Bonito 635 Kingfisher

The 635 Bonito Kingfisher was released in June 2001 and Geoff Green drove two examples, one on placid Lake Tarawera and the other on a white-capped Auckland harbour swept by a short, steep chop.

Bonito 635 Kingfisher
Bonito 635 Kingfisher

The generous cockpit size is the most impressive feature when inspecting the 635 Kingfisher for the first time.

Cliff Gadsby, managing director of Rotorua Leisure and Marine, Bonito's dealer in the Rotorua area, says the 635 attracts customers because it fills dual roles.

"Everybody admires the cockpit space, and many relate it to their fresh and saltwater fishing requirements. Others look at the combination of large cockpit and useable cuddy, and see a family boat suitable for adventures, picnics, entry-level skiing, fishing, a bit of diving and occasional overnighting. It's a pretty practical and versatile design."

As the Kingfisher name suggests, the 635 is targeted towards fishing, and the base model is kept reasonably simple and straightforward. It's a good platform to add extras to.

Boaties in the Rotorua area are spoilt for choice with many lakes to enjoy within a short drive of the city. Cliff towed the 635 to beautiful Lake Tarawera and while driving the boat, I enjoyed its lush bush backdrops, steaming hotwater beach and interesting rock formations. Any other time, I would also have welcomed its calm expanse, but in this instance I was hoping for a bit of a wave.

A 140hp Mercury powered the 635 along very smartly, and lightly loaded with two adults and a half a tank of fuel, it returned an enjoyable performance. Having taken the boat off Cliff's showroom floor, the engine had minimal hours and needed a few more running to loosen up. On the Mercury speedo, it returned 25mph at 3000rpm, 39mph at 4000rpm and 50mph at 4950rpm.

Recommended power for the 635 is 90-150hp.

The driving position was comfortable, the relatively high screen and side coamings kept the cool mid-winter slipstream and misty rain at bay, and life was pretty good inside the boat. Visibility while seated at the helm was 100% and I could comfortably see over the screen when standing.

The 635 handled well and the standard cable steering controlled the engine without much effort, although the trim tab needed some adjustment because the helm was light one way and heavier the other.

The cockpit floor is finished with Nautolex non-skid - it provides good grip and can be scrubbed down - and the relatively high coamings have lightly padded side bolsters with toe space under the side shelves.

When leaning against the side, the bolsters were at the top of my thighs and gave me good support. I could imagine myself jammed against the side, angling a big fish on light gear, even in a relatively rough sea. But I am 1.83m (6ft) tall and shorter anglers may find the coamings a little high when wearing a rod bucket. From a family perspective, the coaming height offers plenty of security, and both children and adults will feel very comfortable in this boat.

The 635 has moulded boarding platforms either side of the engine well and the cockpit is shaped around the outboard well. The seats in the rear quarters - they have fish-bin bases moulded to fit the boat's lines - are removable to maximise access when helping a diver or following a decent fish. The seat backrests double as rear bolsters.

A clip-on curtain tidies up the utility space behind the rear seats and under the outboard well. Quickly removing the seats and curtain provides easy access to the battery and oil reservoir installed in the starboard side and the bilge pimp in the central sump.

The 635 has a large underfloor storage locker measuring 1.6m long, 500mm wide and at least 250mm deep at the sides. The lid for this is divided in two to give easier, more flexible access.

The 180-litre fuel tank is installed ahead of the underfloor locker and fills from outside the boat on the driver's side. The hull spaces under the cockpit, either side of the fuel tank and storage locker, are sealed air chambers for emergency flotation as required by the Boating Industries Associations CPC (Safety Plate Compliance) scheme. They can be foam filled as an optional extra.

The buoyancy chambers extend forward under the cuddy seats and no storage space is available beneath them. Storage is available under the front of the vee berth with space under the squab for quite a bit of gear. The area can also accept a toilet.

The cuddy has good sitting headroom and useable space, and is easily accessible because the dash is cut away in the accepted modern-day style. It has all the basic features expected from a boat of this size and price - it's lined, outfitted with a basic, but smart upholstery package, and is provided with good natural light by side windows and polycarbonate foredeck hatch.

Access to the anchor locker while standing in the hatch opening is good and the foredeck layout can be rearranged to accommodate a capstan anchor winch if required. The standard layout provides a roller fairlead on a short sprit, a stainless wear plate between the locker and fairlead, and a cleat.

The 635 Kingfisher was designed and built by Bonito Boats managing director Peter Johnson. It is a development of the company's Bonito 585 and bears only a generic family resemblance to the Scott Robson-designed Bonito 522 that was the 585's starting point nearly five years ago. In reality, the 635 is its own boat.

Peter was general manger at Bonito Craft, set up in 1988 to produce Bonito-brand boats using the 522 and 622 Bonito moulds bought from Powerboat Industries. Peter bought Bonito Craft in 1997, and has been redeveloped and expanded the company's line up ever since.

"We have redesigned the boats and the 635 has had a lot done to it. It's nothing like a 585 and it has a feel all of its own. The hull is much longer, the chine line was puffed out about ten millimetres in the bow and the strakes were altered. And the topsides are all new. We designed the deck, windscreen, coamings and transom using a clean sheet of paper."

With all this history, and having logged a fair bit of sea time in a 522 and 622, I was keen to see how the 635 handled rough water. That's why I waited three months after the Lake Tarawera expedition until a second boat was available in Auckland on a blustery spring day.

Perry Morris at the Brokerage in Bayswater supplied the boat. It was a new boat powered by a 150hp Mercury EFI and was identical to the Rotorua boat, except the canopy was longer (to give improved cover to the aft facing passenger seat) and it was fitted with a different cockpit upholstery package.

Perry says he has sold four 635s in recent months, mainly to fishermen who appreciate the boat's large cockpit space and competitive pricing.

A brisk west-south-westerly wind was blowing down harbour and the open expanse of water west of the Harbour Bridge was flecked in white. The heavy chop was short and steep, the kind of water that punishes any trailer boat.

Perry initially helmed the boat, and set it up to run around 21-22 knots (showing 3000rpm) with the wind and waves on the forward port quarter. I opted to shift from the passenger seat and stood behind the helm seat to counter the "into-the-wind lean", balance the boat back to vertical and get the fine entry working again. The lightly loaded boat (two adults and one-third fuel load) came upright with the redeployment of my 80kg weight and travelled much easier as a result. I think 635 buyers should be prepared to adjust passenger load to get the best out of the boat in strong cross winds, or by fitting and using a set of trim tabs.

When I took the helm, I also gravitated to the 3000rpm mark after experimenting with slower and faster speeds. About 20 knots was a good compromise that optimised progress and comfort, and it's the speed you would probably adopt with the family aboard. The 635 was quite capable of faster in the conditions, but skippers would probably only do so if they had the "boys" aboard, a serious thirst or offshore racing on their mind.

Returning down harbour with a following sea and wind, conditions allowed me to retain the speed as going upwind. Once we dipped the anchor sprit into the top of the wave in front, and several gallons of water rolled up the deck and over the canopy. Enough got through to give Perry an unexpected shower, but I got off virtually scot-free.

The blustery conditions would have given any trailerboat a hard time and the 635 came through as well as most.

As Perry commented, "It would have comfortably and safely got us home in much worse conditions".

Bonito 635 Kingfisher packages are available from $59,000.

Bonito 635 Kingfisher
LOA: 6.65m
Beam: 2.32m
Deadrise: 21°
Towing weight: 1350kg
Rec. power: 90-150hp
Fuel: 180 litres
Packages from: $59,000
Boats supplied by: Rotorua Leisure and Marine, Ph (07) 347 6565. The Brokerage, Ph (09) 445 1656.

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