The Dream Catcher

Text: Danie Botha
Photography: Jannie Herbst

Hilton Reed was introduced to fishing at the age of seven. He was hooked. As in “hook, line and sinker”.

Today the 53-year-old entrepreneur and businessman is still fishing but he has swapped fishing in dams, as he did when he was a youngster, for fishing in the open ocean. Preferably the Indian Ocean, close to Sodwana and Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal.

Accordingly, instead of fishing for barbel or carp in a dam, Hilton now prefers something bigger and more challenging. Something like tuna, or marlin. So his fishing gear collection had to expand, to accommodate a marlin that weighs up to 500kg.

Over the years Hilton assembled an arsenal of top-of-the-range fishing tackle and gear. But sometimes enough is not quite enough. Hilton had an idea: to create the ultimate fishing rig.

“The idea was born about four years ago. I bought a Twister 730 hull, fitted with two Suzuki 175HP outboards. The boat is almost 8m long, and after doing some tow tests with a Toyota Fortuner V6, and with new towing legislation coming into the equation that would make it impossible to tow such a big rig with a normal vehicle, I started looking at other options,” says Hilton.

But before we get to “the other options”, just a note on the Twister 730, which is quite a special piece of sea-going kit. The twin-hull craft was designed by legendary engineer and designer Bob van Niekerk, one of the creators of what is arguably the best sports car ever made in SA, the GSM Dart.

After GSM closed down due to the non-arrival of promised funds, Van Niekerk turned his skills to the world of boating. Since the late sixties he has been designing offshore catamarans and powerboat racers, among other things.

Those in the know say the Twister 730 is one of the best boats in the business. It’s not cheap though. The basic craft retails at around the R1-million mark.

Hilton imported the latest, top-of-the-range Raymarine radar, communication, navigation and fish-finding electronics. These systems are not yet available for retail in SA, and feature touchscreen technology. Along with the two Suzuki 175HP outboards (V6 four-stroke), the price of Hilton’s “Try ma” ended up at more than R1,6-million.

Right, the tow vehicle. Hilton says he looked at various options before putting his money on the table for a suitable vehicle.

“The big and powerful Dodge Ram truck was one option, but since it is a special import that has to be converted to right-hand drive, the asking price ended up being in excess of R1-million. For that price I thought I could find something better suited to my needs. Eventually I settled on a Mercedes-Benz Axor 1823 4×4 truck,” says Hilton.

As far as 4×4 trucks go, the big Merc is as good as it gets, says Hilton. Powered by a 6,4-litre, six-cylinder turbodiesel engine that delivers 170 kW of power and 810 Nm of torque at 1 200r/min, it hardly feels the weight of the big Twister behind it.

But the Axor, with its selectable 4×4 drivetrain, diff locks, big wheels and massive ground clearance, is sold as a chassis-cab only (retailing for R732 000), so Hilton still had to add a “bak” or body.

For this he turned to custom-man Lionel Lewis, from LA Sport, in June, 2010. Hilton knew Lionel from past projects, and turned to the Pretoria-based custom expert to turn his four-year dream into a reality.

After Lionel had looked at the options and played around with a few designs, the task of creating a custom-built body for the truck was sub-contracted to Cape Town-based Alu-Cab, a company that specialises in aluminium bodies, with Lionel overseeing the project, working closely with Alu-Cab’s Jeremy Bergh.

“The aluminium frame and panels are not only lighter than similar steel items but also strong. So we set about designing a body for the Merc, according to Hilton’s specifications and needs,” says Lionel.

The body had to accommodate a working table and special cabinets to safely house Hilton’s vast collection of fishing rods and tackle. Talking about the fishing gear, Hilton has amassed more than 40 sets of top-of-the-range Shimano Tago rods and reels. Retailing at around R23 000 per set, the fishing gear itself is worth more than R1-million!

So lockable cabinets with special clamps to securely store the gear were installed, inside the massive aluminium body. As were the table, and the freezer cabinet.

There is no provision for sleeping inside the truck.

“This vehicle’s purpose is to tow, launch and recover the Twister, and to serve as base for Hilton’s fishing activities. So he sleeps over in a lodge or other suitable abode, and uses the truck to store the gear, get the boat to the ocean, launch it and later recover the craft and tow it back to Gauteng,” says Lionel.

The project presented some unique challenges.

“The spare wheel now lives behind the cab, high off the ground. It weighs in at around 230kg, so in the unlikely event of a flat wheel that needs replacing, getting that big wheel to ground level would be a rather precarious physical challenge,” says Lionel.

So a special bracket system was made, with the spare wheel stored inside a metal “cage”. This is lowered to the ground by a heavy-duty TJM winch, with the press of a button. And, yes, the sole purpose of this R10 000 winch is to tend to the spare wheel.

It is one of three heavy-duty winches on the Axor truck. A second is fitted to the bullbar (along with a towbar), and another to the rear bumper. These two units’ are not there to extricate the truck from a 4×4 predicament, but rather to recover the Twister 730, if needs be.

And that’s it, right? Oh no. The ultimate fishing rig still required some appropriate decals. Hilton commissioned renowned artist Craig Burton-Smith to create original artwork for both the Twister and the Axor (the Mercedes’ decals were added after we took our photographs), with the marlin as the star of the show.

The result is a 100% unique design. As if the sheer size of this rig is not impressive enough, the stunning artwork elevates it to an even higher, more exotic level.

Hilton had to upgrade his driver’s licence before driving the big rig, which requires a Code EC licence – a relatively costly exercise in itself.

In monetary terms, Hilton’s balance sheet for this dream fishing rig is currently about R4,5-million.

“We all have a dream, like a dream car. Mine is a Bugatti Veyron. But instead of buying a Veyron or another sports car, I would rather live this dream — my fishing rig,” says Hilton.

For now Hilton is looking forward to 19 December – that’s when he will officially launch the Twister 730 at the beach near Sodwana, for the rig’s coast-based baptism of fire.

“It’s going to be a bit of an occasion,” says Hilton. “Many of the people who assisted me in realising this dream will be there.”

He pauses for moment.

“And hopefully I will also bag a marlin or two!”

A word of advice

We asked Hilton if he had any advice for prospective fishermen who want to get into the swing of things.

“Firstly, always be honest with your other half about what you’ve spent on gear, fishing tackle, and so on. Although my wife leaves me be when it comes to my hobby, I know of a few men who are not as lucky.

“It’s a tale I’ve heard many times: The wife asks the fellow how much that new reel cost, and he says ‘It was a bargain at R1 000!’ Then the other half finds out the price was closer to R4 000, and that fancy reel mysteriously disappears from the locker in the garage, and lands up in a pawn shop,” warns Hilton.

And a rig like his Mercedes and the Twister?

“We all have dreams. I’ve now been able to realise mine, after four years of planning. It’s important to always work towards your dream, and never give up.”

And always keep it reel, says Hilton. Keep it reel.