TESTED: STEBER 38 SLR & STEBER 3800 TWIN CABIN
Steber boats are so famously versatile we couldn’t do justice to the popular 38-footer without testing two of them – as far apart in application as they are in location. John Ford reports from Coffs Harbour and Ulladulla.
For boaties stranded miles from shore the sight of a Steber in the hands of a rescue organisation would be a most welcome sight and one that would probably remain embedded in the mind for years. On the other hand, the image of a Steber helmed by the Water Police or Maritime might not be so welcome. Odds are, if you live near the sea there is an example of these tough Australian-built vessels working hard for its living in your neighbourhood. After all, Steber boats have been the go-to choice of government departments and rescue organisations for decades.
Given that I assumed the boats were mainly in use by this commercial market, it was something of a surprise that company owner Alan Steber revealed half his boats are sold to private buyers. Apparently this was because every boat that leaves his factory is built to identically stringent survey construction plans. While not all are actually certified, they are all built to pass — even at a later stage.
Operating out of Taree on the NSW Mid North Coast, Alan is the head of the family business with a heritage going back to 1946. He told me Steber has been a leader in composite technology for many years, constructing not only boats but also other mouldings in a one-hectare humidity and temperature-controlled factory.
The 38 has been one of the stalwarts of the Steber fleet and it sits near the middle of a range that includes examples from 22 to 65 feet, with variations of each length to reflect their use, from austere commercial fishing boats through to luxury family cruisers.
Conditions of a survey on a 38 include the installation of four watertight bulkheads, heavy-duty and identified wiring, and a heavier-than-normal layup of fibreglass. Engine fire-suppression systems and a liferaft are also required. Subject to no less than eight inspections by the certifying authorities and a naval architect signoff process is rigorous to say the least.
STEBER 38 SLR
Sometimes you need to be careful what you wish for. When arranging the test of the new rescue boat, a Steber 38 SLR (Super Long Rescue), I suggested to Ulladulla Marine Rescue local area commander Ken Lambert that it would be good if we got some rough weather to show off the boat’s capabilities.
The irony of this remark resonated like a prophesy of certain doom the day of the test… as I clung to the superstructure of the group’s aging 23ft Shark Cat in a 5m swell, trying to photograph the Steber as it steamed towards us. When Ken revealed that they didn’t usually take the cat to sea in more than 2m seas I felt a little grateful that the Steber and its comprehensive rescue equipment was only 50m away.
As it crashed its way toward us, shooting spray all over the ocean, it created a very dramatic sight, but considering the conditions for photography I wasn’t altogether disappointed to head back into the harbour. Transferring to the Steber I found a warm enclosed cabin full of marine rescue volunteers who had been enjoying the big seas and safe passage the boat had to offer.
Ulladulla Marine Rescue chose a long saloon version of the boat to house its crew in comfort plus room for any unfortunates requiring saving. Inside is all business, with dedicated workstations for the radio operator and skipper towards the front and a wide navigation table to port at the rear.
Key personnel get an Isri suspension seat and there are secure handholds around the cabin and overhead for additional crew. In this case, two nurses with oxygen and defibrillators came along although I was assured they were not simply for my benefit.
BIGGER THAN YOURS
In this age of one-upmanship it would be hard to top the boat’s list of electronics. I found four radio systems including VHF, HF, 27MHz and a discreet calling network (DCN) for communication among rescue authorities. An open-array radar, a FLIR night-vision camera and a remote searchlight assist rescue operations, while a two-way deck hailer can issue directions and listen without leaving the cabin. The radar can be overlaid on the Raymarine autopilot and E70013 chartplotter, with readouts for both navigator and skipper.
After donning the compulsory lifejacket and meeting the crew, skipper Terry Campion got us out of the harbour and went over the boat’s features before handing the helm to me for a run back out into the imposing sea. Foregoing the sprung seat, it seemed more appropriate in the conditions to drive from a standing position to better operate the throttle.
Twin 320hp Yanmar engines provide good acceleration and easily powered the heavy hull through waves which, although less intimidating than when on the camera boat, were still big enough to require special care. The boat steered easily on the long keel line and handled the swell with effortless progression. Vision forward and to the sides was good and the spray that covered the three-piece windscreen was efficiently cleared by three sets of wipers.
ALL AT SEA
We maintained a safe 15kts into the swell, although Terry advised me he was thrilling the crew with runs at 20kts for the photography. I found controls were well placed and handling was easy, the boat keeping a true course without much attention to the steering. When it came time to head back the boat turned quickly between sets and the run shoreward in the following sea showed no faults with handling in that direction.
There wasn’t the opportunity to get a full-blooded run in the conditions but Terry confirmed a top speed of 30kts with a fuel-burn of 90lt/h from each engine. However, we did get a chance to have a more spirited run in smoother water close to shore. As I settled into the impressive helm seat I got a short glimpse of how inspiring and easy on the crew the boat would be in more benign conditions with the steering set on autopilot and the radar scanning the ocean in search of stranded seafarers.
It was a great opportunity to experience this specialised boat in far-from-ideal conditions and it lived up to every expectation of its rugged seaworthy reputation. I also got an appreciation of the dedicated professionalism that the Marine Rescue service shows every day of the year.
STEBER 3800 TWIN CAB
A week or so later, we were in Coffs Harbour for a run on a very different Steber.
Peter English operates Better than Vegas, a charter gameboat from the Mid-North town blessed with legendary runs of pelagics out on the shelf some 13nm offshore.
Peter chose his Steber because he wanted a safe boat with good sea-handling and he was impressed with the no-nonsense approach that came with the build.
Better than Vegas differs from the single-deck rescue boat by having a flybridge and twin cabin configuration. It’s what the factory calls a family cruiser, but this does not compromise its role as a gameboat. Steber has freshened the model with a new curved flybridge roof, a bigger sliding door to the saloon, increased overhang to the cockpit and an improved island sink and bait table at the transom. The new model is also equipped with a CZone electronic control unit, which monitors and controls all the electrical systems in the boat.
LOCKED AND LOADED
Fitted with outriggers and a Reelax gamechair, the boat has the immediate impact of a capable-looking fish chaser. The flybridge helm station is accessed by a starboardside stairway that is neatly finished in stainless steel and teak. Twin Reelax seats at the helm are set behind a comprehensively outfitted console complete with a Seiwa 1110 plotter and a monster 3kW 18in Furuno FCV 1150 sounder located on a separate arm to port.
The teaked cockpit offers plenty of room to play, along with the centrally-located gamechair, a large freezer and a livebait tank in the centre of the transom.
Layout in the saloon is simple with a full-length galley along the portside and an L-shaped lounge to starboard, leaving plenty of room in the central corridor to move around. Big panoramic windows around the saloon bathe the area in light and provide clear stomach-settling views. Well-finished aged cherrywood panels and furniture with doe-skin leather upholstery give the interior a classic ambience while maintaining a user-friendly and contemporary fitout.
Down three stairs towards the bow I found a portside cabin with two bunks and a bow cabin with two sets of double bunks. Neither cabin has doors but there are deep hanging lockers to keep things neat. The starboardside head has a modern look with white moulded lining, a glass vanity bowl and designer mixer tap, a vacuum flush toilet, as well as ample room to shower. Hatches in all the downstairs spaces provide good ventilation but in hotter conditions two air-conditioning units make things more bearable in the living areas and the flybridge. In summary, it is a pragmatic rather than a luxury approach well suited to the vessel’s primary usage.
Twin Yanmar six-cylinder diesel engines live under the saloon floor and daily maintenance can be carried out by accessing a hatch in the cockpit. Propulsion is via Yanmar gearboxes through shaftdrives to 24in props that Alan claims are well protected either side of the deep keel. Forward of the engines are a separate watertight compartment for the 7kVa Mase generator and Webasto air-conditioning units.
HEADING TO SEA
With a moderate swell running and about 1m of chop, we were able to give Better than Vegas a decent run once we cleared the coast. The twin 420hp engines delivered good acceleration from rest and a top speed of just under 30kts. Peter told me that in smooth seas he had seen 32kts and he regularly runs back from the shelf at 25kts.
Progress through the swell was smooth and handling had the same precise feel of the single-deck rescue boat, although there is naturally a more pronounced sway in the higher flybridge. At 20kts the Steber lopes along using its weight and sharp entry to cut though the waves for a soft ride free of vibrations and banging, with only the slightest touch needed on the trim tabs to keep things level when travelling across the breeze. Turns at speed are flat and steering through the HyDrive system is light and responsive.
We set out to explore Steber’s claim that its 38ft hull has the versatility and strength to fill a wide range of applications and to my mind, as Mythbusters would have it, the claim is confirmed.
Many owners will be attracted to a vessel built to such a high standard and which rescue organisations choose for operations in hazardous conditions. And let’s face it, adhering to the "when the going gets tough" adage provides a pretty strong argument when the wind is blowing in your face and "home" is right into the teeth of it…
[TRADE-A-BOAT SAYS… ]
These Australian boats deserve their domination of the marine authority and commercial fleets and it is no mystery why many private buyers seek the protection of their solid build and good sea-handling. There are those who might not be attracted to their somewhat staid design but there is no doubting their stamina and good resale value.
STEBER 38 SPECIFICATIONS
PRICE AS TESTED
$900,000 (38 SLR & 3800 Twin Cab)
38 SLR: More than $100,000 of electronics, pneumatic seats, liferaft, and more
3800 Twin Cabin: Electronics, engine upgrade, outriggers, and more
$673,000 (3800 Twin Cabin); Upon application (38 SLR)
Steber 3800 Twin Cabin with twin 420hp Yanmar diesels
RPM SPEED FUEL BURN
950 7kts 3.3lt/h
1000 8kts 3.9lt/h
1500 9kts 12.1lt/h
2000 14kts 36lt/h
2500 21kts 57lt/h
3000 27kts 77lt/h
3200 29kts 82lt/h
*Sea-trial figures supplied by the author. Fuel burn is per engine.
WEIGHT 11 tonnes
PEOPLE (DAY) 10
REC. HP 330 to 480
FUEL 1500lt (SLR); 1350lt (Twin Cabin)
WATER 100lt (SLR), 400lt (Twin Cabin)
MAKE/MODEL 2 x Yanmar 6LY3-UTP (SLR); 2 x Yanmar 6LY3-STP (Twin Cab)
TYPE Electronic inline six-cylinder diesel
RATED HP 380 (SLR); 420 (Twin Cab)
WEIGHT 1000kg (each)
DISPLACEMENT 5.813lt (each)
6 Elizabeth Drive,
Taree, NSW, 2430
Phone: (02) 6554 4577
Originally published in Trade-a-Boat #441, June/July 2013
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