LOVE the water but prone to sea sickness? Don’t feel confident driving a boat? Concerned about being too far away from land? What you need is a pontoon boat – and once you’ve been in a Sweetwater Pontoon Boat you’ll see a whole new world of boating opportunities open up before you!
To give you an idea of how to get the most out of your boat, I’ll outline a couple of the major waterways in Southern Queensland.
On the Gold Coast there’s the magnificent stretch of water running from the Broadwater up the inside of North and South Stradbroke Islands. Most of these waters are pretty well protected from our predominant winds. You might like to take a leisurely cruise up the Nerang River and admire the many beautiful homes. Maybe take a run up the Coomera River, pull in at Sanctuary Cove and treat yourself to a nice feed before a relaxing trip back down into the Broadwater to enjoy the sunset over the distant mountains.
Another possibility is a day or two fishing up towards Jumpinpin. You can just drop the crab pots out, relax on the back deck and read the paper.
A little further north we have Pumicestone Passage, in behind Bribie Island. Just grab a few friends and take them along to see the view, enjoy a few prawns and maybe down a coldie or two.
My favourite choice, however, would be a week up the Sandy Straits from Tin Can Bay to Kingfisher Bay on the inside of Fraser Island. That’s one massive waterway where you can always find protection somewhere, along with a few fish and crabs. Kingfisher Bay Resort welcomes day and overnight visitors, and you can moor the Sweetwater out the front.
You may think this all sounds a too much to expect from one boat, but it’s not! Even diehard fishers like myself can easily enjoy this completely different lifestyle while out on the water.
The Sweetwater, like most pontoon boats, consists of two long aluminium cylinders with a flat platform between. The Sweetwater’s construction gives superb stability, allowing you and the rest of the crew to walk around the boat anywhere without it leaning. It’s not quite like a mini house boat, but it comes close. Unlike a house boat, however, these things don’t just crawl along – they actually cruise at around 20 knots, so you don’t have to worry about taking all day to get somewhere.
This style of boat is huge in the United States, where they have massive lakes all around the country. This particular brand has around 40 models in its range in various shapes and sizes. Northside Marine is the Queensland distributor of the Sweetwater Boats, and at this stage they stock two models.
The more basic of the two models, the 180 FC (Fish and Cruise), provides open and practical areas to fish. This 18-foot boat can accommodate up to eight people without a worry, and there’s an L-shaped lounge on one side that’s very comfortable.
In front there’s a round table with sunken drink holders, and underneath the lounge there’s ample storage area. On the opposite side is the helm area, with full gauges, switches, sounders and suchlike. The moulded side console also has its sunken cup holders, small sink with freshwater tap and storage below for an ice box and rubbish bin.
There is of course a radio and CD player with four speakers so you can scare the wildlife with a bit of ‘Bat out of Hell’ or seduce the fish (or your partner) with a few Neil Diamond love songs.
To the stern and bow are a couple of pedestal seats which increase the comfort and social side of the boat. They’re also the perfect place to cast out a line.
It really is the complete outfit for smooth water outings for the day.
Move up in size to the 2423 Elite and you really do have a boat suitable for more than just day trips, allowing you to take a load of friends to enjoy a top time on the water. The 2423, which can accommodate up to 14 people, has two front lounges which fold out into beds. There’s also a large rear L-shaped lounge around a table, which has drink holders and a small draining centre sink. I’d say the sink is more suited to a bottle of wine and ice than a sink (that’s for everyone except the driver of course).
You’ll find storage under all the lounges and in the side console, so there’s more than enough room for supplies on a big day trip or a few days away on the water. This particular model has a lift-up section in the aft quarter to provide a private change room, shower or toilet.
Both models have safety rails and a barrier all the way around the boat, and there are swing gates on both sides. This means you and your guests can walk straight on or off the pontoon no matter which way you pull up. A front gate is also provided for launching and retrieving the anchor.
If you’re out on the water, someone will want to have a swim at some stage. Sweetwater has designed their ladders to fold well down into the water so all ages can climb in and out of the boat without fuss.
The Fish and Cruise is powered by a 50hp Mercury four-stroke outboard and the 2423 Elite by a 115hp four-stroke, and both motors push the boats along at around 20 knots, depending on load. I always recommend opting for a four-stroke – or at the very least a fuel-injected two-stroke – for economical running and lack of fumes. This is particularly so with four-strokes, which have no oil fumes.
Surprisingly, these boats get up on the plane with minimal effort and achieve a significant speed. Spray deflectors are fitted at the front of each pontoon, which throw down the spray generated from your average smoothwater chop. Obviously, if you find yourself in open water with a decent sort of a chop, you shouldn’t try to punch back through it at 20 knots. Slow right down and you can enjoy that leisurely cruise back home.
These boats are designed for smooth water but will handle chop if the need arises. Two of the big selling points are stability and room to enjoy a day out on the water, and you won’t have to worry about wobbly feet at all.
Another thing you need when staying out in a boat all day (or for a few days) is cover from the elements. Both models come equipped with large folding bimini tops which create plenty of shade. The 2423 Elite has optional fully-enclosed sides which have fly screened sections. The enclosed section makes it perfect for those overnight trips, and when it’s in position you practically have a mini house boat.
As far as towing goes, the larger of the two comes in well under two tonnes and the 18FC at around 1200kg. I find the option of towing the boats to any of countless waterways very attractive. It beats staying at a caravan park. And there’s another novel idea – even on the trailer you can pull into a caravan park as a stopover during some of those longer trips.
The 18FC is priced at $38,000 and the 2423 Elite at $55,000. Northside Marine (ph. (07) 3265 8000) has both models in stock and will have them on display at the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show in late May.
1) The Sweetwater test boats got up on the plane with minimal effort, and cruised at about 20 knots. This model is the 18-foot Fish and Cruise (18 FC).
2) The 2423 Elite is great for a weekend away with friends or family. The boat’s construction provides superb stability.
3) The 18 FC model provides open and practical areas to fish, and there’s ample seating and storage space.
4) The 2423 Elite has two rear lounges which fold out into beds, and another L-shaped lounge around a table. Here you’ll find drink holders and a draining centre sink.
5) The lift-up section in the aft quarter of the Elite provides a private change room, shower or toilet.Reads: 2346