Stabicraft 1850 Supercab

By: Steve Raea


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Invercargill’s Stabicraft Marine constantly seeks out ways to improve its boats’ performance and handling – the new 1850 Supercab is evidence of that. Steve Raea gets the measure of the new boat in home waters.

Stabicraft 1850 Supercab
Stabicraft 1850 Supercab

If you're familiar with Stabicraft's Supercab range of hardtop trailer boats, the new 1850 Supercab might not leap out as being substantially different to its stablemates, sharing the familiar box-section pontoon hull, multi-chine topsides and edgy hardtop design.

But step in a little closer and you might pick up on subtle yet considerable design changes, including Stabicraft's new trademark Arrow Hull, Game Chaser Transom and a new internal 'dump zone'.

Who, we might ask, comes up with gems like these to describe what are essentially tweaks rather than wholesale changes? Yet for a manufacturer competing on a global scale, incremental development and smart marketing speak is all part of the mix.

The question is then whether Stabi's new Arrow Hull and Game Chaser Transom add real value to the boat's performance, handling and comfort, or whether it's more a case of change for change's sake to freshen the boat's appeal. In this case, the changes are genuine and collectively add up to a better boat, reinforcing the value in Stabicraft's drive for innovation and its investment in research and development. That said, the emphasis here is on incremental change rather than a sea change.

Model debut

The 1850 Supercab was released at this year's Hutchwilco Boat Show and picked up the judges' award for Best All-Purpose Boat Under 6m. The award was welcomed but the award category, all-purpose, does not adequately reflect the boat's principal design purpose. This, says Stabicraft marketing assistant Tim van Duyl, is fishing.

However, van Duyl says the new model wasn't entered into the awards as a dedicated fishing boat, because the live-bait tank integral to the Game Chaser Transom hadn't been completed, and rather than risk being penalised for what wasn't on the boat, it was better to avoid being judged in the category altogether. This is a little puzzling because the design brief for the new model centres almost exclusively on its ability to fish four anglers in comfort and the changes introduced clearly reinforce fishing as its primary purpose.

Regardless, the boat-buying public have warmed to the new model, with 30 boats sold under various stages of construction for pre-Christmas delivery to customers and dealers in New Zealand and abroad. This initial success must be pleasing in a depressed and crowded market segment, where margins continue to be squeezed. Manufacturers, regardless of size, are focusing on value to retain market share and New Zealand's biggest trailer boat builder is no different.

Value, says van Duyl, was a cornerstone of the boat's development and has shaped, in part, a package that starts at a shade over $55,000 with a 90hp two-stroke outboard. That's pretty competitive compared to the 1850 Fisher, which starts at $41,750.

While both models share the same overall length, that's where the similarities end. The new Supercab's external beam has increased about 160mm over the Fisher to 2.48m, courtesy of the wider, higher and a slightly upturned gunwale. While this change effectively increases the model's topside height and thus safety, it also creates a more comfortable cockpit platform on which to park yourself and a secure footing, should it be necessary to venture forward to the foredeck.

The standard inclusion of a Maxwell RC 6 rope to chain windless means it shouldn't be necessary to go forward and further reflects Stabicraft's efforts to make its boats safer by removing needless risk from the equation.

Game chaser

However, big news with the 1850 Supercab is the trademark Game Chaser Transom (GCT) and new Arrow Hull, but are these new design features in fact game changers?

To answer this, we have to compare the new with the old and need only look to the older generation Stabicraft 1850 Fisher. The Fisher model carries Stabi's familiar outboard pod common across the Supercab range. The pod on these models extends beyond the transom proper and is included in the hull's overall length.

The new 1850 Supercab transom integrates the outboard pod into the transom, giving you more cockpit for the overall length of the boat. This, in turn, increases the hull's waterline length which again increases buoyancy aft. It is this additional buoyancy that gives rise to the use of the term 'Game Chaser'.

Stabicraft says the design improves lift and steering characteristics, as the boat is being backed down hard on a catch. But more significant perhaps is the greater cockpit volume and the dedicated angling space it provides at the extreme aft corners, without impacting on the hull's aft attitude or stability at rest.

If there is a shortcoming in this new design though, it is that there is no walk-through from the boarding platform to the cockpit. This might not impress divers but there is a very good reason for it and it is this: compliance with American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) standards. The US is an important export market for Stabicraft but it comes with compliance issues that have to be met if the brand is to continue growing. Chief among these is ABYC, which requires a minimum level of freeboard. Creating a full-height transom by removing a walk-through achieves this.

To my mind, this takes nothing away from the hull; the benefits of more cockpit space, greater buoyancy aft and dedicated fisher-friendly aft pockets more than compensate for a walk-through.

And so on to the Arrow Hull. This design change, says van Duyl, relates to the re-profiling of the hull where the pontoons and hull meet at the base of the cabin. "Essentially, we've cut back and re-profiled the shoulders of the boat where the hull and pontoons meet to reduce wetted surface area. Less metal on the water means a softer ride, but this is not at the expense of buoyancy," he comments.

He says Stabicraft doesn't hide from the fact that its pontoon-style hulls can be hard-riding in a short chop and says the new Arrow Hull design addresses this to some degree. "Boats are all about compromise and the Arrow Hull is testament to the efforts of our design department to introduce subtle design changes, but these will never be at the expense of safety, upon which we have built our brand."

Perfectly practical

The new Supercab is nothing if not practical and, to avoid a cliche, less is more in terms of the boat's fit-out. From the moment you step over the transom, the 1850 Supercab's purpose is obvious – this is a fishing boat through and through.

For starters, the live-bait tank is built into the boat and being fabricated as part of the transom, it is bulletproof. The bait tank itself is not huge but its 66-litre capacity is adequate and the see-through window is a useful feature.

Plumbing (800GPH) is well supported and tucked away where it won't catch stray hooks and rods. The tank lid serves the dual function of bait board and is fitted with two welded rod holders. These are supplemented by four rod holders on the trailing edge of the hardtop and a further two holders on each gunwale.

The live-bait tank station protrudes into the cockpit, but this is hardly an inconvenience given the lift-up alloy jump seats built into the cockpit corners. These seats double as a step up to and over the transom. Positioned up, anglers are effectively secured into the aft cockpit corners and can comfortably brace themselves to counter any swell. Top marks here for smart design.

The cockpit proper is trademark Stabicraft, with a solid checker-plate sole and all-purpose cockpit storage lockers. The widened, upturned gunwale is high enough to provide thigh support, yet low enough for a comfortable seat at rest.

The boat's 120-litre underfloor fuel tank is another area that has been redesigned, again to satisfy various safety compliance codes including US ABYC certification. The key change is that the tank is fully suspended off bushes under the cockpit sole and the tank breather system is independent. That is it 'floats' within the hull to avoid potential damage from chafe on underfloor metalwork.

As van Duyl rightly points out, there is more to boats than price and length.

Moving forward under the hardtop, it's pretty much standard Supercab fare, with the familiar yet practical cantilever aluminium plinths topped with plastic swivel bucket seats. These provide some under-seat storage for tackle and the like, but most gear will go up front.

The second seating options see the co-pilot seat replaced with a large chilly bin that locates into welded aluminium support rails to keep if from leaping around the cockpit. With an upholstered vinyl cover, this provides a comfortable perch for two but lacks the security of a dedicated passenger seat.

This then brings us to the 1850's new 'dump zone'. Stabicraft rightly reasons that half cabins provide little usable space for passengers, so why pretend they do? Remove the squabs and call it a 'dump zone' for baggage and everyone's talking the same language. Buyers can opt for half squabs, which fit in flush with the footrests and provide a useful seat in under the cover of the hardtop. Alternatively, lose the squabs and use this area for its intended purpose – a place to dump bags, rods or whatever. Again, practicality triumphs over fashion.

The hardtop offers six foot-plus of headroom, which is great in a small boat, and the new one-piece 6mm curved, toughened glass windscreen is aesthetically pleasing. It is, incidentally, one of very few components sourced from outside New Zealand.

The helm station is simple yet practical, with an aluminium box frame providing adequate space for widescreen fishing and navigation instruments and switch panels, while the engine gauges, VHF radio and stereo are flush-mounted into the lined dash. Lining continues through into the cabin and includes the half-cabin parcel shelves and forward bulkhead, fitted with a plastic access hatch into the chain locker. Here in a nutshell is the new 1850 Supercab.

At just 5.6m overall, it is not a large boat but it boasts a lot of cockpit space and delivers on its design brief. Weighing approximately 1250kg, it is also tow-friendly, requiring nothing more than the family four-door wagon to get it onto the water.

Rough and tumble

Manufactured within a stone's throw of Bluff and the mighty Southern Ocean, it made sense to test the little Stabi in local waters. Being in the high latitudes (roaring forties), there's seldom a lack of swell to play on, regardless of weather.

On a near-perfect winter's day, we set off in the company of a new Image 8.5m Fishmaster and its smaller sister ship, the also-new 6.7m Image Elite. After the obligatory inner-harbour tour, it was out into Foveaux Strait for a little air time.

For those unfamiliar with Bluff coastal waters, it would pay to consult a chart and some local knowledge because not all is as it seems, with deceptive shoals just off the harbour entrance that heap the swell up into a cresting and breaking maelstrom – beware the ebbing tide.

So it was this day and we couldn't have timed it better, skirting around breaking crests and darting back and forth on rapidly building seas just because we could. The little Stabi showed a lot of heart, matching the bigger and heavier Image 8.5 wave for wave.

While the ride was hard at times, the boat was predictable in every sense and through audacious use of the throttle, the 1850 took all that was thrown at her and could have easily coped with more, had push come to shove. But old bones being what they are, we peeled off for a run out to Dog Island and the relative calm of a lee shore. Again, the boat tracked nicely despite a wind-against-tide and a strong current creating plenty of potholes along the way.

Of all the Stabi's attributes, it is the boat's ability to build confidence that I rate most highly and after an hour or two on the water, I felt totally comfortable and in control in difficult but not dangerous conditions.

Equipped with an upgrade F115 four-stroke Yamaha, the 1850 has power to burn and literally leaps to attention when asked to. Trimmed out at speed, the boat settles into her work well, the hardtop delivering all the protection asked of it.

The boat's ergonomics have been carefully considered and there is nothing awkward in being the driver or passenger. There's an abundance of well-placed handholds, the cantilever seats are at just the right height and whether standing or sitting, the visibility is excellent.

In calmer waters, the new Game Chaser Transom was put to the test, backing down hard through a moderate chop. The steering remained light and precise and although some wash was shipped over the boarding platform, there was never any danger of water finding its way over the transom.

Verdict

In summary, this is a solid performer that has delivered on its design brief. Whether the design changes have added a whole lot to the boat's ride and handling characteristics is hard to determine, but they certainly haven't detracted from Stabicraft's proven formula.

Practically-speaking, the Game Chaser Transom is a winner for the dedicated angling space it creates and the additional support provided by the live-bait station. The widened gunwales aft are also an obvious improvement.

There is no doubt that this is a mighty little boat with the integral strength and handling to punch well above its weight, yet it is light and manageable for one to get on and off the trailer without any drama. It's also keenly priced, with a long list of standard options for what essentially is a turn-key package. The development that has gone into this boat has set a new benchmark for the Supercab range and van Duyl says there is more to come, with the release of six new models across the Frontier, Fisher, Explorer and Supercab ranges within the next six months. Watch this space.

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