There’s no doubting the ability of some American boatbuilders to turn out fibreglass sportsboats that are fun, exciting and beautifully finished.
They also seem able to produce these boats at prices that make Aussie manufacturers wince. For that reason, US imports dominate the sportsboat market in this country.
How can the Americans build the boats they do for significantly lower prices? Well, a lot of it comes down to the fact that America has a huge population, with a vast number of people living near its numerous inland lakes which are perfect for family-style boats. So while Australian manufacturers also produce world-class boats, the Yankee family boat invasion is charging ahead at full steam. And just when you thought we’d seen it all, along comes another US brand to prove the others weren’t just happenstance. Enter Bryant, the latest US immigrant with a quality boat at a head-turning price.
STAKING A CLAIM
With so many US imports already available on the local market, any new product needs to be particularly good to even get noticed. So how does Bryant stand out from the crowd? According to local importer Ken Kirkpatrick, Jim Bryant built boats for 30 years before forming Bryant Boats in 1990 with son Joe in Sweetwater, Tennessee. He claims to build “the best boats in the world” — a pretty big claim, even for a Southern man.
With a production run of 400 boats a year, Bryant is almost a boutique builder — by American standards, anyway. The company’s hulls are hand-laminated in multiple layers of 18oz ’glass and no timber is used in their construction. It’s not something most buyers consider at purchase, but a recent personal experience with a mate’s boat, where we unearthed some rotting structural timber, gave me pause for serious consideration. On the 210BR, its 150mm stringers form a one-piece latticework grid, which is bonded to the hull and one-piece floor for strength and rigidity.
The 210BR on test looks spectacular on its locally-built and fully compliant Boeing trailer, in ebony-black and ivory with slate-grey pin-stripes. The lines are pleasing, with a sharp entry that quickly broadens in a smooth arc to full beam before flowing to an extended boarding platform at the stern. The ivory accents add a sporty look without detracting from an overall package which exudes class.
With the bowrider layout there’s space onboard for eight people and the deep hull offers plenty of freeboard to keep the young ones safe. Interior colours of matt white and cream are a practical choice for sunny conditions, and in general the overall impression of quality continues once you’re onboard.
As was the case in Sydney for much of last summer, rain threatened to disrupt our test, and the sky remained a steely grey for most of the day. Our plan was to explore the upper reaches of Sydney’s Middle Harbour before heading to Bantry Bay to photograph the boat around the old military store sheds, before setting off towards the heads to find some rougher water. First, however, we spent some time in the tranquil waters around Roseville to get acquainted with both the boat and Ken’s family — including twin daughters Erin and Taylor — who came along for the ride.
LAYOUT AND DESIGN
The high level of attention to detail in the bow, with features like a Teflon-coated anchor to protect the hull and seats that fold out on piano hinges (instead of just lifting out), is immediately evident. Three adults could chill out on the comfortable seats, which have well-designed backrests and armrests. I was pleased to find a dedicated anchor locker right in the bow, as on many family boats they’re recessed and hidden away under the seats. The anchorwell has a lid that doubles as an access step for boarding. There are pop-up stainless steel cleats, two waterproof speakers and two stainless steel drinkholders. A removable icebox sits under the bow centre seat, which hinges forwards for easy access. The whole bow section can be turned into a large sunpad by installing a snugly fitting fill-in that is stored in a hatch in the walkway. The fuel tank is under the bow section to keep weight forward for easier planing.
A five-piece Taylor Made glass screen has an opening for the walkway with rubber stoppers and two very sturdy uprights. Passenger and driver get well-padded bucket seats on pedestals. Both have spring supports and they are superbly upholstered and really comfortable. Bolsters allow a higher view while the seats spin a full 360°. There’s also a passenger armrest and a handy grabrail. In the lockable glovebox is a Clarion M309 CD player with iPod and USB connections while a pair of drinkholders sit atop the flat dash.
On the driver’s dash there is a wide arrangement of VDO gauges for speed, revs, water temperature, trim, voltage, hour meter and oil pressure, as well as a Faria depth gauge. The aluminium spoked steering wheel has a rubber grip and is tilt-adjustable. A switch panel has well marked controls for the horn, navigation lights, bilgepump courtesy lights and bilge blower.
Loads of storage has been built into this central section. Between the front seats there is a monster carpet-lined locker built into the floor with room for seven sets of skis up to 6ft in length. In the walkthrough port bulkhead is a carpet-lined storage locker and there is more space in another section in front of the driver footrest.
At the rear a full-width lounge seats four in comfort and the rear sunpad has lounging room for two more. The sunpad lifts to create a walkthrough leading to a full-width swim platform covered in a non-slip material that’s soft enough to sit on yet still offers good grip. On the starboard side is a three-section stainless steel ladder that drops deep into the water for easy boarding; it also slides shut to sit under a neat cover on the platform. To port a lid lifts to reveal a ski-rope locker. A table stored in the engine bay converts the aft section into a picnic area with seating for six once the helm seats are turned around.
There's more storage in the port side of the engine compartment, which is finished with carpet trim. The attention to detail even carries through to rubber caps on the screws in the engine bay.
HANDLING AND RIDE
Driving this boat is a real pleasure. It’s sporty and nimble and does everything with grace. The seating position is low in the hull but it still offers good vision. Controls are well-placed and the gauges are easy to see. On take-off there was little discernible transition to plane and as the hull rose smoothly out of the water, the bow lifted only slightly, allowing for good forward vision. There was a throaty roar from the 260hp V8 MerCruiser sterndrive and as the throttle was planted, we settled in to a smooth cruise around 3500rpm and 20.5kts (38kmh). With respect to the new motor, it was given full reign for a short blast to 5000rpm, where we sat on 43.2kts (80kmh).
Across small chop and our own wake the hull felt solid and was rattle free. Handling was precise and the power steering remained direct and smooth. In tight turns the hull bit in and traced a smooth arc, with no wallowing or any feeling that it wanted to let go at the back.
Given that this boat will likely be employed as a harbour cruiser we ventured out into rough water between the heads, where we found a 15kt wind had whipped up a close and sharp 1m chop on a slow swell. It wasn’t ideal for testing the boat’s ride in the rough stuff, but they’re still the sort of conditions you might easily find on the way home from a day out. With judicious use of the throttle we were able to maintain an average speed of 20kts (37kmh) into the sea, and without getting bashed around, the boat took everything in its stride. The wide flare in the bow sent spray well clear to keep things onboard nice and dry. In a following sea it tracked well, with no tendency to broach and plenty of power to get through the waves.
Is this “the best boat in the world”, as claimed by Jim Bryant? I’d say that’s a big call but after having spent a morning with the 210BR, I felt like it was less of an idle boast. Of course, I haven’t sampled every boat in this class — no one has — but I’ve certainly been on enough family bowriders to draw some reasonable comparisons with similar offerings on the Aussie market.
This one has a very good ride and handling; the quality of the ’glass and upholstery is beyond reproach; it has an exuberant supply of power without being extreme; it has a well-balanced and modern appearance; and it’s well priced. Importantly, its beam is under 2.5m, for ease of towing. So, even if it’s not the best, it’s still right up there with some pretty awesome competition.
On the plane...
Superb handling and ride
Very high level of finish
Dragging the chain...
Could maybe use some freshwater storage / shower
Price as tested: $63,990
Options fitted: Port-side storage, table, Revolution 4 prop, all-over cover
Price from: $61,490
Type: Monohull sportsboat
Weight (boat and motor): 1067kg
Weight (BMT): Approx. 2000kg
Rec. HP: 260
Max. HP: 300
Make/model: MerCruiser MPI 260
Type: Fuel-injected, petrol V8 with Alpha 1 sterndrive
Weight (motor and gearbox): 433kg
Gear ratio: 1.62:1
Propeller: 19in x 14.5in Revolution 4
Bryant Boats, Sweetwater, Tennessee, United States, www.bryantboats.com
Bryant Marine, 0401 445 003, www.bryantmarine.com.au
Story and photos: John Ford
First published in TrailerBoat #281
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