Issue: June 2001
The ubiquitous half cab runabout came into vogue in the 1970s and Aussie builders have spent the ensuing 30 years striving to perfect it. Fishermen and family boaters alike thought this format was the answer to all their needs. The cabin was the ideal place to sleep and store gear, while shielding the crew from wind and spray.
The layout wasn’t entirely suitable for serious fishing, however, because it impeded for’ard access and took up valuable on-board space that was rarely used. In an attempt to make half cabs more appealing the industry has tried numerous variations, including low profile cabins, cuddy cabs and centre cabs, until eventually the design process took a complete circle and came back with a conventional configuration that is far more practical and useable. It has taken Whittley, a boat manufacturer who focuses on family use, to refine the concept to an art form.
The company started life building half-cab cruisers for trailerboaters who frequented the various lakes and river systems of Victoria. The Whittleys were not just designers and builders, they were users, and their craft reflected their experiences and those of buyers. They have developed some outstanding maxi-sized trailable cruisers in recent years but their latest release – the 5.8 metre Voyager – provides what has been lacking for some time in the smaller sector.
It’s an open-plan boat where the cabin is an inviting and useable extension of the cockpit. There’s a complete range of facilities, including a portable cooler, sink, single-burner cooktop, toilet and shower (with hot and cold water), so this boat will not only meet family dayboating needs but can satisfy the requirements of an overnight or weekend cruise.
The facilities have been incorporated without compromising space and restricting other more important functions and operations. This is what makes the Voyager such a clever boat. The large opening into the cabin, the deck hatch and the gentle slope in the cabin floor ensures easy access to and from the cabin. And despite the relatively low profile and considerable rake of the foredeck there is reasonably good headroom inside. The vee berths have an infill to create an excellent double for two adults (plus a young child if you don’t mind being cosy). A privacy curtain closes off this area during the night, or to allow private use of the portable toilet that resides at the rear of the berth against the helm station bulkhead.
The passenger-side seat console incorporates a neat little galley. Recessed into the side is a portable icebox (far more practical than a built-in box because it can be lifted out and taken ashore) while the seat hinges open to reveal a single burner cooktop. A storage bin at the end of the bunk serves as a dry goods locker or prep bench. The driver’s seat opens to reveal a sink with pressurised hot and cold water. The reversible and removable seat backrests are smart, and there is the usual folding table built into the face of the engine hatch plus a pair of comfortable aft quarter seats.
Our tests were carried out solely on sterndrive boats because it’s the configuration that I feel provides the consumer with a better cockpit configuration – a little more room, some nice extra standard features, and probably a better low speed planing trim and performance.
Externally, the boat is beautifully styled with free flowing curves that integrate the cabin with the deck. The master plugs for the moulds were created by a state-of-the-art five-axis router and it shows with the precise fit and overall fairness. Whittley finish the boat superbly. The cabin hatch is not just planted on the deck, it sits flush with good gutter drains and hefty seals all round. The bowsprit roller and chain guide, which runs back into the anchor locker, meld into the lines rather than just sitting on top.
For all this space and comfort, the Voyager is not restricted to 4WD towing. At 1400 to 1500kg including trailer, it’s an easy boat to launch and retrieve without a power winch on the trailer. It’s also easy to manage on the water.
Engine trim is extremely responsive, allowing the ride comfort and hull efficiency to be easily tailored to suit varying water conditions. With a howling wind whipping up a whitecapped chop off Sandringham on Brisbane’s Moreton Bay, I found that just under level trim on the sterndrive leg gave the best trim attitude at cruising speeds. As the waves got steeper and closer, a little more under-trim helped the hull punch nicely into the chop, all of this without getting a drop of water on the screen.
It has a neatly laid-out helm console with car-like VDO dashboard, a panel to mount the marine radio and stereo, foot brace, and carpeted top to reduce reflected glare. The sterndrive package gives the added benefit of standard power steering (you pay extra for hydraulic steering with the outboard).
Hot water facilities are another benefit of the sterndrive that will be most appreciated. That bit of warmth from the hand-held shower on the boarding platform and the tap at the sink unit put the finishing touches to comfortable boating.
The Voyager is one of the smartest and best-equipped family boats you will find under six metres. The facilities are all so cleverly integrated that the boat is quite deceptive on first appearances. You really don’t appreciate what you get for your money until you start poking around – then you realise what a clever use of space has been achieved while maintaining a superb freedom of movement from stem to stern.
Given a wide range of engine options, a package price for the Voyager varies from around $46,000 for a 115hp two-stroke outboard through to $48,500 for the petrol-powered sterndrive and $57,500 for the diesel. A 130hp 4 stroke outboard option costs around $52,000. And a trailer adds $3600. You takes your pick…
I was completely taken by the performance from both the diesel and petrol sterndrive options, and while there may be something like $9000 difference in retail price there is an extremely good case to warrant that extra money for the diesel option.
This is one of the few Australian built trailerboats of its size that readily accepts either 2-stroke and 4 stroke outboard or petrol and diesel sterndrive power options. My initial thoughts were that the diesel would be too heavy and too sluggish. Wrong on both counts. The new 1.7 litre 116hp four cylinder MerCruiser diesel is only 8kg heavier than the 3.0 litre 135hp four cylinder petrol engine using the same Alpha 1 sterndrive leg. With either of these engines, the Voyager sits almost perfectly in the water and coming onto the plane shows no signs of struggling or being underpowered. Only moderate throttle is needed to ease the hull up to cruise speeds of around 20 knots.
The performance of both these four cylinder engines was exceptional, being good for 38 knots. With the V6 option I’ve no doubt that this boat would be exceptionally quick, though the four cylinder engines are more than adequate. The response to the throttle from both engines was surprisingly efficient and effective. The diesel has a very slight lag as the turbo kicks in but in a side-by-side acceleration comparison there was no more than a boat length difference by the time both boats hit almost identical top speeds.
The diesel sterndrive package did everything that was not expected of it. It was smoke/diesel fume free; it was extremely smooth almost right through the RPM range (except maybe up to around 1500), and it jumped the boat out of the hole. With the added torque of the diesel, there is little doubt that this rig could pull a single skier. Although the diesel was a little noisier and “harsher” under 1500rpm, I would not expect many people to pick the difference between the petrol and diesel options when taken for a test run.
Story & Photos by David Toyer