by Ron Czerniak
In the first ‘new generation’ Dive New Zealand boat review, we look at the Profile 635H Limited, aluminium ‘pontoon’ trailer boat.
A broad definition of ‘pontoon’ is a flotation device with buoyancy sufficient to float itself as well as a heavy load. On the Profile 685H the pontoon (welded aluminium tube) construction is split into three separate sealed sections, making it extremely safe and stable.
Dive New Zealand contacted Brian Firman, the CEO of Firmans Marine, the Napier-based manufacturer of Profile Boats, with a request to take the 635H out on the Hauraki Gulf. The aim was to go for a scuba dive and see how she stacked up as a practical dive boat. Having said that, there are not many people who want a boat for just one aquatic function or recreational pursuit, so compromise is necessary.
A slight breeze and cool temperatures made for a perfect spring dive day. Loading the dive gear, food and refreshment, we launched at Westhaven Marina boat ramp. Cruising out of Auckland Harbour on flat seas gave me an ideal opportunity to ferret around the boat and get familiar with its features before opening her up on a heading for Tiri Channel.
The 150hp Yamaha four stroke was more than suitable, pushing the 635H along at a comfortable 25 knots at around 4,000rpm, giving an economical fuel consumption of around 27lph. At this speed the wrap-around hard top made for a comfortable ‘inside’ cabin/helm station experience.
On a flat sea the ride was superb, but would she perform in more adverse ocean conditions? Brian assured me that they have had the boat out in some pretty hairy seas off the Napier coast and that with the 18 ͦdead rise hull, using 6mm aluminium hull plate and 3mm for the pontoons, she powers through the rough stuff in relative comfort.
Arriving at Tiri in no time, we reconnoitred for a dive site using the 10″ Lowrance colour fishfinder/GPS plotter. The factory-fitted Maxwell RC6 automatic rope/chain windlass made anchoring easy and Brian secured us on what looked to be a suitably attractive sea bottom, which might even harbour a few crays.
We had stowed the two dive tanks and my large dive bag in the centrally located, under-floor storage locker. For more storage of dive gear, alternative stowage for two more dive bottles and an additional dive equipment bag would have to be found. I discussed the possibility of ‘angling out’ the storage shelves, which run full-length along both port and starboard cockpit sides, for additional tank stowage. Brian felt that this could be easily done in future. This would also free up space in the below-floor storage locker, leaving the cockpit and forward areas clutter free.
Sitting on the side deck, fully geared up, it was obvious that the boat was still riding almost flat on the water. This stability made for a great dive platform, and as I rotated off the side, there was a minimal roll back; testament to the stability of the pontoon concept.
I descended down the anchor rope to check that the 6kg Maxset anchor was properly set and started to stooge around. Unfortunately, with the exception seeing of a couple of baby crays that looked more like giant prawns, I was unable to ascend with a feed.
Prior to surfacing, I took the opportunity to look at the 635 hull from an underwater perspective and was impressed to see how the hull seemed glued to the ocean surface, hardly rocking as she lay at anchor. Back on the surface, I swam towards the stern boarding ladder, running my critical eye over its design and positioning. Normally I take off my weight belt, dive tank/BCD combination and fins while floating on the surface and hand everything up to the on-board crew and then climb aboard. However, in this instance, I wanted to put this boarding ladder to the test and therefore decided to try and climb on-board fully kitted out, fins and all.
I found the ladder to be strong, well-constructed and very cleverly designed. When fully deployed, it rakes back away from the stern, thus protruding towards the diver if as to say, “See how easy I am to use?” The rungs are centrally welded and with the ladder fully deployed, the bottom rung drops comfortably below the surface, allowing a diver to swing their feet into each rung. There are plenty of strategically located full-length grab handles, extending from the top of the transom to the duckboard, in easily accessible locations to pull yourself aboard.
The duckboard provides sufficient room to comfortably stand, fully kitted. Standing on the duckboard one feels that there is more room than there actually is, likely due to the unique transom design with a reverse wave deflector extending across the transom at deck height, which prevents water sloshing into the cockpit. The cockpit floor is fully welded with a non-slip surface. As I stripped out of my dive gear, I was yet again impressed with the stability of this pontoon-constructed vessel. Although I’ve dived for many years from all sorts of craft, I’d never had the opportunity to dive off an aluminium-constructed pontoon boat. I was suitably impressed!
Clean up is a simple matter on this vessel, aided by the coiled saltwater wash-down hose with high-pressure nozzle. Although I was unsuccessful in the hunt for crayfish, had I been, they would have been kept fresh in the sizeable live bait tank, located in the port stern section of the boat beneath the transom door.
Forward is a roomy cabin, fitted with two V-berths, including a drop-in section over the self-contained chemical toilet, which further enhanced this boat’s impression of being a near-perfect dive boat; easily used as an overnighter, making those weekend dive trips out to Great Barrier Island and beyond well within reach. But what about keeping food and drinks cold and cooking those crays? No problem: the Firman design team haven’t overlooked these amenities either. A cleverly concealed two-burner stove and cutting board is conveniently accessed beneath the port crew seat. The gas bottle for the burners, located in a storage locker beneath the seat, sits forward of a neatly stowed ice chest aft, accessed from the cockpit. Storage nooks and crannies exist in abundance and the 635 design ensures there is little unusable space.
The general layout of the ’fishing station’ is one of the best I’ve seen. The split bait board concept is a stroke of genius with sink under one section and an insulated chilly bin for bait or drinks under the other. Cutting bait, filleting and scaling fish is a messy business. But on this boat, running port to starboard aft of the bait board is a trough with a centrally-located drain emptying below the duck board, making clean up with the wash-down hose a breeze. Simply spray everything into the trough and down the drain.
Homeward bound, the wake of a fast ferry gave me the opportunity to see how she handled waves. I purposely drove hard at the wake on awkward angles to test her. Hitting the wake at about 20 knots, we slammed hard, but the 635H managed it with a reassuring solid flex, indicating this boat knows how to handle waves. This was too much fun, I angled her back across the ferry’s wake, this time taking the waves more beam on. Expecting some roll, there was much less than one would experience with a conventional hull; the pontoon design again proving its worth.
Back at the launch ramp, retrieving the boat onto the DMW Premier Tandem Axle trailer was a straightforward and simple exercise, which Brian did pretty much on his own.
Considering our ten ’must-have’ rating criteria; does the 635H tick all the boxes? With the exception of enough dive tank storage as currently configured, she certainly does. However, having discussed this with Brian, I believe you’ll see flared storage shelves along the port and starboard sides on future builds, giving more than adequate tank stowage. Talking with Brian Firman I was left in no doubt that this company knows boats, knows how to build them and is extremely customer- and quality-focused.
So overall, how does the Profile 635H rank as a dive boat?
Pretty damned well! In summary, a great dive boat for two divers and a third crew member. However, the cockpit area is large enough to accommodate four people suiting up for a dive and the boat big enough for a fifth ‘safety’ crew member.
Addendum: When I first met with Brian, his new 1410D dinghy also caught my attention. This simple and inexpensive craft has been specifically designed with the spear fisherman in mind and I look forward to testing and reporting on her in a future article.
Overall length 6400mm.
Beam external 2300mm.
Beam internal 1800mm.
Pontoon thickness 3.0mm.
Hull thickness 6.0mm.
Transom dead rise 18°.
Transom height 635mm.
Approximate weight 1100kg.
Approximate towing weight 1800kg.
Horse Power rating 130–200hp.
Height on trailer 3000mm.
Width on trailer 2440 mm.
Length on trailer (engine to
Maximum safe loading 7 Adults.
Price as tested: $116,990.