By: Kevin Smith

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Kevin Smith gets up close and personal with Mr Cruise Craft's personal steed; a 685 Explorer Hardtop with the lot.

The fully-optioned Cruise Craft 685 Explorer HT (hard top) — a burger with the lot.

When it comes to boating in Queensland, you'd be daft not to notice Cruise Craft's legendary status with models of every generation plying the local waterways. This pristine specimen is the flagship of the Cruise Craft Fleet: a 685 Explorer Hardtop loaded to the gills with all the good gear. The personal ride of Kevin Nichols, patriarch of the Cruise Craft clan, this bespoke rig is a fine example of what can be achieved when clever design meets one seriously "OMG" electronics fit out. Bursting with all the latest and greatest gadgets, the zero-to-hero-speed Yamaha 300hp V6 rounds out the package just nicely.


While Cruise Craft's 685 Explorer has graced these pages recently, an opportunity to play with Kevin's new pride and joy was too tempting to refuse. First up, the 685 Explorer Hard Top might not be a bona fide "from the waterline up" new model, but let's give Cruise Craft their dues. This is not just a case of "bung on a bigger windscreen and a roof and let's sees what happens", either. Instead, it updates an already well-credentialed package and extends the range - pun intended.

And it's well resolved, too. Cruise Craft has done a fantastic job with the design; it matches perfectly with the already good-looking, flowing lines of the 685, and its sturdy build, unlike several other hardtops, doesn't restrict the valuable fishing dancefloor. As you enter the cab from the stern you automatically notice the uncompromised space, as well as an abundance of natural light streaming in from the large, full screens and sliding side windows - by no means do you feel claustrophobic when up at the helm. At the same time, the way in which the hardtop extends over the screen towards the bow minimises glare onto the dash and electronics. This area of the boat is further protected courtesy of Cruise Craft's traditionally dry ride, which keeps the screen clear of spray most of the time and means you don't have to punish the wipers - which were optioned with freshwater windscreen washers, if you don't mind.

When it comes to interior layouts, you just can't beat the 685 from a fishing perspective, however it's also suitable for the family as there's heaps of space, and having the decent-sized lockable cabin means it can also be used as an overnighter.


The next highlight was, of course, the aforementioned amazing electronics package. It consisted of the latest touchscreen Furuno NavNet TZ Touch 14in MFD chartplotter with 4KW Furuno DRS radar, dedicated Furuno Fvc 585 sounder with 1kw through hull transducer, Furuno 525T-PWD DF 600w transom mount transducer, Navpilot 711 includining heading sensor, Fusion MS-IP700 stereo sound system, Yamaha digital gauge system, Lewmar ancorwinch, the latest self-adjusting Lenco Autoglide trimtabs, triple switch panels with all sorts of gadgets, LED lighting throughout, and the list goes on. Like everything else on the boat, it's all positioned ergonomically and practically to suit the serious fisherman.


The latest self-adjusting Lenco Autoglide trimtab system has just been released, and what an interesting product it is. We've been wary of trimtabs in the past and while their benefits are tangible, in the wrong hands they've the potential to be dangerous. Why? Because on occasions they've been employed to kerb wayward or overly sensitive hulls, placing the entire onus on the operator. A good hull shouldn't need them, but can be enhanced with them. On the flipside, a bad hull with tabs is a potential recipe for disaster. Even on a good hull, you still need to exercise caution and common sense and trim in small increments. Let the hull catch up before dialling in more. If trimtabs are set incorrectly or operated with too heavy a hand, the boat can lean perilously and panic could see the pilot over correct with devastating results. The wizards at Lenco have addressed this by giving their new tabs a brain which interacts with other on-board systems to provide a total boat trimming solution, and almost alleviates the need to constantly fiddle with your knobs (oh no you didn't - Ed).

Lenco's claim of self-adjusting is no word of lie, and when correctly set up these things make one hell of a difference to your boat's ride and handling, as they automatically adjust your ride to suit. There is nothing more annoying than crew members moving around the boat, necessitating the constant, manual adjustment of the tabs to befit Uncle Bruno's 150kg lard moving around the boat willy-nilly. With these tabs it's simple; just set them on auto and relax.


• Safer for inexperienced boaties

• Improved hole shot performance

• Learns the boat's most efficient running position automatically and holds this position at all speeds - saves you fuel!

• Manual override mode at the touch of a button

• Monitors the boat's position and displays this position on the key pad

• Minimises bow rise during hole shot and deceleration

• Recognises when the boat is leaning into a corner and disengages until turn is complete


Having spent many hours offshore on a 685 Explorer, I had no doubt that the overall ride would be fantastic in the hardtop configuration, however I definitely expected a significant difference on the performance side on account of the latest Yamaha V6 300hp four-stroke strapped to the back of this one.

As you can imagine, there were no issues when it came to getting this baby up onto the plane. A combination of the 20° deadrise, quick planing hull design and 300hp of mega grunt got this machine up and going really quickly. Besides the power blowing my hair back, the new prop design topped it off by eliminating that loud ugly clunk when gear selecting.

On the stability side of things, whether underway or at rest this boat is exceptionally good in all conditions. Considering we seem to be finding and facing rough conditions on a regular basis these days, this is an immeasurably beneficial attribute. The 685 is solid on the water, responsive and reliable in all aspects. The boat virtually drives itself, maintaining constant tracks without needing you to correct the ride. Whether you're flooring it out of the hole or cruising at midrange, you always have a comfortable and safe ride, both at the helm and as a passenger.


Overall, this new hardtop package is an absolute winner, and is very well-suited to the offshore angler looking for a bit more protection and comfort. The sum of the Yamaha 300hp V6, awesome electronics package, quality build, shit-hot fishability and, of course, it family suitability equals one of the best boats
in its class.

Pricewise, it's certainly not a budget package, but considering what you get it is competitive in the market and will hold good resale value.

Would I like to own one? Well I rave about my mate's one every time I get back from sea and fight for the wheel when we're out - so hell-yeah I would!


Cruise Craft Boats

1308 Lytton Road

Hemmant, Qld, 4174

Tel: (07) 3390 4877


Originally published in TrailerBoat magazine #286, September 2012.

Find Cruise Craft boats for sale.


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