Haines Signature 670c

Haines Signature 670c Boat Test
Boating New Zealand - June 2002

Story and Pictures by John Eichelsheim

Christchurch to Te Anau is a long way to tow a seven-metre boat. Auckland to Te Anau is even further to come to review it - but the trip was worth it.

After driving down from Dunedin the day before, Boating New Zealand left Invercargill early in the morning to rendezvous with the Reflex Boats contingent at Te Anau about 8.30am. It's a reasonable hike, especially as we took the coastal road to Tuatapere and then headed north up the Waiau valley, past Lake Manapouri, to Lake Te Anau in Fiordland. This isn't the fastest route but the slight detour is worth it for the scenery.

Foveaux Strait was in a benign mood, though still brooding in the early light of an overcast morning. But twisted and tortured trees bent horizontal by the prevailing wind and cribs (baches) tucked hard in behind the dunes with their backs to the sea told the story - this is a wild and dangerous coast. Next stop: Antarctica.

The small towns were just waking up as we passed through. Children were gathering at rural intersections to catch the school bus and people in dressing gowns and pyjamas fetched the morning paper from their letterboxes. To our surprise, they waved at us cheerily. The first few times it happened we were so gobsmacked we didnt respond, but after a while we two Aucklanders got the hang of it and sheepishly returned the waves of total strangers. Soon, we were waving to all of them, enjoying the novelty of the experience and marvelling at the friendliness of Southlanders.

At Te Waewae we left the coast behind, making good time on excellent roads flanked by the snow-capped Takitimu Range on one side and the mountains and forests of Fiordland on the other. Two-and-a-half hours from Invercargill, Lake Te Anau greeted us with black water and whitecaps.

The township was bustling with tourists. Motels, hotels, lodges and eateries are nestled beside the lake with its excellent boat harbour, as well as shops and services. A quick phone call ascertained that Alan Russell and Russell Cull from Reflex Products in Christchurch, along with their friend and our unofficial guide Nell Lewis from Invercargill, were waiting for us at Te Anau Downs another 20km up the lake.

The purpose of the trip was to try out the Haines Signature Six70C. Russell had trailered the boat from Christchurch the day before - an eight-and-a-half hour journey. Cull and Lewis manned Cull's older six-metre McLay, normally kept at Glenorchy on Lake Wakatipu, but towed down to Te Anau to serve as photo boat and adventure companion.

The wind was brisk - and cold - but in the narrows above Te Anau Downs where we launched the boats, the waves were not too high. Even the sky looked less threatening with the promise of sun later in the morning.

We headed up the lake towards the jetty at the start of Milford Track, a run of perhaps 20km, which indicates just how big this lake really is. From north to south it's around 50km long and it has 500km of coastline, so there's plenty of exploring to do.

The Six70C is an ideal boat for exploring. The flagship of the Haines Signature range produced by Reflex Products in Christchurch, the Six70C is lavishly equipped for comfortable family boating. This model has won numerous awards at boat shows around the country. We spent a full day finding out why.

Like many of John Haines' designs, the Six70C's distinctive styling marks it out from its competitors. The boat's curvy lines and complex, Variable Deadrise Hull stand out in any company, but it's the performance that people will notice most.

Lakes the size of Te Anau are capable of turning extremely nasty at short notice and freshwater, which is less dense than seawater, kicks up more quickly producing short steep waves that are uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst.

While we didn't experience any extremes, there was enough chop to force our companions in the lighter and smaller aluminium McLay to slow down and alter course in search of calmer water close to shore. We continued straight up the middle getting to know the boat and enjoying its soft, dry ride. The Signature has a Variable Deadrise Hull, prominent strakes, a reverse chine and a ski plank afi. Trimmed out it runs rock steady on the ski plank, the rest of the hull dealing with the chop. The Six70C does an excellent job of turning down the spray and we remained dry and comfortable, though one could definitely hear the hull working as it lifted over the waves and turned the worst of them aside. A Mercury 200hp EFI two-stroke is good for around 45mph in freshwater - it should be marginally quicker in the salt. The hull is rated up to 225hp.

As we headed further up the lake where the bush and snow-covered mountains pressed in ever closer, the water flattened out until it was glassy at the head of the sound. There, where the Clinton River enters the lake and the ferry from Te Anau deposits groups of walkers about to undertake the Milford Track, we left the McLay tied to the wharf and loaded everybody into the Haines.

From the jetty, imposing mountains dominated the horizon either side of the river. We motored slowly up the Clinton, marvelling at the crystal-clear water and numerous large trout visible hugging the bottom. Gradually the river became shallower but we were able to navigate as far as Glade House where we tied the boat to a convenient bush and disembarked.

Glade House is the official starting point for the Milford Track and it's where most of the guided walkers spend their first night before setting off. Painted in natural colours, it blends in well with the surrounding trees and mountains and the wide grass-covered river flat - the glade - on which it is built.

We walked across the long, tussocky grass, careful not to stand in the fresh deer droppings littering the glade, past Glade House and across the Clinton River suspension bridge. From the bridge we could see still more trout, but in such clear water I am certain they would not be easily fooled.

Across the bridge the track proper begins. We tramped the first few hundred metres so that we could truthfully claim we'd walked The Milford before returning to the boat. The trip downriver was no less interesting - more trout with the Haines proving a roomy and comfortable vehicle for sightseeing.

The rear lounger takes up more than half the transom on the port side. Deeply padded, it accommodates two adults in comfort. A removable pedestal table fits into a hole in the cockpit sole and is a focal point of the cockpit. We tended to gather around the table, sitting on the aft lounger or on the rear-facing queen seat. All the seats except the helmsman's luxurious gas-strut pedestal have storage underneath them.

The aft lounger is actually two fibreglass bins with deeply cushioned lids. They pull out and can be positioned anywhere in the cockpit - around the table for instance - velcro strips ensure they don't slide around. The seat backs are fixed to the transom, but the carpets dome out and a custom baitboard drops into the transom to convert the boat from family cruiser to fishing boat in minutes.

The boat has thigh padding around the sides and handy grabrails along the coamings, right around the screen and beside the passenger seat. In fact, the ergonomics of the boat are excellent: everything is sensibly positioned and Haines/Reflex have cleverly utilised all the available space. Examples include the gas bottle fitted neatly into the starboard transom locker, safely outside the boat, moulded drink holders beside the instrument panel, a huge underfloor locker, deep side shelves, odds and ends storage all over and a plush cabin big enough for comfortable overnighting.

Interestingly, the whole instrument binnacle hinges upward for easy access to the wiring - a feature we've only ever seen on this boat. Everything about the boat, inside and outside, appears almost organic - nothing looks like an afterthought or last minute add~on.

Reflex has made a number of modifications to the Six70C, which differs in many respects from the Australian Haines-built version. The floor and coamings are lower, making the cockpit wider, and they lengthened the boat by 400min - modifications that give more cockpit space and help the boat's aesthetics, says Russell.

There are other modifications to the topside layout specifically for the New Zealand market. These include the windscreen treatment, an automatic capstan and the split bowrail to aid getting in and out of the boat over the bow - an important consideration as boats used on lakes are often run up on the beach bow-first.

Back out on the lake conditions had improved. 'While not cold by Te Anau standards, it was still cold enough for this Aucklander to be wearing gloves and we were thankful for the shelter provided by the windscreen. Sitting or standing, the slipstream passes well over your head and visibility is good through the toughened safety glass.

The sun threatened to show its face on a couple of occasions as we headed for our second destination, the trampers' hut at the head of Worsley Arm. Like all of the arms or fiords that make up the lake, this one has a river emptying into it, in this case the Worsley Stream. An inviting white sandy beach framed by beech and rimu trees stretched across the bay. Behind it, Worsley Hut, built in a small clearing, was hidden by the trees. We nudged both boats onto the beach and disembarked to explore and to brew a cuppa using a trusty Thermette - or Benghazi burner as the Southerners called it - Cull had stashed away in the McLay.

Worsley Hut is a substantial building with real windows, a wood stove and hut-style bunks for 12 or more. Sadly, the previous occupants had not heeded the unwritten rules of backcountry huts, leaving it filthy, rubbish strewn and surrounded by empty bottles. The thoughtless waste of civilisation seemed even more despicable in such a beautiful and pristine setting and we wondered at the mentality of the despoilers.

Russell, Cull and Neil were particularly upset: they have used the hut for more than 20 years and will use it again. They would never dream of leaving it in such a state - the rules are simple: take out what you bring in and leave things in a better state than you find them.

Constantly waving our hands in front of our faces Australian fashion and slapping at exposed skin, we took a short walk along the bush track behind the hut accompanied by a dense cloud of ravenous sandflies. Our goal was the river, which we could hear but not see.

Unfortunately, we never got there: one of the Boating contingent slipped on a moss-covered log and seriously injured his ankle precluding further exploration.

By the time we got back to the beach the water was hot enough for tea and soup, but a more substantial lunch was postponed, as the sandflies were becoming unbearable. This was nothing, explained Russell, who hails from Invercargill. He showed us a discarded deer antler which one of the really big sandflies had used as a toothpick.

Back on the lake the sandflies mysteriously disappeared just a few dozen metres offshore. Only those that stowed away on the boat or gathered around our heads like halos as we embarked continued to bother us. A bit of sustained slapping augmented with a high speed boat ride soon put paid to the last of these and we were soon searching for a location to eat lunch.

Through the later part of the morning the wind had built steadily. Up Worsley Arm it had been sheltered, but once we got into more open water things were less pleasant. We poked our noses up North Fiord but the wind was funnelling down and there was little obvious shelter. Retreating, we continued down the lake, past Te Anau Downs and into Middle Fiord. Here, too, the wind howled, picking up a sharp and unpleasant sea. But Lewis directed us across to a dose-set group of islands on the southern side of the fiord where we gratefully slipped through a narrow channel and into calm water. Cut deeply into one of these islands is an idyllic natural amphitheatre ringed by tall forest. That's where we tied the boats together and had a late lunch, protected from the wind and beyond the reach of biting insects.

After lunch we contemplated the rest of the day. The lake was too rough to fish anywhere exposed to the wind, but we thought we could try trolling in the calm water behind the islands. Te Anau has brown and rainbow trout, as well as a population of landlocked Atlantic salmon, all of which average around 2kg.

A couple of pleasant hours followed, trolling with the boats tied together. We were undisturbed by fish, but a fair proportion of the crew succumbed to cormfortable seats, full-length berths, a gently rocking boat and the sleep-inducing drone of a trolling motor.

By 4pm the day was rapidly drawing to a close; the sky to the west looked threatening and we had yet to arrange accommodation for the night, so those of us still awake decided to head back to the boat ramp. The trip across was uneventful, except that the sea-state was surprisingly nasty out in the middle of the lake. To get back to the other shore we had to cross the widest part of Lake Te Anau, which was a cauldron of confused peaks and whitecaps as wind and waves whipped down the fiords from different directions. They mixed and mingled in the middle, creating a steep and nasty seaway.

This last part of the day was where we appreciated the Six70C the most. It soon became clear that the smaller McLay couldn't stay with us in the conditions. We tried matching our speed to theirs, but at times they were dropping off the plane, which we didn't want to do. Anyway, the Haines was drier and more comfortable with a bit of speed. The others were in no danger - McLays are sturdy, seaworthy craft and we kept an eye on them all the way home, but this was an opportunity to try the boat in adverse conditions.

The ride was exhilarating. The boat seemed to enjoy the conditions; we stayed mostly dry and we were able to press on at around 25mph, even in the steepest seas. Although helmsman and passenger made the trip standing up - our injured crewmember remained seated out of necessity, maintaining he had a comfortable crossing - we were never badly thrown around. We managed to drop the boat on its chine a few times, usually after misjudging a series of particularly steep waves, but the ride was generally soft. The challenge was to keep things smooth - go too slowly and the ride deteriorated and became relatively wet; too fast, and there was a risk of launching off the tops - but even then, the landings were usually soft and smooth.

The combination of a big walnut wheel, hydraulic steering and a comfortable helm position made controlling the boat easy. Integral trim tabs allow the driver to adjust the boat's attitude to suit sea and load conditions.

In the relative calm of the boat harbour we reflected on just how well the boat had handled the crossing while waiting for the others to pick their way across, which they did, arriving wet and dishevelled several minutes later.

We were impressed. The Six70C is a big, comfortable, well-equipped trailerboat packed with features. It is able to fulfil a variety of roles, from family cruiser to ski-boat, lake-fisher and bluewater explorer.

We retrieved the boat with its braked tandem-axle trailer, driving it on in an awkward crosswind and slop. The rig weighs around 1650kg - more with a full load, fuel and two people aboard,, but the Toyota Hi-Lux diesel towed it out with ease.

The Haines Signature Six70C is a good example of a modern all-rounder. It's well made using the latest composite technology in one of the most modern fibreglass boat manufacturing plants in the country. Equally at home on the beautiful but unforgiving lakes of the Deep South as on the bays and oceans further north, the Six70C offers a level of equipment, finish and performance up there with the best packaged in a distinctive style that could only be Haines Signature. It was worth a trip to Lake Te Anau to check it out.