Leader of the pack

Warren Steptoe | VOLUME 21, ISSUE 6
A rod rack on the standard targa bar stows six rods up out of the way. “Unquestionably, the focus of this boat is offshore fishing.”
Cruise Craft’s 685 Outsider has seen little modification since its introduction some eight years ago. We take a look at why this offshore fishing machine continues to reign supreme.

While a string of boating awards stretching back several decades ably demonstrates why Cruise Craft is universally respected amongst its peers, if there’s one genre this Brisbane-based family company does outstandingly well – amongst many of its award winners – it’s offshore fishing boats.

The reason is quite simple: Cruise Craft’s Nichols clan (three generations of whom have made Cruise Craft what it is today) are, to put it mildly, pretty keen offshore fishers themselves. Go to just about any of the monster fishing expos held each year between central Queensland and northern New South Wales, and you can count on Team Cruise Craft being there with bells – or rather boats – on.

Equally important to them is family. The Nichols are close-knit and while their fishing borders on obsession, when you take time out for a yarn with any of them you soon hear about recent days out with friends, wives and kids. This is reflected in their boats.

I’ve always been impressed with how the Cruise Craft model line offers a choice in the balance of priority between fishing and family boating. Their Outsider and Explorer models vary the cockpit-to-cabin space ratio slightly; an important factor in boats measuring between 5-6.5 metres. The Outsider models have an obvious fishing bent, with bigger cockpits and smaller cabins, while the family boating Explorer models have bigger cabins and smaller cockpits.

Outsiders also feature walk-around side decks. These make going forward along the cabin sides possible; a useful feature in many areas. They do, however, consume some cabin space, making an Explorer cabin roomier in all directions, not just lengthwise.

In their top-of-the-line hull though, (the 6.85-metre 685 model tested here) Cruise Craft, at present, only offers the Outsider model. Interestingly, the Executive 700 I tested for Club Marine recently is a fully-equipped cruiser built over the same bottom.

Apparently, an Explorer rendition of the 685 hull is being looked at for the future. Meanwhile, I have to say that in the boat tested, there’s ample space in the cockpit and the cabin, which can sleep two in comfort.

Unquestionably, the focus of this boat is offshore fishing. Still, being a typical Cruise Craft, it is an extremely workable offshore fishing boat that also embraces the role of a great family platform.

COMFORTING OPTIONS

With this in mind, the options list for the Outsider 685 includes a portable toilet, hidden away under the bunk infill, a moulded mini galley complete with a single burner gas stove, a sink with pressurised water on tap and a small 12/240V refrigerator. There’s also a hand-held shower, again supplied with pressurised fresh water from a 50-litre tank.

All these amenities were fitted to our test boat and offer convenience for family outings. However, in an ostensibly hardcore fishing boat, perhaps it’s more appropriate to take the view that optioning home comforts makes it entirely practical to live aboard an Outsider 685 in some comfort for the duration of a multi-day fishing trip.

It then depends whether the trip includes one’s self and partner, in which case the bunk with infill rates as a queen-size bed. Or if it’s just you and a mate, then not having the infill leaves plenty of room to stretch out in a sleeping bag on the single bunks.

A transom door comes standard on all Outsiders, including the 685. A spacious aft deck area extends to the outboard motor mount. A neatly stowed folding boarding ladder is situated adjacent. The shower unit is positioned for use out here, too.

Like any centre cabin or walk-around side deck configuration; in the event water comes over the bows (a definite possibility if caught out by a breaker on a bar), the boat must suddenly support substantial additional weight for as long as it takes to shed the water. The effects on a boat’s nimbleness and on the acceleration needed when negotiating broken water can be quite dramatic.

Here, Cruise Craft has astutely kept the deck’s dimensions such that, even if filled with water, it won’t dramatically affect the boat’s performance. Designers have also added a large freeing port set at the side deck’s end to clear water quickly. Good thinking! Three generations of offshore fishing in the waters of southern Queensland, which is home to several hazardous bar crossings, is certainly evident here.

Interestingly, our test boat was optioned with an electric anchor winch, which, to me, indicates its owners weren’t actually expecting the majority of their time aboard would be spent fishing offshore. Or at least that this particular Outsider 685 will do regular duty closer inshore, where raising and lowering ground tackle for a boat this size becomes a chore.

For those wondering what on earth I’m talking about here, offshore fishers anchoring in deep water habitually utilise a buoy to raise ground tackle set from a bin stowed in the cockpit. It’s what we do around here and does explain the (not overly large) anchor well and the electric winch optioned in this boat, which serious offshore fishers would probably only consider for family boating usage in shallow water.

CLEVER COCKPIT

Now for the cockpit, which I rate as state-of-the-art for offshore fishing amenity.

The fishing workbench seen here is an option few Cruise Crafts leave the factory without. It features a cutting board top, which lifts up to reveal a small sink (it drains overboard) underneath. There is a pair of stainless steel rod holders and small wells each side of the cutting board to hold bait.

Our test boat was optioned with a deckwash fitting atop the aft bulkhead beside the workbench, making it easy to clean up the workspace or cockpit.

To port, opposite the transom door, a spacious bait well is set into the covering board. In our test boat, this was plumbed as a livewell big enough to contain a reasonable amount of live bait. Against the aft bulkhead a three-quarter length lounge stows flush out of the way if not required, or can be quickly deployed as a seat.

As a keen fisherman, I was impressed to find that the entire cockpit periphery allows anglers’ toes to tuck in under the sides, which are the perfect height for security and leg support. These factors only seem important when actually out fishing in less than calm conditions – and then they’re not just important, but absolutely vital to comfort and even safety.

Each side of the aft deck contains a long, slim underfloor fish well. These aren’t huge, but are long enough to contain reasonable size pelagics and roomy enough to hold a decent catch of reef fish. They’re also finished in easy-to-clean smooth gel coat.

In the helm area there’s another underfloor well, which I suspect will see regular use as an icebox. This one is shorter, yet much wider and deeper, and would easily contain enough ice for a few days out. It, too, has an easy-to-clean gel coat interior.

The helm area is roomy enough to shelter at least four whilst travelling, although three is perhaps ideal for more serious fishing. A stainless steel targa-style bimini top, with clear infills, comes standard. Our test boat was optioned with a sliding section, which extends out over the cockpit for extra shade.

Outriggers can be mounted on the targa bar, which also provides mountings for a pair of radio aerials, GPS receivers, flood lights for the cockpit and interior lighting, and stows six rigged rods up out of the way.

It’s a poor reflection on boating 2006-style that you need fully lockable cabin doors, nonetheless the Outsider 685 comes with them anyway. Matched Lowrance X25 and Global Map 6500 units, along with a GME GX600 VHF radio, hardly crammed the available dash space in our test boat. A GME GR968 CD/MP3 player with AM/FM radio and a four-speaker stereo sound system was sited inside the cabin.

The 250hp four-stroke Yamaha powering our test rig was accompanied by Yamaha’s latest digital instrumentation. In my first experience with this system, I found it an interesting development over Yamaha’s previous set-up. The trio of display units certainly offered information in numerals big enough for me to read without resorting to my glasses, and scrolling through the software proved easier than the old system.

Big outboards have come a long way in the last couple of years and the 250 Yam went about its business unobtrusively, to a point where the 40-knot-plus top speed came as something of a surprise.

By using the aforementioned digital instrumentation, we were also able to monitor fuel consumption and get a handle on real-time fuel efficiency at a glance. (See the specifications box at the end of this article for fuel consumption figures). Prospective Outsider 685 owners should be impressed – I was.

I’ve experienced this Cruise Craft hull many times over the years, and while it handled a building wind chop on this particular day like it wasn’t there, I can comment that the 685 also handles less friendly conditions very well. A previous test of an earlier development of this model some years ago included returning to Manly Boat Harbour across a Moreton Bay badly beaten out of shape by the sudden arrival of a weather change. It could have been unpleasant, but wasn’t, even when we encountered a strong tidal flow working against the blustery conditions to create a big chop.

This hull has a prominent plank along its keel, allowing it to plane cleanly at quite low speeds (7.8 knots), especially for a hull with a chop-slicing 20-degree deadrise. The 250hp Yamaha four-stroke’s low- to mid-range torque delivery worked in with all of this very well indeed, planing the hull at a mere 2300rpm; a truly excellent combination of low-end performance on rough water and sheer speed for better days.

Cruise Craft’s Outsider 685 has been with us for several years now, with only minimal detail development along the way to keep it up to date. It raised the bar when it was introduced; and continues to hold the bar at a level well above much of its competition.

SPECIFICATIONS CRUISE CRAFT OUTSIDER 685

Hull length: 6.85 metres

LOA: 7.20 metres

Beam: 2.5 metres

Deadrise at transom: 20 degrees

Trailering weight: 2600kg (approx)

Fuel capacity: 300 litres

Fresh water capacity: 50 litres

Power ratings: Maximum power, 250hp. Factory recommended, 225hp

Transom height: For extra long shaft outboards (twin motor installation available).

Pricing: Outsider 685 packages are available from $102,000 (including a 225hp four-stroke motor and trailer).

PERFORMANCE

Cruise Craft Outsider 685/Yamaha 250hp four-stroke outboard

Propeller: Yamaha Saltwater Series II 19-inch pitch

Location: Green Island, Moreton Bay, Qld

Conditions: Light chop, 5-10 knot variable winds

Load: Three adults, full fuel and water tanks

RPM Speed (Knots) Comment

600 1.8 Slowest trolling speed

2300 7.8 Minimum planing speed

3000 11.7 Cruising range

3500 17.6

4000 25.6

4500 28.8

5000 33.1

6100 42.0 WOT

For more information, contact: Nichols Bros, Hemmant, Brisbane, Qld. Tel: (07) 3390 4877 or cruise to: www.cruisecraft.com.au.


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Boat Test
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