It looks like plastic boats are here to stay
SECTION: boat test
QUITE A FEW years back, when plastic boats first came on the market, the inherent problems were fading and degradation from the sun, plus a shocking ride in anything but flat water. These craft soon faded into oblivion and the market was again totally dominated by fibreglass and aluminium.
So it was with more than a bit of trepidation that I hit the freeway to Wyong North to test one of a new line of rotomoulded polyethylene boats. I had seen these brightly-coloured craft outside my local dealer and I’d had a cursory glance but dismissed them from my mind, thinking they were just a fad and would soon go away. How wrong was I?
Pulling in to the new Coast Life Marine, it was hard not to be impressed at the brand-new showroom, bristling with the plastic Polycraft alongside their more conventional brethren from Haines, Sea Jay and Southern Pacific, plus a huge range of Honda, Johnson and Evinrude outboards. Upstairs was a large chandlery, as well as a range of camping and fishing gear, ski equipment and electronics.
Manager Arthur Alexander and sales manager Mark Steber showed me around the new premises. They pulled out plans detailing future expansion of the retail areas, complete with coffee shop and the making of an ornamental lake to instruct clients how to launch and retrieve trailer boats. In fact, the whole area will become more a recreational business park. Fit-up bays and larger workshops are also on the drawing board – positive signs that no money will be spared in having a complete range of boats and accessories.
Arthur and I jumped in the Land Cruiser and took the Polycraft 455 Front Runner down to Wyong Creek for the test.
The boat was an eye-opener. Bundaberg-based Polycraft have made a craft that seemingly overcomes all the inherent problems of those earlier plastic boats. They employ linear, low-density polyethylene and specially-developed Rotathene compounds to meet the extremes of the region’s tough climatic conditions, especially the destructive effects of the sun’s ultra-violet rays.
You have to look no further than the wide array of polyethylene products now on the market, especially the many rugged and long-life canoes, to see that there have been great leaps and bounds in the longevity of this material.
The hull’s wide chines promote lift and then drive that lift towards the stern for faster transition to planing and improved engine efficiency. Pods extend right back to the transom, assisting lift and lessening drag. The unique double hull is seamless and moulded in one rotary action, with two skins about 10mm apart surrounding a hollow core. The outer skin flexes when the boat is under way, absorbing the impact of the waves. All vibration is dampened by the sandwich of air and then deadened by the internal skin, making a very soft and quiet ride.
The railed chines make the boat very stable. Yes, this new generation of poly boats can now handle rough water like any fibreglass or aluminium boat of comparative size. Some charter operators, commercial fishers and dive operators have invested in Polycraft boats for their durability and ride. And the Polycraft company shows its faith in the product by offering a four-year warranty on the hull.
The boat is roomy, with 2.3 metres by 1.7 metres of useable space. The Front Runner is not promoted as a bow rider, although the configuration looks that way. Only one person can sit up forward and they will have to face back to get leg room. The bow space is more a casting platform.
STEM TO STERN
Let’s check it all out from stem to stern.
The stainless bow roller is solid and there is a cross-cleat to tie off. There’s a small non-draining anchor well that’s really insufficient to hold much warp and an anchor. Under the front platform there is a mile of space for storage, which may be suitable for extra anchor rode. Consoles for passenger and skipper have pockets underneath for personal items.
The floor is rigid and covered with marine-grade carpet as standard. A 40-litre underfloor tank will give plenty of range for the frugal Honda. The fill pipe, containing a breather, terminates as a flush-mounted cap on the port transom cap. Coaming height is well within limits at 600mm and I liked the moulded, stippled, non-skid finish on coamings, transom, bow and many other places.
Seating was comfortable and the throttle quadrant was mounted on a bracket, so it fell nicely to hand. The dash is small but will cope with a small array of electronics. Standard instrumentation includes a tacho with integral trim gauge showing motor angle in degrees. There is storage in the passenger seat box and the battery is fixed in the skipper’s seat box – not the ideal place for a battery, as it’s hard to get at for inspection and maintenance.
Rear grab rails are there for safety and the transom sponsons either side of the engine make for handy boarding platforms. Two rod holders compliment the transom and the fixed rear quarter seats are large enough for even my derriere.
Aluminium transom reinforcing gives a secure mount for the power plant and additional strength in this area. Two bungs drain the cockpit, while a third drains the area between the hulls.
The 50hp Honda four-stroke started with just a flick of the switch and was hardly audible as we obeyed the four-knot signs in the channel. I pushed the throttle forward as we hit open water and the Front Runner leapt up on the plane, keen and eager, like a dog being taken for a walk. The lake was flat as we were in the lee of the ever-increasing Winter westerly. Turns were easy and, under power, the Polycraft showed no bad habits as she swept around in a tight circle.
Stability was excellent at rest and with Arthur (who is just below my weight) and I leaning over one side, the boat hardly budged. After a few pics, we came home straight into wind and I got some idea how dangerous Tuggerah Lake could get. With the lake’s shallow bottom, waves really stand up and small boats could be in danger here without much time to react to a rising wind.
The Front Runner just leapt over the top of the chop and stayed there. The ride was surprisingly smooth, with the hull dynamics cushioning out the corrugations. There was minimal spray intrusion back into the cockpit as the hull’s broad shoulders swept water out and back – away from the occupants.
It will be interesting to see if the general public accepts this new construction method. In 10 years (if I’m still vertical and can get in and out of boats!), I would like to take one out for a spin to check out their longevity. However, all the signs are there that this is a craft that will fulfil all that the manufacturer says it does.
POLYCRAFT 455 FRONT RUNNER
Boat length on trailer5.9m
Material thickness bottom10mm
Material thickness top10mm
Transom shaft lengthLong
Weight (boat only)320kg
Maximum people4 @ 75kg ea.
Bow rail; bow roller; cleat; winch point; anchor well; casting platform/storage; drain bungs; rod holders x 2; inspection ports x 2; ; s/s hand rails; console with screen; padded swivel seat x 2; marine carpet; switch panel; ; split bow rails; passenger hand rail; aluminium transom plate; ; ; cushions; 40 litre underfloor fuel tank; engine gauges.
Bimini; water separating filter; navigation lights; bilge pump; ski hooks; boarding rails; stern boarding ladder; choice of colours.
Price of boat as tested$17,990 Inc GST
Includes a Queensland-made RM Teflon-skidded, galvanised trailer, all registrations, safety gear and on-water instruction.
Boat supplied by Coast Life Marine, Unit 2 Amy Close (on the Pacific Highway), Wyong North NSW 2259. Phone 02 4353 3644, fax 02 4353 5020. Email: --e-mail address hidden--