Believe it or not, the last time I was on this beach was, um, a long time ago. A very long time ago. In fact, a longer time than I really want to think about.
I was in a Boston Whaler, a 23-footer, wearing on its tail one of those tall straight-six Merc outboards that looked like a Wurlitzer jukebox (a sort of prehistoric, non-portable iPod for those born post-disco) and sounded like a supercharged Bugatti. Which is to say, they had a banshee wail a little like high-pitched tearing canvas. They were glorious engines that were too good to last and were inevitably replaced by the V6s, which were more compact and more sensible. But in the transition, that divine exhaust note was lost.
The 23-footer was the old-style cathedral- or tri-hulled Boston Whaler (double-sponson style, the builders called it) with centre console, bimini and no accommodation. I thought it was the bees’ knees.
It’s September, 2006 and I am back on the same beach, again in a Boston Whaler. The modern Whaler is similar to the old one in concept, but has a different hull. I am the same, apart from the inevitable deterioration inflicted by the ravages of time but, wonder of wonders, the beach, part of a nature reserve, is unchanged. Glory be.
What has also remained the same, since Whalers began (in 1958), is the Unibond hull construction. Don’t yawn and skip this paragraph; pay attention because this is what Boston Whalers are about. Boston Whaler hulls consist of two major mouldings; one for the hull and one for the interior. The mouldings are brought together, then foam is squirted in to fill the gap between them so the boat becomes a one-piece fibreglass/foam structure. This means it floats when full of water, which is worth thinking about (see the specs panel for what the hull will support when flooded). Remember, the promotional shots Boston Whaler used to use? They cut a boat in half transversely, from gunwale to gunwale. Both bits floated and they reckoned you could motor home if you took the bit with the motor attached. I think they were referring to one of the smaller models, but perhaps they were joking. If you chose the bow section, you would have to paddle.
The Boston Whaler 205 Conquest is built that way, but the old rectangular shaped (in plan, looking from above) cathedral hull is gone, replaced by a more or less conventional vee with pronounced downturned chines. It is a walkaround hull whose raison d’etre is fishing. But these days, specialisation need not necessarily mean uncompromising. Not completely uncompromising, anyway.
The 205 has a cuddy cabin with vee berth which, with the aid of infill cushions, forms a big sleeping area. Beneath the berth is a Sanipottie, whose purpose I am sure you can work out for yourself. This is a macerator/pump-out dunny, which you can take home if you want, and is an optional extra. This boat had quite a few extras; see the list in the specs panel.
While we’re down below, John points out the hatch in the main bulkhead, which gives access to the back of the dashboard and the wiring (all tinned silver). There’s a gas alarm (including a CO function, vital in such a small cabin though there’s an opening deck hatch). There’s also a nifty fabric storage bag, which unclips to expose the batteries.
The cabin surfaces are all moulded; not in glossy fibreglass, but a range of textures and surfaces. This means the cabin can be hosed clean. This is a fisho’s boat, let’s not forget.
Up into the cockpit, the dashboard has two multi-mode Smart gauges (one for the fuel tanks, one for the engine systems). All the power switches are lit from beneath so when you arrive home in the dark, tired and emotional, you can see instantly if something has been left switched on.
The seats are great; both helmsman and passenger seats are adjustable for height and can be slid fore-and-aft. The helmsman has a moulded footrest, the passenger’s folds out from beneath the seat when needed. The skipper has the stereo and trim tab controls in front of him. The extinguisher slot is to his right.
This boat had seating only for four. Behind the two seats are, on the portside, a live bait tank (with underwater illumination for night use, which could confuse the bait fish, though they have a limited future anyway) and to starboard a moulded bin which, because of the nature of the Whaler’s construction (foam-filled, remember), is fully-insulated and works as an icebox. The transom seats have backrest bolsters and grabrails; the latter a nice detail. The portside one is removable when dirty feet climb aboard over the transom, either from the dock or the (optional) platform and swim ladder.
There are rod racks in the cockpit sides and in the gunwale in the cabin. The moulded rod holder /table arrangement is adjustable for height.
We have a 200hp Mercury – 3-litres of V6 – you can also specify 150 or 175hp Verado four-strokes. Which one’s for you? You will have to do your own homework because discussions about engine power, and two-stroke versus four-stroke is a subject worthy of a separate story.
The Whaler seems to be listing to port, but someone has been fiddling with the trim tabs and John brings her level. John is a fisherman and reckons he sees no point in tabs on small(ish) boats.
There is not much to say about the performance because there is so much of it. On someone’s website I saw top speed for a loaded boat listed at 81km/h; John took out this boat by himself for a short blat and briefly saw 96km/h on the clock. The website also reckons it takes 2.7 secs to get onto the plane; that, I reckon, is a shade pessimistic. The steering is light and sure, but loaded up occasionally – not too much, but John puts it down to a shortage of hydraulic fluid. The Whaler rides well and those downturned chines keep all water, even fine spray, out of the cockpit. Not a drop entered the cockpit during our run.
Which brings me back to the earlier mention of compromise in this boat’s design. This is a fishing boat, but it is not such a hardcore fisherman’s boat as the 23-footer I mentioned earlier. There are enough civilised features here to keep a family happy on a day’s outing, or a couple could be comfortable enough for a weekend.
What hasn’t changed on Whalers is the construction quality. The mouldings are superb – they always have been – and because all the interior surfaces are moulded, you are constantly reminded that this is a class product.
And the Boston Whaler brings advantages you haven’t even dreamt of. The promotional material, talking about the introduction of the original 13-foot Whaler in 1958, says “…The legend grew. With stories about the boat that would support ten people, even if it was filled with water. That would still float after taking 1000 rounds of automatic weapons fire.”
Ah. It’s an American boat, after all.
SPECIFICATIONS BOSTON WHALER 205
Length: 6.17 metres
Beam: 2.54 metres
Weight (dry, no engine): 1270kg
Max weight: 1111kg
Max engine weight: 240kg
Swamped capacity: 1587kg
Fuel: 257 litres
Horse power range: 135-200hp
Options on test boat: Vee-berth filler, stereo, swim platform with hand rail, portable toilet with pump-out, electric trim tabs, fishing package, bimini.
Price as tested: $92,990 (without trailer).
More information from: Andrew Short Marine, Taren Point, Sydney. Tel (02) 9524 2699. Web: www.andrewshortmarine.com.au.