There would be few in New Zealand’s boat building industry that would have the ‘end-user’ pedigree of Hamilton’s Ross Christensen.
Ross established FC Boats in 2011 in a small Frankton factory which has now been expanded to two sites with son Max installed as the General Manager.
With 20 years retail experience in the recreational boating, fishing and diving industry, Ross turned his hand to boat building, seeing an initial need for a smaller, well-built craft that he saw many of his retail customers fishing from.
An angler and diver from way back, Ross had spent thousands of hours exploring New Zealand waters and was known as a fierce competitor who ‘went hard’ when it came to tournament time.
He also has a racing background. Ross and his crew currently hold the record for the Hamilton Bridge to Bridge ski race, an event he has taken line honours in four times. Among his other credits include a title at the world ski circuit racing championships in 2007 as well as a season as throttleman in New Zealand’s offshore Super class.
So if it is one thing Ross knows about, it is trimming and getting the best out of a boat.
When FC Boats was established, Ross owned two Fish City marine and outdoors retail outlets – the original store on Hamilton’s Kahikatea Drive and another one in Albany on Auckland’s North Shore – the latter being sold several years ago to allow Ross more time to work on his boat business.
He was looking to build a small, affordable boat that was fishing centric and came up with the FC 390.
Ross says there are four things he looks for in a boat.
Stability at rest; good sea keeping capabilities; positive buoyancy; and fit for purpose.
“Most of these have an element of compromise, but it is minimising this that results in a good all-round boat,” Ross says.
He uses stability at rest and performance under power as an example.
“Stable boats are generally dryer as they have larger chines. So the compromise is between stability/dryness and riding/handling.”
“Give them a finer entry and deeper vee to make them ride better and you get more roll at rest and other bad tendencies such as bow steer. The trick is to minimise the bad elements and accentuate the good ones.”
‘Waterline length is king when it comes to how a boat handles’ is Ross’ mantra.
FC Boat’s first effort, the FC 390, set the bar high and gained a big following among the small ‘tinnie’ brigade that fished the local harbours, Hauraki Gulf and Coromandel’s mussel farms.
It was the first New Zealand manufactured boat of its size to have a live well built into it – a self-flooding affair that didn’t require a pump – and was also solidly constructed, rode well and wasn’t going to break the bank.
From there the range grew to today to around 14 models spanning open hulls, cuddy, hard top and centre consoles up to seven metres in length – there are even amphibious versions.
As the business grew, the hulls were outsourced to a reputable Bay of Plenty manufacturer, then brought back to Hamilton for fitout and rigging.
Last year a fit-out workshop was established across the road from the main manufacturing site and the staff numbers have grown from the original four in 2011 to 17 today. All boats are now completed from build to fit-out in house, using the latest Fronius digital MIG welders.
The company, while expanding – there are over 800 FC Boats out on the water today – is not too big that it can still claim ‘boutique’ status.
While there is a good choice in size and style, the build-sheet options list is huge. Your FC boat can be manufactured to suit a variety of needs and budget, but there is one thing that remains standard – a dedication to safety and of course – those unique live wells, extended gunwales and dual sealable ballast chambers.
While many boats today have flooding chambers to add to their stability at rest, Ross has taken the concept on step further and added a shut-off to trap water in the front of the chamber, adding weight to the bow section and consequently offering a much better ride in the rough. This feature is available in the FC 560 model and bigger.
All hulls have positive buoyancy, thanks to sealed chambers filled with closed cell foam pellets that pack nicely into every nook and cranny.
Proof of the boat’s ability to stay on top of the water came sadly at the expense of a client who anchored his boat one evening, only to have it drag onto the rocks during the night, giving the hull a severe pounding over many hours.
When it was discovered, the hull had been compromised, but not the floatation chambers and the vessel was still afloat.
Fish City, the retailer, is part of the Boating and Outdoors buying chain, and this gives FC Boats customers access to a wide range of accessories from electronics through to electric motors, anchor packs to lighting systems at good prices.
Ross and his sales team sit down with their customers, talk a bit about their requirements, then build a vessel and fit it out to suit. They know they can’t be all things to all people, but an FC Boat is one that appeals to those who foremost fisher and divers.
All FC hulls are rigourously tested and Ross has to feel comfortable with them before they are released. Sometimes two or three hulls are built before it is felt the standards have been reached.
Ross and Max use and recommends Mercury outboards and Voyager Trailers, with the latter under most of his boats. The trailers have been designed specifically for the FC Boats range. The smaller ones are low-loaders which makes picking the hulls up off the beach or from the surf easier. Their low centre of gravity makes the rigs more towable.
FC Boat owners tend to be loyal to the brand, a number growing the size of their boat as the company expanded its range up to seven metre hulls.
There is an active FC Boats Owners Facebook group where customers share their adventures, great catches and the ways they have further customised their craft once it has left the dealer’s yard.
The day-to-day running of the manufacturing process is now in Max’s hands. He has an engineering background where he specialised in stainless steel work. Fast making a reputation for himself as a ‘clever’ tradesman, this was no more evident in the company’s first amphibious craft where Max designed the SeaLegs power plant to be hidden in the centre console, leaving the cockpit free as a fishing space.
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