BOAT TEST CRUISECRAFT 685 EXPLORER HARDTOP

By: John "The Bear" Willis


cru01.jpg cru01.jpg
cru02.jpg cru02.jpg
cru03.jpg cru03.jpg
cru04.jpg cru04.jpg
cru05.jpg cru05.jpg
cru06.jpg cru06.jpg

CruiseCraft recently introduced a couple of smart-looking hardtop configurations for its popular 685 Explorer. As John "The Bear" Willis discovered, they've made a practical boat even more functional.

BOAT TEST CRUISECRAFT 685 EXPLORER HARDTOP
CruiseCraft 685 Explorer

I make no excuses for my love of CruiseCraft boats. I've trusted this brand for most of my boating life and its models have provided me with some of my most memorable fishing and boating experiences. They simply keep getting better as time and technology move on, and I firmly believe the current CruiseCraft range affirms the company's position as the premier brand in its class as far as presentation and quality of finish are concerned.

If you want to compare apples with apples don't be deceived by CruiseCraft's model designations. CruiseCraft still measures its boats "the old way", i.e. from blunt bit to pointy bit. This package is actually 7.2m overall including the bowsprit, so most competitors would call it a 720, or bigger. These days overall size is hard to judge when you move from one dealership to another making comparisons.

The hardtop makes a great boat even better; it gives you a real sense of strength and security. Hardtops make a boat more serviceable, comfortable and practical, at the same time allowing far greater security and function. There are two hardtop options for the 685 Explorer, one with a fully-enclosed cabin and the other with a windscreen, hardtop and clears. CruiseCraft tells me the fully-enclosed version is far more popular than the open option, which surprised me - CruiseCraft has a strong following in Australia's north, where I would have thought the open, more ventilated version would be more popular. However, sales of CruiseCrafts in southern States have exploded recently, with ever greater numbers of "Mexicans" buying large enclosed-cabin boats to chase southern bluefin tuna.

The 685 Explorer was always a pretty boat with smooth, flowing lines in that easily identifiable CruiseCraft style, but the addition of the curvy hardtop has made her simply delicious. If you need the wife's approval to buy a boat, show her a CruiseCraft - you'll be having fun on the water before you know it (this is a market reality - ask any boat salesman about how many times a purchase comes down to the wife's approval).

THAT HARDTOP

Where do we start? From the top, I guess… The boat I tested was the open hardtop version. I imagine there will be slightly more weight and minimal ride, performance and stability variations with the added weight of the fully-enclosed option. On the boat I tested, the actual fibreglass hardtop is a two-piece moulding with smooth surfaces inside and out. Its shape is reminiscent of many luxury flybridge cruisers, with a nice overhang in front of the screen similar to a sun visor.

The open hardtop version is supported by a strong stainless steel framework that doubles as secure grabrails for the passengers. There's a rocket launcher on the roof and the strength of the structure will accommodate the mounting of a life raft. Indeed, I know of several models that have been built to Marine Board Passenger Survey in Queensland.

A further option is a slide-out canvas extension, which can be really handy when ol' sol really beats down - north or south. There are mounting points for the navigation lights, GPS aerials and anchor light, as well as a strong structure for top-mounted outriggers if required. The open hardtop, or targa as it's commonly known, comes with a full set of slide-out clears.

There are strong stainless steel handrails and a thin walkway around the cabin should you wish to venture around that way, although that's not something I'd attempt in any sort of sea conditions. If you prefer a walkaround configuration then look at the "Outsider" range instead. Outsiders have a larger cabin and walkaround facility; Explorers have a larger cockpit. You can easily access the bow in the Explorer through the fore hatch if needed.

The other option is an enclosed hardtop complete with full safety-glass protection. This would be my choice, as it still affords unimpaired vision over the high dashboard throughout the 270° enclosure. Reduced ventilation could be an issue in warmer climes, but the enclosed hardtop has a pair of large sliding side windows that give relatively good air flow, and you'll never get wet over the bow thanks to the strong safety glass. Solid glass hardtops can, however, make navigation at night and in low light conditions a bit tricky, particularly if salt has crystallised on the screen, causing refraction and the reflected appearance of false lighting. In that case you could certainly stick your head out the side window.

All that said, I'll take the enclosed hardtop - it looks great, is warm in winter, keeps the whole helm dry and comfortable and has a heap of headroom for taller blokes.

THE HULL

TrailerBoat originally tested the 685 Explorer some years ago and we loved it, especially in the rough conditions on the day. In fact, the comment made by the tester at the time was that the 685 Explorer was "a rig that anybody would be proud to own" and that it was "borne out of necessity for those wanting a more hard-core fishing boat".

This new 685 is certainly a great fishing rig but it would make a great family dayboat, too. Who wants to be confined in a cabin when you take the family out for the day? What a family needs is a platform with room to move, plenty of shade, comfortable seating and a cabin for the knick-knacks. That's exactly what the 685 Explorer offers.

For the keen fisho or diver, this is one serious offshore machine with a large workable helm and plenty of room for modern 12in-display sonar / GPS / radar and engine management systems. The driving position is good, either seated or standing, and a moulded footrest adds security and comfort. The recessed binnacle controls are well positioned and beyond the fact the dash-mounted compass sits fairly high in your field of vision, I found it hard to fault the helm's overall ergonomics.

The helm and passenger seats are very strong and thickly upholstered. They're mounted with swivels on stainless steel support structures, under which you can fit detachable iceboxes. This is a typical Queensland style - it's a configuration I've grown to love, especially due to my well-publicised hate of pedestals.

There are moulded sidepockets, recessed grabrails and loads of storage throughout, and the sliding cabin door is a beauty - it's a truly professional job. The other manufactured item that may not be immediately obvious is the one-piece internal liner that extends from the huge deck space right up the side walls, providing great structural integrity and plenty of cavities for the foam filling. The liner makes the package really easy to clean and as no water can penetrate the hull it will extend the boat's lifespan. Other raw materials have been well thought out for longevity, including the use of "Star Board" and recycled plastics for deck fittings and hatches.

There's a killtank and wet storage underfloor, a plumbed livebait tank in the transom and toe grips all around the big cockpit. This would make it an exceptional stand-up gamefishing boat, further enhanced by its high freeboard and very workable transom. It's not a great distance from the recessed, folding rear lounge to the back of the engines, so a rampaging fish can be controlled on a short stroker. There's padded coamings for comfort and the clean and neat finish has no sharp edges.

As with all CruiseCraft products the list of standard features is a mile long. Bilgepumps, batteries, EPIRBs, fire extinguishers and so much more are all standard items, and the CE Certification means you can expect world-class quality from items such as wiring looms through to the overall construction technique.

ON THE WATER

The 685 Explorer's beautiful, modern appeal is enhanced by its spacious layout. You won't feel confined by the huge deck area and generous cabin space, and you'll be king of the ocean with the high freeboard, dash and transom. It comes as standard with a generous 310lt tank to feed a big Yamaha 250hp four-stroke.

The engine is of course optional and the transom layout will facilitate twin rigs if preferred. CruiseCraft recommends 225hp, but the transom is rated to 300hp. I reckon a new Yammie 300hp with fly-by-wire controls would be a ripper, but the 250hp V6 was plenty for me, giving a fast travelling range of 31kts (57.4kmh) at 4500rpm at an economical 48.3lt/h. I found a fast 42kts (77.8kmh) at 5900rpm drinking 91.1lt/h at wide open throttle (WOT), for those times when you need to get the hell outta there quickly.

On the water, the boat gives a very balanced and reassuring ride, typical of its 20° deadrise hull. The big hull combined with that big Yammie gave an enormous amount of lift out of the hole - it's an assuring quality when crossing bars when you need immediate power getting through the rough stuff, and it also has the sustained torque to hold on the back of a wave. The 19in stainless propeller gripped very well with very little slip, even when trimmed out.

In turns, it banked well and didn't lay over too far. You'll also be mighty thankful for the soft ride when coming home through the Moreton Bay chop. I also loved the noise factor, or lack thereof, a result of extensive foam-filling right up the side walls combined with a non-rattling sliding acrylic door.

THE WRAP

You'll need a large 4WD to tow this big canyon runner. Her dry weight on the road is approximately 2800kg, and well over three tonnes when fuelled and loaded with all your gear. But when you get the 685 on the water you'll be surprised by this big, solid hull's terrific lift, overall agility and excellent seakeeping abilities. When the conditions turn nasty you can trust a CruiseCraft 685 Explorer - and you'll certainly be thankful for the protection afforded by either of these hardtop formats.

On the plane...
Beautiful finish
Huge deck area
Lockable cabin
Versatile hardtop(s)
Fishable
Seagoing ability
Helm has plenty of room for instruments

Dragging the chain...
Ventilation tends to be more restricted in fully-enclosed hardtop boats in hotter weather

CRUISECRAFT 685 EXPLORER HARDTOP
HOW MUCH?
Price as tested: $123,500
Options fitted: Anchor winch, rear lounge, saltwater deckwash, livebait tank plumbing, baitboard, VHF radio, targa-mounted spotlights, padded coamings        
Priced from: $115,000

GENERAL
Type: Deep-vee monohull
Material: Fibreglass
Length: 6.85m
Length (overall): 7.2m
Beam: 2.5m
Weight (BMT): Approx. 2700kg
Deadrise: 20°

CAPACITIES
People: 7
Rec. HP: 225
Max. HP: 300
Fuel: 310lt

ENGINE
Make/model: Yamaha 250hp
Type: V6, 60°, DOHC, fuel-injected four-stroke
Weight: 255kg
Displacement: 4.2lt
Gear ratio: 1.75: 1

MANUFACTURED & SUPPLIED BY
CruiseCraft Boats
1308 Lytton Road
Hemmant, Qld, 4174
Tel: (07) 3390 4877
Web: www.cruisecraft.com.au

Story and photos: John Willis
First published in TrailerBoat #282

Find Cruisecraft boats for sale.

 


Want the latest stories delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the free TradeBoats e-newsletter.