, and an inset on the steering wheel (inlay by Micah Eberly) also features the boat’s name.

Allan Tongs Boatbuilders has taken a big step by investing the time and money into producing the moulds for the Elite AT43, and more power to them. At just north of a million dollars, Huia is less expensive but still has all the quality touches you would expect from a custom boat built by skilled local builders.

An all-Kiwi production launch is indeed a rare bird, but we’re very pleased to report that it is far from extinct.

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Elite 15.8m Sport Sedan

The pride and joy of a multi-generational family, Bliss resides on a pier that’s home to a couple of other Elite motor launches – Sandspit Marina is a hot-spot for the Bill Upfold-designed vessels, with several calling this small marina home.

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