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Doning DB550 - an article from Seacraft Magazine, November 1973
by Graeme Andrews

In 2011 Steve Leonard provided this explanation of the link between the Deltacraft Islander and the DB550.

Skiff man Ken Beashel designed the Doning DB550 for use as a fishing boat, family boat or club rescue launch.

Down Brown was a flight engineer for Cathay Pacific Airways. He retired and bought the Beashel moulds and got a contract fibreglasser to produce them and produced about 40 boats, using the name Doning BD550.

He wanted advice and was happy to discuss improvements that I considered vital. Many times we motored up and down Pittwater in his flat deck Doning over the measured mile near the old torpedo barges, and it always came up at 6.25 knots speed whatever the weather and which ever engine we used, it never varied. The Mark 1 is identical performance wise to this.

In 1978 I agreed to build them for him through Deltacraft Pty Ltd and so started an arrangement that lasted about 2 years.

I independently designed the Mark 1 half cabin and convinced him that it would be far more popular than the flat deck. Bob McLeod (ship wright now for the Maritime Museum) did the plug and I built the moulds, took it to the boat show fully fitted, and sold 17 boats.

After 2 years or so Don and I went our separate ways.

Seacraft Magazine, November 1973


Everyone's Boat -

No one boat can be everything to everybody but this displacement launch built of modern materials and trailable, will appeal to a wide range of seamen.

When we called for the design of a small displacement boat for general purpose use (SEACRAFT, August, 1973) we expected a reaction from boating people and the trade. But we didn't expect to get it quickly.

Within days of the issue going on sale we had phone calls from would-be buyers wanting to know if we knew where to get such boats and we had a call from Don Brown who already had just what we had described.

Don's boat is called a Doning DB550. It is an 18ft (5.4 m) sturdy displacement launch powered by a small Yanmar diesel.

His boat is an up-dated version of the traditional half cabin fishing boat. There have been many other boats so described but in the main they were planing hulls. This boat is a smooth running, easily driven and economical displacement hull and in an exclusive test of the prototype we came away convinced that we were right on the ball with the August story.

Skiff man Ken Beashel designed the Doning DB550 for use as a fishing boat, family boat or club rescue launch.

That's versatility and in addition the boat runs at 5-7 knots using dieselene at around ¾ gallon (3.4 litres) per hour (about 30 mpg!)

We met "our" DB550 - I wonder if that means Don's Boat? - at the Castlecrag Boatshed in Sydney. It wasn't at all what we had expected. It was nothing like the pleasant little clinker displacement launch we featured in October issue which looks just like its timber forebears. The DB550 is all-new. The design is of the 70's, using the best ideas from the past. In fact, in profile, it's something like the knock-about yacht Ken Beashel designed for himself a few years back.

The hull is beamy and high-wooded, carrying only a moderate sheer which makes the boat look dumpy. This dumpiness is offset by the twin mouldings used. The hull moulding meets the deck moulding at a wooden rubbing strip some 12in. (304 mm) below the deck line. The use of two colours improves the appearance.

The foredeck area is covered with heavy-duty moulded in non-skid, allowing use of the area for mooring and anchoring although the addition of a guard-rail would make the foredeck safer. The anchor is carried in a recessed self-draining well right forward. Mooring anchorage is a solidly mounted seaman-sized staghorn - likewise solidly mounted - with a timber backing plate. A large roller fairlead forward with a bronze sheave and two rather small box fairleads accommodate warps and lines.

Two more staghorns are mounted on the quarters and a stem-eye is fitted low down for towing and trailering.

Fact box The cabin is small and somewhat cramped. There is 44 in. (1.117 m) of sitting headroom but the thick bunk squabs reduce this measurement.

The bunk can be lowered but this makes fitting of the marine head impossible. As set-up, the DB550 (the 550 refers to 5.5 m) provides comfortable sleeping and toilet facilities for two fishermen.

Designer Ken Beashel did his homework on the DB550. For example provision has bee made to ship a spare stove under the starboard bunk. The bunk cushion is folded back and the stove can be operated by the cook while seated on the other bunk. An optional ice-box under the port bunk is available although the common garden variety Esky is adequate leaving storage space under the bunk.

A cabin light is standard and two non-opening side windows give the cabin reasonable light.

Most of the crew's time in this boat will be spent in the cockpit. The skipper has all the comforts of home with a wide seat within easy, casual reach of his controls. The gear lever comes out of the engine box base and the throttle and throttle stop are on the port side of the coaming aft of the wheel. The wheel, a modern plastic affair, is connected to the rudder head by Teleflex cables. A steering inspection hatch aft allows easy adjustment.

On the fascia forward of the skipper are the starter switch, engine warning lights and three toggle switches for cockpit light, side lights and masthead light.

The engine box seems to dominate the middle of the cockpit, but there is a large storage area under the box's fitted table top and under this again is a most unobtrusive small diesel engine.

Small the Yanmar diesel might be but, rated at a mere 8 hp, it pushes the DB550 at speeds slightly in excess of its theoretical hull speed. The almost new engine had the stern squatting as we ran along at an estimated seven knots. Seven knots may not impress owners of planing boats yet many waterways are restricted to eight knots. Also many craft capable of higher speeds run at less than seven knots when pottering around.

During a three hour run we took the DB550 out towards Sydney Heads with the idea of seeing how well she handled offshore conditions. However, a westerly wind had flattened the seas leaving us little to tackle. Dee Bee handled the long rollers and ferry washes with an easy, confident motion so familiar to a one-time displacement boat owner like me.

Little spray came aboard, thanks to the high freeboard for'ard which continues aft toward the quarters and a high two-piece screen. The cockpit has an average depth of 22 in. (558 mm) which gives fishermen something to brace themselves against. Its safe depth should also keep small children on board where they belong.

This boat handled beautifully. The solid protective timber sacrificial keel kept her on a steady course, while the cast bronze rudder, swung on a stainless steel rudder post, gave a turning circle exactly equal in both directions.

Using the reverse effect of the left-hand propeller, I was able to nudge in the stern in front of a moored yacht as we berthed at the end of our run. The right hand kick of the prop in reverse slid us across into a space only inches longer than Dee Bee. Those who say single-screwed inboard boats using rudders are not easily manoeuvred are quite wrong.

The DB550 is a fascinating boat. With an optional canopy over the screen, it could be used by a small family for camping. Running costs would be negligible as the Yanmar uses less than one gallon of dieselene per hour.

Fishing will appreciate the easily cleaned self-draining cockpit with its floor above normal waterline level. Sailing clubs should consider this boat when in the market for a pick-up boat. It would be ideal for rescue work when fitted with towing hook and towing horse. . . and a boarding platform aft.

HOW SHE RATES - The Doning DB550 is close to the ideal family dayboat cum overnighter. It would suit anyone looking for a modern fibreglass successor to the traditional timber half-cabin fishing boat. What's more, it is trailerable which gives it a big advantage over conventional displacement craft and allows it to compete with planing hulls of similar length.

Two things annoyed me: the masthead light should be baffled or re-sited and more attention should be paid to cutting down engine noise. It echoed out of the cabin and made sitting in there while underway most unpleasant.

Apart from these quite minor points, the DB550 is a fine craft.

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