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Another recent entry to the Aussie market, Mariah’s new SX18 bowrider boasts a smooth-riding hull, decent internal volume, sporty performance and space for the family — and all for less than $40,000. Dave Lockwood reports




Despite what Split Enz said, history has a habit of repeating itself. Today I've turned full circle and am back at the coalface where I cut my boat-testing teeth many moons ago. The mighty Georges River, which wends its way for kilometres through the southern Sydney suburbs, is where I gingerly set foot aboard a Caribbean 26 for an inaugural published test in a boating magazine more than a decade ago.
While the ensuing years have made me somewhat wiser, I am no less taken by the wide brown tract that spills into bustling Botany Bay and out to the Tasman Sea, which ranges west under various road and rail bridges, past lofty waterfront homes and stoic sandstone boat sheds, to the grotty industrial areas and the beautified parks and housing estates.
There's been a lot of water under the bridge for Mariah boats over the past decade or so, too. The American boatbuilder shot from humble beginnings in 1989 to stellar heights a decade later, with turnover of $48 million and almost 200 dealers. So you might well understand the angst that followed when founder Jimmy Fulk sent a letter to his 300 staff in 2001 telling them he was closing the factory.
But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining. Today the Renken family, which has been building boats since 1957, and also makes Seafox craft, is at the helm of this resurrected household name in American boats. And the big American is back in a bigger way, with such reassuring features as a limited lifetime hull warranty on all its boats and, closer to home, established dealerships looking after the badge and its buyers.




The other nice thing I found on my patch of discovery was a boat that ran well on the wilds of the Georges River. It was late winter and a brisk southerly had turned Botany Bay into a washing machine where a Mariah and its likely family owners just wouldn't venture. While I did little more than create the biggest wake I could and then charge through the melee, I didn't discern a savage bump aboard. Providing the bow is sluicing through the water, the SX18 Bow Rider is a smooth-riding boat.
The other really nice thing about this 18-footer was its volume and buoyancy. While it isn't especially wide at 2.3m across the beam, it has nice high sides and a deep bow that collectively shed water and prevented slop splashing aboard. And an abundance of stainless-steel fittings and you have a boat built for regular saltwater use.
Some nice scalloping and rakish lines give the SX18 a sporty appearance. Add an upgraded 4.3lt 190hp V6 MerCruiser petrol motor, as opposed to the standard 135hp four-pot 3.0lt model, and the performance is commensurate. The top speed of 42.6 knots (81kmh) with three adults and little gear was consistent with Mariah's published figures, so no inflated claims in that department, either.




The construction method used to manufacture Mariahs, which span six models of bowriders from 18-25ft, four cuddy cabins from 19-25ft, and three deck boats from 21-25ft, is best described as composite, contemporary and timber-free. The transom is cored, the floor is reinforced with high-density foam, foam-filled stringers are 'glassed to the hull, and closed-cell foam is added for flotation. The GRP is hand-rolled and you can choose between four colour-coded gelcoat stripes: Aztec yellow, electric blue, pitch black, or ruby red on the test boat.
As mentioned there's a good spread of stainless steel winking back at you from the decks. It's used for the rub rail, swim ladder, (optional) pop-up cleats, grabrails, facias protecting plastic through-hull fittings, and for the windscreen uprights. In fact, the windscreen is so well supported that the agent lifted himself bodily from it without so much as a creak from his joints or those on the boat.




To these things you can add high-density vinyl upholstery and an all-weather marine carpeted cockpit floor (snap-in optional). The alternative seen here was a no-charge non-skid finished fibreglass floor that will be easier to keep clean. The boat's fully GRP liner provides a neat finish to the eye, too.
The dash is an injection-moulded low-glare insert with automotive-like layout. There is room for improvement in its finish and that of the upholstery and some concealed fibreglass areas on the demo boat and on the Mariahs I saw displayed at the Sydney Boat Show. But upholstery and finish are earmarked for attention on the re-launched brand, I'm told.
The agents were working with the local manufacturer, I'm told, and apparently Mariah has acquired the old Quintrex factory in America with the aim of turning it into a dedicated high-grade upholstery plant. That being the case, I would expect improvements in the details in future boats. But by and large, the SX18 was a formulaic bowrider without any surprises.
While the factory touts an eight-person capacity on this boat, you'll find the 18-footer pretty squeezy with that many aboard. Think six and you'll be comfortable and four for optimum performance. There's a choice of full-width rear lounge or back-to-back seats either side of the engine box. But the former, as seen here, provides superior seating and better sound insulation. Plus you get a ready-made full width sun lounge for working on your tan.




While it doesn't break any new design grounds, the SX18 has an anchor well in the bow. Although small, it at least provides somewhere to stow your anchor without have to lift up seat cushions and drag muddy ground tackle aboard. An anchor well on an American boat like this really is a rarity.
Both under-seat bow storage compartments were lined and the centre moulded compartment, which drains through to the bilge, is intended as a forward icebox. You also get a couple of drinkholders in the bow and enough depth that your knees aren't up around your ears when seated.
The companionway back through the safety-glass windscreen was wide and inviting. The windscreen has glass side panes, which isn't always the case on budget bowriders - some competitors have no side panels at all and the wind blasts your neck while driving.
Storage in the cockpit ranges from a rubber-lined subfloor ski locker with slatted Starboard-plastic lid for ventilation to small moulded sidepockets with drinkholders and an insulated icebox ahead of the co-pilot that drains overboard. There is also a glovebox concealing the Clarion CD player with four-speakers. A rocker switch on the dash lets you instantly cut the power in case you need to be heard.
The sculptured rear lounge needs side grabrails. It lifts on gas struts to reveal a storage space to starboard of the motor and the engine-start battery to port. You can dip the motor oil and access the header tank in case you need to top the radiator with fresh water. The sterndrive leg was the base model Alpha One, with a trailer tilt switch (optional) on the transom, where you will find a full-width boarding platform, concealed ladder and skihook.
The trailer was a decent single-axle Sealink model superior to many imported cradles made for lake boat ramps. Various covers are listed options - the dealer had a higher bimini top than is supplied by the factory cut by a local company - and I would seriously consider an optional hour meter and digital depth sounder.




The helm bucket seat adjusts every which way and includes a flip-up bolster for more height, so you can see over the bow when driving the boat back on its trailer. The seat also locks into position so it doesn't swivel as you cross the waves and sweep through the turns.
On the automotive-type dash you get a 12V accessory plug for the mobile phone or video, spare accessory switches, and rocker switches for the horn, bilge blower, bilge pump, stereo, nav and anchor light. Engine gauges included a speedo, which was reading high, and a trim gauge.
I've got big hands and on occasion when turning the sports steering wheel they knocked the throttle which is alongside. But for all intents and purposes, this was a fuss-free bowrider to drive and the vision of the river ahead was clear.
The moderate-vee hull with 18 degrees of deadrise held a slippery low planning speed of 19 knots (36kmh) at just 2600rpm. Low-speed cruise at 3000rpm with half trim gave 24 knots (46kmh), but the SX18 seemed happiest at about 3500rpm and 30.5 knots (58kmh). So expect to reach your favourite family picnic spot in no time.
We passed under bridges, arced around bays, swanned past waterfront houses, and drove down the straights at fast cruise or maximum continuous revs of 4500rpm and 39 knots (74kmh) and at 4800rpm for a 42.6 knot (81kmh) top speed. And at high speed I could discern no handling flaws.
It's not based on rocket science, nor does it attempt to reinvent the wheel, but for a lot of family boaters the Mariah SX18 has everything they require in a trailerboat. Add a big river like the mighty Georges, or a bay, some watertoys and tow ropes, refreshments and a packed lunch, and you've got the makings of a fun-filled day afloat.




* Composite construction backed by limited lifetime warranty
* Hull didn't appear to bang during circuit work or while crossing wake
* A nice package with a spacious cockpit for four
* Comfortable seating and buoyancy to support crew riding in the bow
* Plenty of top-end poke with the upgraded engine




* Upholstery and finish in some areas could be improved
* No grabrails for passengers on rear lounge.
* Swimmers must step on upholstery of rear lounge to access cockpit
* Small fuel capacity, especially with upgraded motor
* Wheel tight to throttle




Specifications: Mariah SX18




Price as tested: $35,990 with 4.3lt 190hp MerCruiser on single-axle Sealink trailer
Options Fitted: Covers, bimini top, popup cleats, sound system, safety gear and more
Priced from: $32,990 with 3.0lt 135hp MerCruiser engine on single-axle Sealink trailer




Material: Foam-filled GRP hull with composite transom, stringers and floor
Type: Moderate-vee planing hull
Length overall: 5.50m
Beam: 2.30m
Deadrise: 18 degrees
Weight: About 1048kg with base motor




Rec/max HP: 135/190 sterndrive
Berths: Catnap on the sun lounge
Fuel capacity: 83lt
Water capacity: BYO bottled




Make/Model: MerCruiser 4.3L
Type: Inboard V6 four-stroke petrol motor
Rated HP: 190hp at 4400-4800rpm
Displacement: 4.3lt
Weight: About 385kg
Gearboxes (Make/ratio): Alpha One sterndrive
Props: Standard alloy




Blakes Marine,
1 Railway Road, Mulgrave, NSW.
Phone: (02) 4577 6699



Originally published in TrailerBoat #197

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