Haines Signature 600c

Haines Signature 600c Boat Test
Boating New Zealand - June 2004

The 600RF has a walk-through to the bow.
Split bow rails help access on and off the boat via the bow - the way it's done on the lakes.
The helm position of the 600C
The Haines Signature 600RF nudges the shore of Lake Wakatipu.
The live bait tank doubles as a tackle box store.
The bait board is good but could benefit from an inboard lip.
A liner called Star Board was used extensively in trimming the cockpits; the seat bins are insulated.
The large forward hatch on the 600RF gives excellent bow access from the cockpit.
The 600RF helm.
The 600c has a full carpet which can be removed for fishing.
The 600RF has a mid-mounted rocket launcher which folds down.

Story by John Eichelsheim, photos by Mike Hunter

Our flight into Queenstown was spectacular - but for all the wrong reasons

After 20 minutes of circling above impenetrable cloud, it looked as though we would be sent back to Christchurch. But, suddenly the plane’s landing gear lowered with a thump and we swooped down into the murk.

The plane bucked and shook, dropping into pockets of turbulence, inducing moments of weightlessness that sent our stomachs into our mouths and elicited involuntary gasps from the passengers. When we broke out of the cloud, the hills were already towering above us on either side of the aircraft and the airfield was rushing up towards us.

To her credit, our pilot banged the plane down on the tarmac first go, after an unpleasant crabwise approach, slamming the brakes on hard enough to throw us forward in our seats. We were in Queenstown and the weather was awful.

Our destination was Glenorchy at the head of Lake Wakatipu, 44 kilometres from Queenstown. Alan Russell and Russell Cull from Reflex Products in Christchurch were meeting us there with two new Haines Signature 600 models: the 600RF runabout-fisher and 600C cabin cruiser.

The boats had received their finishing touches that morning at the factory before embarking on the eight-hour tow to Glenorchy. Apart from a brief run for the 600RF – minus windscreens, seats and other stuff – to check the engines, the day on Lake Wakatipu for Boating New Zealand was their first outing.

It had been touch and go whether we could pull it off. The weather forecast was lousy and it was a major exercise to get our selves and the boats down to Wakatipu but Cull is a regular at Glenorchy and proved his local knowledge. It had been his call to make the last-minute change from Lake Manapouri to Glenorchy and he assured us we would get a day with steadily improving conditions, despite the dire forecast.

We first saw the stylish new models when they pulled up outside the Glen Royden Lodge. Destined for Hutchwilco New Zealand Boat Show release in June, they’re New Zealand interpretations of John Haines Senior’s 6m Sportsfishing runabout design. The hull is the latest development of Haines Signature Variable Deadrise Hull – SVDH – unchanged from Australian 600 models. Reflex has developed the topsides and liners to better suit New Zealand boating requirements, with John Haines Snr’s blessing.

Despite the considerable modifications, both boats are unmistakably Haines Signatures.

The 600RF is based on Haines’ runabout, with the helm position forward by around 300mm. A New Zealand-made walkthrough screen and a huge fibreglass hatch allow easy access to the bow.

The structural liner, bonded to the hull with high-tech Plexus adhesive, is new on both boats and they share the same stern treatment – also radically different from the Australian models. All underfloor cavities are injected with high density polyurethane foam.

The transom has been modified to accommodate a proper outboard well, rather than the half-well and door arrangement on Aussie models. There are a swimstep and boarding ladder on the starboard side, absent on Australian boats; lift-out rear quarter seats and a different interior layout.

The 600C has the same modifications to the transom as the 600RF and the new cabin is wider and lower than the Australian version to give greatly improved interior space and more room at the helm. A huge glass hatch in the foredeck allows easy access to the bow.

The boats sit happily between Haines Signature’s 550C and 670C, filling a 10year gap in the New Zealand range and providing a fishing-cruising-family fun option in the popular 6m class. The 600RF has an emphasis on fishing; the 600C is more cruising oriented, although both models are versatile enough to fill either role.

We slipped the boats into the tiny Glenorchy marina, from where commercial jet boat operators run rides up the Dart River. Just as Cull had predicted, an overcast morning promised to clear, but the stiff southerly ensured plenty of whitecaps and a metre of steep chop to contend with. Fortunately, it had stopped raining.

I started the day in the 600RF. This model is aimed at family fishers, so we tested it without the optional cockpit carpets. Carpets in both boats are domed in and easily removed, revealing easy-to clean, moulded non-slip floors. The runabout-fisher was carpeted to the back of the pedestal seats; the 600C had carpets throughout.

The Queenstown Lakes District is rightly praised for its stunning scenery. Lake Wakatipu on a bleak, windswept morning with low cloud scudding between snow-covered peaks, is still beautiful, if rather forbidding. It wasn’t cold by Central Otago standards, but the wind had plenty of bite, so we were thankful for the shelter offered by the boats’ screens.

The 600RF was equipped with Mercury 200hp EFI, right at the top of the recommended horsepower range. Although fresh out of the box, the engine gave sparkling performance with instant response.

Particularly impressive is the way the hull tracks in the turns. Both boats go exactly where they are pointed, regardless of boat speed or the wave height. At no stage did the boats dig in, squirm, or misbehave as we turned this way and that, individually and together, for the photographer.

Plenty of horsepower on both boats and lots of lift from the hulls allowed us to hold them on the plane at low speeds and meant the sharpest of turns had little effect on engine revolutions or boat speed. The boats remained remarkably level in the turns.

Wakatipu is 70-miles long, so big seas can build up if there’s enough fetch – as there was in the middle of the lake. The600RF proved a soft rider, punching into the waves with minimal fuss. The boat is also dry, despite the 600RF’s relatively forward helm position. We could make excellent progress through a metre or so of chop, without any discomfort. The faster we went, the better the ride.

The helm seat is a substantial, upholstered bucket with armrests, adjustable fore and aft and up and down. We found that in its forward position the armrest interfered with the selection of reverse on the Mercury throttle control, but this will be rectified. The classy-looking U-Flex wheel, though comfortable to hold, was mounted too low for a comfortable, seated driving position.

The 600RF’s helm was light and responsive, thanks to Sea Star hydraulic steering. The 600C has cable steering which started the day a little stiff, but soon freed up with use. The 600RF should appeal to New Zealanders. It’s a versatile layout with masses of cockpit for fishers and divers, plus a useful cabin with full-length v-berths forward. The screen offers good protection – neither boat was fitted with a canopy – and the combination of two pedestal seats, two seat-bins and a pair of aft quarter seats can accommodate six. The seat-bins are excellent: good-quality Eva-Kool insulated bins with upholstered squabs velcro’d to the lids. Secured with bungee cords, they can be shifted or removed if required.

Moulded non-slip surfaces feature on both boats. As well as in the cockpit, the 600RF has non-slip on the foredeck. Anchor lockers are identical, easily accessed and large enough for most purposes. Moulded bowsprits and hinged, stainless steel fairleads are shared, as is the stainless bollard designed with the fairlead to secure the anchor.

The split bowrails are ideal, as we found when we went ashore. People often beach their boats by running the bows ashore, especially on lakes and it is much easier to board over the bows with split bowrails and keep your feet dry. Both boats were good in this respect, but the 600RF is a breeze to get on and off over the bow, thanks to the full length forward hatch.

The cabin interior is lined but the lining doesn’t extend to the helm and cockpit areas. Because the boat has a fishing focus, Reflex has chosen the easily cleaned Star Board for the side pockets. These are cleverly designed: full-length, two-tier on the starboard side with built in rod racks, and identical on the port side with a third, shorter pocket beside the passenger seat.

A passenger side glovebox with a fibreglass lid is large enough to be useful, but will collect water if it’s raining; it has a drain. Also beside the passenger seat is a moulded recess for a fire extinguisher and EPIRB.

There is a serious underfloor locker between the boat’s pedestal seats, with a split hatch. It’s wide, deep and long and a plug allows it to drain into the bilge where the bilge pump takes care of it. On the 600C the locker is smaller and has one hatch, as the helm position is further aft. The boats sport 250-litre underfloor fuel tanks, so range is not an issue.

The 600RF has a stainless steel folding rocket launcher amidships, as befits a fishing boat. The angle is good and rods stand upright enough not to get in the way of fishers in the cockpit. A live bait tank is plumbed into the port side of the transom, and a fibreglass bait table mounts across the transom. It drains into the well via a hose, but it could do with a lip on the front edge to prevent blood and juices dripping into the cockpit.

We tried fishing late in the day when the wind had dropped away. The lake was like a millpond as we trolled across the mouths of the Dart and Rees Rivers, concentrating on the area where milky river water, full of glacial sediment, mixed with clear, blue lake water. Landlocked salmon, as well as brown and rainbow trout, are regularly caught here; another spot is opposite the mouth of the Greenstone River, where we finished our day. The sun lit the peaks in a gorgeous display as we trickled along the drop-off, although no fish disturbed the tranquility.

The Haines Signature 600C is aimed at family boating. The cockpit is smaller and there’s more trim, including lining in the cockpit. The carpets and transom quarter seats are removable for fishing trips.

Reflex has created a huge cabin. It’s open and light, ensuring excellent communication between cabin occupants and the cockpit/helm areas. A recess for a portable toilet is moulded into the floor and the V-berths are better than two metres long, with provision for an in-fill squab for overnighting.

The helm seat is a pedestal type identical to the RF’s, but instead of a second pedestal on the port side, there’s a king and queen arrangement with storage underneath. Pockets on the backs of the front seats will take odds and ends.

Both boats have high coamings – safe and secure for fishing and family fun – with stainless grab rails. The cockpit is still plenty big enough for fishing and the cabin, with its high screen, offers excellent protection to passengers, seated or standing.

Of the two boats the 600RF is perhaps the sleeker. Although Reflex has lowered the cabin, the 600C looks tall from the side and there’s a bit of windage. Reflex intends to fit a slightly lower screen, which will help.

The batteries are floor-mounted, well secured inside waterproof battery boxes. However, batteries and oil reservoirs, also strapped to the floor under the transom, are more exposed to spray in this position than they are in an enclosed transom locker. In these boats, the swimstep moulding precludes transom mounting. A vinyl curtain, as fitted to the 600C, tidies up the transom area and offers some protection. Reflex intends fitting it to the RF as well and it could be extended right across.

Although the 600C lacked 25hp compared with its runabout-fisher sibling, performance was similar. We managed 48mph in dead-flat conditions with the Merc-powered boat, according to the Humminbird GPS. In ideal conditions, in seawater with fully run-in engines, 50mph-plus should be attainable for both combinations.

Ride was similar, too. With its forward mounted helm position, I had expected the 600RF to be harder riding than the 600C, but both boats ride well, into the sea, across it, and especially running downhill where SVDH hulls seem to do their best work.

The boats are quiet, too, despite relatively wide moulded strakes, chines and gullwings aft. Often, strakes make a hull noisy, but not with these boats. You can hear the hull working, but it’s not intrusive, perhaps the result of foam inside all the cavities.

We ended up thoroughly enjoying our day on Lake Wakatipu. The Haines Signature 600s proved their credentials in the rough at the beginning of the day and were pleasant, comfortable places to be at day’s end. We fished through until dusk in gorgeous, still conditions, watching a spectacular light show over the mountains and congratulating ourselves on our luck. The next morning the low pressure system took control again. It dawned foggy, playing havoc with flights in and out of Queenstown and bringing torrential rain to much of the country.