It’s not often that you come across fibreglass boats as light as the Cross Country range. Whereas conventional glass craft are manufactured via layers of hand-laid fibreglass bonded with resin, the Cross Country range are different, with vacuum-infused glass bonded to a very tough, sealed foam core. The unique construction imparts both lightness and superb strength, resulting in the 4.5m Island Hopper’s hull weighing only 135kg. Think of that: a bay/estuary rig with a length of 4.5m, beam of 1.8m and with a side height of 640mm tipping the scales so gently.
Construction is solid: there’s a bottom thickness of 24mm linked to sides and upper sections of 18mm thickness. The test boat, with its clinker-styled hull design, has been designed as a car topper, but the same hull can just as readily be set up on a trailer. As a bonus, there’s an inbuilt Keel Guard to prevent wear and tear at the ramp or on a trailer.
The 4.5m Island Hopper has a lapstrake (clinker built) hull, which is something you don’t see very often these days. The term ‘lapstrake’ refers to an old, time-proven method of wooden boat construction. The wooden planks overlap each other along the sides of the boat, descending from the top of gunwales to the connection with the hull bottom. This construction looked brilliant and worked well, but it was always a laborious process because it required accurate overlay and fitting of the timber.
Because the Island Hopper is a moulded, one-piece unit, its lapstrake-style hull delivers every advantage of this traditional, svelte design. Each side’s strake-like mouldings are carried through under the hull to enhance both stability at rest and lift underway.
Looking much like a standard punt when viewed from the side, the Island Hopper’s under section consists of a fairly shallow vee aft with very big moulded strakes running to a fine and well-formed bow section. It did an excellent job of ironing out chop without undue jarring.
Back at the ramp at Toorbul, the Island Hopper slid off its temporary trailer and sat level in around 12cm of water. Climbing into the Cross Country from a pontoon, I immediately noticed how stable the boat was; this thing just would not lean! Without doubt those big strakes under the ultra-light hull were doing their job in resisting any tendency to lean, as would the hull’s inbuilt ballast tank, which held 80L of water at rest.
Seated comfortably up front as John Hall of Cross Country Boats kicked the Suzuki 30 tiller steer into gear, I was impressed by the boat’s overall roominess. Other attractive features included storage compartments up front under a generously large casting deck, and another full-width platform astern set up with a live bait well/esky to port and a fuel tank compartment in the centre.
The test craft belonged to a customer who uses it as a car topper. It came equipped with a side console for a sounder, which was the sole extra apart from a bicycle seat up front. A bow mount 55lb Motor Guide was fitted for the test run, and it did a brilliant job of powering the craft given its light weight.
Before looking at performance, I’ll touch on some things that also impressed me about the Cross Country. Firstly, its light weight was a huge bonus and so was the liberal use of SeaDek on all the upper areas. SeaDek is a rubberised coating that you stick to the deck. It has a super strong adhesive and provides an attractive non-skid surface.
As well as putting SeaDek on the deck, the owner also stuck some on the underside of the seat. When placed on the SeaDek-covered foredeck, the seat stayed firmly in place when I sat on it. It’s a good idea – it means you have the freedom to move the seat to other areas of the boat without worrying about seat spigots, which saves weight.
Another good feature was the hatch hinges. Hatches in boats (unless strut equipped) always seem to want to drop down while you’re busy locating or removing an important item. The Island Hopper, on the other hand, had friction hinges. They could still be readily closed or opened, but they stayed open – even half open – without any tendency to annoyingly close. It’s a good example of the attention to detail on this boat.
Last but not least was the sheer practicality of this craft. Up front, a big hatch-covered anchor well was installed ahead of a very large under-floor storage compartment. Because of the slight overhang of the deck up front, the Motor Guide was fitted straight to the deck, doing away with the need for a side mounting point. On the test rig, a bicycle-style seat was one of many options available. The non-skid floor of the craft was clean, uncluttered and large enough for at least three anglers to enjoy their fishing thanks to 3.86m x 1.65m of work room.
Up and running the Island Hopper was a very easy and predictable craft. It may have been lightweight, but rough riding or inclined to pound it certainly was not. The hull’s excellent design, centred around those big under-hull strakes and a really well formed bow with a lot of vee in it saw us whizzing over wash from passing boats in the Bribie Passage with only the slightest lift of the bow accompanied by a gentle bump. There was absolutely no pounding or noise, just a gentle slap of water on fibreglass to show for our efforts.
Sensibly, engines are rated from 20-30hp for the car topper. Why overpower a small boat? I enjoyed some very entertaining test runs, which proved to me just how well the craft handled (great for mangrove creek work) and that the water ballast under the hull didn’t stop the craft from jumping onto the plane in about two boat lengths. The 30 Suzuki 4-stroke with its smooth and seemingly endless power would be ideal for a two or three people aboard the standard rig as tested. The performance figures achieved were: plane at 10.4km/h, cruise sweetly at 28km/h, near full speed (limited by a new engine) at 47.5km/h. There’s no real need to go faster.
After having a very enjoyable time aboard the Cross Country Island Hopper, I give the Cross Country team full marks for a very well turned out and well performing craft. Some people might like to think of these ultra-light rigs as tenders, or best suited to being carried atop a vehicle, but the reality is that they compete very favourably with similar-sized glass and alloy craft of a similar size.
Options for the Island Hopper include an under floor 60L fuel tank, rod holders, rod lockers, step up full size kill tank, side or centre console, deck wash and many other items.
Because of ride quality, willing performance from limited power, ample work room and good stability, the Cross Country Island Hopper with the 30 Suzuki is suited to a host of fishing situations and applications. I really was impressed with this rig.
There’s a safety aspect as well. Thanks to the flotation material used in construction, these craft are totally unsinkable and rated for level flotation.
The finish was also very good, and the list of available additional features was impressive. A cartop hull can be purchased from $14,900, and a trailer version from $22,900. The boat as reviewed with electric motor, trailer and 30 Suzuki would come home for $34,350. Cross Country Boats can be contacted on 0410 090 317 or 07 5499 3155, and are based at Caboolture in Southeast Queensland.
|Motor||30hp Suzuki 4-stroke|
|Towing||family big 4 or 6 sedan|