If you want to find out how good your new boat will be as a long-range offshore cruiser, there’s one sure-fire way to find out: sail her to New Zealand from Europe.
- Excellent ride and handling with exceptional rough water performance for its size
- Strongly built and well finished
- Unique styling grabs attention
- Long waterline aids handling and makes the boat more spacious inside than its length would suggest
‘Explorer’ means ‘hardtop’ when you’re talking Innovision. La Belle Rose is a particularly well specified 656 Explorer from innovative Auckland aluminium boat manufacturer Innovision Boats.
Like the rest of the range, the 656’s distinctive styling – largely the result of function dictating form – is impossible to ignore. The boat’s aesthetics can be divisive – you either like an Innovision’s looks or you don’t – but the semi-custom boat builder’s offerings certainly get people’s attention. When we launched the 656 Explorer and a smaller 515 centre-console chase boat at Sandspit, passers-by couldn’t help stopping by to look over the boats and chat.
Innovision’s boats are defined by their plumb bows, but as company principal Simon Minoprio points out, their bow shape is only part of what makes them perform so well: “It’s the complete package – the hull shape, including the bow, deadrise progression, raised sheer, chines and strake positioning.” The boats are designed jointly by Minoprio/Innovision and Naval Architect Brett Bakewell-White.
The 656 Explorer is supplied on a stunning-looking Innovision dual-axle aluminium trailer with over-ride brakes on both axles. Custom alloy wheels feature bearing buddies.
With its high bow and aggressive sheerline, the silver-grey and white painted boat looked quite imposing on the trailer. This boat, La Belle Rose, will be based in Matapouri, Northland, and is extremely well equipped, including a cockpit road cover.
Simple graphics accentuate boat’s the sweeping sheerline while substantial aluminium beltings aft just above the waterline further define the profile. As well as protecting the boat’s sides from docking damage, the beltings are wide enough to step on when boarding the vessel, though the swim platform cage’s doors do double duty as boarding ladders.
Simon measures his boats from the transom platform to the bowsprit, which supports a Manson Supreme anchor, but does not include the engine, in this case a Honda 225hp. So, while this boat is only a little over 6.5 metres long, from the inside it feels much bigger. The beam is 2.5m, to keep it withing easy towing limits, but with its plumb bow the 656 carries its volume well forward and there’s plenty of height in the lined forward cabin, which feel spacious, though it does narrow up sharply towards the bow. The berths are 1.9m long, there’s the usual infill to make a double berth and provision to fit a toilet if required.
The hardtop features a steeply raked-back windscreen with three glass panes, two of them swept by Exalto wiper-washers. There’s a deep dashboard, carpeted to reduce glare, a windscreen demister system, and tinted sliding side windows engineered to slide back far enough to easily lean out of.
The hardtop is spacious enough, without being huge, and upright sides mean there’s plenty of shoulder room. A couple of small skylight hatches let in extra light and ventilation. A Cule Marine hatch also provides foredeck access, where a Maxwell capstan takes care of anchoring duties remotely from the helm. Painted solid billet aluminium grabrails are a distinctive feature of the high bow, which is decked with grey U-Dek like the side decks, coamings, cockpit sole and aft platform.
Seating comprises a pair of upholstered aft-facing folding seats with storage under the seat bases and a pair of super-comfortable Shark suspensions seats with custom upholstered bolsters. The helm seat position is customised for each owner. The hardtop is lined with grey marine carpet and diamond-stitched titanium grey vinyl trims the cabin shelving and covers the seats. Combined with a high-quality paint finish, tidy welding and generous use of U-Dek flooring, the lining and upholstery help give the interior a premium feel.
The owner has opted for Raymarine electronics, including an autopilot, a 16-inch HybridTouch MFD and a Ray 50 VHF radio. The steering wheel is stainless steel, fitted with a spinner for easy one-handed operation. He has also specified Zipwake automatic trim tabs, a rode-counter and a Fusion sound system. There is also cell phone mount and USB and 12V outlets tucked away in the hardtop’s deep side pockets.
Although the 656 is also available in even more fishing oriented centre-console/centre cab (and a soft top) guises, with fishing very much on the agenda for its owner, La Belle Rose’s cockpit is clearly the focus. The boat is game rigged with Ocean Blue outrigger bases and poles, along with six stainless steel rod holders, each able to rotate for the perfect rod angle when trolling. There’s a live bait tank under the port-side transom walk-through and a pair of transom tuna tubes, while retractable reel tethers for each rod holder is a nice touch. The enclosed platform is the logical place to fish from when the boat is not moving.
The transom bait station is large and well laid out, though I’d like the cutting board to be higher than 2mm above the lip to make fish filleting easier (it can be any height, says Simon). There’s a huge tackle drawer under the bait board, rod holders across the back, drink and knife holders and provision to drain everything over the back. Under the tackle drawer, a transom locker houses the batteries, isolation switches and charger relay, while a removable panel at floor level provides access to the pumps and bilge area. The boat has both fresh and saltwater washdown.
La Belle Rose has plenty of rod storage – in the rocket launcher (angled slightly too far back for my liking), built-in side-pocket rod racks, removable vertical rod racks that clip onto the side pockets and in the forward cabin. There are handy clips under the gunwales for nets, gaffs and poles.
Other fisher-friendly features include a couple of huge underfloor lockers along the keel line, each with removable PVC bins. The smaller forward locker also provides access to the freshwater tank. The lockers make useful kill tanks or catch storage, freeing up cockpit space.
Conditions for our review included some relatively flat water in the lee of Kawau Island and some more boisterous seas out wider where a 12-15-knot southerly breeze had built up half a metre of chop on top of the easterly swell – nothing too challenging, but uncomfortable in many trailer boats.
Not so the Innovision 656, which rides like a much bigger boat. With its plumb bow giving it extra waterline length – the hull also extends to within 200mm of the aft edge of the swim platform – it really is a bigger boat than most 6.5m models, which is reflected in the ride and handling. Solid construction also contributes to the ride quality and an absence of booming from the hull. With its unique hull design, the 6mm hull plates are warped and tensioned into shape, which helps make the structure stronger. They are supported by longitudinal stringers and 12mm thick keel bar. The vessel’s sides and decks are all 4mm.
The Innovision’s hull naturally travels with a level attitude and there’s very little bow lift when transitioning onto the plane. The bow slices through the chop and wide chines/spray rails keep the boat dry. No matter what we did it was almost impossible to get the hull to slam, nor could we contrive to catch a chine, despite trying pretty hard! Running downwind, there’s no hint of bow steer, especially with the bow trimmed up a bit. The hull responds well to both engine trim and trim tab inputs.
Upwind, trimming the bow down results in a very comfortable ride while using the trim tabs to hold the bow down allows you to slow down to 10-12 knots, still planing, which is useful should you get caught out in really nasty conditions.
We were comfortable and dry running into the sea at 20 knots and happily ran at 25 knots downwind, also without taking spray over the bow. In light trim this boat gets to just a hair under 40 knots; with the Honda spinning at 3800rpm she cruises at 22 knots. Fuel economy with the Honda 225 is pretty good, says Simon: we used 37 litres during our afternoon with the boat, which included a fair bit of thrashing the boat around for the camera. This boat has a fuel capacity of 275 litres under the floor.
Just to prove its fishing boat credentials, we stopped to wet a line for 10-minutes on the way back to Sandspit. I was lucky enough to hook a 77cm snapper on a soft plastic in only seven metres of water. We had to chase after it and Simon demonstrated skilful boat driving as we disentangled the line from the kelp and boulders the fish had zig-zagged through. Simon did a fine job of netting the fish, considering the net’s small size! A quick picture and back it went: 8kg of prime Hauraki Gulf snapper.
The boat must be lucky!