Haines Hunter 635SF Challenger Review

Issue: January 2001

For the past couple of years, the biggest selling model in Haines Hunter’s range has been the 680 Encore, a maxi trailerboat in every sense. The Encore maximises the benefits of the walk-around concept, with its safety, accessibility and use of space. However it not only needs a heavy-duty 4WD tow vehicle and large dual axle trailer, but demands a high financial outlay and plenty of garaging space. Despite the 680’s success, the devalued Aussie dollar putting pressure on outboard costs and rising fuel prices have encouraged Haines Hunter to build a smaller version, the 635SF Challenger.

It’s a boat that comes in at just under two tonnes, which brings reductions in other areas. The purchase price is lower, as is the horsepower demand which yields further price and running cost savings. Significantly, the 635 can be coupled behind larger family sedans or smaller 4WDs. It brings the Challenger within reach of the median trailer boat buying market, and not at the top end where its 680 stablemate sits, so the future looks rosy.

“Scaling down” the 680 to produce the 635 was no simple task, the designers encountering space restrictions, particularly around the helm station and cabin. It required fresh thinking and innovation to maintain the boat’s practicality and user-friendly nature. Though based on the Encore concept, the 635 is a completely new hull, engineered from the bottom up for powering by either twin or single outboards. It is primarily a fishing rig, yet the inherent safety that is offered by the walk-around concept also makes it an ideal family or general purpose boat.

Children get more freedom to move about and therefore on-board life doesn’t become boring as quickly as it otherwise might. As with a bowrider, they can easily access the bow and safely ride there. Anglers also benefit from the greater fishing flexibility as well as easy access to bow hardware. The cockpit is extremely large and the transom is set up along similar successful lines to the 680 series.

The boarding platform and the engine well are integrated, with the actual transom located forward of this platform. It incorporates a live bait tank, bait preparation and cutting board, and walk-through transom door. The cockpit itself, with its liners and built in storage, provides a clean and uncluttered work space. An optional rear lounge can be slotted in when the boat is used in family cruising mode.

Tucked into the helm area within the confines of the centre cabin moulding are two cleverly designed folding chairs for the helmsman and passenger. While I have not been a fan of folding helm chairs since one collapsed under me during an offshore test, these chairs seem reasonably solid and secure. The reasoning behind the folding design makes sense. Fixed seats would have permanently impeded access to the cabin and interrupted cockpit flow. In this case, the upholstered bases and back rests fold then hinge away to reside flush with the side mouldings, leaving a completely unobstructed cockpit.

Given the port side offset of the companionway, the concept for the passenger seat makes even more sense.

There is need for a passenger grab rail on the top of the cabin above the opening, since there is nothing for the passenger to grab for support while standing. Haines Hunter’ s head of R & D Ben Hipkins said this, along with a couple of other minor adjustments, are already being addressed.

The cabin is comfortable, with double vee bunk and space for a toilet. The headroom is reasonably generous and receives ample light and ventilation via the deck hatch; accordingly the cabin is not claustrophobic and works as an extension of the cockpit.

As with all their maxi trailer boat models, Haines Hunter have designed the transom of the 635 for either single or twin outboards, rating the hull for a total horsepower of between 150 and 230. And while dual outboard installations have been labelled “double trouble” in the past, frowned on for their extra fit-up and purchase costs, many offshore fishermen favour twin motors for safety. Also dual engines generally sit considerably lower.

Most modern hulls, thanks to their efficient design and the performance of new engines, will plane on one motor, getting you home faster than an auxiliary. It can also help in trolling.

To sum up, the 635 Challenger enjoys a flexibility in its layout and seating that enables it to meet the varying needs of a true fishing boat and a family weekender without compromise. At around $52,000 plus options, and weighing in under two tonnes, depending on engine/powering options, the 635 provides medium to maxi-sized trailer boat facilities without the need to rely solely on large 4WD.

The 635 Challenger supplied for test was powered by a pair of 90hp V4 Evinrude Ficht direct injection outboards, and this combination, though less than maximum recommended power, proved more than adequate.

The extra weight (over an equivalent power single outboard) seemed hardly noticeable as the hull sat nice and high. It slid onto the plane with the greatest of ease, with virtually no bow raising as the hull transgressed from displacement to planing trim. At 3000rpm the hull sat quite level and held planing speed down as low as 10 to 11 knots. On one engine (dragging the dead engine in the water) the hull did take a little while to plane but held a steady speed at 4000rpm.

Top speed was recorded at 5800rpm for 41 knots, but that was with a reasonably lightly loaded boat. Add some fishing gear, and a few more passengers and I would expect this to drop a couple of knots.

In the economical 3500 to 4000rpm band, the hull ran a steady 17 to 24 knots. In a gentle offshore swell that was chopped up by a light onshore breeze, the 635 handled these conditions with ease and comfort, producing a dry soft ride. Most cruising will be done around the 4000 to 4500rpm range and that is still within the economical operating revs for Ficht engines. This produces speeds around the 24 to 29 knots.

Story by David Toyer