By Dave Moran, images by Dave Moran and Graham Older
For Paul Adams it must seem like light years ago when in 1987 he and his then partner Kevin McDonald developed their first aluminium pontoon boat at the request of some local paua divers. They wanted a work boat that could take the punishment of the southern ocean, be virtually indestructible, unsinkable and they didnât care how she looked – typical South Island blokes!
From these small beginnings the company has expanded its manufacturing facility to be able to manufacture over 1,000 boats a year spread over 24 standard models. They employ 58 full-time staff of which 49 are employed solely on designing and building boats.
They have 16 New Zealand, nine Australian and two US dealers to handle worldwide inquiries.
Paul is amazed where the boats end up – some literally up the creek searching out crocodiles and illegal immigrants in Australiaâs Northern Territory. When the United Nations need boats for their humanitarian efforts they call on Stabi-Craft and have to date ordered 11 boats of various models.
A Stabi was even used to escort Keiko the Orca in the film Free Willy through the frigid waters of Iceland.
I guess you could safely say that Stabi-Craft is now an internationally recognized company.
Kev and Ianâs Marine Services, located in Aucklandâs Manurewa, have been selling Stabi-Craft boats for many years and are very enthusiastic about the product.
I met their sales representative, Steve Leadley, at the Okahu Bay boat ramp on Aucklandâs Waitemata Harbour. Hanging off Steveâs car tow bar was a sparkling new 559 Fishâr.
The first thing I noticed since I last jumped into a Stabi was the fiberglass cabin top. These tops were introduced into the 593 model about six years ago to enhance the boatâs overall appearance and the 559 followed suit about two years ago.
I must admit it does look smart and it also brings added features such as no cabin condensation, electrical isolation for the switchboard and electronic instruments from the aluminium hull. The last thing you need is electrolysis being boosted by stray electrical currents in an aluminium boat.
With these new Stabi-Craft models you have to look twice to realize that the core design around the safety aspects of pontoons is still the central construction concept of these boats and itâs this feature that separates them from conventional trailer boats.
Solid hull construction and safety: The boats overall structure is crafted around the D shaped pontoons that run from the stern to the bow providing three buoyancy sealed compartments. Another huge buoyancy compartment is under the 3mm decktread plate that seals the hull. This amount of buoyancy capacity gives the boat an incredible 1490 litres of buoyancy which is about 1.5 tons of water in the boat. It will not sink! Two full length 4mm box bearers run the full length of the hull. Locked into these are eight 4mm plate cross members. This construction ensures a very solid and stiff hull to withstand a heap of punishment! Also under the deck is the 100 litres fuel tank, which is centrally placed at the stern between the two longitudinal stringers. This rectangular box section also adds extra strength to the hull and when full of fuel further lowers the central point of gravity thus increasing the stability of the boat.
The D pontoon shape provides an internal deck beam of 1.62m and also have built into them excellent side storage shelves with enough length for spearguns and fishing rods.
Each pontoon section has a sealing bolt that can be removed to allow you to pressure test each section if required and it also allows expanding gases to escape should you have something welded onto the pontoon sections in the future.
The 3mm sides have four plank style pressings that, besides being appealing to the eye, also add extra strength.
General lay-out: As we quietly cruised into the harbour I had a chance to check out some of the boatâs features. As usual with Stabi-Craft boats the seam welding is always impressive, great to see the efforts of talented craftsmen.
Starting at the pointy end: A very solid 3mm diameter handrail tubing runs just back from the bow to the very solid bow spit. When working in the bow area this railing provides excellent support and safety. Great to see that the bow spit does extend a fair way out, this greatly helps to prevent your anchor dinging the hull when it starts swinging when being retrieved in a sloppy sea and some anchor models fit snugly up under this extended bow nose.
Access to the bow area is also through the 500mm x 700mm Weaver smoked coloured hatch and you can also reach this area via walking around the side of the cabin top. The hatch-covered anchor well is very large for the size of boat. You have ample room for the stowage of plenty of anchor warp and chain – another safety feature. There is even a plate to tie off the end of the anchor warp – just in case you forget to tie off onto the solid anchor stanchion which is fitted under the anchor well hatch. The cabin has two built-in open storage bins that are ideal for throwing your gear bag in or any other objects that you do not want bouncing around your feet when punching through a sea.
Between these two bins the deck is recessed, this is an ideal area for stowing a couple of scuba cylinders – keeping the weight low and forward.
Surprisingly there is room for two 1.8m bunks to be installed if required.
The grayish-blue non-sun reflecting fibreglass console dash area is of sufficient area for mounting all your electronic toys.
Our boat had the standard Yamaha motor twin instrument package providing such information as: RPM, speed across the water, distance run since your last stop, oil, engine trim, total hours run, trip hours run to name just a few. The information available these days from modern motor monitoring packages is amazing – soon they will tell us where the crayfish are!
A compass is installed at the highest section of the dashboard in an excellent in-line sight position for the skipper. A six switch/fused backlit panel is just to starboard of the wheel. Standard wiring is for your navigation lights and bilge pump. The remaining switches are for further additions such a depth sounder/GPS etc. All the cabling including steerage cables are encased into starboard side alloy cable cover providing excellent protection and ideal for running further cables if required. Port, starboard and an at anchor navigation light are standard.
The placement of components for skippering this baby were ideally positioned: steering wheel, throttle, seat and foot rest and angle of console and the smoke coloured perspex wind screen all contributed to ensure comfortable boating.
The wrap around grab rail fixed to the top of the windscreen is a winner. It is just where you need it when standing. It is solid too. When we were taking on the harbourâs choppy slop it was reassuring to be able to hang onto this rail – and it did not budge!
The twin pedestal seats are functional. Fabricated from polyethylene they are self-draining and have the added bonus of providing hand holds for crewmembers that are standing behind a seated person. The wide topsides of 150mm also provide a comfortable place to rest your bum when the boat is stationary. The wide topside is also fantastic for the kitted up diver to rest and is also ideal for performing an entry backward roll. The working deck area is very impressive being 4.2 msq (1.62m beam x 2.59 m), plenty of room for four divers to dive out of and to have a fish. You can move around on these boats without worrying about losing your balance, they are very stable, glued to the water!
Tucked under the protection of the transom is the battery and its isolation switch which are mounted on a dedicated dry storage bench situated well above any deck water. A vinyl velcro down cover further protects this area from salt-water spray.
A 500 gph bilge pump is installed in its own well below deck level behind an aluminium vertical grate (see picture)
The lift out transom gate gives access to the portofino stern platform which is ideal for either entering the water or for coming back on board. It also is ideal for checking out your motor if the need arises. They have even provided a storage spot for this lift out transom gate/plate.
A well placed hand grab rail enhances diverâs entry via this platform. A dive ladder can be fitted if required.
A solid 20mm rubbing strake provides ample protection when bringing your boat alongside a jetty or your mates gin palace!
Lets play: With three on board the Yamaha 90HP (90AETOX, two stroke/three cylinder, 1140cc. 25 inch leg. 19 inch prop.) outboard had us up on the plane in seconds. The hullâs very fine entry angle of 30 degrees at bow section flares back to a reverse chine. This reverse chine really plays a major part in this hullâs in-water performance. (refer to picture of reverse chine) We had excellent lift and once on the plane and the motor trimmed out she cleanly punched through the sea without rattling the fillings out of your teeth! She could handle hard turning with ease with no cavitation noticeable. She was also dry. The cable steering was fine and it was very smooth to operate.
Running figures were: 3,000 rpm â 30 km:
4,000 rpm â 37 km:
As we winched her back onto the New Zealand manufactured Dunlea Products, Stabi-craft trailer which has self centering ability to bring your boat rolling onto five double rocker rollers mounted either side of the centre line (see picture). I thought of a comment made by Paul Adams, âThe Stabi-Craft is very much a New Zealand South Island boat. It embodies the Southland ethos of understated honest performance, and it just so happens honest performance is in big demandâ.