Whether boat manufacturers want to acknowledge it or not, fishermen have changed. Your average fisherman isn’t all that average anymore and expects more from a boat than they did 20 or 10 years ago.
Lures are no longer a fad – they are here to stay. Pretty much every species can be targeted with a lure and the angler is now smarter, better equipped and has opened his horizons up to multiple fishing styles. This causes a bit of a conundrum when it comes to choosing a boat: you need something versatile that can get up a skinny river, across a big lake and can handle the short, sharp chop that can be thrown at us when we’re in big lake systems and bays. And that’s just the required attributes of the hull. You also want something with a casting platform, electric motor, livewell, rod and tackle storage, and preferably a centre or side console to allow for 360 degree casting. Your options are getting slim and expensive now. But strangely, these are the requirements of thousands of anglers.
So what are all these anglers doing? They’re buying tinnies. Now, there is nothing wrong with a tinnie – but it’s a tinnie. It’s loud, rides pretty rough and it certainly doesn’t look cool. Some are cooler than others, but let’s be honest, they don’t have the same wow factor of a nice glass boat, nor do they have the same soft and quiet ride.
Born in the USA
American anglers have the same needs as Australians, and with its huge population and therefore high level of production, it’s able to produce boats of this type. One company that is doing all this very, very well and at a high standard is Robalo. Robalo has its own Australian distribution network ¬– Robalo Australia – and I recently had the chance to test a great little vessel in the form of the R160.
Cross-over With Style
The R160 is a fishing boat – but it’s a fishing boat that’s been made with class, quality and style and it caters for all the requirements I mentioned in the intro. You can consider the R160 a compact cross-over. It has been designed so you can fish bays, estuaries, lakes and rivers and then come home and store it in pretty much any double garage – you don’t need a big car to tow it. A lot of boat companies make these claims but you really can stow this one in your garage and tow it easily with a small SUV.
Starting from the ground up, Robalo has distanced itself from your average American boat company by placing a strong focus on build quality and materials. It doesn’t shy away from proudly mentioning the materials it uses, or how it builds its boats. Hulls are laid with high-quality gel coat, which was apparent on the test boat and then laminated with biaxle and triaxle hand-laid fibreglass reinforced with Kevlar. Stringers and transoms are all made with composite corings and materials, so if you want a boat that’s going to last a very long time, these are the attributes you should be looking for.
The hull itself is a different kind of design that was new and surprising to me. It’s Robalo’s HydroLift design. It has a 15-degree variable deadrise with simple dual strakes and wide reverse chines. My first thought upon viewing the specs and the boat was “super-stable but fairly rough” – but more on that later.
The interior is all about fishing and any experienced lure fisherman will appreciate the thought that has gone into it. It packs in a lot of features for a 16ft boat and presents as much larger than its actual size. I keep mentioning lure fishermen as this boat is designed predominantly for them. Don’t get me wrong, you can easily chuck some snapper racks in the back and go and target whiting, snapper and gummies out of this boat. But you can do that from any boat, and it’s not what the R160 is about.
Looking inside the R160 you’ll instantly notice the quality of the moulded floor liner, as opposed to a timber glassed floor with flow coat or carpet that you’ll see on many Australian boats. It looks great, is comfortable underfoot and oozes that American quality that is hard to come by in Australia without an extravagant price tag.
Starting at the stern you’ll note two rear seats in both port and starboard corners. These fold down to form a rear-casting platform that runs the full beam of the boat. The handy design allows for seats on days when you might have extra anglers or a day out skiing with the kids, and a stainless cup holder is moulded seamlessly into the floor by each seat. Under the port side seat is a large storage hatch and under the starboard seat is access to the batteries and bilge. In the centre is the external 70-litre fuel tank, which is covered by the middle section of the casting platform. It can be accessed by flipping over the centre hatch so it is hidden, out of the way and functional. The external fuel tank is something that at first bothered me, and I can see it bothering others, however, it actually doesn’t cause any functional or aesthetic issues and allows for the boat to be foam filled which in turn attains positive flotation aiding its buoyancy, safety and stability- so it’s actually a pretty smart trade off.
The helm seat is large enough for two, padded comfortably and equipped with a flip backrest so you can sit and drive comfortably or sit at anchor and watch your rods while fishing at the transom. The seat flips up and underneath is an icebox with drainage for drinks and food – or you can use it for dry storage.
The console is well laid-out with a foot rest, storage hatch for keys and phones, centre-mounted throttle, grab rail for passengers, twin cup-holders, 12V charge socket, and a waterproof switch panel with an additional 12V charge socket. The test model hadn’t yet been fitted with a sounder or GPS but you could easily flush mount a 12in unit in the face of the console then add another 12in unit on top. Adding one on top would impair vision somewhat through the large and well-designed screen, but you could work around it if you’re a fan of multiple and large electronics. There is then plenty of room left over for modern LCD engine data screens or traditional analogue gauges.
Forward of the console is the livewell, which doubles as a seat with a padded back rest, which can be removed to allow for storage within the console. Surrounding the livewell are rod-holders that are positioned well for travel while at sea. There is a good-sized casting platform at the bow, which flips up for extra storage – something many boats of this size lack. The side pocket rod-holders are a great design that allows the rod tips to travel up the interior of the moulded sides and the hull. This allows you to store rods up to 10ft and keeps the fragile tips out of harm’s way.
The gunnels are wide and offer a moulded grip for when you’re getting in and out, which is also very scratch-resistant. Up at the bow there is plenty of room for mounting an electric motor. You can place it dead-centre or to the side if you want to keep an anchor handy in the hatch, which sits forward of the casting platform.
All the finishes and components on the R160 are high-quality stainless steel or powder-coated to provide great aesthetics and maximum durability. It’s the little things in a boat where manufacturers like to cut costs, but nothing has been done cheaply on this Robalo; it’s all very impressive.
Ride and Handling
With the interior offering pretty much everything you could want and more in a cross-over fishing boat of this size, it was time to see how she handled. Thankfully, on the day of testing Port Phillip Bay, off Williamstown, was offering up a stiff 20 knot southerly that had nicely stored the outer waters of the Williamstown harbour into a nice sharp chop that was just pushing half a metre. Conditions like this were going to show whether the R160 could truly perform as a cross-over worthy of bays and even good days offshore.
The R160 was fitted with a Honda 80, an engine I have never driven but was very impressed with. The first notable thing was how quickly the Honda pushed the R160 on to the plane; it was lightning-quick and effortless. The erratic and sharp chop meant I had to keep the boat trimmed in pretty tight while I did some short runs at speed with some fast and tight turns to return to the camera boat.
To give readers some perspective on performance, I guess it’s only fair to make some comparisons to the R160. I owned a Haines Hunter 445F, which is of a similar size, for two years and I spend countless hours in all manner of glass and centre consoles each year.
The variable 15-degree deadrise on the R160 doesn’t offer the same super-soft ride that the 445 does, but it’s very soft for its fairly shallow vee. That’s about where any comparisons end with regard to ride. The R160 kills it in every other respect. I must mention how ridiculously dry this boat is. I was charging head-on into waves at 70km/h, trimmed all the way in and turning into them, and never once got wet. In my 445F and many, many other centre consoles I would have been drenched. Towards the end I was trying to get some spray – but not a thing. As you’ll note in the images I was also having a lot of fun getting the boat out of the water and I was very impressed with how it lands. Not only does it land very softly, but its stability is outstanding. At rest and under way the R160 has the stability and speed of 20-footer. It really does feel like you’re in a much bigger boat. It’s predictable, loves speed and turns and is very, very fun to drive.
The only thing I didn’t like was the steering position. For someone my height (6ft 3in) it’s that bit too low for stand-up driving; however, that is a personal issue and this isn’t exactly a boat designed for that. I spent the whole time sitting down without any issues and the large screen provided great wind protection.
Original of the Species
The R160 is an awesome little boat with an original design, exceptional build quality and an amazing ride. It’s priced as tested at $54,900 with an Easytow trailer. With Robalo Australia you can set it up with any engine and any trailer you want and they can organise fit-out or you can do it yourself. Its minimum horsepower is 50hp but I suggest spending that bit extra and going with an 80. You also now have the option of Yamaha’s new F90, which has only 4kg of weight on the Honda BF80.
The R160 really has no peer when it comes to quality of build, aesthetics, handling or fishing layout. There are certainly softer boats out there, but none as dry or as stable, and that’s really what you want in a fishing boat that will spend the majority of its time in lakes, rivers and bays. It’s the perfect little boat for the keen angler that wants to do everything from targeting bass in the skinniest of creeks to roaming big lakes and estuaries or targeting squid and snapper in the bays. You could also take it offshore for dolphinfish, tuna and mackerel on those very good days. The best part is, you can then come home and slot it straight into the garage with room to move. As a cross-over vessel for bay and inland waters that can even take the kids out skiing, I don’t know of a better boat in this size range.
Priced from: $44,750
Price as tested: $54,900
Extremely dry ride
Outstanding stability at rest and while under way
Fairly soft for how shallow it is
Very fast for its size
Quick to plane
Some may not like the external fuel tank
Steering position doesn’t allow for stand-up driving