TEST REVIEW: CARIBBEAN REEF RUNNER
The Caribbean Boats brand, sold in this country under the International Marine Pty Ltd banner, has been around Australia for so long that it’s easy to forget it owes its heritage to American designs of the ’70s. But just as we have adopted General Motors Holden as our own, Caribbean has morphed into an Aussie icon. Its boats have a no-nonsense, tough and practical appeal — and the hardtop Reef Runner on test here is no exception.
International Marine manufactures a range of boats up to 49ft in its Scoresby (Vic) factory and it has a network of dealers throughout the country. Our test boat came from A&J Outboard & Boating Services in Wetherill Park.
For our review we headed down the M5 to Botany Bay on a day when the ocean was a watercolour-perfect invitation to play. Commuters heading to the office eyed the boat on its trailer with envy.
This boat takes its lines from the book of classical boat design. It’s been around for a long time but it was perfect when first introduced, so why change it? The hardtop looks like it could have been a part of the original concept but as we shall see, form has been allowed to hold sway over function, even in this quintessential workhorse.
After launching at the Cook River boat ramp we headed across Botany Bay and out to sea, where there was enough swell to get a good feel for the Reef Runner’s sea-going capability. Across the bay we opened the throttle and the Mercury OptiMax 150 took us to 40kts (74kmh). That’s good for a boat approaching two tons all up, with a big and flat windscreen to push through the air.
That brings us to the issue of design and function. The hardtop has been designed to follow the lines of the hull and it looks great. However, tall drivers standing at the helm may find the roof a bit low.
The wheel is a large-diameter number and it’s smooth and easy to turn. The boat is easy to drive when you’re seated and the contoured bucket is comfortable and offers plenty of support.
Across the bay, conditions were ideal for assessing the boat at speed. In the flat water the boat will turn sharply with a very predictable and secure feel, with no cavitation or slip. Jim had set the boat up well and it certainly showed off his product to its full extent. The 150hp Mercury is a good match — maybe more power wouldn’t go astray, but then there’s a trade-off with the weight of a bigger motor (not to mention the added cost).
A CLOSER LOOK
The layout on the Reef Runner emphasizes the cockpit’s space with a cuddy-style cabin, allowing three to sit in comfort, although the cabin-top forward is quite low. The hardtop gives good cover to the helm station and combined with the solid roof and high windscreen there’s a feeling of being nicely enclosed and protected from the elements.
Complementing the white fibreglass gelcoat is understated light grey upholstery with black trim, while the cuddy gets a visual lift care of contrasting black cushions. Grey carpet lines the roof. Full-length shelves are fitted each side of the cabin with more storage and a Springfield portable loo in the forward section. The cabin floor is set about 20cm lower than the cockpit deck, so you step down into the cabin and have more legroom when seated.
Access to the bow is achieved by stepping on the bunk cushion through a moulded-glass hatch with a rubber clasp (but no strut). The foredeck is home to an open anchor locker and a sturdy bowsprit, surrounded by a split bowrail. There is access around the narrow sidedeck back to the cockpit when needed (when docking, for example), with useful handholds for added safety.
The cockpit has a wide and uncluttered non-slip fibreglass floor with two large killtanks set into the forward area. Along each side is a full-length shelf of vinyl-padded marine ply. It’s set well clear of the floor, allowing good toeholds below and lots of space for rod storage.
In a concession to family use there are removable quarter seats either side of the enginewell, where there’s room for a single motor rated to 200hp. For fishing mode you get a plumbed livebait tank and a plumbed storage / cooler compartment. Two stainless rodholders, a deckwash and stainless cleats are supplied as standard.
A simple, centrally-mounted bait table is provided as an option and below we find the floor-mounted battery, oil reservoir and bilge.
AT THE HELM
The driver gets a pedestal-mounted bucket seat with 360° rotation and fore-aft adjustment for legroom. Passengers get a back-to-back bucket and a rear-facing perch mounted on a storage box. The driver’s seat is comfortable and the controls are well placed. Because the wide cabin access doesn’t leave much room for the narrow dash, there’s limited space for the demands of modern instruments. The flat angle of the dash means that Mercury’s excellent SmartCraft gauges are a bit difficult to read without leaning forward to see them. A Humminbird 858 colour sounder / plotter is mounted on the top of the dash, but I feel it may be hard to find space for bigger, flush-mounted screens.
A four-section windscreen wraps around to the side and meets the hardtop forward while angling down to meet the deck at the sides. Windscreen wipers are provided each side.
The overall impression of the layout is one of practical simplicity, but things have moved on in recent years, making some aspects seem a little dated (of course, this won’t bother fans of the traditional look — Ed). So, we headed into the open ocean to see if the boat had the goods where it really matters — and we were not disappointed.
There was a slight swell but plenty of chop, allowing us to get a feel for how things work. We happily worked our way into the chop at 30kts and the hull proved that it has stood the test of time, with soft landings and good handling all round.
Hull weight and the 21° deadrise help the boat’s progress through the water in a way that inspires confidence. Yes, it’s sensitive to trim, but it’s predictable and competent on the ocean and it stays rattle-free with minimal banging when landing. It’s stable at rest, just like a superior fishing platform should be.
Caribbean’s gamefishing range has an enviable reputation — these boats command strong resale values and they are snapped up quickly whenever they come onto the market. The current boat is the third evolution of the hull and it works well, although it may lack some of the gloss many take for granted in today’s market.
The Reef Runner is at the smaller end of the Caribbean range but it’s held plenty of appeal in its own niche market for many years — and all that without any radical changes to what is, in essence, a product that works.
Sea: 1m chop on a 1m swell
On the plane…
Excellent seakeeping qualities
Type: Deep-vee monohull
Rec. HP: 115-200
Max. HP: 200
Make/model: Mercury OptiMax 150
Type: Direct-injection V6
Gear ratio: 1.87:1
1278 Ferntree Gully Road
Scoresby, Vic, 3179
First published in TrailerBoat # 273.
Fraser Marine is located in Hervey Bay just 300km North of Brisbane. Jets fly direct from Sydney daily and we offer airport pick up and drop off services.
Fraser Marine is the Caribbean Boat sales specialist based at the Boat Club Marina in Hervey Bay, Queensland, which is now the home of the Caribbean Boat.