It's a beautifully finished boat, so much so we concluded that she might just be one of the best-finished boat we have seen in a long time. Faultless is a word we don't use often, but that's how this boat's gelcoat and fit-out is.
Tristram 641 Avant Garde
Issue: April 2004
Manufacturer: Tristram Boats
A series of wild storms in the days leading up to this test of the Tristram 641 Avant Garde turned the Brisbane River upside down, or so it seemed, into an earthy shade of brown. Not great conditions for a boat test photos, but this new Kiwi boat still shone out. We normally like the water at the time of a boat test to be at the very least; a pleasant shade of green, but it was not to be. Although as the day wore on, the colour of the water was about the only thing that we didn't like about this imported 6.4m family half cabin's test.
It's a beautifully finished boat, so much so we concluded that she might just be one of the best-finished boat we have seen in a long time. Faultless is a word we don't use often, but that's how this boat's gelcoat and fit-out is. Tristram's Hamilton-based builders have gone to a lot of trouble and it shows. Oil reservoirs, batteries, fuel filters and all the other fiddly bits of a well set-up boat are secured out of sight behind neat hatches. These hatches were specially designed to house the item they contain perfectly and the catches lock with a solid clunk that clearly says, Secured.
At 6.4m, the Avant Garde is big as family half cabs go. She has more interior space than some of the smaller Aussie-built half cabs put together and the kind of open water security that only a bigger boat can offer. To get out through the big bays to the offshore islands we have around Brisbane, means enduring the bad weather that often goes hand-in-hand with these excursions. So, having the comfort offered by this solid 6.4m hull - developed in a part of the world known for periodic bouts of the Roaring 40s - is not to be undervalued.
Unfortunately, this test was conducted on a stifling hot, dead still sub-tropical summer's morning on the middle reaches of the Brisbane River. So, studying the hull's size and shape and jumping her off other boat's wakes was the only way of ascertaining the full open-water capabilities of the Tristram 641.
The hull is rakish enough to make the Tristram quite a looker. She has a low-profile cabin with a fine bow and a 22-degree dead rise at the transom. On either side of the outboard is a moulded pod that extends aft. These taper away before the waterline, but are carried clear at speed, then settle onto the water progressively at rest. This adds enormously to the boats stability at rest and controls the hull's attitude if she was to fly off a wave (the pods hit the water first and force the bow down).
In the water she sat like a proverbial brick, regardless of the kids we'd borrowed for the photo shoot, scooting around the boat like a plague of rabbits. But we're into families and were happy to have the kids onboard this comfortable boat. If only it wasn't so darned hot, it would have been a pleasant morning indeed, But the unpleasant conditions highlighted an important point. Did a boat that was built in temperate climates lack the ventilation required in a tropical environment ? No way. With the big hatch on the cabin top open and the boat underway, a blissful near lifesaving 6 flow of cooling air was forced through to the cockpit. And thank God for that, as I said it was a stinker of a day.
Having a raked hull also meant that the forward section of the half cabin was a little on the low side, but with 6.4m of hull to play with, the cabin is large enough that the aft end still has plenty of headroom. The bunks are truly full-size and ample for two tall adults to sleep onboard in comfort, with insect screens added to the hatch and cabin door that is. The optional portable toilet wasn't installed on the test boat, but there was a neatly fitted hatch covering the opening between the vee-bunks where provision had been made for one.
The sleek narrow windows along each side of the cabin and the armoured glass used for the main hatch ensured the cabin interior stayed bright. Carpet lines the roof and sides and the usual shelves along each side are wide enough to hold sleeping bags and the like. It was a comfortable space and like the rest of the boat, finished to the ninth degree. All that was really missing were insect screens and maybe a 12V fan for our hot northern climes.
There was no cabin door and as you can see in the photos, we left the bimini top stowed inside its protective sock for appearance sake during the photo shoot. Full storm curtains had been optioned (note the clips around the cabin and cockpit opening) but weren't onboard - thankfully - we would have broiled if air movement was at all restricted.
In the cockpit and helm area the Tristram 641 made good use of the ample space afforded by its size. The helm seat features an flip over backrest, so it could be used to face aft, or to the front. Underneath was a big storage locker, matched by one twice as big underneath the back-to-back passenger seats.
Both the helm and passenger seats had footrests with timber wear/ grip strips, which we found were a little too far below the seat cushions for one 170cm tall member of the team's comfort. It put pressure on the backs of my legs just behind the knees and quickly became uncomfortable. But apart from this, the helm ergonomics were excellent regardless of whether the helmsperson was seated or standing.
Between the seats just outside the cabin opening is a huge icebox moulded beneath the deck. It would easily hold enough food and drinks for several days onboard, or a few sizable fish if fishing were on the agenda. The Tristram isn't what we'd call a hardcore fishing boat, although it would certainly serve well enough for an occasional wetting of a line. Set into each side of the cockpit were lockers with grommets to stow long items like boat hooks, gaffs and of course fishing rods. But we wouldn't feel comfortable jamming a thousand buck custom outfit in there.
Family boating is obviously very much in mind when the transom was designed. On the portside the bulkhead is cutaway to access a folded stainless steel ladder. Centrally, sits yet another of those beautifully fitted hatches with an upholstered lid, which hides the necessary bits and pieces tucked away under the engine well.
The rear quarter seats also had upholstered cushions, but again this 170cm tester found his legs dangling, while taller members of the team wondered what I was on about after sitting there. The backrest of the quarter seat has been kept low, presumably so it would not impair rearward vision, although it does little for the ultimate comfort of the seat.
Another option sure to be popular, but not fitted to the test boat was an electric anchor winch. Even so, it was easy enough to exit the hatch to handle anchoring duties and the anchor well; bowsprit; recessed fairlead; and roller were all correctly positioned. The Tristram 641 was powered by an old favourite of the team, a 200hp Saltwater Series Yamaha two-stroke. This motor by present-day standards is somewhat old school, but is nonetheless a mighty powerplant and well suited to a boat like this.
Torque is one thing conventional Yamaha two-stroke outboards definitely are not short on and the combination was a good one. Spinning a standard Yamaha 17 pitch stainless propeller the Avant Garde lifts onto the plane like a family half cab a metre and half shorter.
At speed the outboard lopes along and any noise it does generate is excluded from the passenger area by the Tristram's transom design. Even at 6000rpm (WOT) and 44 knots plus, the ride is smooth and extremely quiet. So, what was our overall impression ? The 641 is an exceptional and comfortable family boat. Her finish and fit-out are second to- none, while her ride and performance would leave many half cabins of this size floundering in her wake. That's high praise indeed around here, but well earned.
With a price tag of only $61,500 for a 6.4m half cabin boat optioned up and sitting on a trailer, the Tristram 641 also falls fairly and squarely into the value for money category.
Words : Warren Steptoe