GREG FINNEY checks out two rough-water champions from across the Tasman
What, Finney doing a boat test? It’s about 17 years since I was last involved in testing boats for magazines I’ve fished from a lot of boats since then and have always been around boats, so what better way to be reintroduced to some testing times than to take a couple of Stabi-Craft for a spin around Batemans Bay.
Stabi-Craft boats are manufactured in Invercargill, New Zealand, and I must admit they’ve come a long way from the ‘ugly duckling’ looks of the early models. We anchored alongside a newer model in Jervis Bay about six months ago and I couldn’t help commenting on how much better it looked than some of the earlier models.
The Generation 2 Stabi-Craft currently on offer have lines much more pleasing to the eye. Some of the larger models are quite attractive, particularly when viewed side on, but it’s how they perform out on the water that counts as far as I’m concerned.
Stabi-Craft are pontoon-style aluminium boats designed to take on rough water and be virtually unsinkable in unfavourable conditions. The pontoons are a big feature of Stabi-Craft design and serve a couple of purposes.
The pontoons are sealed units that run up each side of the boat and meet at the bow. They are constructed from aluminium plate and specially-formed extrusions and are seal-welded to create five separate water-tight chambers around each boat. Being water-tight and empty means they create extraordinary buoyancy and stability. Try pushing an empty 20-litre drum under water and you’ll get the picture. Put a row of them down each side of a boat and see how stable it becomes and how much weight you can put on one side without causing any listing. Fill the boat up to the gunwales with water and you’ll also find that there still isn’t enough weight to sink the pontoons.
Stabi-Craft are safe, virtually unsinkable and very stable. They are designed and manufactured in a part of the world where dangerous seas are a way of life and they are used by waterways authorities and marine rescue in many areas around New Zealand and Australia. You don’t get that kind of business unless you’ve got a good, seaworthy product that will handle the extreme conditions associated with people going missing or needing to be rescued at sea.
The two boats I tested were supplied by Adventure Marine in Batemans Bay, whose owners Rob and Renee Hook came along while I gave their boats a good work out. We tested a 459 Fish’r, a 4.6-metre cuddy cabin fitted with a canopy and rocket launcher. The other boat was a 509 Side Console, a 5.2-metre open layout with a small side-mounted console. Power plants were a 50hp Johnson four-stroke on the 459 and a 60hp Mercury Big Foot two-stroke on the 509.
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of small cuddy cabins because many have very limited working space for serious fishing. As a small family boat they may be fine but my first evaluation of most boats is based on how they would perform as serious fishing platforms. The Stabi-Craft 459 impressed me, however, because it offered a workable and practical interior with enough room to carry and store gear.
The boat’s topsides were painted on the outside, while the pontoons and interior were raw aluminium. Paint finish was very good and blended well with the untouched interior. The canopy and rocket launcher were high enough to give enough headroom while offering good protection from wind, sun and rain.
Overall finish and welding was very impressive, adding to the total very neat and tidy appearance. The interior is nothing flash but it is quite workable with adequate storage and a checkerplate floor that runs full length with a small step up front to separate dry storage.
I wasn’t all that happy with the bracket mounted on the transom right in front of the motor. This functions as a ski pole and can also be used to mount a bait board but I was relieved to see that it was only an option. I’d rather see the assembly removable rather than have that bracket sitting there all the time.
Seating and controls worked quite well while under way. The wrap-around acrylic screen offers protection while sitting or you can stand and get a good unobstructed view between the top of the screen and the canopy. There two seats are mounted on brackets welded to the pontoons and are cantilevered with storage underneath. At the a bracket keeps the battery off the floor and a couple of self-draining outlets run out to flexible hoses that can be left straight or folded back and clipped up to close them off.
Conditions during the test were quite calm but we did manage to find a bit of chop to mix things up a bit. With a 50hp four-stroke, the 260kg hull jumped onto the plane without a problem, even with three on board, and ran out at 32 knots at 6000rpm. It handled all the chop we could find with ease and barely raised a sweat cutting through it.
Deadrise of 16° contributes greatly to a smooth ride through moderate chop. You would really need to be pushing it in very sloppy water before feeling the need to back off. The pontoons do a great job of pushing any water out and away and I found the 459 Fish’r very dry, even later in the morning when a bit of nor’-easter had picked up.
Out at the entrance to the bay found about a metre of swell and had a ball. We ran it at all angles and had trouble getting the boat to bounce, bang or get us wet. The conditions weren’t that bad but the 459 gave the impression that it could handle a lot more than we could find on that day.
This layout is something new for Stabi-Craft and was instigated by Rob Hook during discussions with the plant in New Zealand. They suggested a centre-console model for Australian conditions but with the current popularity of side-console tinnies for bay and estuary work, a decision was made to build up a 509 model with a side console layout. I’m a big fan of centre- and side-console boats and I thought this one was very well-laid out. It was fitted with a 60hp Mercury Big Foot two-stroke and handled extremely well. I think the larger Stabi-Craft look and handle better than the smaller models and this was very much the case compared with the 459.
The 509 side console tested was unpainted but, once again, the overall finish and attention to detail and welding was very neat. The fit-up by Adventure Marine wasn’t too shabby, either, with a very neat motor installation and console layout.
The interior is businesslike with a checkerplate floor and very solid fittings and side pockets. There are two pedestal seats that can be fitted in several locations, depending on how many you have on board and what type of fishing is planned. There are very wide, solid gunwales down each side with a couple of short grab rails and heaps of room to mount rod holders.
Up forward is a very solid bowsprit and anchor roller, along with a handy bow rail running back for a metre down each side. Again, this boat was fitted with that ski pole/bait board bracket that I wasn’t keen on, although maybe you would get used to it after a while.
With 60 Big Foot horses on the back of its 300kg hull, this boat handled quite respectably. I don’t know whether it was the workmanlike layout or the ‘built to fish’ appearance but I quickly found a soft spot for this boat.
For large bay, estuary and inshore work it would fit in very well with what I do and how I fish. It has a heap of floor space and everything just seemed to be in the right place and uncluttered. Add to this the stability and buoyancy of 1059 litres of air in those pontoons and you have a very workable, safe and practical fishing platform.
The 509 Side Console got out of the hole and up on the plane with ease. It sneered at all the chop and sloppy water we could find and was very direct in the steering at every angle. It turned on a dime and all very quietly, and without sucking much fuel. Add a bow-mount electric to this boat and I reckon you’d have one very nice platform to lure- or fly-fish from.
After my first run in a Stabi-Craft I came away impressed. The Generation 2 hulls have much refined lines and the pontoons are fabricated with extrusions to give a squarer look, rather than rolled tubes. The gunwales are higher and the attention to detail is very impressive.
Believe me, these things can take an awful lot of weight on one side and feel very safe and are virtually unsinkable. The interiors are workmanlike, so if you want vinyl padding and shiny fibreglass then look elsewhere. If you are looking for something that works and requires low maintenance, do yourself a favour and check out a Stabi-Craft.
Adventure Marine are in Cranbrook Road, Batemans Bay, phone 02 4472 2612 or email --e-mail address hidden-- or visit www.adventuremarine.com.au.
459 Fish’r509 Side Console
LOA4.6 metres5.2 metres
External Beam1.86 metres1.86 metres
Internal Beam1.4 metres1.4 metres
Pontoon thickness2.5 mm2.5 mm
Hull thickness3.5 mm4.0 mm
Prices as tested (includingregistered Dunbier Rollamatic trailer)
Base-level 459 Fish’r with 40hp two-stroke and registered trailer: $21,400
Detail showing the pontoon profile and self-draining hoses on the 509.
Three on one side ? No problem with stability here. Those pontoons down each side will take a very big load just about anywhere in the boat.
The 509 Side Console under way.
Very practical layout of the side console, including grab rail, screen and sounder with storage underneath.
Transom of the Stabi-Craft 509 with the fold-down retracted out of the way for serious fishing.
The Stabicraft 459 Fish’r running across Batemans Bay.
The helm of the Stabi-Craft 459 Fish’r has plenty of room for any gauges you like and lots of room for dash-top electronics.
Transom of the 459. Note the non-skid patches for boarding.