A crafty Explorer

Warren Steptoe | VOLUME 22, ISSUE 4

Cruise Craft is likely to win a lot of friends in the family and fishing ranks with its new Explorer 685.

Cruise Craft’s parallel Explorer and Outsider model lines have, up until now, meant that Explorer models were geared slightly more towards family cruising than fishing; Outsiders favoured serious fishing over cruising and family fun. Largely, this was achieved by the ratio of bias in each boat’s cockpit-to-cabin space.

Outsiders had a relatively larger cockpit and a smaller cabin (and usually provision to go forward along the cabin sides). Explorers had a larger cabin than Outsiders; the cabin space gained at the expense of the cockpit.

Cruise Craft’s flagship of the line, its Outsider 685, was the exception. By virtue of being the biggest boat the company built (at 6.85 metres), it had ample interior space available to suit both purposes equally well in the one model.

So when Cruise Craft announced the release of an Explorer 685, I immediately wondered why the new model? My questions were answered over a morning’s fishing off North Stradbroke Island, which included crossing the notorious South Passage bar. It seems Cruise Craft’s Explorer 685 is more about refining and perhaps, to a lesser extent, updating its existing Outsider 685 – a boat, I might add, which has always been amongst my personal favourites.

SPACE RACE

The Explorer 685 proved to only build on the high standards already achieved by its predecessor – an all-new cabin and deck mould actually manages to include both more cabin and more cockpit space. Other changes have been more subtle. Many of the details are scarcely even apparent to a casual inspection; they are, however, significant and worthwhile.

A good example would be the cockpit deck. A substantial camber ensures the Explorer 685’s deck drains quickly into channels along each side, which direct it aft into a sump under the engine well, from where it can be pumped out.

The deck is not actually self-draining, though. Although an Explorer 685’s deck is actually carried high enough above the waterline to self-drain; Cruise Craft boats being built to European ‘CE’ certification standard means they don’t have open scuppers. However, the Explorer 685 does have large, screw-in bungs, which can easily be removed to drain overboard whilst cleaning up after the messy business of fishing – or for that matter, to wash out all the sand the kids drag in when they return from the beach… It’s an example of Cruise Craft’s commonsense approach to boat design.

Another example is the size of the fish boxes set below decks in the cockpit. Even a whopper Spanish mackerel or wahoo could be accommodated easily in these. And, given the state kids always seem to return to my boat in after a swim, I suppose that standing them in a fish box and flushing sand off with the deck wash is a possibility, too. Plus, they drain overboard.

As any good fisherman will tell you, the best way to ensure top table quality in your catch is to immediately chill it in brine slush. If you wish to hold ice for extended periods, these fish boxes can be optioned with insulation. This notable feature reflects the generational fishing background of Cruise Craft’s owners, the Nichols clan.

Kevin Nichols, the patriarch at Cruise Craft (since the third generation stepped up to run the company last year), happily demonstrated how the helm area is configured so three people can stand comfortably supported by a windscreen grab bar. Indeed, this, too, is commonsense born of returning from offshore fishing after conditions have deteriorated to a point where there’s no option but to stand up and hang on. It’s the kind of thing you never find in boats designed by people who don’t spend time in them simply doing what they’re designing them to do.

The seating in the Explorer 685’s helm area is comprised of twin fairly flat profiled bucket seats perched atop stainless steel frames. Cruise Craft doesn’t fit the deep bucket seats favoured by southern boat builders as a standard item because, in Queensland where these boats are built, deep buckets are way too hot in summer.

TWO-WAY TEST

We actually used two boats for this test – which I’ll come back to later – but one of them had a pair of (optional) ice boxes underneath the seat mounting frames. Alternatively, the space can be used to store tackle boxes or other items that invariably end up under foot when fishing.

At the aft end of the cockpit, most of the inside of the high bulkhead is occupied with a folding lounge. This stows completely out of the way when folded, leaving the entire cockpit unencumbered. Beside the lounge to port is a transom door, which leads to a telescopic folding ladder accessed via a small (non-slip) deck incorporated into the engine well – the family side of the Explorer’s future in mind here, obviously.

One of Cruise Craft’s optional bait board/work benches is perched above the aft bulkhead in the extensively fitted out Explorer test boat. A self-stowing deckwash hose (another option) plugged in beside it. To starboard beside the lounge, in the top of the aft bulkhead, is a bait well – which can be plumbed as a live bait tank, or just used to thaw and store bait.

Along each side of the cockpit, huge side pockets should be able to contain all the stuff fishermen tend to shove in there. Gaff/rod racks are incorporated into each one, with isolator switches for the multiple battery system that is located at the aft end of the starboard pocket, beside a handy built-in tackle locker.

The interior is completely lined with mouldings; there’s no Flocoat evident anywhere. This brings the standard of finish right up there with the best in small trailerable boats, no matter whether they’re imported or local. This is a very nicely finished boat.

Yet another manifestation of the Nichols family’s commitment to building a top quality offshore fishing boat is how the cockpit sides are arranged to allow your toes to slot underneath before your thigh contacts the cockpit periphery – a point all-important on rougher days. It’s yet another example of boats being built by people who actually get out there and use them where they’re intended to be used.

An upholstered coaming runs around the cockpit periphery, with recessed grab rails along each side to complete what amounts to a fishing-and family-friendly area.

The cabin entry now features a curved sliding door, which can be locked securely. Two people can sleep in some comfort on the Explorer 685’s bunk. A narrow deck each side of the new cabin makes it possible to go to the bow with care, although it should rarely be necessary with the electric anchor winch optioned on one of our test boats.

Above the helm area, both boats featured a stainless steel framed bimini top. These are an option Cruise Craft has developed into almost an art form. The aft end of the targa arch has a sliding section, which extends to shade the cockpit, and the arch itself has mounts for aerials, outrigger and lighting for the helm and cockpit. Plus, of course, it incorporates a rocket launcher-style rack for six rigged rods. There are four rod holders around the cockpit periphery for fishing, and a further four rods can be stored in the side pocket racks.

SINGLE OR TWIN?

Now, as I’ve mentioned, we used two Explorer 685s for this test, one of which was a bare-bones fit-out, powered by a single 225hp Yamaha four-stroke. The other was just the opposite, having been comprehensively fitted out for use by Cruise Craft’s fishing team. In other words, much as your average dedicated fishing enthusiast would fit out his boat. It was powered by twin supercharged 135hp Mercury Verados.

Basically, the bare-bones boat was supposed to be along as a camera platform. But this meant I spent as much time in it as the one pictured and I found the comparison between the single and twin motor installations interesting in its own right.

Our performance figures show there wasn’t as much between them as might be expected, given the extra 45 horsepower generated by the Verados. Presumably, this was a product of the extra weight and added drag of the twin powerplant set-up.

Seat-of-the-pants, it really wasn’t a case of one boat proving significantly better than the other – although the differing weight distributions did mean noticeable differences in how they moved underfoot.

Coming home, we encountered a stiff sea breeze which provided a good opportunity to evaluate on-water behaviour. I could feel that the twin installation boat was heavier in the stern, although there was nothing at all to complain about in the ride. The single installation was, as expected, noticeably more nimble in tight manoeuvers as we lined up incoming sets during the bar crossings.

I really couldn’t say I preferred one or the other. Making a choice between the two is largely a matter of cost – substantially higher for the twin installation, naturally – and how relevant the (considerable) added safety of a twin installation is, given where the boat is likely to spend most of its on-water time.

Our sea breeze had generated quite a wind chop by the time we recrossed Moreton Bay, which, I must say, fazed neither boat at all while they skimmed across it side-by-side at 30 knots.

What was noticeable about the trip home, though, was a complete absence of hull noise. Cruise Craft incorporates a multitude of mouldings to achieve the excellent standard of finish in the Explorer 685 and they must be very well integrated, indeed, to remain so quiet under these conditions.

Something I’ve always liked about the Outsider 685 was the way it doesn’t lift its bow as it rises onto the plane; instead, it simply goes faster until the transition from displacement to planing speed is complete. There’s nothing worse on the inevitable rough trip home than a boat which insists on riding bow-high through this transition period, leaving it crashing into oncoming chop well back behind the fine cutting edge of the forefoot.

The Nichols team did tell me they’d taken the opportunity to subtly refine the Explorer 685’s underwater shape. Our trip home proved they’ve got it pretty-well spot-on. In fact, compared with the Outsider 685, I’d go so far as to say they’ve actually succeeded in making a great boat better. ¿

PERFORMANCE:

CRUISE CRAFT EXPLORER 685

Location: central Moreton Bay, Qld

Conditions: light winds, slight chop

Load: 2 adults

Power: 225hp Yamaha four-stroke

Propeller: 19-inch pitch Yamaha S/S

RPM Speed in Knots Comments

500 1.9 in gear idle trolling speed

2300 7.4 minimum planing speed

3000 12.9

3500 18.5

4000 24.2

4500 27.7

5000 32.0

6100 37.6 WOT

Power: twin Mercury Verado 135hp

Propeller: Mercury Laser II, 19-inch pitch

RPM Speed in Knots Comments

700 1.9 in gear idle minimum trolling speed

2000 7.4 Minimum planing speed

2500 9.9

3000 14.8

3500 23.3

4000 28.3

5000 38.2

5300 39.7 WOT

SPECIFICATIONS:

CRUISE CRAFT EXPLORER 685

Length: 6.85 metres

Length overall: 7.20 metres

Beam: 2.50 metres

Hull deadrise: 20 degrees (at transom)

Fuel: 310 litres (370 litres optional)

Freshwater: 50 litres (optional)

Power Ratings

Min power: n/s

Max power: 270 hp

Manufacturer recommended power: 225 hp

Pricing Explorer 685, basic fit-out with Yamaha 225: $98,830

Explorer 685 no expense spared fitout with twin 135 Verados: $133,425

For further information, go to: www.cruisecraft.com.au.


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