Monday, April 30, 2012

Boating in Cambodia III – Boat Review of a KGC Challenger 72

I am posting a review of the custom boat I put together here. It will provide people who might be interested in doing the same thing in Cambodia with some good information. They will undoubtedly come across this when googling for leads on the subject.

As mentioned in my previous post I bought the 24’ hull in Vietnam from Kien Giang Composite. This company is part of an Australian group and has been in business for 18 years. It is run by a Vietnamese director. The technical supervisor is a New Zealander.

General description:

All fiberglass hull, deck, and center console. No inner liner.
Solid 3 mm fiberglass, with vertical reinforced support stringers along the freeboard.
Gelcoat inside and out.
Length overall: 23.5 feet, with outboard 25.5 feet (7.32 m/7.80 m)
Beam: 8.3 feet (2.52 m)
Weight: 1000 kg

Standard features are

- Switch panel with 4 fused switches
- Navigation (running) lights
- Automatic bilge pump (float switch)
- Stainless steel bow grabrail
- Stainless steel bow eye
- Cast aluminum cleats (4)
- Rubrail

Optional features:

- Anchor light
- Anchor
- Anchor locker
- Anchor roller
- Captain’s bench seat with dry storage
- Center console
- Passenger seating aft and/or front with storage options
- Seat cushions for all seating
- Hydraulic steering with stainless steel steering wheel
- GPS
- Fishfinder/echosounder
- Fuel tanks – stainless steel – with fuel gauge
- Fuel flow meter
- VHF radio
- Outboard motor up to 225 HP (rated originally up to 200 HP but with reinforced transom 225HP)
- Canvas bimini canopy or T-Top
- Rod holders
- Swim ladder
- 70-gallon cooler
- Boat trailer

As you can see the boat as it comes from the factory is more or less just the bare hull, and this is how we negotiated it with the customs department. All the options are very expensive. I regard all the options listed above as absolutely necessary on a sea-going fishing boat. I equipped the boat with all of them importing them from the U.S. Only the seating, the center console, the tank, and obviously the anchor locker I ordered from the factory.

Dealing with the factory was at times somewhat difficult. Replies to email inquiries were sort of long in coming. They quoted a 5 weeks delivery time which turned into more than 2 months. They also forgot to install the bow grabrail. I had ordered a 60 gallon tank so I wouldn’t have any problem going to the farther outlying islands. When I measured it it produced only a volume of roughly 40 gallons. Mind you, they charge you $550 per 30-gallon tank. I complained about the grabrail and after some insistence they finally coughed up a refund. They now also refunded the difference for the tank. I will have to install additional plastic tanks like some sailboats use. I hope I can find them here.

The center console is 80 cm wide and roughly 40 cm deep. They have a mold for it and to request a larger one with room for a porta potti as is common in newer center consoles would have cost a bundle. They don’t have any compartments for your tackle boxes or for the VHF radio. I requested a couple of cut-outs so I could install my multi-function tach, and have room for a small storage compartment. Access to the wiring, cables, etc. inside the console is through a removable door facing the driver.

Layout

The anchor locker I had put in is large enough for a 15kg anchor with chain and a 100m of rode. There is still room to store the life preservers and two flotation cushions for 5 passengers there.

They installed the tank one step down up front to counter the weight of the outboard aft. It will serve as casting platform or a sun deck. Normally, this space is used for fish lockers.
40-gallon tank forward

There is enough room for two to four people between the tank compartment and the cooler in front of the center console.

The driver seat bench doubles as a storage space and is sufficiently large. The lid of the seat removes completely as opposed to just folding up. This is convenient in some instances but can be a hassle when you only want to grab something real quick.
Dirver's seating with storage

Between the drivers seat and the aft seating you have room for one person on each side for fishing. Of course, there is also room for 2 more alongside the center console, which brings the capacity up to 8 passengers and one captain plus a deckhand. The boat is rated for up to 16 passengers, but that would be too crowded and they wouldn’t be able to move at all.

I’d say 4 people can ride and fish comfortably, 6 is still ok, but anything more hampers the movement on deck considerably.

The aft seating is comprised of 3 storage boxes. 4 people can sit there comfortably. The lids of these, however, open up on hinges. The problem is they only open up 45° because they are set too far under the fixed backrest. So access is a little bothersome. This is clearly a misconception. The center box houses the battery. These boxes are altogether removable. You will gain access to the bilge and the bilge pump and wire harness/cable conduits this way. In an emergency this is clearly not the most efficient and fastest way of getting to the bilge.
Aft seating set too far back

Lid opens only 45°

Any water on deck drains into the bilge. There is no thru-hull drain as the deck is slightly below the waterline. In itself I consider this an unsafe feature as bilge pumps are apt to fail and if you get caught in a tropical rain storm you will be swamped. I carry a spare bilge pump with me that I can connect to the battery in a hurry. Of course, if the battery is dead too, you are in for real trouble. It’s time to start bailing then. Larger boats or yachts have back-up systems but this is only a 24’er. In my mind this is the one real problematic feature of this boat and should raise some concern. I will in due course modify this myself.
Drain hole into the bilge

Drain hole from tank compartment onto deck

The fuel tank is normally located in the center or slightly forward of the center. If they raised the deck by about 10 cm and with it the freeboard, they could deal with the drainage problem and allow for space for fish boxes at the same time. This would only be a small modification.

Behind the aft seating there is a small platform on each side of the motor splashwell. They are practically an afterthought to cover the space needed for wires, fuel lines, etc. The splashwell is rather small making any work on the motor difficult. Other manufacturers use the entire width of the boat for this. They house wiring/cables under the aft seating.
Splashwell with drainholes - I added scuppers

What’s completely missing is room for a live baitwell. Well I will just have to improvise.

Performance

I have Yamaha 225HP 4-stroke rigged to the boat. This is a very quiet motor. You can hardly hear it in idle or at no-wake speeds. Even at wide open throttle (WOT) the sound is not ear-shattering; it’s absolutely bearable. I would guess it at about 83 dB. It definitely does not have that high-pitched whine of a 2-stroke.

The boat features 3 lifting strakes from bow to stern. This enables it to get on plane at your normal speed of around 15 mph but as opposed to other monohulls the bow doesn’t rise up very much and settles down quite smoothly. So coming out of the hole is hardly noticeable to the passengers. Another advantage of this hull construction is that you can travel comfortably even at less than planing speeds.
20° deadrise with lifting strakes all the way to the stern - note the negative chine

It planes on about two thirds of  its bottom surface, which of course increases drag considerably and with it fuel consumption. However, it is rather light in comparison to other boats (no inner liner)  I know and this probably makes up for it. One consequence of the larger wetted surface is that chops are felt more pronouncedly. The seas were pretty calm when I first tested it so it behaved amicably. Another time I encountered a heavy, short chop. Like any monohull it didn’t like it too much. At 30 mph it was downright uncomfortable, at 25 mph only the hardier passengers could put up with it, so cutting it down to 20 mph sort of made it a smoother ride. The ride was surprisingly relatively dry. Taking the waves head on there was some spray blown in by the wind. Later the wind picked up a bit and seas were 2 – 3’. The boat still handled nicely enough. There is no problem steering it, it responds immediately. Turning it leans into it as it should. However, the lack of an inner liner makes the boat somewhat noisier with the waves slapping against the hull. If the freeboard were higher as mentioned above the ride would be more comfortable in rougher seas. This being a monohull, you cannot avoid the pounding in rough seas.

4000 rpm will give me 30 mph and 5900 rpm will get me to a top speed of 50 mph. It also takes off  like a rocket. The tested weight with a half full tank and 2 people on board was approximately 2000 kg.

I could not measure the fuel consumption yet as my Lowrance fuel flow meter did not send any data to my multi-function gauge. There is something wrong with the software. But at about 4000 rpm or 25 mph it should give you 4 mpg. With a 60-gallon tank and the general one-third boater’s rule (one third out, one third in, one third reserve), this will result in a range of about 80 miles or 128 km – not much in the grand scheme of things but enough to get you to  Koh Rong and back. For the interesting island of Koh Tang you would need to carry extra fuel.


Summary:

The boat is a very sturdy and solid platform and is fun to go out on. Workmanship could stand with some improvement.The surface of the outer sides is not perfectly even; it is just ever so slightly wavy. Some nuts weren’t tightened properly, not to mention the aft seating. It pales in comparison to U. S. made fishing boats in terms of features. The quality of the fiberglass is up to par, I would think. Overall, the price is a factor here. If I don’t consider the import duties and taxes I paid the boat would be at the dock for about $22,000 with all the options I put in. My outboard is used with low hours. A new motor would get the price tag up to around $35,000. There is no boat that size on the U. S. market at that price as far as I know. So all things considered it was a good buy, and I can recommend it. I believe it could be a world-class competitor if they took care of the few weak spots.
In the water behind my house

Going out to sea - about 500 m

In comparison, I could have bought a fully equipped, used 2006 24’ Aquasport at $21,000 FOB Los Angeles. With freight, duty, and taxes it would have set me back about $45,000. Although duty and taxes are sky-high in Cambodia buying a power boat the way I did is still more practictable and cheaper. With a trailer I still came in more than $10,000 lower for a new boat than if I had bought the used Aquasport.

As far as I know this is currently the only boat of its kind in Cambodia. Not counting the boats that pull the bananas at Ocheuteal Beacht the other notable power boats are run-abouts and are operated by the activity center at the Sokha Beach Hotel. The Paradise Beach Guesthouse on Koh Rong recently acquired a power boat as well. The way it is set up it will probably be used as a water taxi to transfer guests to and from the mainland.

By the way, if you are worried about maintenance, I know a guy in Sihanoukville and that shop in Phnom Penh. They can do every job. The problem might be the parts, this being a 4-stroke. But I can always get them from the U. S. shipped Priority Mail, which takes 6 - 10 days and is not that expensive. Of course, the motto for power boaters has always been: 'If you want to play, you got to pay.'

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