There was a time when the Australian car market was dominated by Commodores and Falcons. And there was a time when the boat market was dominated by half-cabin outboard-powered runabouts, some of them so compromised by the doghouse on the front that they were horrible little things that managed not to work well at any level. The only reason for the cuddy cabin was to convince mum that she and the kids could escape the elements. But after the first outing with dad, mum and the kids swore never again to leave the shore.
Cars and boats are more sophisticated these days; more accepting of variations from the norm. Only now there is no norm.
Only a decade ago, who would have thought Aussies would buy a traditionally-styled, French-designed launch with a big inboard, a full wheelhouse and only basic accommodation?
Peter Collins, principal of Collins Marine, has a long association with France. He began importing Renault diesels in 1978. When Nanni bought out Renault’s diesel operation in 1983, he imported Nanni diesels. And still does.
In 1998, he became interested in the Arvor range. Since 2000, he has sold about 130 Arvor 20s, all moulded in Nowra, on the NSW south coast. Other brands of similar style are being imported, but Arvor has an advantage; the brand has become the generic for these sturdy and cute craft, which originated on the Atlantic coast of north-west France.
The biggest of the Arvor range, the 250AS*, is imported complete with a 230hp, six-cylinder MerCruiser diesel. Peter imports the hull of the smaller 230AS, but powers it here with the 155hp Nanni turbo diesel. Collins Marine also fits the electronics and a few other extras.
So who will buy such a boat? Scott Morrison, from Collins Marine, reckons that the 230 will appeal to “the grey-haired dollar”.
Scott is a young bloke, but he says: “I don’t see a lot of sense going 25 knots. I’d rather enjoy the trip at 10-12 knots.” With 155hp, however, this 23-footer has an easy cruise at 15-18 knots. Not slow.
But although this boat looks simple, it is not easy to categorise: this is not a 12-knot displacement cruiser whose prime asset is its cuteness; its Gallic flair. It goes fast if you want and, more important, it is good at going slow. It has rod holders, a live bait tank and a hose-out cockpit. It also has a back-up tiller, which Scott says he uses when trolling or on a coastal passage when he feels the urge to steer from the cockpit. And the accommodation, though basic, is complete. There is a big double berth, a chemical toilet, sink and a bench for a small stove. A couple could spend time on board in comfort, if not luxury.
This boat is easy to operate. The anchor is carried permanently in a self-launching bracket and is lowered and retrieved from the helm position with the aid of the (optional) Muir electric windlass. The cab is offset to port so if you want to go forward, you go down the starboard side, restrained by the thigh-high gunwale and handrail.
The cockpit is self-draining. The transom has a step-through, with a breakwater and removable washboards.
In the cabin, the headroom is two metres-plus. There are two hinged seats behind the helm station (you can stand or sit when steering) and a sort-of perching seat, which clips onto the area occupied by the sink. The windows are deep and visibility is virtually unrestricted (the latest boats have pantograph wipers). Ports in the side windows open to provide cross-ventilation.
“We keep the boats simple,” says Peter Collins. “Not everyone wants a $15,000 navigation package.” What he means is that not everyone wants an electronics package they don’t need. On the 230AS, he fits AM/FM radio and CD player, VHF radio and aerial. Our boat had the optional Navman 6500 GPS and fishfinder.
The 155hp Nanni is based on a four-cylinder, 3-litre Toyota block (Nannis up to 130hp have Kubota blocks). The engine is turbocharged and intercooled; the turbo compresses the incoming fuel/air mix, while the intercooler lowers the temperature so more can be squeezed into the cylinder.
“Most people do only 100 hours a year,” says Peter, “so you only need to service once a year.”
The engine is set below the cockpit floor. This allows a low shaft angle of around eight degrees, aided by the fact that the prop swings in a tunnel. A cutlass bearing, which needs lubricating only once a year, is fitted to the shaft to keep the bilges dry. The four-blade prop is 17 x 21 inches, with a blade surface of 65; the design a product of a very close collaboration between Nanni Diesel and Arvor.
“This, combined with the hull shape, is what makes it all come together,” says Peter. A lot of work has been done locally on tip clearance – the gap between tunnel and prop tips. “You have to get it right to minimise noise and eliminate cavitation,” says Scott.
In the engine bay, everything can be reached easily.
The hull has full-length chines, but, according to Peter, when looking at it from aft, the semicircular tunnel makes it look like an old-style cathedral hull.
Driving the Arvor 230 is simple. Because she has a separate prop and rudder, she steers easily at low speeds. She is not a long boat and is easy to manoeuvre. Idle revs give 3-4 knots; open the throttle and she bustles away. At 2000 revs, you’re doing 8 knots, but then things happen fast. At 2600rpm, you’re on 13 knots; a good cruise speed, and at 3000rpm you’re seeing 17 knots on the dial. Top speed is around 25 knots.
She turns without excessive banking and generally behaves impeccably. In reverse, there is some prop walk to port, so if you want to reverse to starboard, give yourself a bit of room. Or turn the boat around and use the prop walk to tuck the stern in; a time-honoured skill used since not long after the steam engine was first mated to a descendant of Archimedes’ screw.
For tiller steering, you fit the tiller (an aluminium tube stored in an underfloor locker) to the rudder stock, then throw a valve, which disconnects the hydraulic steering system.
The Arvor 230AS is a simple boat, but in this instance “simple” does not equate to crudeness. This boat has all the equipment needed to be comfortable afloat – and to have a good time.
The steering cabin would make the Arvor 230 comfortable in all weathers; it has plenty of performance and should be cheap to run and service. It is easy to like, being quite beamy, fast enough, comfortable and distinctive, with the knockabout air of a craft whose ancestors were working boats, sculpted by the necessity of going to sea in all weathers.
To summarise? Quick and handy, good for fishing, comfortable, but not luxurious. The brochure says: “Seaworthy, Trustworthy and Economical”. The Arvor’s attributes are clear; buyers will have no trouble identifying them.
As we step off the boat, Scott points out the stainless steel rollers set in each gunwale; rollers which help when you’re hauling pots or traps.
“Only allowed in Tassie or Western Australia,” says Scott. Now there’s a worthwhile daydream for a seachanger.
SPECIFICATIONS ARVOR 230AS
Power: 155hp Nanni diesel
Fuel: 200 litres
Price (base): $105,000. As tested: $109,500
Contact: Collins Marine, Alexandria, Sydney NSW. Tel: (02) 9319 5222. Web: www.arvor.com.au.