A well-timed phone call sealed the choice of craft for our Port Phillip Bay expedition. Scott O’Hare, proprietor of Aussie Boat Sales, was on the other end of the line and wanted to know if we’d like to do a test of a Chaparral 330 Signature that was currently sitting in The Anchorage marina in Williamstown, Melborne. Since the only thing now needed to do our circumnavigation of the Bay was a boat, the timing seemed fortuitous – to us, at least.
“Sounds great, Scott,” we said. “Only thing is, we’ll be needing the boat for around three days and we’ll probably rack up around 170km or thereabouts…”
There was a brief silence at the other end of the line, followed by a brave: “Yeah, why not … the boat’s ready when you are.”
A couple of days later we waved farewell to Scott and headed for Marina YE on the Yarra for the first night of our expedition.
Nearly three days later, we returned, having come to the conclusion that the Chaparral was the ideal craft on which to perform a lap of the Bay.
Billing itself as the world’s largest independent builder of stern drive boats, Chaparral Boats is based in the US in Nashville (no, not that Nashville), Georgia. Founded 44 years ago, it has earned a reputation for building sound, high quality craft and has a swag of Boat of the Year and excellence awards to its credit.
Built in the mould of the typical American sports cruiser, the Chaparral 330 boasts plenty of creature comforts, lots of outdoor and indoor space for a boat of its size and is clearly intended to make the most of the great nautical outdoors.
Below decks, the layout cleverly uses the available space to create good utility for both day and night. Sleeping capacity with the forward V-berth and aft abeam cabin accommodates four adults comfortably, although if you’reclaustrophobic you might find the latter a little squeezy.
The galley offers plenty of quality Corian counter space and abundant storage options and is well enough equipped with a compact fridge, two-burner Kenyon stove and small microwave. If you’re dining indoors, there is room enough in the saloon for three around the portside dining table, with extra space around the V-berth table. The table cleverly lowers at the flick of a switch to form the base for the double berth.
Entertainment is provided by a flat-screen TV in the bow and a DVD/stereo system.
Natural lighting streams in via three cabin roof hatches and small side windows and anyone around six feet in stature will have enough head room when moving about.
The head/shower to starboard is a single moulding that is nicely finished and offers plenty of room for a large adult without the need to be a practising contortionist.
Finish and layout below decks is hard to fault, from the beautifully polished holly cabinetry to the sumptuous upholstery and quality fittings. Certainly there were no complaints from this motley crew. And air-conditioning is a welcome plus for summer overnighting.
A 5kVA Kohler gen set takes care of any power needs when not underway.
Above decks, it boasts a three-tier open layout encouraging occupants to lounge around and make the most of their time on the water. There is a generously proportioned swim platform at the stern, which, on our test craft came with optional safety rails, a BBQ and bait station. A central transom door leads up to the cockpit, where crew are likely to spend much of their time. Here there is plenty of room to move about and a variety of entertaining and playtime options. There is seating enough for around eight adults spread between the large starboard lounge and a smaller perch on the port side, which also houses a small sink and icemaker.
It’s another step up to the skipper’s office, where we spent most of our time on this adventure. The helm afforded great all-round views and the twin helm seats were bolstered for extra comfort and convenience when underway. This particular boat was fitted with a centrally-placed Navman 8084 plotter/sounder that was ideally positioned and very easy to use. The two-tier dash was well laid out and the positioning of the twin Volvo-Penta throttles, wheel and bow thruster joystick made manoeuvring in tight spots a breeze.
My only complaint here was that the through the-screen access to the bow when berthing was awkward. There is a step moulded into the helm bulkhead to make things a little easier, but the placement of the sliding cabin door makes it difficult to get through the windscreen hatch without a bit of a twist when the door is open. Okay, perhaps for the young and athletic, but not quite so easy for three middle-aged, overweight blokes.
Overhead, the targa moulding houses the outdoor entertainment system, incorporating a small DVD screen and stereo system, lighting and speakers.
The large expanse of forward deck is occupied by a generously proportioned sunpad and a sturdy stainless steel bow rail means that you can move about with confidence.
If the weather closes in while you’re overnighting, the Chaparral comes with a complete set of camper covers and clears.
One thing this boat definitely doesn’t lack is power. A pair of muscular Volvo Penta 300hp 5.7lt V8s, driving through Duoprop legs, rumble away under the cockpit deck and while fairly thirsty (we topped up the 644lt tank in Queenscliff ‘just to be sure’, and Scott O’Hare suggested that a consumption rate of around 80lt/hr could be expected), they provided more than enough power for the size and weight of boat. Much of our time underway was spent at around 24 knots (45km/h) at 4000rpm, which we found to be the cruising ‘sweet spot’ for the boat.
Scott mentioned that diesel power is now offered as an option throughout the Chaparral cruiser range and I’d venture that it would be an attractive proposition for owners who tend to cover a lot of water on their boats.
Speaking of options, this particular boat was packed full of them to the tune of around $50,000 over and above the base $300,000 price. Extras ticked included a bow thruster, stern rail, BBQ, icemaker and carpets.
From a handling point of view, we copped a bit of everything during our circumnavigation and I was particularly impressed with the big Chaparral’s sea-keeping ability and ride in rough chop. It feels a very solid boat going into a messy sea, and is not easily deterred from its course. And considering the typical high sports cruiser freeboard presented to cross winds, I was surprised that the trim tabs hardly rated any attention at all.
Overall, we found the Chaparral 330 to be a very open, welcoming craft with plenty of sumptuous upholstery and rich, polished timberwork to pamper body and soul. It would easily accommodate two couples or a typical family and is also a great entertainer, with plenty of space to sit back and let the world go by. There are also many practical touches, including lots of grab rails and an abundance of storage and cup holders just where they’re needed. Workmanship and finish are particularly impressive and easily of a standard you’d expect from a boat in this class and price range.
After selling Chaparrals for the past five years, Aussie Boat Sales was appointed national importer last year and Scott O’Hare says there are now dealers in all states. Typically, the delay between ordering a boat from the US factory and delivery is between 12 and 16 weeks.
SPECIFICATIONS: CHAPARRAL 330 SIGNATURE
Overall Length: 10.67m
Sleeping capacity: 6 persons
Fuel capacity: 644lt
Power: Twin Volvo Penta 5.7lt V8s (224kW/300hp each)
Drives: Twin Volvo Penta Duoprops
Price: From $300,000
Price as tested: Around $350,000
For more information, tel (03) 9397 6977, or go to: www.aussieboatsales.com.au.