A 3.9 tinny that’s self-draining, positively buoyant and soft-riding? It’s no pipe-dream.
SECTION: boat tests
WE ARE BLESSED on the eastern seaboard with myriad bays, inlets, rivers and estuaries which offer a smorgasbord of fishing for bait, lure, fly and small game enthusiasts.
To get into pokey mangroves where fish hide necessitates a compact, manoeuvrable craft that can be safely handled by one person yet giving plenty of useable deck space. A dash of speed is also helpful to chase pelagics or to get to another area as the tides dictate. As our weather is occasionally unpredictable and conditions can turn quite nasty, a boat therefore must handle rough water without eroding that safety margin.
I recently hit the Princes Highway to Batemans Bay to test some models in the Stabicraft range of aluminium boats. They have been built for more than 16 years by our cousins in New Zealand – a country with a reputation for knocking out strong, welded boats to handle the extremes experienced in the Shaky Isles.
The Stabicraft 389 dinghy is a 4.0-metre overall length boat that has some unique features. First and foremost, it is a positive-buoyancy boat. The sides contain sealed air chambers for buoyancy, handling and safety. Secondly, the hull design allows the boat to tackle the rough stuff with little discomfort to the passengers. And this boat has a self-draining or ‘wet deck’ – a feature not usually found in smaller craft.
Let’s have a closer look. There are two standard thwart seats that are not structural and can be removed. The floor is chequerplate, giving rigidity, so there’s no lateral twist at all. This takes all the strain off the many seam welds and makes for a boat that will stand the ravages of time.
A pronounced bowsprit with bow roller will handle the ground gear with ease and there is under-deck storage for anchor, warp and chain. As the coamings are part of the air chambers and must not be pierced, two small grab rails at the stern are provided for clamping on rod holders.
The test boat was powered by a 25hp tiller-steered Johnson two-stroke spinning a 13” prop. This combination gave plenty of oomph in getting the boat plus the two of us up on the plane and there was no complaint whatsoever from the engine.
The transom is reinforced with extra plate and there are triangular gussets from the transom to the rear gunwale for extra strength. The boat is seam welded and you could tell at a glance it was made by someone who knew how to use a welder.
Non-slip pads made out of a UV/petrol/oil-resistant material called Ultralon are stuck on most upward-facing surfaces and can be added to any other surface when the boat is ordered.
A single bung is in place to drain excess water but, in the main, will not be removed as the boat has self-draining socks to eject any water that intrudes onto the deck. This feature alone puts the boat in a class of its own when it comes to safety.
The 389 Dinghy boasts a lot of internal room for its size. There’s 1.25 metres x 3.34 metres of useable space available, which allows three hefty blokes to wet a line without elbows clashing. Coaming height is only 370mm so small kids will have to be supervised. There is a Fisher version of this boat called a 389 Fish’r (unfortunately one was not available for test, but the basic hull is the same) which includes spray dodger, windscreen, dash and forward steering.
We headed out to where the Clyde River shallows, pushing up a breaking swell. It never ceases to surprise me how manufacturers have quietened down their outboards. Gone are the days when conversation was a waste of time under way due to the high-pitched rasp of two-stroke engines. These new breed of donks raise their voices only when the throttle is pushed down hard.
I sat on the forward thwart seat as we motored towards the breaking waves. Dean Kozlik, the mechanic at Adventure Marine, was keen to show me the hull’s attributes. We powered into the first wave, then hit a much steeper wave. I lifted my bum off the seat, awaiting that inevitable ‘tinnie bang’, but the boat landed with a whoosh as if there was an air cushion underneath. This was a new experience in a small boat.
I took over the tiller and proceeded to try to get the boat totally airborne to give it the ultimate test. Yeah, I know, there’s the hoon in all of us!
We hit a forming wave. I knew I had bitten off more than I could chew but it was too late. The boat left the water. I braced, awaiting the stern to drop and the bow to slap hard on the water. The Stabicraft did neither. We landed as soft as a butterfly and continued on.
I put the boat in neutral, sat back and realised that the combination of the gull-wing style of hull, coupled with reversed chines plus a 16° deadrise all went into making this little craft a very safe and stable platform when the going gets a little rough.
In turns the boat showed little lean, preferring to stay upright. With both of us sitting on one side for the tilt test, the positive side buoyancy came to the fore with just a little heel, but nowhere near danger level at which water comes over the gunwales.
In a following sea, the deadrise ensured the dingy tracked straight, with no inclination to veer left or right. Hitting full throttle from a standing start, there was no vision-restricting rear-up from the bow. In fact the boat remained flat right through the throttle range.
Stability at rest was excellent, with no need to hug as we passed one another to swap positions. The boat’s outline takes a bit of getting used to. First glance gives the impression of that it has a broken back. Everyone admits the boat hasn’t got Mel Gibson looks but it sure performs on the water. The unpainted, raw aluminium finish can be etched and then painted by those who like a bit of style. And by the end of the test, the profile kinda grew on me.
We slowly motored back to the ramp as the sun beat down from a cloudless sky. I was bone-dry, only something I realised late in the test. Usually in small tinnies, driving them to the max, I get wet. We had no spray or water on board, even though a healthy westerly had been blowing.
I jumped out on the walkway and held the boat while Dean got the car. The standard Dunbier trailer sported large 16” wheels, not those dinky trailer tyres, so I would have no qualms taking the rig for a long-distance tow. With an overall weight of less than 400kg, a four-cylinder car would be an ideal tow vehicle.
These Stabicraft are not the cheapest dinghies on the market by any means, but when you take into consideration safety, ride, durability, dryness and internal room, the whole rig works out to be decent bang for the buck. Remember folks – you get only what you pay for.
Length overall 4.3m
Tube thickness (sides)2.5mm
Approx towing weight390kg
Max safe load4 adults
Overall length (inc. trailer & outboard)5.5m
25L free standing fuel tank; 2 oars; anchor/chain/rope; bailing socks; lifejackets; Dunbier trailer; trailer tie-down; bailing bucket.
Price as tested (delivered from Batemans Bay) including on-water instruction if required - $11,790
Boat supplied by Adventure Marine 1/14 Cranbrook Road, Batemans Bay, NSW 2536. Proprietors Rob & Renee Hooke. Ph (02) 4472 2612 OR 1800 1 STABI. Fax (02) 4472 2749 Mob 0407 427 874. Email --e-mail address hidden-- Web address www.adventuremarine.com.au