MINNEAPOLIS -- If you go to the annual Boat Show looking for signs of the times perhaps this item will spark your interest: Despite all the gleaming new boats on display at the Minneapolis Convention Center, a pontoon stole the show.
That's right, a big raft on tubes, specifically a Windsor Craft manufactured by Triumph Boats, drew the most interest over the show's five days.
"As soon as the doors opened people came directly to our booth," said Mitch Wyatt, a Triumph rep. "I'm sure at least three-quarters of the people who came to the show stepped onto that boat."
The 24-foot Windsor Craft has a unique tri-hull design. A third float at the centerline creates a planing hull, allowing the Windsor Craft to handle more like a deck boat than a traditional pontoon. Triumph uses Roplene, a polyethylene material five times more resistant to impact than fiberglass, to create a molded planing hull on each tube, rather than the plain, circular tubes found on other pontoons.
Other features are equally impressive. A rear-mounted Cabana that's raised and lowered electrically serves as a biffy, changing room, and shower. "Women absolutely love it," said Mitch Wyatt, a Triumph rep.
Men liked the beefy railings, snap-out carpeting and the fact that you can hang a 150-horsepower motor on the transom.
Surprisingly, all the interest in the Windsor Craft might have hurt show sales, Wyatt said.
"When you have 20 people on deck and 20 more waiting to get on it's hard to get down on the floor and make a sale," Wyatt said. "The follow-up is what we're banking on."
The Windsor Craft can be seen at Rapid Sports Center in Ham Lake.
Would you believe Warrior has gone gelcoat? The Maple Lake manufacturer of fiberglass fishing boats now offers gelcoat finishes on the gunwales of its Eagle series. It's also added two new models to the Maverick series: a 20-footer and a new 18-foot-6-inch model, joining last year's introduction of the 18'-3" model.
Warrior's 2090 Eagle has been dropped, along with the side-console version of the Hawk and the backtroller Falcon.
Alumacraft now offers hydraulic assist on its Johnson-powered tiller boats, joining a trend among manufacturers to make tiller steering easier. Alumacraft had a form of tiller assist on past years' boats, but it was just a tube with a knob that allowed for adjusting the amount of friction on the tube. This new system uses an oil-filled hydraulic cylinder, which works like a shock absorber.
"It doesn't really assist in the turning of the boat but it eliminates torque steer, which is half the battle," said Troy La Cannes of La Canne's Marine in Faribault.
Alumacraft has dropped the inboard model from its Trophy series, as well as the 16'-10" model from its Tournament Pro series. Last year's Navigator series had two 16-foot models. This year it's grown to include two 17-foot models -- good values for buyers looking for a pared-down version of the Tournament Pro. There's also a new "Backpacker" line of no-frills boats ranging in length from 12 feet to 16 feet.
Crestliner has axed the two biggest boats from its line -- the 23-foot and 22-foot Eagle models. Now the top dog is the 20-foot Sportfish, a series that also includes 18-foot and 17-foot models, all with full, wraparound windshields.
The Superhawk line remains unchanged, with boats ranging from 20-feet to 16-feet with full, wraparound windshields. Ditto for the Tournament Series, which has 20-foot and 19-foot models.
With the elimination of the 18-foot Tournament Series boat two years ago you now must drop to a 17-foot Fishhawk to get a tiller-driven Crestliner. The remainder of the Fishhawk line is unchanged.
Last year Crestliner finally went after Lund's popular Alaskan with its Canadian series. There's something aesthetically pleasing about the plain-gray Canadian, with its single red maple leaf and "Canadian" lettering for accent trim. It harkens to a simpler time for fishing boats, when function triumphed over frills. The Canadian comes in lengths ranging from 18 feet to 14 feet. A side console option was a mid-season introduction last year and carries over to 2004.
Also new is the 16-foot Sport Angler -- a cross between a Superhawk and Angler -- that, at $12,900 fully rigged, would make a great entry level boat. Crestliner's other new addition is the 1850 CMV, a multi-species all-aluminum (no wood) boat. It's available in 18-foot and 17-foot models.
Lund has more individual models than any other fishing boat manufacturer. If you can't find a Lund to meet your needs, your needs can't be met. New for 2004 is a redesigned Tournament Pro-V with recessed gunwales on the console models. The controls used to be mounted flush to the gunwale, now the gunwale is recessed to provide more elbow room for the driver.
The Explorer series gets a 17'-2" model sandwiched between the familiar 18-footer and 16-footer. The new 17-footer's hull weighs just over 1,000 pounds and the side-console model can be outfitted with 125 horses. Yow! Let's see that on a straightaway!
This year's Rebel series gets Lund's top-of-the-line IPS hull, making for a lighter, deeper boat. The floor plan has been re-designed, too, with standard interior lights, 12-volt plugs and a livewell on the port side.
Ranger's new 618T is 18'-4" tiller model that joins the company's bigger 20-foot tiller model. The rest of Ranger's multi-species line remains unchanged.
Starcraft's new 18-foot Futura appears to be a significant upgrade for the company's fiberglass models. It has wider gunwales and -- why didn't somebody think of this until now? -- a baitwell in the center of the bow. No more turning around and reaching for a fresh minnow for the guy operating the bowmount electric. I could do without the fake wood dashes, but the Futura's fresh new look is a step up for Starcraft. And at $19,000 for an 18-footer with 135 Mercury Optimax, well, that's tough to beat.
Stratos, long-time manufacturer of bass boats, jumped into the multi-species market several years ago with the 21 MSX, a 20'-7" deep-V model. At the Boat Show I saw an 18-footer that appears to be a smaller version of that boat. The gunwale had a non-skid strip that looked like a nice feature (face it, we all step on the gunwale while getting in and out of our boats) and it comes with an optional bimini top. Unfortunately, none of the sales reps at the Stratos booth knew much about this new introduction. But it's a sharp boat that deserves a look if you're shopping for something in this class.
Other stuff that caught my eye:
* Sirius Satellite Radio is now available on a variety of boats, including Ranger's Riatta models and Four Winns pleasure cruisers. Don't know what I'd do with satellite radio in my boat. Probably have to toss the Magnavox overboard.
* Polar Kraft's 168 side console has the smallest windshield I've ever seen on a boat. It measures maybe 12 inches wide by 12 inches high. Why bother?
* Sunseeker Yachts offered "viewing strictly by appointment only." Needless to say I didn't check them out.
* Here's something new: Mastercraft advertises the average re-sale prices of its boats, probably an attempt to draw your attention away from the average retail price.
Space at the Boat Show is limited. It would be impossible for each manufacturer to bring its entire line. So get a catalog and go through it with a magnifying glass. Even more so than automobiles, boats come in a dizzying array of configurations. There's no substitute for solid homework before you begin shopping.
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