When Cruise Craft released their 6.85 metre Outsider 685 last year it quickly established a reputation as something special in offshore fishing boats. An attractive boat with a distinctive sheerline reminiscent of the so-called 'Hatteras' style, it offered exceptional rough water performance and a layout eminently suited to serious line wetting.
A brace of Fishing Boat of the Year awards soon followed, perhaps the ultimate accolade from the industry. But for many offshore fishers, a 6.8 metre boat is just a bit too big, a bit too expensive and at approximately 2500kg for boat, motor and trailer, an Outsider 685 is barely a trailering proposition for most of us.
Several things excite me about Cruise Craft's latest offering, the Outsider 625 - 635mm shorter than the now famous 685 at 6.215 metres, and weighing around 1800kg - as a boat, motor and trailer package, the Outsider 625 is within reason for towing by the medium 4WDs so many of us run, and even some large sedans. It's less expensive than its larger predecessor all the way down the line from initial purchase price of boat, motor and trailer, to eventual running costs, insurance etc. It looks great, with more than a passing similarity to the larger Outsider. It has the same eminently workable layout. And best of all, allowing that it is smaller and 700-odd kg lighter, it retains the exceptional rough water performance of the Outsider 685.
On a good day, just about any boat is a good boat. But when conditions deteriorate, as they invariably seem to do whenever I go fishing, the difference between a great boat and the rest is not to be found by screaming along at top speed. You can't do that in anything short of an offshore racer - and they're not much chop as fishing boats. When it cuts up rough, what distinguishes a great boat is the way it handles at the low barely planing speeds dictated by the conditions.
Cruise Craft's Danny Nichols and I took the Outsider 625 out towards the infamous South Passage Bar between Moreton and North Stradbroke Islands. Here we found an irregular succession of steep-sided lumps and bumps created as an ebbing tide met a small incoming swell.
This was where I found that the new Outsider 625, like the 685 version before it, eased effortlessly across the awkward space between planing and displacement speeds without settling into that bows up stern down attitude often found in deep vee hulls. As speed increases, or decreases, across the area often personified in the past by a classic planing hump, both the new Outsider hulls sit flat, so much so that it's quite difficult to discern when the hull actually gets on top of the water and starts to plane.
To the boat's occupants this means a dramatic improvement in ride quality. The boat's speed can be fine-tuned to reduce bumps and bangs to a minimum and in fact, that day on South Passage, when plenty of bashing and crashing would have been dead easy to achieve, I found I could eliminate them altogether with careful throttle adjustment.
Without actually getting out Club Marine's official tape measure, the Outsider 625's cockpit looked every bit as spacious as the 685's. Danny confirmed my suspicions that the two are almost identical. Apparently Cruise Craft was able to absorb the slight difference in beam into the gunwales thus keeping the width in the cockpit. The length they basically left the same.
Virtually all of the 635mm difference between an Outsider 625 and the 685 version is to be found in or rather has been lost from the cabin. As a 20-odd footer, the Outsider 625 has a typically-sized cabin for the genre so let's be fair and judge it against its peers. The bunks, again typically of the genre, fall a little short of the average bed, although us folk of 170cm height and shorter can usually manage a reasonable night's sleep there.
It raises a point evident all over this boat. Cruise Craft is a family company run by family people who certainly take their fishing seriously, but never lose sight of how much their boats offer to family activities in addition to fishing.
For example, the Outsider transom features, as standard, an integrated folding boarding ladder. Access through into the cockpit is provided by a walkthrough in the aft bulkhead's port side. Another example is the optional portable toilet under the centre bunk cushion in our test boat. A well thought through bait cutting board mounted on the aft cockpit bulkhead is an option with clear intent for fishing. It can be easily lifted off when not needed.
All together, and typically of boats designed for power by a big outboard, there's a fair reach from inside the cockpit out over the motor cowl with a fishing rod. Other options fitted to our test Outsider 625's transom area and not immediately apparent without close inspection included a deck washdown hose hidden away behind a small hatch and plumbing for the large livewell in the port topside. Two marine batteries and an oil reservoir were also hidden inside the bulkhead.
Inside the cockpit a folding rear lounge again expands on this boat's duality being merely an addition to the padding around the cockpit periphery when stowed, and comfortable seating when deployed. Recessed grab bars along the cockpit topsides and the way your toes could go under the edges of the entire cockpit perimeter complete a cockpit as well set up as any in the business.
As a sample rig set up very much the way a keen offshore fisher would set up a boat, some of these options were jacking the price up substantially. At a little over $64,000 the Outsider 625 sounds like a quite expensive boat, at least when compared with some of the basic boat/motor/trailer packages you see advertised. However, when it's considered that this boat is comprehensively equipped with items such as a $3,670 JRC colour sounder AND powered by a sensibly-sized motor (a 175 hp Ficht RAM Evinrude in this case), the asking price is actually a realistic one. For comparison's sake, the basic boat/motor/trailer price of an Outsider 625 powered by a 175 Evinrude is approximately $52,500.
Here in northern climes, one of the more expensive options seen on the test Outsider, the stainless steel-framed shade top would be considered by most to be every bit as essential as the quality fish finder. I particularly liked the extra slide out section, which can either be left stowed out of the way or slid out to shade almost all cockpit. Family or social usage would find the extra shelter even more useful.
As is the norm for Cruise Craft the engineering, metalwork and trim on the shade top was as excellent as their 'glass work on the hull and superstructure. The shade top also incorporated rocket launcher-type storage for six rods, two aft-facing, mounted spot lights, and provision to fold the top part come time to cram the boat through a garage door.
In the helm area a pair of fore and aft adjustable Reelax bucket seats mounted on pedestals provide seating for helm and passenger. A flush hatch in the deck between them accessed an underfloor storage well cum fish box.
Helm ergonomics were quite acceptable with, again typically of 20-odd foot half cabs, the steering wheel mounted vertically on the cabin bulkhead. Our test boat had a Lowrance Global Map 1600 GPS flush-mounted into the dash in front of the wheel and an impressive array of black on white instrumentation. The JRC colour sounder sat in clear view on the cabin top.
It was in the helm area that I found my only dissatisfaction with the entire boat. As I stood at the helm the grab bar around the tempered glass windscreen frame came too close to my sunglasses for comfort. In rough water they would certainly have come into contact.
Even with the helm seat adjustment aft as far as it would go, the bar came disconcertingly close. Someone of a different height may or may not find it such a problem. Were I to buy an Outsider 625 myself I would have to modify something to fix this. Although it far from weighed down an overall high opinion of the boat.
Cruise Craft Outsiders are not walkarounds in the same sense as a centre console. Their recessed side decks do add security if moving forward around rather than going up through the amply-sized hatch in the bow end of the cabin. However, once forward of the windscreen and shade top frame, the only thing to support you is the low bow rail. I take this to mean that the side decks are meant for use when disembarking onto the shore or a pontoon in calm water. And quite useful for that they are too.
It should be noted at this point too that the decks form a recess shallow enough NOT to hold large amounts of water if at some time green water found its way in there and there is a fair sized drain to clear it overboard in any case. A comforting thought during bar crossings.
Right at the extremity of the bow the fairlead is mounted on a short bowsprit. A divided bow rail makes for an easy route to the anchor well and mooring bollard. In the test boat the anchor well contained a large Danforth anchor and allowed plenty of room for rope. Although the hatch covering the well looked small enough to make it awkward to manoeuvre a reef anchor big enough to hold this boat through it.
Here in southern Queensland offshore fishers habitually set and retrieve their reef anchors from the cockpit by storing the anchor and warp in an open weave crate and using the flotation of a large buoy to retrieve them. Which explains why Cruise Craft set their boats up the way this one is, and leaves me with nothing critical to say.
When we tested the Outsider 625 there had been no decision about OMC's future following recent events, perhaps its best to record that the 175hp direct injected, low emission, two-stroke outboard on the Outsider 625 matched the hull nicely.
The outfit felt balanced at rest and the motor's smooth power delivery throughout the rev range suited the 625's easy planing gait and contributed noticeably to making it a pleasure to handle. Cruise Craft rate the Outsider 625 hull for a maximum of 200hp and suggest a minimum of 150. To me it felt just right with the 175.
Remembering that it took some concentration to determine exactly when it started planing, as best as we could tell it was well and truly planing at 10 knots and 2400rpm. At a 3500rpm cruise our GPS was showing over 20 knots. Flat out at 5500rpm brought a top speed in the high 30 knot region.
There's no doubt the Outsider 625 will soon outsell its highly acclaimed predecessor. It's an outstanding addition to the choices in the ever popular offshore fishing category and all the more creditable for never losing sight of its value to family and social use.
Club Marine onwater crew wear Stormy Seas PFD I.jackets and use Magellan GPS.