Remember ‘back in the day’, when all we looked for in a boat was that it didn’t leak (not too much, anyway) and that the motor started (occasionally, at least). Everything else was considered superfluous to needs – but nice to have, nonetheless. Cabin roofs, upholstered seats (or any seats, for that matter), electronics (a torch sufficed) and drink-holders (we had hands, didn’t we?) were nice to have, but considered a bit ‘flash’ by many boaties of the time. And for the purposes of this article, I’m talking 20 to 30 years ago.
But gradually options lists appeared and pretty soon trailer craft began to change. A good boat could be more than simply a hull and engine. Hell, it wasn’t long before you could have hull graphics, handholds, bait tanks, sound systems, sounders and GPS, cookers and barbies, swim platforms and sunpads. As customers became more demanding, manufacturers competed to see how much gear they could cram into their boats.
But then a thing called the GFC crashed the party – followed almost immediately by the GBC (Global Boating Crisis), in which boat sales plummeted worldwide as buyers fled the market and doors closed on far too many boat building businesses. Overnight, all those shiny trailer craft bristling with all of the previously ‘must have’ gadgetry – and with price tags to match – were gathering dust in boat yards across the nation.
Fortunately, there are still some within the boating industry who can recall the days when a boat’s fundamental reason for existence was to propel its occupants to fish and then return them safely to land. A quick look at what’s available in trailer boats over recent times will reveal that many in the industry have responded with a ‘back-to-basics’ approach to boating, most particularly in the fishing segment. The strength of the Aussie Scholar has helped here, too, with many imported craft now becoming more affordable for those wanting a no-frills fishing platform.
Which brings us to the Smartliner 19, a back-to-basics trailer boat if ever there was one.
Built in China and launched in 2009, Smartliner boats are the product of an alliance of boat builders and marketing folks from the USA, France, New Zealand and Taiwan. Most notably, the people behind the distinctive French-built Arvor are involved, which explains the clear design cues shared by both brands, including the solid keel running almost the length of the hull, and also the high sides and traditional lines.
In Australia, Smartliner boats have been imported for about a year now by John Stav, of Melbourne’s JV Marine World. Stav says he first spotted the plank-sided craft at the Shanghai Boat Show in China last year and was drawn by their solid build and overall no-frills concept.
“They really got my attention because of the traditional styling and the depth of the interior,” he said. “They are primarily built for the European market and look very unassuming. But once you get them in the water, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the efficiency of the hull and the performance and the fact that they are such a dry boat.”
Very obviously built to a price (just $34,500 in this particular case), with very little in the way of the creature comforts to which more demanding Australasian trailerboat buyers have become accustomed, Stav says the primary target for Smartliner boats are hardcore fishos, who appreciate simplicity, fuel economy and cockpit space. Families looking for a cheap day boat for cruising and watersports are also on the hit list.
The hulls are a semi-displacement design that are produced using resin infusion moulding, which basically relies on a vacuum to draw resin through the mould for more even resin distribution. Other claimed advantages include improved strength and lighter weight. Additional strength comes in the form of an under-deck fibreglass stringer system, with bags of plastic beads packed between the stringers to provide flotation.
Smartliners use a raised, self-draining deck design, the deck moulding contoured and angled to flush water down both sides to the scuppers.
A couple of distinctive design features include the keel, which provides a solid backbone for the hull. It begins near the front of the hull, merging with the forefoot and becoming quite prominent until about a metre from the stern – very similar to the Arvor from which it is obviously drawn. It also features fairly wide strakes, which flare out early from the bow and play a major part in the hull’s sea-keeping abilities.
John Stav says the major features of the hull design are its performance in relation to fuel economy and its stability – both at rest and while underway.
In keeping with Smartliner’s no-frills approach, interior features are fairly minimal, including a pair of basic adjustable swivel seats for the skipper and first mate, storage lockers in the seating bulkheads on either side of the cabin (with a recess for a Portaloo in the centre), basic non-upholstered seating for 3-4 across the transom (a removable filleting table sits between the two moulded seats in the aft quarters to act as infill) and there is a livebait tank in the aft starboard quarter. The filleting table, as fitted, is likely to be jettisoned in favour of a proper bait table as it is simply a flat plastic board and does not have provision for a transom mounting.
Cabin cushions and padding for the transom seating can be had, but will cost extra. And speaking of options, our test craft was fitted with a couple, including the bimini and clears and cockpit carpeting.
An initial inspection of the rest of the boat reveals that finish quality is not up to what you’d expect from a locally-built or ‘name’ imported equivalent. Visually, joins and finishes tend to be a bit below par – the window seals for instance – and some fittings, such as the forward-access windscreen hatch, do not align properly when closed. The quality of some hinges and fasteners would seem to leave a bit to be desired, too. And those with an affinity for stainless steel metal fittings on boats might raise their eyebrows at the use of anodised aluminium throughout the Smartliner – although the company claims that corrosion resistance is not a problem.
Functionality is not necessarily the issue here – it’s just that a direct comparison with other well-known trailercraft (albeit much more costly brands, it needs to be said), would leave Smartliner’s 19 wanting in some areas.
But utility – and cost, of course – is the Smartliner’s main selling feature, and in that regard it would seem to have a lot going for it. Access is easy, there is more than enough cockpit room for 3-4 anglers, coamings are about the right height for good child safety and ‘fish ability’, the anchor well is a good size and relatively easy to access, and the ETEC 75 (the 19 is rated from 60-80hp) is a good, economical match for the hull. Handholds are well-placed (including on the cabin roof should anyone want to access the bow from the sides).
And speaking of the cabin roof, the Smartliner is actually a convertible cuddy. By undoing a few fasteners at its base, the roof can be removed completely, giving the crew a whole lot more fish-fighting room should they need it. It’s likely to be a popular feature up north, where protection from the elements is often outweighed by the need to move about the boat.
There are a couple of compromises inherent in the basic Smartliner concept, one being the fact that due to the stringer system and deck design, a removable, above-deck fuel tank is necessary, which limits fuel capacity and range somewhat. The test craft came with a 70lt tank hidden under the port side of the transom. Ideally in a boat of this size – and depending on your boating needs – you’d expect to have a fuel capacity of around 100lt. But then again, given the frugal nature of the ETEC 75 and Smartliner’s claim of a fuel efficient hull, range may not be such an issue.
When it came time to put the Smartliner 19 through its paces, I was keen to see how it handled a few lumps out on Port Phillip Bay. Unfortunately, it was one of those days when you could play a game of 8-pool on the water – not a wave in sight. So we had to resort to a bit of wake-hopping when we could, although we did get a chance to sample its turning characteristics and overall performance.
Given the effect of the prominent keel, it was a little disconcerting at first when throwing the Smartliner into a sharp turn as there was absolutely no lean whatsoever in the hull. It simply stood upright and to rigid attention throughout the manoeuvre, instead of leaning into the turn as you’d normally expect. The keel also provided good directional stability at slower speeds, as when entering a berth or marina – handy when you need to be centimetre-perfect when working around other boats.
The ride felt fine, for what it was worth, given the benign nature of the Bay during our test. The folks from JV suggested that I might want to take a look at some Youtube footage of a Smartliner outing in Russia to view their sea-keeping and rough weather capabilities and I have to say that, purely on the basis of the footage, I was impressed. See for yourself at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnoyMbdeCg4&feature=related.
STANDING ROOM ONLY
The skipper’s perch was a little awkward, either seated or standing. Visibility when seated was compromised by the cabin roofline, while standing up meant the throttle binnacle was a little hard to reach. The best compromise here would be to adjust the height of the seat pedestal so that forward visibility was better in the seated position. I also found the steering to be a bit on the stiff and heavy side. Buyers might want to tick the powering steering option here.
Stability at rest felt good, which bodes well for those who tend to move around a bit when fighting fish.
In keeping with the overall theme of the Smartliner, the instrumentation on the small, low-mounted helm binnacle was pretty basic, consisting of a trio of gauges, the two larger ones keeping track of speed and rpm, while the smaller one indicated trim angle.
From a power-to-hull point of view, I found the ETEC 75 to be well matched to the Smartliner. Normally a 5.7m boat would feel a bit underpowered by anything much under 100hp, but the Smartliner demonstrated adequate acceleration and response. The semi-displacement hull sits deep in the water up until around 3500rpm, which worked out to an indicated 25mph (40km/h). From here on it presented a fairly flat running attitude and peaked out at 5400rpm (68km/h). Overall, I’d think that the combination would, as claimed, make for an economical proposition.
And ultimately it’s cost that would be the primary motivation for anyone who can see a Smartliner in their future. It’s hard to walk past the price tag of $34,500 as tested ($32,057 base cost), which includes a five-year hull warranty. You might want to spend a little more to spec it up with some electronics and comfort options, but you’re still likely to end up with some change out of $40,000.
There are two other models either side of the 19 in the Smartliner range. Currently there is a 21 and 17, both of which only differ from the 19 in terms of cockpit length. John Stav says there are also 26-and 28-foot models on the way.
One thing about a basic boat is that you can assume that not a lot can go wrong – in theory at least. If you’re looking for a platform that you can build on to create your own ideal trailerboat, you might want to consider the Smartliner range. ¿
SPECIFICATIONS: SMARTLINER 19
Overall length: 5.76m
Deadrise: 15 degrees
Capacity: 6 persons
Fuel capacity: 70lt-plus
Power as tested: 75hp ETEC two-stroke
Price as tested: $34,500 incl trailer
Base price: $32,057
5400 68 (wide open throttle)
For more information: www.jvmarine.com.au or tel (03) 9798 8883.