The solar-powered Silent 55 catamaran is successfully pioneering renewable power in a quality and seaworthy design.
- Predictable, sure-footed handling
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In 61 years of boat manufacturing you can learn a thing or two. You’ll see good times and bad times. Fashions that come and go. What doesn’t change is the fascination families have for the water. Stick with that fascination and ride out all the other
It sounds like axiom from a nautically-themed self-help book, but in reality, it is the experience of one of New Zealand’s oldest producers of fibreglass boats. Not many have been around as long as Fi-Glass Boats and like the statement above suggests, the company has seen it all, from market crashes to boom times.
Throughout all this it has managed to produce over 11,000 boats covering a diverse range of proven designs. Among these it is perhaps the 5.8m Lightning that captures the spirit of family fun the best with its versatility and compact size.
While the original Lightning design has been around since 1968, the model’s latest iteration arrived off the production line in 2001. This has been updated again with the introduction of the Pro XS Limited Edition model – an improvement on a great design package.
Construction of the Pro XS is in keeping with the well-honed Fi-Glass method. The hull’s laid-up in solid GRP with closed-cell foam filling between six full-length fibreglass stringers.
The transom’s been given a slightly different treatment with a GRP/Klegicell combination providing additional stiffness over the ply/GRP transom of old – effectively removing any risk of rot and increasing the boat’s potential life expectancy.
Deck and cabin top are moulded as a single unit and fitted with electronics, hatch, stainless fittings, wiring and lights before being bonded to the hull. The upholstery work and graphics are completed in-house, as is the Fi-Glass galvanised single-axle trailer capping of a well-detailed package.
Stepping aboard, the immediate impression is of room. There’s an easy flow of space from the cockpit to the helm station and cuddy cabin. Much of the sensation comes from the large opening to the cuddy, which creates an indoor-outdoor flow that turns a small boat into a large one. It’s the sort of space required for a full day out at a favourite beach with the family and it is at the core of the Fi-Glass on-board experience.
At the sharp end is a short bowsprit and a deep anchor locker, which makes handling the anchor tackle leisurely from the security of the side-hinged forward hatch. Below this is an ample vee-berth, which would be useful for overnight camping and keeping smaller crew members out of the weather.
The helm position offers great views forward through the swept-back, three-piece, moulded acrylic windscreen. Its rail edging functions as a nice handhold while standing.
The addition of the bimini and incorporated frame to the Pro XS adds a blissful respite from the summer sun as well as a variety of handholds for standing passengers. The dash contains the Mercury speed, rev and fuel dials, Lowrance VHF, as well as a Lowrance chart plotter and depth sounder. Everything’s in reach and simple to operate and flows into a comfortable and versatile helm position.
A roomy cockpit has a full-length shelf below each padded coaming, while the stern boasts removable quarter seats with storage. Underfoot is a removable marine carpet for those on a fishing bender. Storage can be found under the floors, berths and the back-to-back seating on the passenger’s side.
At the aft end of the floor lies the 140-litre in-built stainless steel fuel tank. A canvas cover hides the transom area, while the side decks feature two rod holders and a short grab rail on each side. For ease of access, the transom has a boarding platform with a stainless steel ladder.
Like food, boat design tends to reflect the climate and culture of its location. The Lightning’s hull form has been honed by New Zealand conditions that demand seaworthiness and a comfortable ride to get you home when it cuts up rough.
With the distinctive Fi-Glass deep-vee extended forward, the Lightning is feathered with spray rails and chines to keep the water where it should be and the ride dry. At rest, it is the chine that continues to a flat ledge at the stern, which helps the static stability immensely.
Much of the famous Fi-Glass soft ride can be attributed to the 22° deadrise at the stern that’s tapered right through the hull to the fine bow. There is no noticeable flattening off of this, which eliminates much of the bang and crash of a planing hull.
To power this configuration out of the water is Mercury’s impressive four-stroke 115 Pro XS, which is at the upper end of the four possible combinations of the same 115hp platforms.
For this review, Fi-Glass had provided the standard Lightning /Mercury 115 package as a comparison with the Limited Edition model. Both engines featured Mercury’s Command Thrust, which has the larger gearcase and a larger presence in the water to suit deep vee boats. The 115 platform means there’s no lack of boogie while keeping fuel consumption at a level comparable to that of a two-litre car.
On the Water
The good thing about reviewing Fi-Glass boat is that you’re spoilt for choice for spectacular South Island locations. Akaroa Harbour put on a hot, dry Canterbury summer’s day for us and with the sleek lines of two cruise ships in the harbour gave the impression of some expensive Mediterranean enclave.
With two models to choose from it was a great way of noting the differences and the real value-for-money Fi-Glass puts behind its packages. We had the standard model and the Pro XS Limited Edition model, which features a higher spec in both the hull and engine.
On their single-axle, factory trailers, the boats look comfortable in their own lines. This is partly down to the nicely accentuated downturn in the aft hull deck join which is easy on the eye and allows a lot of boat to be packed into 5.8m without an overly bulky form.
The Lightning’s designed to be small enough for easy towing and suburban garage storage. Behind a diesel four-wheel drive the 1,350kg Lightnings (all up) were an easy tow over the steep winding hill to Akaroa Harbour. This bodes well for a drop-of-the-hat, spontaneous adventures that are a feature of busy family life.
For a small boat, nothing seems rushed or squeezed-in about the design and the cockpit layout is clean and helped by a wide entrance to the cuddy cabin and plenty of storage – you’re not tripping over all the toys.
With some snappy trailer backing by Fi-Glass Boats managing director Griff Simpson and general manager Andrew de Lautour down a narrow zig-zag boat ramp at Takamatua Bay, we were on the water in no time.
From the camera boat, it was apparent that the Pro XS Limited Edition had a hull that was a nice match for its engine. The chines worked the spray to the side and any trim required came from the engine without the complication of trim tabs.
Behind the helm, the ride was smooth for a reviewer used to an alloy boat. The hull soaked up the bumps without slamming or pitching. The hull cornered with assurance and seemed to leap onto the plane effortlessly with the Mercury power package delivering the goods.
With two identical hulls and Boating NZ’s Tim Porter on the team, a drag race was inevitable. The Pro XS Limited Edition seemed quicker out of the hole, but at the top end there was very little in it despite different loading and windage configurations of the two models. Top speed was around 38 knots with a comfortable cruising speed of 28 knots at 3,800 rpm.
The real value of the soft ride didn’t become apparent until we had to chase the Pro XS Limited Edition in the photo boat. Hanging over the side with a camera was a breeze compared many boats I’ve reviewed. The stability at rest echoed this with no noticeable wobble, which fortunately allowed Porter to catch the attendant video drone without losing his eyebrows!
While the hulls of the two boats were identical, the extra details of the Pro XS Limited Edition model are good value-for-money, from a company that’s renowned for it.
Whether as a ski boat, fisher or runabout, the Lightning Pro XS Limited Edition is a boat that can grow with the family. The design and detail has been refined to a reliable, elegant and versatile package, which will mean this is one design that will be around for a few years yet./>