The boat arrived inside a container belonging to the Global Ocean Race management team. There was a rumour going around that Smartboat were seeking a local manufacturer, so I joined Global Ocean Race Director Josh Hall and his business partner Ollie Dewar for a spin, chasing the New Zealand yacht BSL around Port Nicholson.
Cruising out of Lambton Harbour at about 10 knots the boat was surprisingly normal. The bow lifted as we approached planing speed, less than some conventional-looking powerboats, but more than others. With four adults on board, the 150 horse Yamaha outboard pushed it smoothly onto the plane. It heeled into the sudden stiff gusts that make Lambton Harbour such a challenging sailing venue, as I'd expect of a 1.5 tonne 23-footer. Once planing, it ran surprisingly flat, the sharply veed forward sections slicing smoothly through the short low chop north of Evans Bay. The stepped chine threw spray down and out, keeping us totally dry.
The Smartboat's unusual appearance is deceptive. With slab sides and a plumb stem it looks like a scaled-down Volvo 70. But the bottom is all powerboat, with deep-vee forward sections warping to a very shallow vee at the transom.
Out in the channel, the southerly was kicking up a short chop about a foot high, sprinkled with two- to three-foot trenches. With the 150-horse Yamaha turning 3600rpm, the boat stayed dry, though I backed off for the bigger holes. After we filled the 300kg forward water ballast tank, the ride improved and I no longer backed off as we punched the chop comfortably, and faster than I'd be driving the 23-foot aluminium RIB we'd normally use for chasing yachts. Without a speedo, I could only guess, but we were certainly doing more than 20 knots.
Turning down-sea with full ballast, Josh said: "It'll be fine. Go for it." I did. That's when we got wet. Running over a deepish trough at 3600rpm with full ballast, the bow chucked a curtain of spray straight up. Most of it cleared the steering station before landing in the cockpit. "Gee, thanks Kev!" said the two guys standing behind us. We pumped out the ballast and ran down-sea at 4000rpm without getting any wetter than we already were. The plumb, slab-sided bow seemed to excel in these conditions. It sliced cleanly into the back of each wave without sheering aside. The boat doesn't decelerate when the bow hits the back of a wave.
The slab sides make it easy to bring the Smartboat 23 alongside. This boat had a couple of mattress-shaped bumpers, about 2 metres long, 75mm thick, and wide enough to cover the topsides almost down to the chines. With these in place, Josh brought the Smartboat alongside a 40-foot yacht exactly how we'd do it with an RIB.
Overall impression? Kilo for kilo, the Smartboat compares favourably with conventional powerboats. It runs comfortably into a head sea at a reasonable cruising speed. I didn't try to measure the fuel consumption, but the way it drives suggests it should be economical. Even with a diesel sterndrive, it's light enough to tow behind decent-sized SUV or ute, though its maximum beam exceeds the 2.5 metre legal limit. It's marketed in Europe as a day boat, but the two bunks offer serviceable, albeit spartan, overnight accommodation. It'll adapt readily to fishing, diving, and water-skiing. With the raised forward sundeck, it would make a good chase-boat. Either way, it won't like tonnes of accessories. Its performance depends on its light weight.
2 bunks & toilet
Van Peteghem & Lauriot Prévost (VPLP)