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Not so Looney Toons

by John Curnow, Global Editor, Powerboat.World 14 Dec 2023 23:00 GMT

Paying distinct hommage to the Warner Brothers franchise, Looney Tunes, with this one. Now you may be too young to even remember the cartoons themselves, let alone Saturday morning sessions glued to the TV, when they were tubes, not screens. This was back before binge watching was a turn of phrase understood at every respectable coffee shop, let alone the name for a whole distinct streaming service.

Such is the passage of time. Still, when a boat gets partially marketed for the number of cup holders and USB ports on board, which interestingly outnumber the POBs it can carry, is it not a real sign of the times itself? Must remember to ask whether they were USB-A or C ports BTW...

Did. The answer is USB-C. Of course they are. Naturally, you can control just about everything via the app off your smartphone, just to ensure you knew we were talking about, 'Now'.

So back when you watched a cathode ray tube over an OLED, pontoon boats were often just called party boats. 'Toon' had not even been coined at that stage. They were visually challenged, underpowered in the extreme, as graceful as a rubbish truck, and whilst they had a BBQ and Bimini for added amenity, plywood floors and fencing akin to a kiddie petting zoo pretty much consigned them to smirks, at best, from any self-respecting boatie.

Clearly none of that stopped them in their tracks. Quite the opposite, actually. Today, some 65,000 new pontoon boats get sold each year in the USA alone. You can even get one that will do 60 knots, if that just happens to be your thing. Now the latest generation do have one thing that probably sets them apart from any earlier era. The fence has gone in favour of, dare we say it, boat style coamings that deliver a far more vessel-like, and visually appealing aesthetic.

In the case of our test vessel, the Manitou Explore 22 MAX Switchback, there was even a wake boat-esque nod, in the form of the Targa bar that becomes the Bimini. Good thing there is a tow bar mount in the MAX Deck across the transom to support that premise. Maybe not a complete light bulb moment, but categorically a time for 'Ah-huh!'.

That's all skin deep. Get the scalpel out, and there are genuine boat smarts being applied and deployed. Our tri-toon (three pontoons underneath) Manitou has a composite floor, with a rubberised underlay bonded to it before the upper, ultra-durable vinyl weave gets placed on top. Cool and comfortable wins the day, with a level of durability pretty much hitherto unseen in the class.

One of the big elements has to be the V-Toon hull configuration. The three pontoons form a vee, both longitudinally, and laterally. Along with the running strakes welded to each you end up with boat like handling. The centre toon is not only longer, it is wider, and it is also set deeper. On the plane, the outers almost become sponsons, and the craft turns IN to corners, not out like a destroyer, which is the way nearly all Toons, whether two or three tube, behave. It is not only safer, it brings on more of the 'boat' feelings.

Speaking of tubes, the baffles are welded in about every 400mm or so. The bows are totally false for added protection, and with a foredeck, lift is guaranteed, with large spray rails handling even decent wake. The centre also sports a massive and easily accessible locker adjacent to the helm for boards, covers, pick, and so forth. The gunwale to gunwale MAX deck out aft carries the icebox, and this too aids space and amenity on the main deck, which has lockers under all seats, pockets, the switchback seating, and a very cool tri-fold table to make a small dinette.

Let's just say there's a lot to like, especially when under the ginormous Bimini, that is rated to 50mph, no less. Definitely be solving the forward projection aspect, however, as the front two lounges are well exposed to the ever-scorching UV, which is something our host, Garrett Koschak (Business Strategy Manager at BRP), a native of Wisconsin was all too aware of. I'd also be looking for a bow ladder arrangement to complete the deal. Koschak did point out that there are local providers for these sorts of additions that get the tick of approval from BRP.

If there is an elephant in the room, then it is actually more like the elephant under the swim platform. The Rotax 150S three cylinder propels the craft well, and has enough grunt to get you not only onto the beach, but off, if with a little bit of help up at the bow. It gets on the plane with a minimum of fuss, as well, so clearly that is a result of it being oil injected. True, there is not any outright blistering pace on offer, as there is a fair bit of mass involved in this equation for 150 ponies to move along, but just exactly are you wanting to do with such an open boat?

One of the other very noticeable items is that it will not cavitate on turn in, despite me going over and over, and yet over again our own wake. Sure the revs came off a bit, but it is like some soldier marching along, despite carrying a battle pack and extra ammo.

To my mind, this is all about a fast cruise of say 18-20 knots where the peace and quiet are not disturbed and the fuel burn is nominal. The other is at six knots, of which we did a lot of coming down and up the Coomera River in the no wake zones. This could well be the Manitou's sweet spot. Honestly. The laid on its side powerhead, in its self-contained, double-redundancy, waterproof 'box' is mostly in the drink at this stage, and no doubt this aids in both noise and vibration reduction. It is quite sublime. It might look like some sort of stern drive (Z-Drive) with a massive tumour, but don't let the looks fool you. It is a clever way to regain valuable space above, and deliver a gentler profile at the same time.

Being Captain Araldite meant I had the wheel for the trip back up the river, and it was here that I developed the answers above to the fabled question, 'Why Toon?' Yes it is a massive market, even if for now it is very US-centric, but it will undoubtedly also be one of the major drivers in getting more, non-boaties afloat, which is happening more and more on a waterway near you.

This notion, and the material delivered in Can your Grandma use FaceTime? are what had driven me accept the gracious offer to join BRP for the day, for it is craft like the Manitou Explore 22 Max Switchback that are going to get the job done. Does that make me a Toon convert? Well, yes, and happy to admit it!

Moreover, a great friend of Powerboat.World had moved over to the world of Toons not that long ago, and I certainly do not consider him looney. Paul Wilson has been boating for 40 years. On reflection, he sees it all "As a series of phases. First boat, you have to buy what you can afford. Nothing too flash unfortunately. Longing for a spacious 40-plus-footer with all the bells and whistles, but had to settle on a 21-foot 'orphan' boat, which I think started out life as fishing vessel to which a cabin top and outboard had been added. So narrow you couldn't stand in the middle of the boat and outstretch your arms fully without hitting the cabin sides. It was aptly named the Minnow."

The insightful and humorous Wilson commented about the more salubrious vessels that followed by stating, "Firstly a timber 32-footer, which after the Minnow seemed like a palace, then there was a Kingston 770 after enduring the pain of rot in the wooden craft. A Mustang 34 widebody had great accommodation but ouch, those petrol V8s and legs were a financial hardship like no other."

"There was a 34-foot flybridge craft that was great for the family and school holidays with heaps of kids, then a 21-foot Haines Hunter dayboat when the kids did not want to hang out with the oldies any more. Yet the love of my life, after my wife of course, was the Grand Banks 36. It delivered 12 years of joy to the First Officer and I, along with our furry First Mates.

"As the years drew on, I was less and less inclined to undress the cruiser, which had covers for the covers according to the First Officer, and it all seemed too hard, with before and after trip duties taking several hours each. Made the call and a new owner took her further North. It was gut wrenching at first, and the gap at the end of the dock at home always stood out like the proverbial sore toe."

"18 long months passed, and I just realised I had to get back out on the water, but in a stress-free manner. Cue the Toon phase. Bought a tri-hull Runaway Bay Pontoon Boat second hand with a 90hp Suzuki. Bingo. This is gold. Different boating, for sure, but right in touch with this particular phase of our boating life where we have no more desire to sleep at anchor, but want the ability to be on the water.

"In a word it is brilliant. Drop the motor down, slip the lines and cruise around the Broadwater or up to the Jumpinpin in minutes. Nose onto the beach and deploy the bow mounted boarding ladder and step off for a swim. Hot day, sun beating down relentlessly? No issues, as we have shade in abundance. Lounging for more than a dozen if you felt inclined (which we don't)."

"So easy, sneak into shallow waterways, well divorced from the ever-growing throng of new to boating enthusiasts racing around the main waterways in boats well above their ability levels. A day of relaxation on the water, then cruise home, tie up, connect the hose to the outboard and give it a good flush. 15 minutes after trying up you are sitting pool side watching the sunset over the water and our trusty Toon."

In closing, Wilson stated, "Costs? Insignificant compared to the traditional cruisers. For sure you won't be headed to the Whitsundays on one, but for where we are at nowadays, the simplicity and stress-free boating we enjoy is perfect. We love it. Tooning is the way to go!"

When Paul told me about his plans I was somewhat wary, knowing what he had done in the past. To be fair, however, I did offer to go look at a Toon for sale that was much closer to my house than his, and even tow it back if he wanted. Strangely, it all kind of made sense to me though when he told me about the one he did purchase. He called me and said, "Its name is 4 Corners (a current affairs TV programme in Australia), which for a dinosaur media/PR hack made it a no brainer!"

Seeing Paul and his wife get so much out of this particular craft is both joyous and certainly opened my mind to the possibilities. I genuinely love the little videos he sends me as they fly around Queensland's Gold Coast, and somehow he always plays the right tunes on his toon movies, which lets me know that the old dinosaur still knows how to get his playlist sorted.

They have developed a shower curtain style arrangement thing to go around the head when it is in use, which is about the only other thing I reckon our test Manitou could do with as well, because if you are going out in the hot weather, lots of fluid is going to be the answer, which in turn begs the question. Having a demountable BBQ on the MAX deck is about the only other item I can see being added to the list.

Tooning is not looney any more. Yes there are oversize towing issues, so it suits dry stacking, or home dock scenarios much better. You can go as swiftly or as slowly as you like and take a cast of thousands, or make it way more exclusive. Ease, comfort, practicality, low running costs, short hops, and single level amenity just tick more boxes.

If that sounds like you, don't look straight past a Toon, look right at it! Could be the very nugget you are after. Nothing else will pack so much into 20-something feet. Nothing.

OK. Today you will find that the website has an abundance of material from right across the globe, and if you cannot find something, just try the search button right up the top of the landing page, above our logo. If you cannot find what you want or wish to want to add to that, then please make contact with us via email.

Finally. Please look after yourselves.

John Curnow
Global Editor, Powerboat.World

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