It’s true that South Australia has never been a major player on the national boating scene. There have been a handful of companies that have stayed in the game over a substantial period of time and turned out some top-notch products, but SA’s presence has certainly been negligible when compared to that of the eastern states.
Northbank Fibreglass Boats, based south of Adelaide at Lonsdale, seems the most obvious exception. The company was founded in Port Adelaide by Jaan Lindsaar back in 1996, with quite limited production and a small range of relatively conventional boats. The original factory was located at iconic Fletcher’s slipway, where a couple of tradesmen turned out a boat every few weeks from the three-model range, and market response was generally slow.
Fast forward to 2003, when a guy named Rob Cuming took over the Northbank operation. Cuming had been an outboard mechanic for some time before starting Christies Beach Marine in 1992, and managed to build the business into one of the most successful marine dealerships south of Adelaide. His acquisition of Northbank Fibreglass Boats turned out to be quite timely, with the local market on a rapid rise, and potential to expand and take on some of the big names from interstate. Rob had a clear vision of where he wanted Northbank to go, and both the expertise and backing to take it there.
That original three-model range has now burgeoned to 19 models and layout configurations, and there are Northbank dealers located strategically in every state. This metamorphosis certainly hasn’t been an overnight success story, but rather a gradual and measured process of refinement, research and development. Looking at Northbank’s flagship today, the superb 750 Hard Top, it’s difficult to imagine the company in those premises at Fletcher’s slipway back in the middle ‘90s. The Northbank story has certainly come a long way.
EXPANSION ON THE CARDS
Production at Northbank’s Lonsdale premises stands currently at around one boat per week, and demand for the product is applying enough pressure for Cuming to consider expanding the operation yet again. Victoria has become an extremely significant market, with both bay and offshore anglers embracing Northbank boats across the range. The local market remains quite strong, too, and you won’t visit many of Adelaide’s metro launch ramps on a sunny Saturday morning without seeing several Northbanks being slipped in for a session on the snapper or whiting.
Northbank also enjoys wider exposure these days as Cuming has established two additional joint-venture retail outlets – Sports Marine is located in the northern Adelaide suburb of Gepps Cross, while Melbourne Marine Centre can be found in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs.
It didn’t surprise anyone who knows Northbank Fibreglass Boats that the company has picked up some quite prestigious awards over the journey. Taking out the Boat of the Year award for the 650 Walk Around in 2013 essentially put Northbank on the national map, thrusting the brand into the spotlight and creating increased dealer awareness across the country. Consecutive nominations for Australia’s Greatest Boats came in 2015 and ‘16, and there are few serious boaties now who don’t know the Northbank name.
Rob Cuming completed a major coup back in 2013 by bringing AFL superstar Patrick Dangerfield into the Northbank fold. Growing up on the coast near Anglesea, south-west of Melbourne, ‘Danger’ has been a keen angler for most of his life. His family has always been into boats, and when he originally signed to play for the Adelaide Crows and moved to SA, it didn’t take him long to explore the South Oz fishing scene.
Dangerfield was particularly keen on chasing SA’s legendary monster snapper and, after talking to a few of the more experienced fishermen in SA, he eventually found himself looking for a boat to get him out amongst them. That boat turned out to be the Northbank 600C, and it didn’t take long for the Cuming/Dangerfield relationship to progress to the point where Patrick became an official Northbank Ambassador. Aligning your product with one of the nation’s top sporting identities has to be the ultimate in marketing, particularly where the crossover between fishing and AFL football is so prevalent.
Dangerfield left the Adelaide Crows at the conclusion of the 2015 season, signing with Geelong and moving back to Moggs Creek, where his family ties remain strong. Going home didn’t, in any way, alter Patrick’s relationship with the Northbank name, however; in fact, it has probably made it stronger.
“Patrick was a natural fit for us,” said Cuming. “He’s a hardcore boatie and fisho and knew exactly what he wanted in a boat and has given us some great feedback on the 600. The relationship works really well for us as he’s widely respected, both within the AFL and in the wider community.”
Dangerfield has since progressed further up the range and now regularly fishes from his own Northbank 650HT-G.
The Northbank design team is currently working on a Danger Pro Series, which will be offered on a limited basis later this year. The three largest models in the range – the 600, 650 and 750 – will be available with a lot of extras that don’t come with the standard package, and already there has been considerable interest, particularly in Victoria, where the Dangerfield name is bigger than anywhere else in the country.
When asked for this thoughts on Northbank’s future direction, Rob Cuming cited large boat development as a primary focus. Sales of larger models in the range are rising at a very healthy rate, and this is where Rob sees potential major growth going forward.
“We don’t claim to be the biggest or best at Northbank, but we do claim to build a damn good boat for Aussie conditions,” said Cuming.
“Whether it’s our gelcoats, resins or engraved deck cleat, we rigorously test our product. Not in our factory, but at sea by fishing with our friends or holidaying with our families. This is a true test, actually using the boats we build. We then improve and upgrade using our own experiences and plenty of consumer feedback.”
The universally popular 600C is right up there with the best sellers in the Northbank range, and not without good reason. It is considered an all-rounder, which opens it up to a myriad of fishing, cruising and general family boating situations. It’s big enough to take two or three people well offshore, comfortable enough for mum, dad and the kids for a day on the whiting, but not so big that you require a beast of a tow vehicle to pull it around.
Like most models in the range, the 600C is built with above-average internal gunwale height (890mm), which is a particularly great feature when taking youngsters out for the day. The cockpit is spacious enough to fish four in comfort, and there is just enough room in the cabin to overnight if required. An optional bunk in-fill cushion will expand the cabin accommodation markedly.
It’s very much a fishing boat, which is obvious from the way it is presented directly from the factory. Hydraulic steering is standard equipment, seats are fitted atop handy storage boxes, rodholders are sturdy enough for heavy tackle work, moulded side pockets provide plenty of storage for gaffs, tag poles and similar longer items, and a 150lt fuel tank means a decent operating range with modern outboard engine installations.
Northbank also offers comprehensive optional extras for the 600C, including a deluxe seat box with multiple tackle drawers. You can also order a custom bait board, livebait tank, walk-through transom, stainless overhead rod rack and bimini top with clears. There are also six gelcoat colour combinations to choose from.
The 600 hull is rated to carry engines up to 200hp, although most currently in use are wearing a 150 or 175. It is also possible to order this model with the transom set up for dual outboards or a single diesel sterndrive.
For the statistically minded, the 600C is 20.7ft (6.3m) long overall, carries maximum beam of 2.42m and weighs around 1100kg dry. Storage height, with bimini retracted, is 2.24m, making it easy to keep under the average carport or garage. Deadrise aft is 21 degrees.
As is common to all of Northbank’s larger offshore models, the 600C is exceptionally stable, despite the generous deadrise. I’ve ridden in and fished from quite a few Northbanks of various sizes over at least a decade, and can tell you that stability at rest is definitely one of this hull’s greatest attributes. There’s plenty of fibreglass in the boat, as well as a substantial sub-structure, making it feel extremely solid underfoot.
For those in the market for a craft of this size and style, I could see the Danger Pro Series version as being close to the ultimate.