Setting a must-go date to review the 753HT Stabicraft out of Wellington made Geoff Green a touch nervous. The strong winds and fearsome tidal rips that often sweep the area, combined with Mike Southward's tendency to go hard out, had the potential to make it a hell trip.
The Stabicraft brand was virtually unknown north of Dunedin when I wrote their first boat test in 1989 and the hull design, styling and detailing, not to mention the brand's acceptance, have come a long way in the interval. They now have rectangular-shaped pontoons to maximise internal volume, and where specified, good-looking fibreglass hardtops and excellent paint jobs. However, the fundamental elements of the brand have not changed. The styling still draws on the brand's commercial beginnings, the sealed reserve buoyancy built into the hull form makes them ideal for demanding applications and the build-quality remains very good.
ROUGH WATER TESTING
It was clear Mike Southward, managing director of Southward Marine in Wellington, wanted to demonstrate the demanding application aspect when he programmed D'Urville Island as our destination waypoint. At the time we were off the entrance to Porirua Harbour and, as if the fifty-mile diagonal run across Cook Strait wasn't enough, we were committed to return in the face of a deteriorating forecast. The forecast, however, did not disturb the experienced Wellingtonians and they reassured me with tales of Cook Strait crossings in gale-force winds and seas that ate windscreen wipers for breakfast.
Cook Strait was in a benevolent mood but a base swell and a short cross-chop convinced us to take the line of least resistance. By laying off a few degrees we made progress more comfortable and reduced the number of times we pulled up hard after free-falling into the face of an oncoming wave.
We took a fair bit of spray over the boat and the water dripping off the back of the fibreglass hardtop soon had the two cockpit dwellers looking for an inside position. There was plenty of room and we all found comfortable well-braced spots to stand. With the lee-side sliding window cracked open 50mm and the cabin door latched open there was plenty of fresh air and life in the cabin was very comfortable.
I found the 200hp HPDI Yamaha powered boat great to drive and the engine provided excellent throttle response to guide the relatively big boat through the sometimes short and always changing wave patterns.
We made landfall at Chetwode Island after a two-hour run. From Chetwode Island we made our way along the coast to French Pass where a flood tide produced saltwater 'rapids' and massive rotors. It was an impressive sight and I can understand why displacement boats only attempt the passage at slack tide, although we cruised through in the Stabicraft as if it was a Sunday School outing and I shot photos while sitting on the hardtop. After playing in and around French Pass we landed at the French Pass wharf to stretch our legs and top up the main fuel tank before heading out to fish.
We drift fished amongst steep waves generated by the swell and strong current washing over the pinnacle-strewn reef below. The Stabicraft sat really well and nobody gave much thought to the conditions while we made three passes through the area. I had the confidence to turn the engine off so we could soak up the compelling atmosphere generated by the land's eroded architecture and the lift of the near-oceanic water.
The lure of big crayfish had our two divers fired-up and we relocated to the outside of D'Urville Island where steep cliffs made a stand against the prevailing westerly swell. Mike described the spot as the Last Frontier and regaled us with tales of 5.9-kilo (13lb) crayfish that took both hands to wrestle to the surface.
SET UP FOR DIVING
Once again the Stabicraft impressed. Even with fishing gear strewn about the cockpit, there was ample space for the divers to get geared up and the boat sat well in the swell and slop reflecting off the cliffs.
As we settled in for the 53-mile ride home a benign Cook Strait confirmed the forecast was wrong. Life was good as the golden hues of the low sun filled the cabin and I relaxed in the helm seat while we cruised eastward at 31 mph. The Strait continued to calm off and as it did so I progressively advanced the throttle, lifted the tabs and trimmed the engine out until we were in the groove at a fast and comfortable 4,500 rpm.
One hundred and fifty seven miles in a 7.5 metre powerboat is a big day out in anyone's book. The expedition was invaluable for cementing opinions and I came away solidly impressed with the Stabi-Craft's ability. Its robust, capable nature will let you adventure with confidence.
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