Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Boats for Florida's Tight Marinas

New Smyrna Beach

If you're ever in the area just north of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, from relatively calm water along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), then you know it's a terrific area for boaters. It's also a great place for spotting some of the finest boats in the world that are capable of finely maneuvering some of the tightest corners for their size. It takes a skillful maneuver between the tightly packed waves to keep boats from getting swamped. Timing’s everything in a situation like this, and there isn't too much room for error.

Most fishermen wouldn't take a bay boat out in even moderately rough conditions. But it’s nice to have a hull that gives you the option. The 243’s deep-V has a 21-degree deadrise at the transom for rough-water running, but its draft is still 16 inches — making it usable for bonefishing or going after stripers in the rocks, and making it seem like you're doing some pontoon boating.

The windshield is the first feature to catch your eye on the 243, part of the optional hardtop. It’s a nifty item since it slides up and down, offering either weather protection or a wide-open window on the dog days. The standard helm seat/leaning post is also functional, since it has a wide bolster that either lets you lean against it in rough water or sit down for the long haul.

The boat is rated to hold 13 people, which is more a function of the foam flotation than the actual seating or fishing room on board. You could accommodate four adults fairly comfortably, five in a pinch, for any long-distance trips. The boat has storage space for 22 rods, which could be a bit overkill, unless you’re after different species. The hard-top also has four rocket launchers.

The boat, as noted, runs very nicely on both flat water and out in the chop. With a 225-hp Yamaha 4-stroke, a top end of 44.6 mph is reached. Everglades offers either Yamaha or Honda power on the 243. With the 225 Yamaha, according to the company, it runs at 26.4 mph at 3.9 mpg. It’s rated up to 300 hp. There are standard features worth noting on the boat, including the 6-inch stainless-steel cleats, lighted 32-gallon livewell, and red LED courtesy lights for night fishing. These lights are a handy item since they allow free movement without fish being alerted. The boat is loaded with fishing-friendly amenities, some originating from the company’s owners, the Doughertys.

In its ads, Everglades has been strongly pushing its father/son founders, Bob and Steve Dougherty, as industry-leading innovators. Another case of marketing hype? Not quite. Bob Dougherty had an impressive track record in helping build Boston Whaler during its early years into the powerhouse it became. Steve leaves a favorable impression on you, too, as he takes you around the facility in Edgewater, Florida. He points to a mockup of a new center console/hardtop that’ll be standard on Everglades’ new 28-footer. The center-console concept is like a futuristic mini-pilothouse, with automobile-style windshields that open fore and aft, Jeep-panel doors that slide out and even air-conditioning. The huge space forward has a head, Corian countertops and vanity. “Father and I worked on fresh ideas in order to make this boat unique,” says the younger Dougherty. “We wanted to be different from everyone else.”

In reality, the console could potentially be a tough sell, or it might be copied by competitors as the next great breakthrough. But the point is that at least it’s trying new ideas, walking the innovation talk. That’s also the case with Everglades’ proprietary RAMCAP building process, which has literally turned traditional boatbuilding inside-out.

Instead of building a mold and laying up fiberglass, Everglades pre-cuts and shapes the hull out of 6-pound structural urethane core foam (it has a higher density than the 1.8-pound flotation foams typically used by other boat-builders). Once shaped, Everglades then puts the core (the foam shape plus stringers) into a vacuum mold where they apply resin and fiberglass to form a “unibond” shape. The result is a single structure, which Everglades claims is unsinkable. Other foam-heavy builders work in the opposite direction, first creating a fiberglass skin, then injecting foam into a mold. That process can allow air voids to form inside the skin, which could potentially compromise structural integrity as well as creating a pock-marked fit and finish.

There are no fiberglass burrs or rough edges, even on the interiors. Everglades bills the 243 as a fishing boat that a family would love, but that may be stretching it a bit. The 19-inch gunwales are too low to have a small child on board, and the only seating besides the helm seat and front cooler seat are two flip-up seats
at the transom. There’s no way you’d allow a small child back there. But hats off to the designers for these seats, since they allow the transom to be used as a rear casting platform.

Fishing is what this boat is all about, really, and how it should be marketed. The bow area offers a good casting platform, with a 75-gallon in-floor fish box with macerator pump. Low, powder-coated bowrails offer an element of safety, but you could also use them as toerails if you want to stand on the gunwales and cast. The large livewell aft has a green-tinted Plexiglas lid so you can see baitfish without having to lift the lid every time. There are lots of nice little touches.

Fishing amenities abound. But in the end, it all comes down to the ride. You've been on earlier bay boats before, and some ran a little wetter than you’d like. By rights, you both should’ve been dripping wet — especially with you at the helm. But there’s very little spray on the windshield.