– Minnow in the range proves it’s no throwback
Since the Melbourne-based Chaparral dealer launched the H2O range at Sanctuary Cove boat show in 2012, more than 100 have been sold into mainly eastern states. Since we tested this 18 footer, even more have been shipped and we’re told the next container coming Down Under has the 200th H2O in it.
The H2Os come in this clever Ski & Fish guise, with some factory-fitted fruit for fishing, family and get-wet flings, and a Sport version with a higher level of trim and plush upholstery. Given the appeal of wetting a line, this Ski & Fish variant makes the most sense today.
The sister ship to the 18 footer tested here, the 19-footer is the best-selling Chaparral in the three-model H2O range topping out with a 21 footer. The so-called Extended V-plane hull for that popular 19 is the same as what’s on this 18, with the identical beam, moderate 18 degrees of deadrise, and a near-identical layout.
Only the 19 H2O is 30cm longer and with some 20 litres more fuel to accommodate a V6 MerCruiser 4.3L petrol engine in either 190 or 220hp guise.
You see, the 18 is Chaparral’s true entry-level boat with a standard 135hp 3.0L MerCruiser. There is no HP upgrade. Has this four-cylinder engine with the Alpha One sterndrive got enough grunt? That was the first question we sought to answer for you.
Not that you don’t get a lot of kit in your 18 H20 with the Ski & Fish package. We were also impressed by the build quality and finish on this entry-level boat. Weighing just under 1500kg on single-axle Mackay or similar trailer, the rig is also an easy tow and easy launch, too.
But given that more that more than 70 per cent of all cite fishing as their reason for getting afloat, and our angling styles are more closely aligned with those in America these days (casting lures), this 18 H2O Ski & Fish is more than just another entry-level Yankee bowrider.
PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
– Some extra fruit on top of the supplied Ski & Fish package
Our test boat was a demonstrator with an older badge. The latest iteration is exactly the same but for a redesign of the dash, we’re told. No need for a revisit then.
The exchange rate has also shifted a bit since our test and the 18 H2O Ski & Fish as tested is now priced around $29,999. Even if you tick all the boxes you won’t be able to spend more than few extra thousands on this rig price, as this is a very complete 18-foot bowrider.
There were options atop our demo boat. We had a Convenience Pack including tile steering wheel, compass and digital depth gauge. Given how inexpensive high-quality depth sounders are these days, we’d fit one of those new CHIRP fishfinders, too.
A key upgrade was the saltwater-quality 55lb-thrust MotorGuide trolling motor over the standard freshwater model. With the optional 12V air pump also included you can troll tubes or troll lures with this 18 H2O Ski & Fish. True to name.
There was also an upgraded flip-up bolster helm seat, a wide hull band, bimini top for shade, cockpit and bow covers, and the Mackay single-axle trailer with brakes.
The price of $29,999 therefore buys a very, very complete 18 H2O Ski & Fish. You just need to add tubes, tackle, the fish finder, a marine radio, 90 litres of premium and a picnic lunch.
LAYOUT AND APPLICATION
– Classic bowrider with extra fishing gear and casting stations
There wasn’t carpet in this 18 H2O Ski & Fish, but we’re perfectly comfortable about that. Not that you’re going to go blood-sport crazy, but there will certainly be sand and a bit of tackle strewn about a boat like this. The non-skid deck is easier to clean. If you’re worried about the upholstery when fishing, the seat cushions clip out.
The bow had the usual seating for two adults or preferably two kids. There were padded backrests and side squabs, plastic drinkholders and grab rails, and sub-seat storage with hinged bases (a nice touch), including a small centre hold for your beach anchor and rope. You will need to be carrying a tub and anchor separately if you want to fish deeper water, eg, snapper in the bay or kings in the harbour.
A fair bit of the bow space was taken up by the electric MotorGuide with wireless anti-slip footpad. But that motor and the controller are easily removed and stowed if you want a cleaner bow-seating ‘pit’ for those family flings.
The fishing kit was rather extensive and it certainly had our casting arms twitching. Besides the electric motor for stealthy trolling and boat positioning when lobbing lures, there were two casting seats — one at the bow and one at the stern, both with the Attwood Swivel-eze snap-in bases. They create a very nice casting setup.
The boat has the requisite mid-cockpit underfloor ski and toy locker in which you can put your tackle box for the run to the spot. There was also some transom storage and hatches into the battery, plus handy side pockets that double for under-gunwale rod storage.
The aft seating was clever, with removable quarter seats for passengers that create a better casting platform when standing. Between these seats was a full-blown 65-litre live well with aerator and overboard drain. After fishing, fill the well with ice and drinks and keep the catch cool.
With the casting seat fitted on the stern platform you’re sitting up nice and high, with a commanding view and position for peppering snags with lures. The helm seats, meanwhile, were comfortable bucket-types with the upgraded bolster for the driver. They swivel and both slide, too, and collectively you get a great all-round seating arrangement.
There was a stereo with USB and iPod connectivity, waterproof speakers and co-pilot dash stereo remote, plus a glove box for personal effects. With the bimini on a stainless frame, you can tension it right up and go for a hard ride without annoying flapping.
We like the fact the moulded non-skid cockpit liner has a drain system, the upholstery is first class without bunching or daggy crinkles, and the seat bases are some kind of no-rot starboard without a sign of a staple.
The swim platform is a full-width number with swim ladder and you can sit very comfortably here, to the point you could almost add a baitboard of some kind if you prefer to fish that way.
Other details of note are the stainless steel windscreen support struts (not plastic or alloy), the gas strut on the underfloor ski-locker hatch, and the rubber mat inside this locker to protect your gear.
In the new online gallery for this boat, the moulded helm console void now includes storage space and access to that area. This was missing for this demo boat. So the 18 H20 has got better.
The dash gauges are nitrogen filled and cover all engine functions, with toggle switches with a good positive action. This remains, but the drink holder area has been replaced by mounting space for a small fish finder on the newer models. The co-pilot glove box and stereo set-up has been modified for better iPhone storage and safety, too.
But it’s all nicely finished and without a roll-‘em-out cookie-cutter feel like some mass-produced American bowriders. And despite this cut-above finish and all the features, the price is very competitive for this 18 footer that can comfortably seat four, fish two and keep everyone happy.
HULL AND ENGINEERING
– Quality is the name of the game
We’ve been a little disappointed post GFC with the finishes of some bowriders from big name brands but not the Chaparral. It’s also what you can’t see that counts on this 18 H2O Ski & Fish.
The engine bay has great access to the 3.0L, with blower, float switch on the bilge pump and battery within easy reach. We noted engine-bay sound insulation, good access to the fuel tank (aluminium on the test boat but polyethylene in the specs) and its sender. The 95-litre tanks is adequate for a 3.0L boating day with a bit of electric lure fishing thrown in.
A lifetime warranty is offered on the hull, which has foam under the floor. The electrical connectors are triple O-ring-sealed and watertight, too. It’s all very good build quality and we reckon the boats will be going strong in many years if not decades to come.
ON THE WATER
– What a surprise package with the little 3.0L!
In fact, with the 3.0L and little Alpha drive we held plane down to 2800rpm and cruised very freely at just 3000rpm. From here to 3200rpm was a sweet spot for towing Little Johnny and Julie on tubes, with OK grip in the turns with full leg-in or negative trim.
Plant it and there was excellent hole shot with the light load, as 3500rpm optimum cruise revs returned 21-22 knots (about 40km/h), 4000rpm gave a fast cruise of 30.4 knots or 56km/h and 5200rpm WOT produced 36.5 knots (67-68km/h) top speed.
We cranked the wheel around and the 18 H20 Ski & Fish remained dry. With just a 135hp 3.0L this is a surprise package and a nicely balanced little bowrider, superior in a lot of ways to some big-name opposition and those boats built for lakes that tend to bang a bit.
– An excellent 18 footer to put on your shopping list
There’s a feeling of luxury and quality, time-proven bowrider practicality and the new fishing and fun spin to keep us hookers happy in the 18 H20 Ski & Fish.
What isn’t there to like about it then? Very little. You don’t get an anchor well, there could have been better use made of the moulded inaccessible area ahead of the helm (now addressed), and the 19-footer with V6 is tempting competition.
Yet this is a quality bowrider, with saltwater build by way of things like tinned wiring and all 316 stainless steel fittings from rub rail to deck gear and bimini frame. Sure, it’s an entry-level bowrider but Chaparral hasn’t dumbed it down.
We found the 18 H20 Ski & Fish to be predictable, with some sporty spice and yippee for the kids, and stealthy with the electric motor and remote control that can be used at the bow or stern. With some fish or drinks in the live well you’ve got a top catch.
>> Great package full of fishing and family appeal
>> Plenty of kit so the serious angler won’t feel cheated
>> Top fit, finish and overall build quality
>> Surprisingly good performance from just a 135hp 3.0L MerCruiser
>> It might be Chaparral’s entry-level boat but they haven’t dumbed it down
NOT SO MUCH
>> It’s American-industry standard on a little boat like this, but no dedicated anchor locker
>> No under-helm storage in the sealed moulded compartment on demo boat but this has now been addressed with latest model
>> It’s a Ski & Fish without a ski pole, preferring fishing poles instead
>> Kick in a bit more dough and you can have the 19 H20 with V6 and more vroom vroom.
Overall rating: 4.8/5.0
Packaging and practicality: 4.9/5.0
On the water performance: 4.7/5.0
Value for money: 4.8/5.0
Price as Tested: $29,999 with 3.0L MerCruiser, single-axle Mackay trailer, saltwater trolling motor, upgraded helm seat, air pump, bimini, ‘Convenience Pack’, cockpit and bow covers.
Weight: 1098kg boat and motor, about 1500kg on road
Deadrise: 18 degrees
Engine: 3.0L 135hp MerCruiser
Maximum power: 135hp
Fuel: 95 litres
Maximum Persons: Eight.