One of the advantages of reaching a certain age is that you know what you want and aren’t afraid to ask for it. The owner of this Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 490, having owned a slightly smaller Jeanneau for more than 20 years, knew he’d come back for more when it came time to upgrade.
The Image Pontoon 7.08 is the latest addition to the now 15-strong Image Boats range and marks a distinct departure from their usual chined alloy hulls.
In 16 years in business, Image Boats has developed a strong reputation for constructing robust, seaworthy blue water boats that are also elegant.
The proximity of Image’s Invercargill factory to the excellent testing grounds of Foveaux Strait, Milford Sound and the lakes of Central Otago, combined with its reputation for excellent build quality, has seen the company take a growing presence in the highly competitive alloy powerboat industry.
Designer-builder of the new boat, Dean Wilkes, has drawn on more than 35 years’ experience
in the design and production of alloy boats to create a unique package aimed firmly at his loyal outdoor-focused clientele and commercial operators who want the robust construction, seakeeping ability, and stability a pontoon boat configuration offers.
Each Image is customised to the owner’s requirements and their first Pontoon 7.08 reflects this philosophy with her high-spec and attention to detail.
The Image Pontoon 7.08 has its structural foundations on Image’s well-proven approach to strong alloy construction. The hull plates are 5mm thick and butt-welded, with a horizontal keel bar seam-welded to the plates to form an ultra-sturdy and watertight triangulated section running the full length of the keel. Four longitudinal bearers provide stiffness, complemented by a series of transverse bulkheads.
The 7.08 Pontoon has a reassuring combination of strength and reserve buoyancy. Topsides are constructed using 4mm marine aluminum, as is the cabin. The chine joints are seam-welded inside and out and the cabin roof is topped of with 3mm alloy. A 250-litre fuel tank and an underfloor locker provide plenty of range for a boat that is designed to go to remote places.
Getting to and from the water has been taken care of with an all aluminum custom-built trailer manufactured by Image Boats. In similar fashion to the boat, it has been well engineered with tandem axles and low friction runners with polyethylene tops. Launching and retrieving is remarkably easy, and once on the trailer the boat has a well-proportioned snug trim and a nice balance that makes towing easy.
While aluminum pontoon boats have a reputation for chunky looks, Dean Wilkes has managed to create some pleasing lines and subtle details which have significantly stepped up the appearance and riding qualities of the standard alloy pontoon boat. The pontoons have been designed with a channel near the top edge which lowers the centre of gravity in the boat and allows a clean transition into the deep-vee of the hull, which finishes in a
sea-kindly 17° deadrise. There is no doubt there is a hull under the pontoons and this is reflected in her superior ride.
While some boats can look overwhelmed by the addition of a hardtop, the 7.08 has a well-proportioned raked-back cab which is set off nicely by the metallic blue paint job. At the business end of the boat, fisher folk will be impressed with the live-bait tank which is positioned under the transom step-through. A large, filleting-friendly bait board doubles as the lid to a central storage compartment with the rod holders and stern platform close at hand. The wide, non-skid-covered gunwales make good perches, and underneath, a good toe space and thigh brace that is back-friendly. The cockpit is generous in proportion, uncluttered and has plenty of handholds – ideal for
open ocean conditions.
The helm station features generous headroom and great 360° vision, which makes standing or sitting at the leather seats comfortable. The helm area and dash are lined alloy with a solid grab rail to port and a generously sized
navigation station to starboard.
Dark trim keeps glare down and the under-screen area becomes a handy holder for phones and keys. The aft end provides a nice eye-level mount for the Suzuki electronic gauges, and Garmin VHF radio. Navigation on the test boat is by Garmin GPSMap 7412 which provides easy to read information on everything from depth to the precise location of your secret Catlins fishing locations.
Up forward there is a generous infill V-berth that would allow plenty of room for overnight trips. Access to the foredeck is through a standard aluminum hatch, however any anchoring work can be handled back at the helm station with controls for the Lewmar capstan. The powerhouse of the Image Pontoon 7.08 is the Suzuki DF200ATX four-stroke that spins an 18.5 x 16.3-inch prop. This supplies plenty of power to the boat and is controlled by a Suzuki drive-by-wire throttle and gear lever.
ON THE WATER
Even by Southland standards the Catlins are notable for their beauty. What it is not noted for is harbours and launching ramps. The Waikawa Inlet is one of the few places that allow access to the coast and it provided us with the perfect place to test a rugged pontoon boat. Waikawa has a gravel boat ramp with three knots of cross-current, a narrow winding river channel and a fearsome looking river bar that was breaking heavily on test day.
They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. What they don’t tell you is that a little local knowledge is a wonderful thing. Our pilot for the day was a local cray fisherman Craig who has an intimate understanding of this tricky stretch of water. The first test was launching the Image Pontoon 7.08 and Craig impressed the team
with his manoeuvring of the boat off the trailer in the cross-current.
The exposed nature of the Catlins demands a boat that can stay on its feet and get you home no matter what, and this is exactly the impression that the Image 7.08 gives as you step on board. The next impression is of clean space; the cockpit looks capable of swallowing a mountain of people and gear without any complaints.
Image 7.08 has a big boat feel with a soft motion, a firm grip of the water and a clean wake – the hallmarks of good design. The vision from the cab is excellent, as is the protection from the elements. The stability at rest is echoed while underway with no chine dancing or hobby-horsing in the swell that was pumping through the river bar. The test boat had no trim tabs but did not suffer for lack of them.
There was plenty of power in the Suzuki 200hp, which got us off the mark quickly when we needed it. The transition onto the plane was effortless without any wheel standing or rolling-over-the-top sensations. Steering was positive with the well-proven Image chines, combining with the pontoon design, to give a sure-footed grip to even the tightest of turns.
The chines/pontoons pushed the spray away from the boat with no hint of cavitation. Cruising speed seemed comfortable at about 25 knots and with the taps opened up she is capable of around 38 knots.
The conditions gave us the extremes of flat-water channel blasting or open ocean swell with the odd breaking wave
thundering through. The Image 7.08 seemed to be adept in either, having the power to get out of the way of the big waves without tripping over herself downwind. The feeling at the helm is that the boat will go exactly where you put her.
Our pilot Craig gave one final impressive demonstration on how to get a boat on a trailer with a cross current, the
polyethylene-topped trailer runners proving far superior to rollers in this situation. At 1.725 tonnes on the trailer the Image Pontoon 7.08 was tracked up the steep gravel ramp without wheelspins or curses.
Dean Wilkes has obviously spent a lot of time getting the Pontoon 7.08 right. It is the company’s first foray into the well subscribed alloy pontoon boat market. To get noticed he has had to produce an exceptional boat. The Image Pontoon 7.08 is just that, and provides another excellent addition to Image Boats’ impressive range of alloy boats./>