Classic boats say a lot of things to a lot of people. One of the things they say is, “Look at me, I have exquisite taste in boats, AND I have the money to indulge it”. Perhaps that is just sour grapes. Most of us go weak at the knees at the sight of a mahogany runabout; it is a form of lust.
Lust can rear its ugly head in unlikely places, but you are usually obliged to do something about keeping it under control. This applies particularly to classic boats; as with most lust objects it is probably best to look but don’t touch. Behind every beautifully varnished classic there is a lot of work and/or a lot of money. But the attraction of classic craft is hard to deny. A few years ago Marshall Lord decided there was a market for moderns with a touch of nostalgia, so he introduced his Narrabeen 17 and Classic 22, both displacement craft based on classic shapes, both with a number of superstructure options. Both had fibreglass hulls, and plenty of timber trim. Thus, classic new craft with a practical bent.
His Classic 25 Fast Launch is much more ambitious. He followed the same theme as his earlier boats, with traditional appearance and extensive timber trim on a hand-laid fibreglass hull , but with designer Peter McLean he produced a variable-deadrise hull form reminiscent of the great era of the classic runabout, which spanned from the 1930s to the early 50s. Then he added a 21st Century powerplant, a four-cylinder Steyr diesel.
Only two models are offered, the Short Deck shown here, which can seat 10 and carries toilet and washbasin in the forepeak, and the Long Deck, which finds room in the bow for a vee-berth, and accommodates eight in the cockpit.
To preserve the classic concept the hull is offered in four dark colours – blue, black, dark green and maroon (let’s face it, gleaming white fibreglass would not work). The trim is in Burmese teak, varnished in key areas and oiled in others. The builder also offers an all-oil finish. If you feel that maintaining the teak is too much to face, the builder reckons owners of some of his older boats let the teak weather to grey, then send the boat in for rejuvenation.
The power unit is an unusual choice, an Austrian Steyr turbo diesel. Steyr have been around since the 1920s, when they built classy, innovative cars. In recent times they have specialised in military-style 4WDs. The company’s full name is Steyr Daimler Puch. This 2.2-litre four produces 144hp, a good result for a diesel this size, but the maximum torque figure is the one that matters – 320Nm at 1900rpm, a figure which would make a petrol V8 proud. The 144hp unit is good for 26 knots; if you want more the 212hp six is an option. The diesel four, which is mounted immediately behind the front seats, is noisy at start-up and idle, but like most turbo diesels it is much quieter than a non-turbo and the noise settles right back when cruising. No doubt it would be even better with the bimini folded. The effect of such strong torque on the variable-deadrise hull is surprising. You open the throttle, the boat moves forward, the bow lifts almost instantly and you are in business, running at cruising speed. The effect is like nothing you have felt before. At least like nothing I have felt before.
You get another unusual feeling when you take waves or ferry wakes on the beam or on either quarter. The hull does not rock over onto the down-sea chine; it simply lifts up and over, with great lateral stability. At no time does the hull lurch in any plane, it takes no one by surprise.
The third point of difference is the ride. We have been brought up believing that old-style hulls like this have a hard ride, but the Classic 25 reminded me of a rally car – soft suspension with strong shock absorbers. Ferryboat wake-jumping produced an easy landing that was firm but with absolutely no shock felt through the hull bottom, no pounding and again no lurching while the unsettled hull seeks a dynamic equilibrium. A feature I like is that you can run this type of hull at any speed. There is no lower limit, as there is no fear of falling off the plane. Because of this characteristic, when the going gets really nasty it is easy to match boat speed to the sea conditions, unlike many a deep-vee which wants either to break out onto the plane or slide back and wallow off the plane.
The Classic is a safe and comfortable boat for passengers, particularly for the uninitiated. They are the ones unprepared for any sudden movement, the ones who scream and then go very quiet. The hull has no chines forward and no spray rails. When the boat first gathers speed it can curl the bow wave up the topsides, so it is best to push the throttle open and get on with it. Backing up in a seaway, which you should not have to do, can bring water into the self-draining cockpit. Then it drains right out again. At docking speeds you have to get used to the “walking” effect of the bronze four-blade prop – when put astern the prop walks the stern to port. Skippers of shaft-drive singles learn how to use this characteristic to advantage. A 1.5in stainless steel shaft carries the prop; the rudder is fibreglass carried on a 1.25in stainless steel stock.
The Classic 25 is simply fitted-out but has everything you need, including full instrumentation, a fridge/icebox, ground tackle and safety gear. The builder claims you need add only your sound system of choice, radio and GPS. This is a highly specialised craft, a statement of the bleedin’ obvious for a 26-knot, 25ft runabout priced at $150,000. I liked it a lot; the controls are firm and positive, you can feel the bite of the big four-blade prop on the water, everything has a quality feel.
I once knew a bloke who owned a genuine mahogany Riva, and he reckoned nothing came near it for blowing away the cobwebs. The Classic 25 would have the same effect; good fun on the water, heaps of dockside cred.
Remember PT73 in McHale’s Navy? It was classic example of a variable-deadrise (or warped-plane) hull form. PT73 and her sisters were, however, renowned ankle-breakers and disc-slippers because at speed the point at which the hull cut the water had negligible deadrise.
John F. Kennedy had a bad back all his short life. It wasn’t because of the famous shipwreck, it was the result of the atrocious ride on PT109.
When C. Raymond Hunt created the constant deadrise deep-vee hull in the late 1950s he created a new style of powerboat, capable of very high top speeds and terrific ride in broken water. Deep vees are fast because the whole hull lifts as speed increases, thereby reducing weight. So the faster you go, the faster you go. Rough-water ride at speed is also superior. But like all technological advances (consider the computer, the mobile phone, the VCR, my car radio) the deep vee had its drawbacks which were ignored because of the obvious advantages and the blind acceptance of the new.
If you are not looking for ultimate top speed, variable-deadrise has a lot to offer. The transition from low speed to planing is progressive and, because the stern tends to lift very little, the stern sections can add to lateral stability. The Classic 25 has no need of trim tabs and it rides well, probably because the part of the hull that actually cuts the water has quite a steep deadrise.