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Vintage boat review: Cruise Craft Caprice 550
Graham Lloyd
Deckee Pro  Posted April 12 2018

1996, October; Moreton Bay, Brisbane: The Brisbane-based boat-building company of Nichols Brothers celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1996, and any firm that can prosper through fifty years in the tough arena of Australian recreational boating has to be doing the right thing. To make last year extra special, the company took out the Boat of the Year Award with its Cruise Craft Outsider 650, and founder of the enterprise, Roy Nichols, celebrated his 75th birthday.

All the boats are built under the Cruise Craft brand with some 18 models ranging from 4.7 to 7.5 metres. The Caprice is a development of the Cruise Craft Capri 533, with a bit of extra room on board to make things more comfortable. The style is quite classic half-cab with somewhat angular lines to the deck coamings and cabin, but with a good balance and with pleasing style.

The transom is uncluttered with small boarding steps either side flanked by handrails that curve to follow the gun'l line. The engine well is comparatively large, but allows (smallish) quarter seats either side that are nicely upholstered and that give a good ride. A clever idea has a lift-up panel across the front of the engine well that doesn't intrude on cockpit floor space when it's down (and when it also conceals most of the aft bilge area), but then quickly lifts to form a table for snacks, drinks (two drink holders are neatly fitted in its front corners), games or whatever you'd like.

With the table up, vision and access into the aft bilges is a snap. The finish is splatter-fibreglass which is easy to keep clean, and the visible engineering is neat and strong with the battery mounted to starboard and the oil reservoir to port.

The cockpit floor is carpeted with removable panels over the 112 litre aluminium fuel tank. Capacious sidepockets would soak up a lot of your onboard bits and pieces, while more storage is in the moulded base of the driver's seat (accessible from the front, and at two levels to keep things separated). Underneath the first mate's seat is located a huge cooler. I think that this is a good approach, making it convenient to take the cooler inside at home, load it up with all the human sustenance and lubrication needed for the voyage, then lift it onboard where it is securely held in floor-mounted brackets out of the way under the seat. Beside both the front seats are higher level stowage pockets.

A slight step takes you down into the cabin which feels very light and roomy. The entrance is wide and clear, and big windows in the sides and front let in stacks of natural light. A forward removable centre section of the vee-seating would enable you to hide away a portable toilet. Room under the side seats would take bulky items such as lifejackets, and sidepockets give even more storage space. An overhead hatch is big enough to give quick access out to the foredeck.

The seats are long enough for sleeping overnight, and are upholstered in a pleasant fabric. Incidentally, the sidepockets run across the front of the cabin for a little bonus storage.

The area behind the dash and gauges is covered by a hinged panel that keeps things tidy most of the time, and yet that makes it easy to check wiring and other bits for maintenance work. Below the panel was mounted a GME 27 Mhz radio with its mic clipped to the dash. Whilst putting the radio in the cabin keeps it out of the sun and any spray, it makes it a bit inconvenient to use when you want to change channels or adjust controls. On balance, I think I'd prefer it to be mounted closer to the wheel where its controls could be more easily seen and used whilst sitting/standing to drive. However, that's a personal thing that could be set to suit your individual preference.

I found the steering position to be comfortable. Our particular boat didn't have an adjustable seat (but that can be arranged), so I found the reach to the wheel just a bit long. However, sitting to drive was still enjoyable, as was standing when I found I had plenty of room. We ran with the canopies up, which is more often the case these days in times of ozone holes and stronger sun, but I still had full standing headroom at the wheel, and there was even more further aft. Vision forward through the screen was excellent.

The gauges are mounted in an angled panel nicely above the wheel so that, sitting or standing, they were easy to view. We had a tacho and speedo with gauges for fuel, trim and volts plus an hour meter down lower behind the wheel. A Lowrance X25B sounder was mounted to starboard in the corner of the screen. A big grab rail across the wide opening into the cabin was handy for the first mate.

The Caprice was easy to drive and not at all sensitive to trim. I found I could leave the Johnson around the quarter trim mark and that allowed smooth cruising as well as smart acceleration on plane from rest. On the other hand, using the trim when you wanted did allow fine-tuning the boat's performance. Turning the wheel brought the Caprice around predictably and smoothly with good manners. Into a punchy Moreton Bay chop, the Cruise Craft hull did a great job with a solid feel and a smooth ride; stability was pleasing too when running as well as when stopped or drifting.

The V4 Johnson was straight out of its carton so was still tight. Nevertheless, it ran with vigour to push the Caprice to an indicated top speed of 64 kph at 5,200 rpm. Intermediate cruise speeds were most pleasant with the speedo showing 34 kph at 3,500 rpm, 45 kph at 4,000 and 53 kph at 4,500 rpm. Performance could only improve as the Johnno clocked up a few more hours. That's a pretty neat set of results from 115 hp, and says a lot about the Nichols Brothers' ability to match good design and hull balance with an optimum power unit.

All that 50 years of Nichols Brothers experience help to make the Caprice a strong and well-mannered boat that is targeted at the family market, but that would be welcome in just about any boating application. It's ideal for newcomers with its easy handling and maintenance, although more experienced boaties would also appreciate its stability and performance.


Overall length: 5.36 metres

Beam: 2.28 metres

Deadrise: 20 degrees

Weight (approx. boat only): 612 kgs

Fuel: 112 litres

Power as tested: Johnson 115 hp

Top Speed: 64 kph

Price (at time of review): $32,950 on trailer

Was this helpful?Thank Graham Lloyd
Finding difficult to find spares
Posted December 8 2017

I would like to give a business a huge shout out...Fenquin Pty Ltd.

I am a proud owner of a 20 year old Hunter Passage 42, she was built in the US and as such often sourcing replacement parts has been challenging. Recently, we had an issue with our onboard generator set. We worked out that we needed to replace the two belts. I tried a number of stockists, and provided the model number and specification from the gen set manufacturers plate.

This proved quite difficult as according to a number of businesses it didn't exist, please insert a 'frowny face and despair ' here!  I spoke to a fabulous man called Alex Rump at Fenquin, Ingleburn, NSW. He said he would investigate, and he did.  Over a couple of weeks and a few emails later he has managed to source the spares and the 'sea kit' for this generator.

Alex Rump, was a very friendly, knowledgeable person and very willing to 'go the extra' mile in his search for spares for my non-existent generator. I cannot recommend Fenquin P/L highly enough.

One very happy customer

3 people found this helpful. Do you?Thank spiriani42
Topic: The need for comprehensive insurance and appropriate agreed cover.
Posted February 17 2017

Hello members and visitors,

I’m writing about a current insurance issue that I am involved in with my yacht. In this instance I am an innocent third party and it has been of a surprise to me that I’m having to make a claim through my insurer (with all the penalties that go with making a claim) to repair my own boat. The 1st party’s insurer, (one of the biggest) has determined the incident “a weather incident” therefore exonerating their client from liability.

I have had my Yacht on the same swing mooring for at least the past 20 years. Approximately 6 months ago another wooden boat was mooring on the next mooring North of mine. In early October 2016 the site experienced some strong winds. This new yacht dragged its mooring and became entangled with mine. Its bowsprit and starboard hull caused damage to my port side window, hull, rigging, spreader, stanchions and toe rail. The quoted cost of repairs is $17,000.00, excluding yardage.

I contacted the owner of the wooden yacht and sent him the quotation. He subsequently forwarded it to his insurer. They have replied “I mistakenly believe their client to be liable”. I have contacted this insurer and conversed with a very terse, assertive representative who termed this incident a weather event and that I need to prove their client liable.

I do have comprehensive insurance though due to the break up of my policy for hull, spares & rigging I could fall short and will have to bear the cost of these repairs. My Insurer only wishes to repair the damaged areas, the fact that the repaired port side will be a different colour shade to the starboard side, like wise the aluminium toe rail profile could be different is not considered. Not only will I be out of pocket to make good the overall appearance of my Yacht, yet further costs will be incurred by making a claim together with increased costs in premiums over the next three years until I regain my no claim bonus. I have taken legal advice on this matter and going through my Insurer is probably the most cost effect way to proceed with my claim.

I wish to raise this issue of "weather events" that insurers are using to avoid 3rd party claims to the Deckee membership for consideration and information as to what to look for in a policy.

Make sure your policy is comprehensive.

Make sure your policy has an agreed value for components such as hull, mast, spas & rigging, sail, motor and anything else of value.

Try and purchase a policy that covers not at fault claims so that you do not pay an excess of loose no claim bonuses. 

22 people found this helpful. Do you?Thank PJM
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