By: David Lockwood, Photography by: David Lockwood

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The Aussie dollar is gradually reaching parity with the Yankee greenback, making more boats affordable from the USA, but Australian boatbuilder Walsh Craft says it can still undercut the imports with entry-level craft like the 535 bowrider, notes David Lockwood




It takes a certain amount of bravado to build an entry-level boat that competes directly with the multitudes of offerings from those huge multinationals that, due to economic circumstances, are presently awash with boats. But a daring Australian has taken the bull by the horns or, shall we say, the bowrider by the nose and built a boat that he believes will beat them.
Darren Walsh says the key to his success was finding a solution to the age-old excuse of time and money - or rather a lack thereof - preventing would-be boaties from joining the recreational set. His eponymous Walsh Craft 535BR is keenly priced for those on a budget, so it won't break the bank to finance or run, but nor will it take an inordinate amount of time to launch and maintain.
Naturally, Walsh picked a bowrider configuration for his foray into high-volume boatbuilding. The reasons for that are obvious. Simply, there is no better multipurpose boat for doing a little bit of everything really very well. Fish, ski, tow tykes on tubes, hightail it up river for a picnic… the call it yours.
Fitted with a 90hp (67kW) Mercury outboard spinning a 20in aluminium propeller and bundled on a Sales single-axle braked trailer, the 535BR costs $27,990 on road and rearing to go on water. But I'm sure the dealers selling these boats can be convinced to throw in the safety package for nix. Try it.
The rig isn't exactly bare bones, either, with a CD tuner, navigation lights, stainless steel fuel tank, bollards, bilge pump, anchor well and roller. There is a stainless steel swim ladder and a bimini top for essential shade in summer.
By my rough estimation, the Walsh Craft 535BR is at least $2000 less than an equivalent entry-level bowrider from a big Yankee yard. Yet the boatbuilder told me, kind of hush-hush, that his boat was based on a big-name boat, only the hull was stretched this way and that. Little wonder it ran so well.




With a background in manufacturing and Navy officer as a father, Walsh was a born boatie. In fact, he owns a 40ft cruiser that he spends most summer weekends aboard. But his philanthropic side wanted to see more and more people enjoy boating. And the only way he could do that was to build a budget, no-brainer, turnkey boat.
To cut construction costs, Walsh had his boat built in China. Actually, he said he went to the Shen Fung factory and found, much to his delight, that they made about 20 different types of boats. It was there that he found his bowrider virtually ready to roll. And it was then that he used his boating experience and tweaked a few things.
Ironically, the price of shipping boats from China to Australia has now risen to such lofty heights that, despite selling 20 Walsh Craft already this year, our budding boatbuilder has been forced to procure the moulds. He says he plans to build the boat in Forster on the NSW Mid-North Coast.
Walsh is aiming to have 50 of his bowriders built by year's end, sold through five dealers nationwide and growing. But don't think that cost is the only detail that matters here. Rather, Walsh says safety was the most important thing from the outset.
While local boatbuilding laws say you only need basic flotation in a boat like this, Walsh went further and insisted on level flotation so, in the unlikely event you are swamped, the boat will remain upright. Sorry, we didn't test the detail.
And he wanted to make sure there weren't any performance quirks. What he sought was a turnkey boat that budding skippers could command without worrying about unforseen handling traits like, digging in the bow in tight turns.
The subsequent ease of handling and user-friendliness also extends to the launch and retrieval process. And as the rig weighs 1120kg on road as tested, it won't be a handful to tow behind a small family car. It's also nice to know that the hull is backed by a five-year warranty, with five years on the outboard, says Walsh, and two years on the trailer.
Construction of the demonstrator was all solid handlaid fibreglass, with GRP stringers and injected foam in the subfloor areas. The hull and deck moulding are riveted and glassed together, while the floor moulding is glued to the hull.
And as many components as possible have been sourced from Australian suppliers, such as the Alfab windscreen, the helm seats on future boats, and the soft furnishings.




We performed a quick tour of the Walsh Craft starting at the pointy end. While the bow seating area isn't the biggest in its class, full marks for providing a sub-seat anchor locker. This isn't always a given on Yankee boats.
The bowroller and bollard will help save the fibreglass from scratches and chips, yet grabrails were noticeable by their absence. And there isn't storage under the side seats, as those voids are taken up by foam flotation.
The upholstery on this Chinese-built demonstrator also left a bit to be desired. But press-studs dotting the bow point to the fact the boat comes with a supplied cover. Attach it in winter and you will create a runabout with more wind protection when you're seated back in the cockpit.
The walkthrough Australian-made five-piece windscreen has the usual centre opening section. The helm seats were made by Springfield in America, with folding backrests so you can create an aft-facing observer's seat when skiing. However, as touched on, future boats will have locally made swivel seats instead.
The co-pilot or ski observer gets a glovebox that needed refining and, moreover, an overboard drain so it can double as a drinks cooler. The dash was simple, with just a couple of engine gauges, namely tacho and speed, fuel gauge and a switch for the supplied bilge pump.
I liked the nice long sidepockets in the cockpit where you can stash the requisite lifejackets and paddle, but also a fishing pole or two. Underfloor you get a central ski locker that you can bung and fill with ice and drinks.
The full-length aft lounge can seat three people, though grab handles were again in short supply. Under the seat base is additional storage and terrific access to the 80-litre stainless steel fuel tank, bilge and battery living in a separate box.
Full marks for the transom treatment, that included two large non-skid areas either side of the engine well. These quasi seats will be perfect for watching the world drift by, for donning wakeboards and, thanks to a supplied swim ladder, drying out. Pop-up cleats were a nice touch, too.
While I thought the mouldings were nice and fair, improvement is needed with the upholstery and seat bases. Walsh tells me that future boats will have better coverings, so I will leave prospective buyers to be the judge of that. Now, to the ride.




It was an admittedly calm day without much in the way of boat wake or wind waves, yet there was just enough ripple to prove the undoing of lesser boats. And while the hull doesn't have a lot of freeboard up front, which means its bow seating is best for a couple of kiddies, it did travel rather smoothly through the water.
With the 90hp (67kW) Mercury outboard - the boat is rated to a maximum of 150hp or 112KW - the 535BR proved eager. From a standing start, where it felt nice and stable as I moved around the deck, the hull soon planed at 3000rpm and nine knots without wallowing.
The boat advanced nice and level to a low-speed cruise of 13.2kts at 3500rpm, a family cruise and tow speed of 16.7kts at 4000rpm, where the boat was smooth and agreeable, to a fast cruise of 20.8kts at 4500rpm.
Top speed was 28.7kts at 5500rpm, which is fast enough for a first-time boat.
Thankfully, sight lines were pretty clear of the road ahead, even despite the remnants of a large sales sticker blocking a section of windscreen.
"This is the only boat in the range for now," says Walsh as we drift about while shooting the breeze, "but we're in discussions with some Canadian companies to acquire their moulds.
"Let's just say there are some irons in the fire. We want to build a centre console next and to have a half-cabin family boat," he said.
Meantime, Walsh can feel chuffed that he has doubtless put more bums on seats and introduced new blood to the recreation. And with some strict quality control assurances in place in the new local factory, owners should remain content captains and crew. Walsh still has a way to go in the finish departments.
But with little maintenance to worry about in a boat like this, you can't use the excuse of being time poor. A blatt with the family is only minutes away. A few minutes more and you can put your bowrider to bed. And you won't lose sleep over the fuel costs - safe boating, indeed.



Plenty of bang for your buck
Package undercuts the big brands
Australian-made fittings where applicable
Good warranties
Honest performance




Finish of the demonstrator was sub-standard
Needs better upholstery and seat bases
Boat wasn't very well presented, with flooded ski locker and more
No grab rails in the bow or alongside cockpit seating
Low freeboard in the bow
New badge without any proven track record
Unknown resale value




Specifications: Walsh Craft 535BR


Price as tested: $27,990 including 90hp outboard and trailer
Options fitted: None
Priced from: As above




Material: GRP
Length (overall): 5.35m
Beam: 2.12m
Deadrise: 18.5 degrees
Rec/max hp/kW: 150/112
Weight: 750kg hull only; 1120kg on road




Fuel: 80lt
Water: Not applicable



ENGINE (as tested)

Make/Model: Mercury 90hp ELPO
Type: Petrol two-stroke three cylinder carbie
Rated hp/kW: 90hp/67kW @ 5000-5500rpm
Displacement: 1.4lt
Weight: 137kg
Drive: (make/ratio): Long shaft outboard 2.3:1
Props: 20in alloy prop




Factory 41/2 Hoyle Ave,
Castle Hill, NSW, 2154
Tel: 02 9680 2577



Originally published in TrailerBoat #234

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