Among boaters in Australian cities and around our waterways, there seems to be a mini-trend of downsizing. Rather than opting for big luxury cruisers with big horsepower and big maintenance costs, many people are choosing smaller boats with cruising capabilities and appointments that cost little to run and are easy to store.
Crossover boats are also popular – boats that can double as fishing boats one weekend and cruisers or family conveyances the next. Enter boats such as the Jeanneau Merry Fisher 695.
Although better known in Australia for its yachts, French manufacturer Jeanneau has been turning out powerboats since the 1960s. In fact, the first boat that Henri Jeanneau built in 1957 was a wooden powerboat intended for racing. Jeanneau proved quite successful and in 1961, the fledgling company built its first fibreglass boat. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Jeanneau builds many styles of powerboats, from the diminutive Cap Camarat 4.7 CC centre console through to the Prestige range of large, luxury motoryachts. Somewhere in between is the Merry Fisher range of hardtop outboard-powered ‘pocket’ cruisers, the focus of our test.
The Merry Fishers are ideally suited to Australian harbours, bays and estuaries with a bit of light offshore work thrown in. They’re tough, safe, well-equipped, and weatherproof. But the big point is that Jeanneau seems to have looked toward its larger boats to design a smaller cruiser with big-boat features.
The Merry Fisher range comes in sizes from 6.05m to 8.55m and with styles designed to suit either the fishing- or the cruising-oriented owner. Our test boat was a more cruisy version with an overall length of 6.55m and a beam of 2.54m.
Stepping aboard the Merry Fisher 695, I found it’s a boat that seems to be bigger than its length suggests. The cockpit is expansive and workable, either for fishing or socialising. There is a comfortable couch along the centre of the transom, which slides forward to facilitate the full tilting of the engine, and a portside corner seat with a stainless steel grabrail built into the coaming.
Out the back are two big swimplatforms flanking the Mercury 150hp four-stroke engine, which we found quite adequate for the job, even though the boat is rated to 170hp. The starboard-side swimplatform has a telescopic boarding ladder that is deep enough to get two or three rungs in the water when fully extended, while the port-side features a storage locker with lid that would be ideal for swimming gear, snorkelling equipment, or even bait.
Under the cockpit sole is a huge locker that could store all manner of items such as fenders, lines, water toys, or fishing gear. Also in there are the batteries, neatly stowed, as well as the fuel filters for easy servicing.
Entering the saloon via the big sliding doors, which again reminded me of a larger boat, we find immediately to starboard is a switch panel behind a Perspex door, which keeps the isolators and electrical switching gear neat and out of the way.
The port side of the cabin is taken up by a dinette that could seat a family of four. The forward seat has a reversible back that converts it into a co-pilot’s seat. The dinette can also fold flat to form a comfortable bed.
Under the rear seat of the dinette is a front-opening fridge while, over to starboard, there’s a twin sink setup with a freshwater tap fed by the 50lt water tank.
Forward is the helm station with a comfortable adjustable helm seat where everything falls easily to hand. Vision is great all round thanks to the big windows and glass sliding doors behind. Wipers adorn the front windscreens and are operated via separate rocker switches to the left of the wheel, along with the navigation lights and bilge pump switches.
Our test boat was fitted with a Lowrance HDS7 sounder/plotter and a Fusion stereo system, while Mercury’s VesselView 7 kept an eye on the engine systems. We also had a Uniden VHF and a 12V plug for charging a phone.
Forward of the helm, there’s a fully enclosed head with a pump-out loo and an 80lt holding tank. The Merry Fisher can be ordered without the head, which makes the bed bigger, but why would you bother?
The berth in the cabin is best described as a one-and-a-half bed, which importer Rohan Veal said he gave to his wife and son to sleep on during their weekend out on the boat, while he chose the berth formed by the folded-down dinette – the perfect setup, he said.
The cabin has a large opening hatch forward for fresh air, while recessed lights illuminate the boat at night. It’s a cosy environment that would make a great weekender for a couple or small family.
We took the Merry Fisher 695 out onto Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay on a day that could best be described as ‘a bit willing’. Winds were gusting to about 40 knots and the chop was in the one- to two-metre range. While it might sound a bit daunting, it really was a great day to fully test this boat.
The hull has a fairly deep vee and reverse chines which, combined with the flared bow, kept a lot of the spray away from the boat – that said, the wipers did get a bit of a workout. The hull handled the conditions well, with the bow cutting through the steep chop easily and nary a slam to be had in conditions that many a boat owner wouldn’t have ventured out in.
The 150hp Mercury pushed us into the wind and waves better than I would have thought and provided a smooth and quiet cruise in the cabin. When we did find some flat water, I found a comfortable cruise at 3900rpm giving 20 knots (37km/h) and while the conditions didn’t allow us to run flat-out, Rohan told us that in previous testing the boat registered 32 knots (59km/h) at WOT. At this speed, the 150 uses around 35lt/h, which is pretty economical and will give a good range from the 170lt fuel tank.
Turning back toward our ramp, we found the Merry Fisher to be great down-sea. The boat was highly manoeuvrable thanks to the SeaStar hydraulic steering and it was really a pleasure to drive.
Back at the ramp, we had no trouble getting the boat back onto the excellent tandem-axle multi-roller trailer, which was towed by Rohan’s Ford Territory. The combined weight of the rig, with boat, motor and trailer, is around 2300kg, we’re told.
At the end of the day, despite the weather, we had an enjoyable day on the Jeanneau Merry Fisher 695. It’s a boat that could cater to many boating activities from fishing to cruising, picnics on the beach to towing the kids around the bay on boards or biscuits. It’s a safe, easily handled boat that’s fun to drive – even if the weather is a bit willing.