Issue: April 1999
A landlocked country renowned for its spectacular alpine scenery and snowfields, Switzerland may seem an unlikely base for a European boatbuilding company with traditions stretching back 80 years.
But then, given the proliferation of scenic lakes such as Constance, Lucerne, Locarno and Geneva, plus the close proximity of the Mediterranean boating playgrounds, it’s a little more understandable.
I must admit to knowing nothing about Boesch boats prior to this test. Some quick research revealed that the family-run business has established a reputation for traditional timber boat design and building that stretches throughout Europe and the USA.
While the company now concentrates solely on power runabouts, for more than two decades it built both power and sail craft including the Star class keelboats. In the 50s, Boesch were the sole ski boats used at Geneva, which was then the centre of waterskiing in Europe, and from 1960 through to 1976, and then again in 1981, 83 and 91, Boesch were the official tow boats at the World and European waterski championships. This is quite an achievement for a company that has stuck with traditional materials and methods, refusing to flow with the rest and adopt the impersonal product that results from moulded GRP. Boesch started with the purchase of the Treichler & Co. boat yards on Lake Zurich in 1920. In an era when one-off boats were the norm, and fast runabouts a plaything for only the well-to-do, company founder Walter Boesch set his sights on improving hull designs that increased performance and efficiency. He also developed construction techniques that retained traditional materials and finish yet enabled the company to increase production to meet their growing popularity. In the 40s the production Boesch fast motorboats were capable of a startling (at the time) 45 kph, and that hull design was to be the forerunner of the runabouts that were developed throughout the following decades. Renown for their outstanding stability, manoeuvrability, and the low, constant wake, these boats were to develop a genuine uniqueness.
While Boesch has gradually improved their production efficiencies, current buyers of handcrafted timber boats pay a big premium. The $300,000 price tag here is indicative of that. But someone prepared to spend that sort of money on a 6.8 metre runabout is looking for a boat that is warm and unique in character; is flawless in every respect; and shows genuine pride in workmanship. Who would buy a Boesch – either the 5.6 metre, the 6.2, the 6.8 as tested, or 8.5? Probably the same person who owns a Rolex and a Bentley and enjoys the finer things in life. For lovers of traditional timber, these are superb craft – an opulent ski boat, an impressively upmarket harbour runabout that oozes class and sophistication. Using mahogany lamination over a traditional keel, stringer and rib frame of solid mahogany, the Boesch hull doesn’t flex the way that conventional lapped or planked construction does. This enables all of the timber and the joints to be permanently sealed; thus the boat stays dry, clean, relatively maintenance free, and retains the right glow that can only be brought out in solid dry timbers.
The depth of the shine that radiates the richness of the mahogany is only obtained by starting with a well-rubbed coat of colour stain, followed by five to seven coats of epoxy, finished with four coats of polyurethane varnish. This deep clear finish made me very hesitant in approaching this test. Do I dare step on anything with other than feet wrapped in cotton wool? What do I say if I bump the wharf? Should I even get the boat wet with salt spray? I know – let the dealer get on first, follow what he did and let him take it out of the marina, and put it away at the end of the test! The best and softest of deck shoes lay idle on the jetty as we climbed aboard with socks on our feet, even then feeling guilty in having to step onto the sun lounge and the cockpit seating.
Weighing close to two tonnes, the 6.8 Boesch is powered by a pair of fuel-injected 4.3 litre 180hp V6 Crusader petrol engines (the smaller of the standard engine options). These engines produce a top speed of just over 36 knots, but top speed is not what this boat is all about. This is not a deep vee hull. It’s a classic configuration that was first seen prior to WW2, but has developed over the decades as principles and theories have changed. It features a fine, relatively upright bow stem that rolls firstly into a sharp fine entry, then a semi vee amidships, and flattens to a very slight vee at the transom. With centremount engines it produces a flat and easy-planing hull form that runs smooth and true in a reasonable chop, but still has a sufficiently fine entry to soften the ride in the rough. There was no distinct hump or bow raising as the hull transgressed from displacement to planing trim. In fact it was difficult to precisely identify the RPM/speed at which the boat was planing; suffice to say that it s around 1700 to 1800 RPM – 11 to 13 knots.
With the deep forefoot and raking deckline, from the driver’s seat the Boesch gives the impression that it rides bow up but this is not the case. It is quite a flat-trimming boat that provides a very smooth and comfortable ride principally in the cruise range of 2500 to 3500 RPM. Though the Boesch has a skiboat reputation in Europe, I don t imagine this range of boats being used solely for that purpose in this country. The price tag limits it very much to the socialising set where it is more than likely to be seen flitting from one restaurant or social scene to the next; a role that it will most ably fulfil.
What surprised me was that the driver’s seat is not fixed in place. The seat and base itself is quite substantial and heavy, but can be slid about the cockpit. The fact that this seat didn’t move throughout the entire test was a testimony to the quality of the ride that this hull produced. With hull and engine noise way down, seating comfortable but limited in number, and the standard of the ride, this boat has all the class and style to supplement its opulence in craftsmanship and fitout. Traditional runabouts had previously meant to me Riva and Chris Craft – to that I can now add Boesch. It is certainly the most expensive runabout I’m ever likely to set foot in and I wouldn’t expect to bump into too many of them at Sydney’s posh waterside restaurants. It is a traditional boat, built and finished by craftsmen for owners who appreciate only the very, very best in life’s little pleasures.
Story & Photos by David Toyer.