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Secret Men’s Business

Secret Men’s Business

Like many marine journalists, I often receive invitations to test boats. However, I recently received an invitation that was a little out of the ordinary – to attend a “Secret Men’s Business”. The invitation was somewhat “secretive” and exciting, and as I delved into the history of “Secret Men’s Business” (SMB), I found that this is the third in a series, and it’s not, as the name suggests “a blokes only get together”, but a very smart way of getting journalists of all genders together to launch a new marine product.

The location was down in Victoria, at the beautiful Phillip Island on Westernport Bay, an interesting choice as generally most boating and indeed testing in Victoria tends to be carried out on the larger Port Phillip Bay, Lake Eildon or expansive Gippsland Lakes.

The purpose of this year’s SMB was to have a two-day exposure to the new Suncoast 2017 range of boats from Chaparral. The Chaparral brand is now well known on our shores, and comes with a reputation as being very well designed and constructed. Of course, I was aware of the American company, Chaparral, and its Australian partners. However, I was surprised to learn of the size of the company in the USA, and indeed the number of boats they sell annually, but more of that later.

Firstly, the new Suncoast boats are bow riders with outboard engines, rather than inboard stern drives. This configuration is not only on trend, but happens to be my favourite style of boat, so I was interested right from the start.

There are three (3) models in the range, and a couple of different configurations within those models, being Sport and Ski/Fish. The Ski/Fish version includes live bait tank, trolling motor, rod storage and holders, interchangeable seating and fold out casting decks. It is possible to order most of these fishing components individually or in package form on all models.

Suncoast are the first of the Chaparral stable to use outboard engines in over 25 years. The choice of engines for our test session was predominantly Honda, with one Mercury in the mix. Engine choice, however, can be left to the purchaser and best discussed with your local Chaparral dealer.

The first thing you notice is the striking design – modern, but still with traditional boat lines that appeal to us romantics at heart and then the massive swim platform, which was brilliant and unusual for an outboard boat. The seating arrangement throughout the range was great. Chaparral Australia made sure that each boat had a minimum of four to five adults (sometimes more) on board at all times, to ensure the testing was real. But we were all very comfortable, with plenty of room to move about, particularly when working the boat while fishing or setting up for waterskiing.

The bow was open and inviting, with the ability to seat four adults comfortably without affecting the balance of the boat. It was clear that these are very versatile, safe and family-orientated boats, and moving from the main cockpit area to the bow while underway was safe and easy, reassuring for Mum when fidgety little people have a habit of running amok without notice.

It is interesting to note that the 210 model ran both 150 HP to 200 HP. So, depending on your performance requirements, the ability to run less horsepower also means lower up front purchase cost, lower fuel usage, cheaper insurance, less trailer weight and lower servicing costs. This just adds to the versatility of the range and opens the door for people whose budgets do not stretch so far.

On the 230 Suncoast, which was running the Honda 250 HP, we tested the performance with some skiers behind the boat. The Honda pulled the skiers up with ease, and true to Chaparral doctrine, had the added advantage of being just as home in salt, as in fresh, water.

In all four boats, we experienced as many different water conditions as possible, making Westernport Bay an excellent choice, with the popular holiday playground turning on some beautiful warm weather for the first day of summer. To start with, we had flat conditions for skiing, and as the wind came up in the afternoon it became a little choppier. This was good, as I started to understand the research behind the hull designs.

We went out to the heads of Westernport Bay off San Remo, where we had a 1.5 to 2-metre swell. From here, we did some power running in the choppier conditions just to see how well the boat and hull performed, given that it will be driven by many different skippers with different levels of expertise, the boats came up trumps – stable, comfortable and fully controllable – so much so that even a novice skipper, with care, could handle the conditions.

All boats in the Suncoast range are trailable, hitting the scales at around 3200 kg for the big 250, and have surprising amount of interior space. For instance, in the 210, we had seven adults aboard at one stage, and with the Honda 200 HP outboard, it had no problems powering us through the water. The 150 HP struggled to get going when fully loaded but still performed well once up, and would be ideal for the Ski/Fish version of the boat with three or four on board. I know the dealer was still playing with propeller choices, so I have no doubt the 150 HP would still suit most buyers.

I wish we had the space here to delve more into the technology side of this range. In recent years, technology has dramatically improved all aspects of boat design and function. The Extended V-Plane Running Service of the hull really works. But I hear you say, “A nice fancy name, but what does it do?” ‘Extended V-Plane’ means you are getting full use of your boat’s length. This has probably less to do with faster top speeds, but more to do with the ability to get onto plane quicker and stay on plane at slower speeds, a point which I think is very important. How many times, as you power up your boat, or you are driving at slow speeds, do you find it difficult to see over the bow and you are running blind? This fixes the problem to a large degree and has the added bonus of saving fuel. The patented hull design meant that the boat was on the plane at 12 knots with minimal bow rise. So in my book, it works!

I know this may sound trite, but Chaparral designers really do listen to the feedback from their customers, and it shows. Everywhere you look, small but important features demonstrate the care and attention that goes into the design. Stainless steel gas struts to hold up hatch lids – not mild steel, friction hinges, self lubricating pop up cleats, nitrogen filled dash gauges, diamond tread non-skid surfaces, cup holders everywhere and even the interior cushions are designed to spring back to shape immediately after sitting or standing, preventing stretch and providing a longer life. All these are small things individually, but are all designed to make general use, particularly in salt water, easier and collectively provide longevity to what is a major investment in your family’s hard won leisure time. Smart Mr Chaparral – I like it!

An innovative feature in the bow was a standard telescopic boarding ladder, making it easy to hop off the boat when run up on the beach. At the stern, a truly inspiring feature was the integrated walk around swim platform offering the best access in the OB engine area of any design I have seen. It is an industry leading design and something I have longed for. But there is more. All models offer transom seating for those lazy days at anchor, dangling feet in the water – so smart and practicable for getting on and off the boat at the dock or preparing to ski, fish or just for relaxing. This to me is what boating is all about.

The other major feature, which was for me the piece de’ resistance, was that all three models feature an enclosed toilet area, or head compartment, providing total privacy. I was truly impressed with this, as it has been a bone of contention in my family for many years. Needless to say, my wife, who was one of the ‘Secret Women’ at the SMB, was impressed as well.

After the first day of on-water activity, we had a presentation night from the folks at Chaparral Australia. Now, if I had mentioned Chaparral boats ten years ago, you probably would have looked at me with confusion. A few privateers were bringing boats into Australia, but they were mainly the bigger boats. However, if you fast track to 2016, the name rings with the sound of innovation, quality and performance, and a company that is growing in leaps and bounds. When you look at the boating industry in Australia now, we see, under the Chaparral brand name, a plethora of boats for all aspects of boating, cruising and fishing, all with different configurations, with model names like, Vortex, H20, and Suncoast under the Chaparral banner and the dedicated fishing range, Robalo.

Here is something that did surprise me. Chaparral is not the biggest marine company in the world, BUT it does sell more boats in the world than, er… the other well-known company you may be thinking of, and they have been building boats since 1964!

The “secret” in the SMB was actually the fabulous accommodation and headquarters, which was a huge 60-square convention home between Cowes & Rhyll, on Phillip Island. Extremely conducive for a bit of fun, and of course work, and gave organisers, Scott and Dani O’Hare from Chaparral Australia, the opportunity to talk to journalists on a one-on-one basis. Also present, were suppliers that Chaparral have partnered with, all quality brands, such as Easytow Trailers, Honda outboard engines and Garmin electronics. Each gave a 15-minute presentation of their products, and how they gel with the Suncoast range – again giving journalists an insight to the boat and equipment on board.

These days, boats are becoming more like cars. We really do like our comfort and gadgets, and are tending to buy more quality product rather than cheaper entry level. I believe the boating industry is following that trend. In saying that, when I was looking at the dashboard and ancillary equipment in this range are more akin to an upmarket car than a boat.

I understand that no boat is perfect, and to this end, when I test a boat, I go in with a certain number of points, and I deduct points when I see things that could be improved or I felt there were bad design features or quality issues. Although this story is not a test of individual boats, I did walk away from each boat struggling to see how many points I might actually deduct. Maybe a bit more knick-knack storage around the helm area for phones and sunscreen, but that was about all I could pick after two days of boating!

I love the romance of boating. I like fishing, cruising, entertaining and overnighting in a tent on the beach. When I looked closely at each of the models in the Suncoast range, I could see myself owning one as they all fitted my needs beautifully. I was seriously impressed by the hull, the construction, and seating plans. But what impressed me most were the thought and a non-compromising approach that go into each boat.

Made in the USA, but very, very much at home here in Australia, the Suncoast range deserves your attention and is well worth a look.

For more information, visit the Chaparral website www.chaparralboats.com, call the Queensland Dealer Australian Marine Centre on (07) 3808 7333 or Chaparral Australia on (03) 9397-6977.

 

By Peter Rhodes

 

(Feb-Apr2017)

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