Mariner 290 vs Cresta 900

Comparing boats is something that we rarely do. No two boats are the same and where one excels in one department another might reign superior in another. Every now and then, however, two boats turn up that demand comparisons.

Mariner 290 vs Cresta 900
Mariner 290 vs Cresta 900
The Australian-built Mariner 290 and the Christchurch-manufactured Cresta 900 are two such boats. Each boat falls within a couple feet of the other; there is only $10,000 between the boats as tested and they're both family-friendly cabin cruisers capable of extended weekend cruising.

There are some major differences. The Cresta 900 is delivered on a tandem-axle trailer while the Mariner 290 is not. The Mariner has twin engines - the Cresta 900 a single engine. These are both strengths and weaknesses depending on the type of boating prospective buyers have in mind. Both boats, however, are turn-key, self-contained live-aboard packages with similar on-the-water performance and characteristics. Both products, however, are distinctly different in look, feel and design.

The Mariner 290 is manufactured by Australia's Riviera Marine Group. The hull is derived from the Wellcraft 2800 Martinique. In a trans-Pacific deal, the Mariner line-up is now exported to the US and rebadged as Wellcraft.

For Riviera, its convertible flybridge cruisers account for most export sales. The Mariner boats borrow the fine build-quality and styling that is associated with Riviera. Thus the 290 is very much a Riviera down below.

On the surface, meanwhile, you will find fair mouldings and an interior that has the gloss and craftsmanship that is often the domain of much bigger boats. Headliners, joinery, custom-cut bedspreads, decks and hatches all fit like a glove. Yet for all its production values the Mariner 290 does not feel like a mass-produced boat.

There is a degree of individualism thanks to designer decorator packs. Light beech timber joinery down below adds a sense of warmth.

The Cresta 900 is manufactured by Christchurch-based Cresta Composites Ltd. The 900 was designed by managing director Graeme McCaw as a project boat in the 1980's. But it was not until October 2000 that the first boat hit the water.

Cresta Craft has been around for more than 30 years and is a household name. The company was formed by the late Don Kilner in the 1960s and produced plywood trailer boats up to 26 feet.

The company moved into fibreglass construction in the 1970's. It then changed tacks, building caravans and campers with the introduction of the Muldoon Government's controversial sales tax on boats.

Kilners' original hulls, the V22 and the V26, were renowned sea boats. The V26 mould is still used in the production of Cresta Craft's 7.3m trailer boat.

Historically, the V22 was the first trailer boat to circumnavigate New Zealand under the command of Southland farmer Brian Pearce. Pearce went one better in the V26 and crossed the Tasman with his wife Louise in 1978.

Graeme McCaw purchased the Cresta Craft business in 1987. But it was not until the mid-90s that Cresta stepped up boat production, turning out cuddy cabin boats from 4.9 to 7.3 metres.

The Cresta 900 is now in semi-production with 12 interior moulds and five exterior moulds. The result is a superior factory finish. The design has a distinctly European feel with a large curved windscreen and rounded windows set off by a shapely cabin top and gull-wing hull.

The interior is beautifully appointed with soft suede furnishings, inner-sprung mattresses, moulded head linings and polished macrocarpa joinery. The ergonomic helm station is state of the art and unique to a boat of just 30 feet.

On the water, the Mariner 290 feels remarkably stiff. Construction is as per all the Mariners and Rivieras: a hand-laid glass hull is bonded and through-bolted to a foam-cored deck with a series of transverse and longitudinal fibreglass bearers for rigidity.

The interior flaunts the pretty curves peculiar to fully-moulded liners and a moulded floor is glued and screwed to the hull.

There is a watertight bulkhead forward of the engineroom and a collision bulkhead in the bow.

The Mariner 290 has ball valves and double hose clamps on through-hull fittings below the water line. An auto bilge pump is fitted in the engine room and forward sub-floor compartment.

A carbon monoxide detector and a coded wiring loom and electrical panel including circuit-breakers are fitted for the boat's 12V and 240V systems.

A shorepower connection and lead is built in. Hot water comes via a heat exchanger off the MerCruiser motors. There is an invertor for the microwave, 200lt of fresh water and 400lt of fuel linked to a cockpit shut-off.

A 20amp battery charger with separate engine starter should keep you going. Many of these things are not standard in other sportscruisers.

Standard equipment also includes anchoring hardware, docking lines, fenders and a boat hook.

The deck gear is solid and stylish and includes a one-piece stainless bowrail, Euro-style circular hatches, electric anchor winch, swim platform and ladder, transom lockers, fender storage, a hot and cold transom shower and an opening windscreen are all standard.

The Cresta 900 laminate is engineered by Diab, specialists in foam sandwich construction. The hull has an internal layer of triaxial glass over chopped strand mat with a foam core.

The core is topped with a second layer of triaxial glass. The cabin sides and deck are of a similar but lighter construction.

The hull is stiffened with internal bearers - two running the full length of the hull. There is a solid glass keelson and integral bearers every 1.2 metres. Both the Mariner and the Cresta carry a five-year hull warranty. The Cresta 900 carries 250lt of water and 475 litres of fuel in built-in fibreglass tanks.

The hot water system is gas fired with gas bottles housed in an airtight cockpit locker vented directly outside.

Gas and carbon monoxide alarms are fitted as standard. The electrical wiring looms are designed and built by BEP marine and, like the Mariner, fitted with circuit breakers.

The boat carries twin battery banks and all electrical systems including the anchor windless are 12 volt. The deck hatches are from Weaver Marine. The boat has dual bilge pumps and a self-draining cockpit.

The deck gear is all solid stainless steel and nicely fitted. A notable feature of the Cresta is one of the most robust stainless steel fairlead systems ever mounted on a small cruiser.

The sunroom of any sportscruiser is, of course, the cockpit. The Mariner 290 has an aft lounge for three people with a second two-person lounge fitted behind the helmseat facing aft.

There is a small seat for the co-pilot and a two-person helmseat. All up, the cockpit can comfortably seat six people.

The Cresta 900 cockpit is designed more for fishing with rod holders mounted in the stern combings with provision for a drop-in stainless steel bait board.

The hinged-engine box in the Cresta gobbles up a bit of cockpit space but there is ample room for three or four anglers. The box can also be lifted out for complete engine access when required. The Cresta's toilet and shower unit is built into the cockpit on the port side which adds greatly to the internal volume in the main saloon.

The Mariner 290 cockpit has a moulded amenities centre to port with a wetbar, sink, hot and cold water and an optional fridge.

There is no shortage of storage hatches and under-lounge lockers, cockpit lighting, plus two speakers in the targa and another two in the cockpit, courtesy of an audio upgrade.

Access to the Mariner's twin MerCruiser engines is via a lift out panel in the cockpit sole and is a treat to use thanks to a gas-assisted strut. There is ample room for engine servicing.

The Cresta's cockpit storage is designed to suit the angler with full rod-length lockers on each side of the cockpit. A tackle box is built into the starboard combing along with sealed lockers for the battery switches and gas bottles.

The batteries and bilge pump are housed under the transom and there is a full-length swim platform with dive ladder built into the portofino stern.

The Mariner 290 has a moulded footrest in front of the captain, along with a moulded beige dash with mock-burl dash panel. It is fitted with engine gauges, compass, numerical depth sounder, stereo remote control and VHF radio.

Backlit switch panels beneath the timber sportswheel operate everything from the wiper to the anchor winch. A GPS for coastal navigation is the only aftermarket extra needed.

Once again, the head is the kind of bathroom you expect in a much bigger boat. The moulded head unit to port comes with a Vacuflush loo and holding tank, moulded Granicoat vanity and sink and a practical handheld hot-water shower.

The Cresta has an electric flush chemical toilet with a cassette that slides out of the bulkhead for easy management. Below deck, the Mariner has lots of light beech timber and a Granicoat benchtop in the galley with a basic meths cooktop, microwave oven, 12/240V fridge. There are sufficient cupboards for crockery, cutlery and basic cooking utensils. Pantry space is boosted by the cupboards opposite the galley.

The Cresta's galley runs along the starboard side and features a full size four burner oven and grill, 70lt 12-volt fridge, large stainless steel sink with hot and cold running water. There is generous storage with two large galley cupboards and sliding racks under the sink.

A pot cupboard is located under the stove and there are two large lockers above the stove. There is further stowage opposite.

The Mariner 290 provides drawers for clobber under the double berth in the bow and the boat has a hanging locker.

The Mariner is undoubtedly very well put together. All the soft-touch headliner panels butt up neatly and there wasn't a rough-cut edge to be found. The Cresta, too, demonstrates attention to detail with the internal joinery and headliners meeting nicely despite the difficult angles and curves in keeping with the boat's overall Euro-look.

Both the Mariner 290 and the Cresta 900 offer scaled-down, apartment-like living. Their open-plan interiors provide headroom throughout. The only tight spot on both the Mariner and the Cresta is access to the aft cabin in the Mariner and the mid cabin in the Cresta.

The aft cabin on the Mariner is accessed be tucking in beside the companionway stairs leading from the cockpit. The cabin isn't huge, but once inside there's enough room for a couple to sleep. Access to the mid-cabin on the Cresta is easy, but the berth itself is quite small and a bit of a squeeze for two.

It is more likely that the kids will bunk down in these cabins. The doubles on both boats is in their respective bows although the configurations are very different. The double in the Mariner runs crossways and is more round than rectangular. The double in the Cresta is a standard vee berth with an infill squab. Sitting headroom in both boats is ample.

Again, both the Mariner and the Cresta cater for additional guests by having saloon tables that drop down to form doubles should the need arise, thereby boosting the boat's sleeping capacity to six.

A big difference between the mid-sized Mariner and other sportscruisers is the ride. While many sportscruisers are big-volume boats, the Mariner 290 is not too full up front.

The reason for a full bow is, of course, to provide space for a double berth. While the Mariner 290 has a good size double in the bow, it has not compromised the boat's entry under the waterline. This ensures both a soft and a dry ride.

The Cresta 900, by virtue of its trailer-boat status, has a very fine entry and thus an equally dry ride. The Cresta's dryness is further aided by an aerofoil mounted on the rear of the cabin top which forces air down and out of the cockpit, taking with it any backwash spray.

This is a unique feature and works extremely well, allowing the cabin door to remain hinged open at all revs. The gull wing hull also makes for a stable ride with only a minimal amount of lean as the boat is pushed through tight turns.

The Mariner 290 has plenty of get-up-and-go and quite sleek lines. It is a well-proportioned boat that will appeal to everyone from the young at heart to retirees. Powered by twin MerCruiser 4.3L EFI 210hp petrol motors and Bravo 2 legs, the Mariner 290 is a snap to park.

Ease of handling, a very full spec sheet and a very keen price tag are three reasons why new buyers will warm to the Mariner 290. Another compelling argument is the sheer joy of twin-engine grunt when you plant the throttles.

With the leg trimmed in, the Mariner 290 lifted only slightly and was predictable and stable throughout the entire rev range.

The steering was light and positive and the twin spray rails were effective in keeping the spray at bay. The boat feels much bigger than its 28" 7' hull length and would, with a little trim practice, cope with some fairly serious weather.

The Cresta 900 is powered by a Volvo 5.7 litre GXI V8 petrol engine cranking out 315HP through Volvo's standard duoprop sternleg.

The engine is well suited to the hull and has some serious get-up-and-go when pushed through 4000 rpm. The engine in the cockpit has some serious advantages when it comes to noise insulation with little more than the low and discernable growl of the big V8 entering the saloon with the cockpit door closed.

Because the Cresta 900s beam has been pre-determined by road rules, trim is an important element in the boat's handling characteristics. Having said that the boat trims very well with only slight adjustments required to keep her running straight and true. The hydraulic steering makes helming a breeze. The Mack-truck wrap-around windscreen and rounded cabin-side windows give unrestricted 360-degree vision both when at rest and at play.

The Cresta has been tested in some serious South Island weather and has come up trumps according to the owners of three boats sold so far in the mainland.

The beauty of the Cresta lies in her dual-purpose function as a luxury weekend cruiser and a stable fishing platform. Few boats of this size provide adequate facilities to accommodate both demands. The Cresta does, and it does it in style. The boat has the added advantage of being trailered to inland waterways and can be comfortably and legally lived on while on the road. At an all-up weight of 3300kg on the trailer, the Cresta 900 is road legal but will require serious 4WD towing power. The boat slips on and off its trailer much easier than anticipated and shouldn't present any difficulties for prospective owners. All in all the Cresta 900 is a smart looking, smart running boat that pushes the envelope in visual design while retaining good sea-keeping qualities that are synonamous with the Cresta label. While both boats are uniquely different in look and feel, they offer similar qualities in terms of accommodation, performance and price.

Mariner 290 specifications Cresta 900 specifications
Price as tested: $219,000 Price as tested: $209,000
Options fitted: Cockpit fridge, audio upgrade Options fitted: Flexi-teak, radar, plotter
Priced from: POA Priced from: $186,680 inc trailer
LOA : 9.57m (31'5") LOA : 9.4m (31'.0")
Hull: 8.71m (28'7") Hull: 8.8m (29'.04")
Beam: 3.16m (10'4") Beam: 2.8m (09'.24")
Fuel: 418 litres Fuel : 475 litres
Water: 208 litres Water: 250 litres
Weight (dry): 4000kg (approx) Weight (dry): 2660kg (approx)
Engine(s): 2 x MerCruiser 4.3litre 210HP Engine: Volvo GXI 5.7 litre
Max speed: 33 knots/5000 rpm Max speed: 35 knots/5000 rpm
Cruise speed: 26.5 knots/3600 rpm Cruise speed: 27 knots/4000 rpm
Boat supplied by: Orams Marine, 15 Westhaven Drive, Auckland. Tel (09) 303 1987. E-mail: Boat supplied by: Cresta Composites Ltd, 31 Sheffield Cres, Burnside, Christchurch. Tel: (03) 358 2317.E-mail:

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