I have been preaching for decades that the center-console is the world’s most versatile boat. Sure, for fishing, a center-console’s wide-open deck plan allows it to go from trolling to bottomfishing to casting shorelines and weed lines more nimbly and more ably than any other fishing boat. But those same wide-open spaces also make it possible for a center-console to carry a load of snack-noshing guests for an evening’s harbor cruise, or load up your kid’s entire little-league team for some tubing or water skiing.
In the course of time, many boatbuilders have seen the light, and incorporated seating and luxuries aboard some fine fishing boats. To find out whether Southport‘s 33 FE mixes amenity and fishability in perfect harmony, I took it out for a day of light-tackle angling on Long Island’s Great Peconic Bay.
I met Skip Robinson, managing director of Southport Boats, on the docks at Lighthouse Marina in Aquebogue, New York, in the heat of August. We had decided to head out into the Great Peconic Bay in quest of bluefish, weakfish and perhaps summer flounder.
Armed with spinning rods and some bucktail and plastic-tailed jigs, I hopped aboard and stowed the rods in the hardtop’s rocket launcher. Robinson and I planned a loose itinerary of working channel edges, sandbars and shell beds, all in the course of pursuing fish and putting the 33 FE through its paces.
Robinson took the helm, and I squared away my gear, loading tackle bags and test-gear cases in the cavernous lockers built into the cockpit sole. I found plenty of room to spare; I utilized just one of two 6-foot, 75-gallon boxes. These are well insulated and served by macerator pumps. They also feature the deep gutters with drains and secure latches designed by boatbuilders who know what happens to ice or stowed gear when anglers use the washdown hose or take some spray from a vicious sea. I liked them.
At any rate, whether you’re carrying bait and chum on the way to the fishing grounds, or an iced catch from the reef or wreck on the way back in, Southport has you covered.
We idled seaward down the creek, threading thickets of bow pulpits, past baymen’s shacks nestled chock-a-block with the summer residences of the well-to-do. Our flag-blue hull color suited the surroundings beautifully.
I noted that the tackle center/rigging station aft of the leaning post aboard the 33 FE was perfectly suited for tying leaders, setting drags and sharpening hooks. It offered tons of space and gobs of lockable stowage for all the necessaries. Since I’d dispensed with those tasks the night before in anticipation of more time focused on fishing and testing the boat, I began checking out other features.
Access to the bilge, along with all the pumps and intakes, was superb via a hatch in the sole aft. This is as it should be, though I’m sorry to say I don’t see such convenience often enough. Since the 33 FE is capable of ferrying its crew 100 miles or more from shore (it boasts 400 miles of range at 28 mph, according to the test data I collected), that access to systems gives skippers a shot at taking care of a problem if something breaks well offshore.
Another great feature in the aft cockpit is the optional side boarding door. Robinson says that a narrow wheelchair can fit through and, at 27 inches wide, the opening is as suitable for boarding swimming guests as it is a gaffed tuna or wahoo. The 33 FE comes with a transom door as well. Walking through it, I discovered that the platform affords enough room to remove the cowlings from the Yamaha F300s and to check the oil.
I hurried back into the cockpit, folded down the plush bench from the transom, and pulled out my notebook. I needed to start writing this stuff down. Details like these, and the 35-gallon capacity of the illuminated transom livewell, were what I was here to observe, even if fishing was uppermost on my mind.
Below the console, the mini cabin includes a head, a 7-foot berth, and a Corian countertop with a sink and spray nozzle for a shower. The sole is cork here, and though the amenities are Spartan, they’re well done.
Anglers can store up to six rods in vertical holders that lie flush in the sole. Of course, you can also jam a tournament-size quiver of rods into this cabin by cannibalizing the berth. You’d retain the use of the head and could lock it all up snug.
On Our Way
Clearing the no-wake zone, we set our course for Robin’s Island, specifically the roiling rip on its south side that forms as the current rushes over the submerged point. The spot is called South Race, and it can turn from millpond placid to deadly with a wind shift or change of tide — as many unwitting anglers have discovered. Nonetheless, South Race creates the classic situation in which prey is delivered to predators as they lurk down-current of the bar.
I wheeled the 33 FE in that direction, trying to ignore the purple and green thunderhead blooming in our wake, and put the throttles down. It’s notable that the boat attained plane with a flat aspect, seeming to levitate rather than raise its nose, when we accelerated.
I cut a series of S turns at various speeds, even chopping the throttle and re-accelerating. In all cases, the Southport answered the call of helm and throttle with instant precision. In wakes and waves, the boat proved quiet and reliable. Down-sea it insisted on maintaining our course, which surprised me since many beamy boats want to go their own way when the sea is from astern.
Of course, the 33 FE was drawn by John Deknatel of Hunt Yachts, and it behaves in the thoroughbred fashion I’ve come to expect from the drawing board of that storied firm. The more experience you have running boats, the more you’ll appreciate this hull.
By the numbers, we topped out at 48.8 mph, with the F300s turning 6,100 rpm. With two crew members and a half-tank of fuel, I found the most economical cruising speed at 27 mph, burning 1.5 mpg. Trimming the engines all the way under, and with the trim tabs fully deployed, the 33 FE maintained plane down to 15 mph. This is a great attribute if it gets really sloppy; when you have to drop into trolling mode, steering and control are much more difficult.
Arriving at South Race, I spent a minute reading the water, and then stepped up onto the broad bow of the 33 FE. I cast a chartreuse-and-lime Chuck’s Buck into the ebbing current, working it back with the flow, reeling just enough to take up the slack. Somewhere, there’s a century-old bit of weakfish wisdom that says anglers should retrieve as slowly as possible — and then slow down some more. But the weaks apparently hadn’t read that memo.
Still, I stayed with it. I was secure atop the broad foredeck. The raised seating, with lockable stowage within, had helped me gain that height by stepping instead of climbing. I could sight-fish and cast to every ripple, swirl, and otherwise fishy bits within my view. I could just as easily have been casting a live eel to a tailing white marlin or presenting a fly to swarming redfish.
Had it been rough, or the venue offshore, I could have stepped down into the boat and cast from a position that was hip deep in coaming pads. In fact, a trio of anglers could rotate through a casting routine in this space, bailing the fish and utilizing the 33 FE’s layout to the max.
It’s worthwhile to note that, when you add the table, this casting area converts to a dinette that seats six. By dropping the top of the table, the space becomes a sun lounge.
Walking aft to change jigs — in fact, I swapped the spinning rod for a baitcaster that was rigged with a shad body and jig head — I noticed how much room I had when passing the console and supports for the optional powdercoated hardtop. Working a big fish fore and aft would be a mostly bruise-free experience.
I also noticed that the day had grown darker, and that while my elbows were not bruised, the sky sure was. A big, fat raindrop splatted on my nose as the storm I’d seen earlier was now upon us.
Seconds later the deluge came, and we tested the protection afforded by the 33 FE’s windshield. I ran the boat back down the bay, up the river and into the marina. As I spun and backed the vessel into the slip — an act performed with confidence, thanks to a nice spread between the motors, a standard Edson wheel with power knob, and the inertia provided by 7,300 pounds of displacement — the rain stopped and the sun appeared as a ball of white behind a scrim. Isn’t that always the way?
Hey, I’ve caught ’em before; I’ll catch ’em again. With a boat like the Southport 33 FE, the odds are decidedly, and luxuriously, on my side.
Kevin Falvey is editor-in-chief of Boating_ magazine, a sister publication to_ Sport Fishing_._
POWER: Twin Yamaha F300s
LOAD: Two adults, 150 gallons of fuel, fishing tackle, hardtop, safety gear
TOP SPEED: 48.85 mph @ 6,100 rpm
TIME TO PLANE: 5.5 seconds
BEST MPG: 1.50 @ 27.1 mph (3,500 rpm)
LOA: 32 ft. 6 in.
BEAM: 10 ft. 8 in.
DEADRISE: 22 deg.
WEIGHT: 7,300 lb. (dry)
DRAFT: 21½ in.
FUEL: 300 gal.
MAX POWER: 700 hp
MSRP AS TESTED: $298,233*
*(includes options noted;
standard package is $264,000)