Missile control

Graham Lloyd | VOLUME 26, ISSUE 5
Acceleration from rest and through the mid-range was near brutal. The clean-running hull is responsive in turns, both when cruising and at higher speeds.
The Force F21S blends a world-class racing pedigree with luxurious refinement.

This Force F21S is fast – very fast for a social boat – but that’s not necessarily its key attraction. It’s also extremely rewarding to drive and can cruise effortlessly at speeds most boats won’t touch even when flat out. That makes it the waterborne equivalent of a luxury grand touring car – think Aston Martin, Bentley or Maserati.

The design, engineering and build quality of Force boats echoes that of those premium car marques, too. Custom-built with extraordinary attention to detail, the products from this small family-owned operation, located by the Hawkesbury River at Lower Portland, NSW, are right up there with the world’s best.

Rod and Kelly Bickerton, along with a dedicated team of specialist craftsmen, have been building Force boats for 15 years. During a time when much of the rest of the marine industry has struggled, sales of Force’s social and race boats have charged ahead.

The old auto racing mantra of ‘what wins on Sunday, sells on Monday’ still holds true in the boat world – and nothing tests a boat more stringently than running it at full throttle against the world’s best. To that end, it was a Force boat that took outright victory in last year’s Sydney Bridge to Bridge ski race, where Force also triumphed in no less than 12 individual classes and amassed a tally of 28 podium places. A Force boat also won the same race in 2009 and they’ve scooped the silverware in a stack of other major Aussie events, like the Grafton Bridge to Bridge, the Club Marine Southern 80, and the classic races at Robinvale and Mildura. In total, Force has won some 24 Australian titles.

Force boats have enjoyed no small degree of international success either, claiming major placings at the 2007 and 2009 world titles. In fact, in 2007 Force won five out of six championship titles, making it the most successful ski boat manufacturer in world title history. Then, in 2009, Force took out the Open Men’s and Junior Boy’s categories at the world titles in Belgium.

With boats from 18ft to 23ft (5.49m to 7.32m), the F21S is new to the Force range. The a21 designates the length in feet (it’s actually 6.48m) and the ‘S’ suffix is for stern drive. Other Force models are designed for outboards and styles include low-profile cuddy cabin and bowrider models, as well as the more classic, long-foredeck speedboat lines of the F21S. All the boats are custom-built to individual requirements in terms of colours, engines and fit-out.

Force’s custom trailers are masterpieces in their own right, too. Highly-polished alloy wheels on dual axles are just the start, with unique and clever touches such as a carpeted compartment with a carbonfibre cover to safely stow the winch handle, fibreglass mudguards in a metalflake gelcoat, boat-colour-matched fibreglass foot panels, and a fully-enclosed and carpeted frame to protect the boat’s hull under tow.

TRUE HIGH PERFORMANCE

This is a wonderful boat for family and friends, with a spacious cockpit, supremely comfortable seats, stacks of stowage and a long list of accessories. It’s great for skiing and wakeboarding as well as for relaxed cruising, and its handling and performance is truly exceptional – the result of years of feedback from clients who are also toptier ski race competitors.

The vented chines and keel strakes on the 21-degree deadrise hull are indicative of many other less apparent refinements, while the driving position just feels ‘right’ – it instils confidence in the boat’s potential even before you’ve left the dock.

Our test boat was powered by a MerCruiser 496 MAG HO V8 with DTS (Digital Throttle and Shift), rated at 425hp. The drive was a Bravo with a 1.5:1 ratio, fitted with IMCO hydraulic steering and a Bravo 1 four-blade 28in pitch stainless prop. It’s a mighty combination that effortlessly thrusts the F21S to a top end of 128.4km/h. That’s a smidge under 80mph – and we would have hit that mark had we not been so wary of debris in the river thanks to recent heavy rain.

This is a lightning-fast speed for a social ski boat, yet the F21S achieved it with ease, delivering a smooth and stable ride and with precise response from the beautifully-engineered steering system. Of course, 80mph is just a walk in the park compared to true race examples of the same hull, which can hit 120mph (192km/h) while towing two skiers.

Acceleration from rest and through the mid-range was near brutal, and just backing off a bit and re-flooring the throttle was a stark reminder of the ample grunt on offer. Bow rise out of the hole was minimal and the running angle once on plane was perfect, with an excellent line of sight over the wind deflector to the tip of the bow and the waters ahead.

Turns either way were clean and swift, with both hull and prop keeping a firm grip and exhibiting perfect behaviour. The steering required little effort but gave good feedback, likewise the hull, so it was easy to trim the drive for optimal handling at any speed.

Interestingly, and pleasingly, the F21S felt just like a thoroughbred sportscar if you explored its performance a bit, while more relaxed driving was more akin to a big GT saloon, so you could experience the best of both worlds.

The sound effects were great, too. Big through-transom pipes gave the distinctive rumble of a hot V8 at idle and a blatant bark of power at mid to high revs. Cleverly though, the overall noise level was never environmentally disturbing and, from inside the Force, the exhaust symphony blended appealingly with the whoosh of wind and water as the boat speared up the river.

The boat’s cruising abilities are as remarkable as its top speed. An easy-loping 55km/h was seen at just 2350rpm, and a very relaxed 3500rpm had the GPS displaying a heady 92km/h. You could cruise forever at those settings, and the big deep-vee hull can handle just about any waters you’d want to try. From then on it simply got more exciting, with 113km/h at 4500rpm before hitting 5000rpm and 128.4km/h.

At lower speeds, the wake would be fine for ’boarding, whilst the wash at social to race speeds is clearly a specialty of the design and well proven in all those ski race triumphs. The F21S is totally at home as a watersports tow boat, but it’s also a magnificent boat for the performance-oriented enthusiast. Don’t buy a sportscar – get an F21S instead!

IN THE COCKPIT

At first glance, the cockpit of the F21S looks a little sparse, but there are actually many features packed into that contemporary simplicity. The wheel stands well out from the dash on a stainless column that positions it perfectly, while the seat is adjustable to accommodate just about any physique. The wheel is an Italian Isotta artwork and a custom stainless housing just behind it contains the drive trim control stalk, allowing convenient finger-tip operation with your hand still securely on the rim.

The perfectly-placed foot throttle is housed in a cut-out at the base of the dash panel – it’s exactly where you’d expect to find the accelerator in a top sports car. There’s a foot rest for your left foot, too.

The gear shift is on the cockpit side, along with an angled panel that houses a switchboard and the ignition key. Dual drink-holder recesses are provided for both the skipper and front passenger, who both enjoy superbly comfortable seats. The passenger’s seat swivels through 360 degrees, allowing them to serve as an observer for the skiers behind, or simply to chat with those on the aft lounge. There are grab handles beside the passenger seat and on the dash, and several stretch-bag-style stowage points throughout the cockpit.

The left side of the dash has a large panel that lifts to reveal a cavernous carpeted storage area under the foredeck. More stowage is under the rear lounge (there’s a cooler there, too) and in the neatly finished engine bay either side of the V8. The latter is accessed under a large sunpad that is raised by a power ram for clear entry to the normal maintenance points.

Instead of the traditional line-up of analogue gauges on the dash there is a single SmartCraft multi-function ‘Vessel View’ display that is part of the 496 MAG HO MerCruiser package. With large digital numbers and various graphic displays, the screen tracks a wide variety of functions, with simple controls enabling the driver to watch any aspect of the engine’s or boat’s vital signs. Override alarm displays come up automatically when needed. Data that can be displayed includes rpm, speed, fuel level, fuel consumed, remaining range, drive trim, rudder angle, oil pressure, water temperature, water pressure, volts, depth and so on, but some of the readings require additional optional sensors. A range of screen displays presents various mixes of data, some digitally, some graphically, in a very clever and convenient package.

Also on the dash was the remote control for the iPod-compatible Clarion stereo system, which entertains the crew through quad speakers neatly positioned behind custom-look Rex Marine cover plates.

The cockpit floor in this particular boat was not carpeted, but had a non-slip silver finish and was self-draining into the bilges for easy hoseout cleaning. Under the cockpit floor was the 300lt fuel tank. The upholstery was top class in silver and white, with sumptuous and supportive foam padding. The seat bases have plastic backs (no wood to deteriorate over time) and the upholstery is secured with stainless staples.

The front seats are finished with appealing silver carbon-fibre-look gelcoat – this is also featured in the wind deflector and in clever air scoops on either side just forward of that. These scoops supply additional air flow into the engine bay. Under the forward gunnels are stainless LED navigation lights that team with a lift-up LED riding light on the aft sun deck.

WORLD-CLASS

Overall, the Force F21S is a world-class boat in every way. The styling flows in perfect proportions from stem to stern and the mould work and fibreglass are as good as you’ll find anywhere. The hull design is race-proven and the total package combines genuinely high performance with ease of use and safety. There’s also a bowrider version underway, for those after a little more space.

As reviewed, the F21S is priced at $123,250 (including the custom trailer) and an inspection quickly reveals the value in that figure. The reputation of Force boats is such that resale values are strong, so the boat represents a good investment in excitement, fun and pride of ownership.

SPECIFICATIONS: FORCE F21S

Length overall: 6.48m

Beam: 2.1m

Deadrise: 21 degrees

Weight (BMT): 1900kg

Fuel: 300lt

Max capacity: 6 adults

Test engine: MerCruiser 496 MAG HO (317kW/425hp)

Drive: MerCruiser Bravo 1 (IMCO hydraulic steering)

Price as tested: $123,250 (incl. custom trailer)

Test boat supplied by Force Boats, tel (02) 4575 4038. For more information, visit: www.forceboats.com.

PERFORMANCE

RPM KM/H

2350 55.7

3000 79.5

3500 92.3

4000 104.0

4500 114.2

5000 128.4


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