Test: Buccaneer 735 Sportsman

By: Norman Holtzhausen, Photography by: Norman Holtzhausen

Buccaneer 735 Sportsman Buccaneer 735 Sportsman
Buccaneer 735 Sportsman Buccaneer 735 Sportsman
Buccaneer 735 Sportsman Buccaneer 735 Sportsman
Buccaneer 735 Sportsman Buccaneer 735 Sportsman
Buccaneer 735 Sportsman Buccaneer 735 Sportsman
Buccaneer 735 Sportsman Buccaneer 735 Sportsman
Buccaneer 735 Sportsman Buccaneer 735 Sportsman
Buccaneer 735 Sportsman Buccaneer 735 Sportsman
Buccaneer 735 Sportsman Buccaneer 735 Sportsman

The Buccaneer 735 Sportsman provides the space, stability and luxury that many would love for their office. A big boat for big trips, it's just as much at home on an inner-harbour family outing as it is offshore chasing game fish. Yet despite its size, the efficient hull profile means it has a fuel consumption that will surprise.

When Auckland-based accountant Alan Tong was looking for a replacement for his well-loved but decade-old Ramco, he undertook extensive research, ran a cost/benefit analysis, crunched the numbers in terms of running costs and fuel economy and examined future resale value. The resulting decision to buy the latest Buccaneer 735 Sportsman hardtop — christened The Office — coupled with a Suzuki DF200 four-stroke outboard, was hardly surprising to those familiar with this brand.

Buccaneer has been building solid, good-looking boats for the past 37 years, and the quality of their work is reflected in the extremely good resale values of second-hand models. Positioned very much as a family boat rather than an out-and-out fishing machine, they are nevertheless excellent multi-purpose boats. The 735 boasts a huge forward cabin with a family-size triple berth and a hardtop that remains dry and snug in even the worst weather. This is a big-water boat, capable of handling extreme conditions and extended trips but in a luxurious and stylish package that few hardtop gamefishing boats can match.

The inside story

The large forward cabin is dominated by the massive triple-berth bunk in luxurious cloth upholstery with generously thick squabs. Tong elected to go with the simplicity of a separate cassette toilet rather than a plumbed-in version, but there is more than enough width and height under the squab to have a luxury model electric version fitted. Another optional configuration fits a separate toilet compartment (with privacy door) inside the cabin. Similarly, a moulded galley on the port side has space for a sink and cooker, but Tong has elected not to install these options. A wide, sliding, lockable door enables the cabin to be closed for privacy and to keep the elements out when necessary.

The helm position is superbly comfortable, with thickly upholstered seats and a soft-grip steering wheel. Footrests are just the right height, and a latching glove compartment on the port side keeps keys, cell phones and small items secure. The steeply-raked laminated glass windscreen curves around the massive dash area, which has ample surface area for the numerous loose items that always seem to get chucked there. A wiper keeps the skipper's windscreen clear of spray. One of the few criticisms we had of the boat was the reflection from the white gelcoat onto the steeply raked windscreen, and Tong spreads a dark-coloured towel on the skipper's side to reduce this glare.

The amount of 'bling' at the helm in terms of electronics is almost enough for a review in itself. Tong opted for a fully-featured Garmin package that includes the GPSMAP 7012 with a 12.1 inch touch screen primary display unit, and dual GMI10 secondary displays. This solution enables everything to be integrated over the NMEA2000 network, including the fishfinder, chartplotter, radar, all engine management functions and the autopilot. The huge screen enables multiple items to be displayed, and Tong's favourite configuration is a quartered split of chart, sounder, radar and autopilot. The smaller GMI10 displays are then used to display speed, heading and fuel management functions for the Suzuki.

But wait, there's more

The system also integrates with the Fusion sound system and VHF radio, and the same touch screen can be used to control these devices as well. Audio for the VHF is played through the stereo speakers, which are positioned around the cabin and cockpit, overlaying sound from the multimedia system. The system even has Bluetooth connectivity and a matching app that enables an iPad to act as a secondary helm. When used with the autopilot engaged, the user can to fully control the boat from anywhere on board — especially useful when game fishing while short handed.

A king/queen pedestal on either side of the cabin provides large dry lockers under the hinged rear-facing seats, with a small 12-volt fridge fitted under the passenger side pedestal. The large cockpit has plenty of fishing room, and one of the concessions Tong made toward serious fishing is his choice of a vinyl non-slip floor covering rather than a marine carpet. This makes clean-up at the end of the trip a simple matter of a hose-down.

Power is from a Suzuki DF200 four-stroke. This 3.6-litre 24-valve V6 monster has a reputation of being the quietest motor in its class, and it's efficient right across the rev range. Since Tong plans to put many hours on the motor while trolling lures, the ability to run quietly and efficiently at low speeds for hours on end was just as important as top-end performance. Of course, the engine controls were important to integrate to the Garmin electronics. The boat has an under-floor 240-litre fuel tank, providing a range somewhere around 200 nautical miles.

The starboard side of the transom features a hand basin hidden under a hatch, while the port side has a live-bait tank and saltwater wash-down hose. The wide, moulded boarding platform either side in the portofino stern has a non-slip surface, with a generous boarding ladder on the port side. Hidden under the platform are trim tabs, which proved useful later in the day.

Without risk

We headed out on a very sunny Labour Day with a forecast of 10 to 15 knots of wind, and were soon cruising at just under 30 knots in about half a metre of swell. Initially we were a bit surprised at the choice of only 200 horsepower out the back, but the Suzuki proved more than adequate for the efficient Buccaneer hull. We were able to push the boat to speeds well into the upper 30s, although the conditions were better suited for us to explore the fuel usage at various cruise speeds.

The fantastic Garmin digital displays respond very quickly, with the most economical speed around 24 knots at less than 1.2 litres per nautical mile. At this figure, the underfloor fuel tank provides a range somewhere around 200 nautical miles. A very useful display when heading offshore is the remaining fuel and range values, enabling extended trips to be undertaken without any risk of running out of fuel unexpectedly.

With the Bucanneer's deep-vee hull, a set of trim tabs is a useful or possibly even essential accessory. We found that just the slightest amount of trim was sufficient to keep us on an even keel despite a quartering sea, and by keeping the hull horizontal our average speed could remain higher than it would otherwise have been. We then chose our destination point on the chart plotter and engaged the auto pilot, after which the skipper could settle back into the comfortably upholstered seats and merely keep watch. Of course, we could have put the radar on with proximity alarm to take care of that, but this would be irresponsible as well as a waste of the chance to gaze out over the water looking for birds working up.

Looking for action

We headed out wide looking for some action, and soon found some. Although Tong is more than happy to make the boat dirty with bait, on this occasion we were trying our luck with jigs and softbaits. The large hardtop gives the boat a fair bit of windage, so we deployed a drogue to slow our drift through a couple of workups. Sadly, the fishing gods were not in our favour this day and pitifully few fish came aboard. However, the three of us had plenty of room to move about as we worked our jigs, and could easily have had another couple of anglers in the cockpit as well.

After a leisurely lunch in the lee of a handy island we decided to head for home. By this stage the wind had picked up a fair bit above the forecast and we were soon in 20-plus knots. The swell rapidly built up close to a metre, but the big Buccaneer just cut through it. This is the sort of environment when size and weight has its benefits, and the ride was still very comfortable at 20 knots. We pushed faster and got some serious air time over a couple of swells. The sound deadening in the hull, combined with the deep-vee angle, provides an amazing ride, and despite some huge landings there was a total absence of crash and bang. This boat easily coped with conditions that would have many other boats remaining on their trailer, and it certainly is comforting to know that even if things turn nasty while you're out there you can still get home safely and comfortably.

Stay connected

We soon decided we would prefer to stay connected with the water, so settled back to 20 knots and headed directly into the wind to encounter a fair bit of spray. Tong says the only option that he would still like to fit is a freshwater spray on the windscreen.

This is a big boat, and the trailer is suitably equipped. An ALKO electric system provides power-assisted braking, while an electric winch takes the strain out of retrieval. A very practical strip of galvanised treadplate down the middle of the trailer allows the boat to be hooked up without stepping into the water.

The Buccaneer 735 Sportsman is a fantastic boat, and Tong says he has no qualms about spending more time in The Office in the future. He also regularly invites clients out to his office, and they're universally impressed by the quality of the boat. Although the price tag means this model won't suit everyone's budget, it is definitely worth a serious look if you're after an all-rounder with class.

For more information visit buccaneer.co.nz.

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