We’re doing just shy of 100km/h across Port Phillip Bay. Behind us, 500hp of twin Mercury V8 Fourstroke Verado outboard engines, fresh from the US, drones quietly as the Southern Formula 2500 cuts its way through the messy Port Phillip Bay chop. John Haber, the managing director of the boat’s maker, is at the controls. “In a heavy sea, you don’t have to worry about driving the boat hard – it will just hold,” he says. “You can feel that the boat is solid, super quiet,” he says.
The Southern Formula 2500 is the result of almost two years of investment, both in the brand and the future of the industry, for Victoria-based Maritime Global, the boatbuilder behind the Haines Hunter and Southern Formula brands.
Southern Formula was the answer to something that Haber had seen in the boat industry – hardcore boaties who love their fishing, but also love their classic offshore boats. Some, he noticed, would spend more than the price of a brand new boat buying an old one and doing it up just the way they wanted it.
Why not give them a new boat with classic lines but using cutting-edge techniques developed over Haines Hunter’s more than half a century of boatbuilding, and let them add the features and technology they wanted?
Haber’s answer, the Southern Formula 2500, made its debut at the 2018 Melbourne International Boat Show, with a 21-foot model quickly following in its wake. A Southern Formula 2100 is expected to drop at the upcoming Melbourne Boat Show.
The 2500, though, is the first of the line. Long, sleek and deep, it’s a stunning introduction to the growing Southern Formula family. The classic cab-forward looks provide plenty of room down the back to focus on the boat’s core function; getting out there with your mates for a day of bluewater fishing.
Our test day saw us nosing out of Melbourne’s St Kilda Marina in calm conditions and into Port Phillip Bay. The calm would not last for long, with the bay fast changing under a building south-westerly into typical short, sharp half-metre chop. Even in these conditions, the Southern Formula 2500 is remarkably easy to drive. Fly-by-wire dual throttle controls leading back to the twin Mercury V8s that fall easily to hand will switch over to just one lever at the press of a button, making high-speed throttle adjustments easy. There is also an auto-trim function that will adjust the 250hp engines’ revs in a turn to maintain a constant speed. That pair of 250hp Mercury outboard engines provide a stunning level of performance, and the light helm is easy to adjust, making the Southern Formula 2500 feel like a much smaller boat. Behind the controls, Haber shows me how you can just trim the engines down a touch to soft-punch the high-performance 21-degree deadrise bow through the chop. At the other end of the scale, the Southern Formula 2500 is up on a plane at 2700rpm.
Cornering is fuss-free, with the Southern Formula 2500’s sharp chines and variable deadrise working together to keep the boat sitting flat through a turn, even with the power laid on pretty thickly. Its stability is confidence-inspiring. Even in the worsening conditions late into our test, the Southern Formula 2500 is still able to cut softly through the sharp swell, responding immediately to even small amounts of trim. A quick glance at the boat’s engine interface on the console-mounted Raymarine display reveals that despite the challenging sea state, we are still clipping along at just shy of 40 knots. That tells us a couple of important things: first, the twin Mercury Verado V8s hanging off the back have heaps of performance in reserve – Haber says this boat will comfortably run with a pair of 150s, or even a single 300, and still be capable of managing top speed of around 40 knots – and second, there’s the ability to quickly trim the boat to optimise it for any running conditions, no matter how fast things around you change. Under power, the Southern Formula 2500’s Carolina-style bow pushes kicked-up sprays of water away from the cockpit as it cuts quietly and efficiently through waves, living up to the claims that it is soft and super-stable.
Port Phillip Bay has something of a reputation for its changeable conditions where it can be idyllic one moment, and in an uncomfortable, lumpy sea state the next. We certainly experienced some of the former, and plenty of the latter on this test. But it’s these unwelcome conditions that have allowed the Southern Formula 2500 to show its best side. It’s a boat made for long-haul fishing trips, heading out into the blue for tuna, marlin or any other sports fish. The signs are that it can get you out to the fishing grounds comfortably, safely and efficiently, and at the end of the day – even if it is cut short by the threat of bad weather – it will get you home safe, comfortably and dry.
If epic offshore fishing trips are your thing, the Southern Formula 2500 deserves to be on the shortlist.
Priced from $63,995 for a bare hull with a windscreen, it’s already a lot of boat for the money. If you want more than the basics, packages including a single 300hp Mercury Verado V8 outboard engine and an Easytow alloy trailer start from $138,118 – that’s way cheaper than some rivals who will command more than $150K for the same rig without a trailer – while jumping to twin Mercury 200s will start from $149,923.
Southern Formula’s sister brand, Haines Hunter, has made a name for itself on the quality of its products. The attention to detail – running to things as small as ensuring all the screw heads align – is a reputation that Southern Formula also wants to forge.
Standard equipment for the most basic package, minus the engine, includes a bow eye and two transom tow eyes, a winch-ready bow roller on the bowsprit in front of a self-draining anchor well, navigation lights, twin bunks with cushions and storage, cabin shelves, a forward deck hatch, a dive door, four heavy duty stainless cleats, 440-litre kill tank and two 60-litre live wells that circulate seawater, big side pockets on the coamings that will swallow a decent-sized rod, stainless steel rod holders and a stainless steel sports steering wheel. A 1000 gallon-per-hour automatic bilge pump is also fitted as standard, as is a raw water washdown system.
Our boat included an 11-rod stainless steel rocket holder tucked in behind the bimini. In a testament to the strength of the Southern Formula 2500’s build, one of the workers a few days before our test had snagged the rocket launcher on a fence while moving it. Instead of breaking the fibreglass or pulling out the mountings, the impact bent the stainless.
The Southern Formula 2500 is a 7.3-metre outboard-powered offshore fishing boat with a 2.5-metre-wide deep vee monohull bottom, and in this instance coupled to dual 250hp Mercury V8 outboards. Hidden away below you, the stringers are affixed using an engineered composite matrix system, with the hull’s outer skin formed via a multilayer laminate. Voids in the hull are foam-filled, and all the through-hulls are stainless steel. A sikkered-in 380-litre fuel tank is hidden beneath the floor and hooked up to a deck filler. Down the rear, the engine and house batteries are secured behind watertight So-Pak hatches.
Up front, a flat console runs right along the beam of the cabin, with a large, raised flat panel in front of the wheel for mounting plenty of electronics, with hatches providing access to wiring. Two large chairs with flip-up bolsters to give standing room – part of the Stage Two premium pack – are provided for the skipper and crew, with the crew’s seat housing a cooler box beneath it, and the skipper’s a storage box.
The low split windscreen offers good forward and side visibility, and the area behind it is well insulated from the elements via the bimini and a set of clears running back as far as the helm seats. The wide and deep console in front of us has more than enough room to house the large Raymarine chartplotter/dashboard and autopilot. A 10.4-inch Furuno FCV-295 fishfinder, mounted on the deep, broad horizontal surface of the console and linked to four separate through-hull transducers, can pick out individual snapper sitting on the bottom, and schools of baitfish swirling in the waters below us.
The Southern Formula’s forward cabin, accessed via a large opening cut into the console and lit by natural light via a hatchway leading up to the forward deck, steps down to a roomy space with two full-size bunks built along the hull and across the vee. Big shelves run down either side, providing plenty of room to stash gear, and So-Pac hatches fitted to the bulkhead open up to give easy access to wiring for the electronics. A 2.5-metre beam makes for uncomplicated towing.
The cockpit is big, clean-lined and roomy. In the centre, it has a reinforced area that will support a game fishing chair if that’s where your interests lie, and to each side rod racks are built into side pockets that are lifted above floor level so you can hook a foot underneath them to brace in rough weather. Wide coamings provide plenty of space to flush-mount rod holders. Deep gunwales with plenty of freeboard and a transom built to the same height as the coamings (it also helps to deflect noise from the outboard engines) provide a safe, enclosed space in the Southern Formula 2500. The clean-looking cockpit with its equally generous internal freeboard provides very good protection from the sea state, and remains protected and dry even when attempting to upset it by reversing into the oncoming swell.
This protection from the elements is enhanced by a remarkable stability at rest coming from the Southern Formula 2500’s low centre of gravity. Even with two people walking down to one corner of the transom, the big 2500 barely dipped in acknowledgment.
Running along the spine of the cockpit is a large 440-litre kill tank. It’s a one-handed job to open it, with a pair of gas struts that hold the lid open to make the space very user-friendly. The live wells are fitted to either side of the transom, which also features hatches providing access to the bilge. Soft, fixed high-grip rubber matting covers the flowcoated floor. Both sides of the Southern Formula 2500 have storage racks built into them that will easily swallow 2.0 metre-plus rods.