INTERVIEW - Cliff Antees, Stacer boat tester

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Is there a better job than testing boats? We wanted to know so we cornered Stacer’s official boat tester, Cliff Antees, and pumped him full of questions.

INTERVIEW - Cliff Antees, Stacer boat tester
INTERVIEW — Cliff Antees, Stacer boat tester

The title "Stacer’s boat tester" sounds too good to be true Cliff. Is that really your official title?

Yeah it is. I guess the title stuck a few years ago when we started doing a lot more "official testing" and these days the job takes up a fair bit of my time.

Is there anything bad about living on the Gold Coast and being a boat tester?

It’s good, I won’t say it isn’t. I guess a lot of people envy my job but I don’t take it lightly I can assure you. At the end of the day, my input to our R&D department and the testing we do determines whether a boat is right or it isn’t.

That’s a big responsibility in a competitive market.

That’s right. In this business you have to have a feel for what’s good and what’s not and I guess I developed those skills over a long period of time. I’ve been around boats since I was a toddler.

Tell us about that. How’d you get started?

It all started with my uncle and my dad I suppose. They used to race offshore boats when we were kids and we always went along. We always raced together as a family, me and my cousins and so on. I got into circuit racing when I was a kid with V-bottom tinnies with a little six horsepower. While the parents were out racing (the club) would hold little kids races, you know. I guess that was around 1985 or 1986, around there somewhere.

Then you graduated to bigger boats?

Well, pretty much after we got out of our little boats, our tinnies, by the time I was 15 I had my boat licence, which you had to have to go racing. I think my next boat was an 11.5ft monohull, a little single-seater racer with a sixty horsepower. That was like the bottom line for racing, the next step up in the 1250cc class. I was a member of two clubs for a while back then. We used to do circuit racing in flat water and also marathon races in the Broadwater as well. We had to do probably 10 to 12 laps of a set course in the Broadwater so you had to contend with different conditions, it wasn’t flat water.

I was in the top three in the smaller class and pretty much went from that into unlimited, unrestricted outboards, around 270 to 280 horsepower, and I was quite successful there as well.

And that’s where you learned all the skills that make you such a good tester. I imagine most testing would be done on pre-production models but is that actually the case?

I’d say I’d be evaluating preproduction boats about half the time. I tend to work quite closely with R&D. We’ll sort of knock heads a bit, and if there’s a problem of understanding or communication or whatever, I’ll take one of the guys out on the boat and show him what I’m talking about.

I spend a lot of time with production boats too, on the little things though, like making sure the control box is in the right spot or the steering wheel’s in the right spot, and the rigging side of it too, the gauges and looms, that sort of thing.

I don’t normally get too involved with interior stuff but if it’s a major hull change then it comes through me. On a small to medium runabout or a bowrider, within the 4.5-5 metre range, what I’m looking for is a boat that’s easy to operate, almost to the point where it’ll drive itself — it doesn’t need constant control adjustments because it’s misbehaving, like steering to the left or right or whatever.

I have to make sure our boats are as easy as can be to operate too, that’s really important so I often just let it ride over the waves without doing the stuff I’d normally do, like trim it and get it sitting really nice. I guess in a way I’m behaving like a first-time boat buyer who doesn’t know about any of these fine adjustments. I’m looking at it from their point of view, at how easy or difficult it is to operate.

Do you have a lot of input on the final design of a boat?

Our design guys are really good, and they’ve been at it a long time, but in the end a new boat has to come past me so I know it works the way they want it to and I’m happy it’s a safe boat.

You’d have to be very sensitive to small differences in handling and behaviour in your job. It’s kind of like a motocrosser track-testing a new bike, eh?

It is a bit, yeah. Because I’m out in them all the time I can feel small changes. In some of the bigger boats it’s pretty hard to tell though, because they’re much heavier, maybe a tonne and a half say, so that can be a bit more difficult.

Are there many bad boats on the market these days or are they all pretty good?

Look, they’re all pretty good but there are still less than ideal boats around and they can be a problem for first time buyers. All I can say really is that these boats tend to come from manufacturers who don’t do the sort of testing we do. We have a pretty good feel for where we’re at, and we get a lot of feedback through our customers. To answer your question though, yes, I have driven an opposition’s boat and thought, jeez this is awful! We know if another manufacturer is exaggerating the benefits of his product, put it that way.

This first-time customer is really important to you guys isn’t he?

The first-timer’s our life line, the most important customer we have, and that’s one reason why customer service through the dealer is so important in this industry. The dealer should take the potential customer for a ride in the boat so he knows how everything works. It’s an old saying but it’s true that if the customer has one scary experience on the water, maybe with his wife and kids on board, he’ll say, "Nup, don’t like that!" and he’ll never buy another boat again.

Is there anything else you’d like to do with boats?

For a job you mean?

Yeah, something other than boat testing.

Well, the only thing I wanted to pursue on the racing side of things was to get involved with Formula One powerboats.

You still want to race?

Oh look, (laughs), I say yes but the other half says no. But I wouldn’t swap what I’ve got now for quids.

And I don’t blame you. Thanks for your time Cliff.

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