Smooth operator

Geoff Middleton | VOLUME 24, ISSUE 6

American manufacturer Chaparral is a small player in the Australian market, but if the 216 SSi Wide Tech Bow Rider is anything to go by, its boats could become commonplace here in the future.

Although the name Chaparral is not widely known in the boating community in Australia, it certainly is in its native America. Chaparral has been around in the USA for 45 years and as a long-standing privately-owned company, it has been able to weather the global financial storm better than most.

Chaparral was started in 1965 by Buck Pegg. The company was then called Fibreglass Fabrications and it marketed a 15ft fibreglass trihull boat that sold for a whopping $675.

Following a move to Nashville, and a name change to Chaparral, the company really cranked up and the name became synonymous with high-end dependable fibreglass boats.

The boats are all built onsite at Nashville using state-of-the-art CAD design and the latest in boat-building technologies.

Chaparral today has 140 dealers across the US and a distribution network that spans the globe. Here in Australia, the brand is handled by Aussie Boat Sales in Williamstown, Victoria, with our test boat being supplied by Nautical Marine in Sorrento, at the southern end of Port Phillip Bay.

VAST RANGE

The Chaparral range is nothing if not comprehensive, with boats covering everything from 18ft runabouts to the company’s new flagship, a 40ft, fully-loaded sports cruiser. It’s what the company terms a “one-stop boat shop”. In the range are open boats, bow riders, cuddy cabins and the afore-mentioned sports cruisers.

It’s worth noting that Chaparral, during the current international economic downturn, has taken the opportunity to invest heavily in its research and development program. Consequently, the company says it is in very good shape to take advantage of the financial upturn, with a range of new boats now available.

Our test boat was a 216 SSi Wide Tech Bow Rider. And wide it is, at a fairly standard 8ft 4in (2.54m), but the Chaparral takes a lot of its beam aft, making it a very roomy boat.

As the name suggests, its length is 21ft 6in or 6.55m, so it’s a big boat in every respect. The 216 weighs in at a fairly hefty 1556kg dry. Add 151lt of fuel, some gear and family and it all amounts to a big, weighty boat. But that’s not meant as a criticism. The 216, with its deadrise of 20 degrees, solid build and beefy statistics, is a great boat in a seaway … but we’ll get to that later.

Our test boat was powered by a 5.7lt, 300hp MerCruiser, which is certainly at the upper level of powerplants recommended by Chaparral. The big V8 fits nicely into the engine bay, leaving sufficient room for servicing. The 350 drives through an Alpha leg to a single stainless prop – all simple and effective.

TESTING TIMES

We picked up the Chaparral at Nautical Marine in Sorrento on a sparkling Melbourne morning and headed to the ramp to be greeted by Port Phillip Bay in one of its calmest moods. With the couta boats bobbing on a barely discernable chop, we launched with ease.

Boarding is a snap with the Chaparral’s integrated swim platform and what the company terms its ‘walkthrough transom’. You’re then greeted by a spacious cockpit, with a wraparound aft lounge and two very comfortable helm seats.

Both the pilot and co-pilot seats are adjustable, plush and colour co-ordinated. In fact, the whole boat is colour-matched, right down to the armrests and dash surrounds. Very stylish.

The dash is a fairly simple affair, but offers gauges for trim, fuel, speed (in mph) and revs in both digital and analogue forms (something I found very handy at speed). There are also a host of rocker switches for all the usual necessities, like lights, blowers, horn, accessories and the like. The Merc throttle controller falls easily to hand and there’s a handy armrest making it even more comfortable at the helm. Forward of the throttle is a remote controller for the Clarion stereo system.

As mentioned, the co-pilot gets a high-quality perch with a padded armrest, plus a stainless steel grab rail and a lockable glovebox to secure valuables when at berth.

The companionway leading forward is wide and features a locker to port. The locker door doubles as a gateway to separate the forward cockpit from the rest of the boat and would be handy if caught out in inclement weather. Obviously, the windscreen folds out to enable passage forward.

The forward section features comfortable lounges, twin stereo speakers and sturdy stainless steel grab rails. Under the forward cushion is an insulated locker, with drain, that is designed to be used as an ice box – another thoughtful touch as there is also an integrated cooler in the rear of the boat.

One big feature is storage. Under every cushion, in every nook and cranny, there is storage space. On the centreline of the cockpit, there is an under-floor locker that’s long enough for skis and wide enough for wakeboards – very well thought out.

SMOOTH AND FAST

As mentioned, we took off in perfect bowrider weather and as we waited to get our camera boat set up, my host for the day, Keith Davis from Nautical Marine, took me for a potter along the stunning coastline of Sorrento. It’s a true boatie’s paradise, with leafy foreshores, cute boathouses and the huge mansions of Melbourne’s mega-rich. The water here is a crystal-clear blue as it is close to the entrance to Bass Strait and is flushed by a fast tide every day.

Once set up, we put the Chaparral through its paces, and I have to say I was impressed. The hull rises to the plane almost imperceptibly and the big Merc gets it moving quickly. I found a comfortable cruise of about 25mph (40km/h) was perfect. Keith and I could have a chat without raising our voices, thanks to the fine job Chaparral has done with insulating the engine bay.

SPECIFICATIONS: CHAPARRAL 216 SSi WIDE TECH

LOA: 6.55m

Beam: 2.54m

Draft: 86cm (leg down)

Deadrise: 20 degrees

Dry weight: 1556kg

Fuel: 151lt

Engine: MerCruiser 5.7lt 350 MAG 300hp

Price: $85,000 (approx)

Agent: Aussie Boat Sales, 34 The Strand, Williamstown (Anchorage Marina), Vic. Tel: (03) 9397 6977. Web: www.aussieboatsales.com.au.

A speed of around 50km/h was achieved at 3200rpm and 3650rpm saw 65km/h indicated. Due to the conditions, we could really open her up and with the engine trimmed out, we saw almost 90km/h at wide open throttle. Impressive indeed.

At speed, the windscreen does a fine job of keeping the wind out and the boat feels stable and comfortable.

I flung the 216 into a few tight turns, with impressive results. It didn’t feel like it wanted to dig in – more like it would ‘slide’ through the turns if I got a bit too enthusiastic. It felt almost foolproof – as though I could throw anything at it and its inherent good manners would pull it through. I’m not saying that you couldn’t get caught out, but it is certainly one of the best-behaved boats of its kind that I’ve driven.

According to Keith, due to the fact that a lot of these boats are used on inland lakes and rivers in the US, the hull is designed for hard turns in narrow waterways. And it certainly shows.

Although we had a fairly smooth day out on the Bay, we did have a bit of a play in the wake of the Queenscliff-to-Sorrento ferry, and the

20-degree deadrise and solid construction of the Chaparral meant it sliced through the waves beautifully, with no slam or spray.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Chaparral 216 SSi Wide Tech is not a cheap boat. At around $75,000 for the base boat, it is up near the top of the bowrider heap. However, the price I believe is warranted as it is one of the best-finished, best-handling and most versatile boats I’ve had the pleasure of testing.

The fit and finish is second to none. I had a good poke around in the lockers, under the dash, even under the coamings, and it was hard to find fault. The wiring connectors are all triple O-ring and water-sealed, there’s recessed blue mood lighting in the cockpit (a nice touch as a standard feature), the use of stainless steel for grab rails and even drink holders is classy (and durable), the recessed navigation and spot lights, the pop-up cleats … the list is certainly long and impressive.

At the end of the day, a boat like this is a bit like a high-end sports car. The measure of whether it’s good or not is whether you want to keep driving it or whether you want to just get home. I wanted to keep driving the Chaparral 216.


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