On the face of it, the Huntsman Sotalia looks like a comfortable family cruiser, but beneath the skin she also delivers a serious fishing platform.
About two years back I had the pleasure of catching up with the highly regarded CSB Huntsman brand from New Zealand. The boat we looked at was the Dorado 5.5m and it confirmed why this is one of New Zealand’s most popular fibreglass
CBS Huntsman hails from the beautiful South Island city of Christchurch. This didn’t seem significant at the time, however, it sure did stick in my mind after the terrible earthquake in early 2011.
Fortunately, the CSB Huntsman plant survived this horrible event and just recently I was able to test one of its latest models – the Sotalia 5.85m seen here. This is the big sister of the Dorado and follows the same theme of a low-slung sports cuddy with strong family appeal and top-notch finish.
However, the boat is more than just a pretty face. It packs some good fishing features so you can dangle a line on the weekend.
Another surprise is the potential to be a serious waterski boat. Not just towing the kids on the inflatable donut, but a full-on ski boat with stainless steel tow bar and thumping big horsepower. More about that later, let’s talk about the fishing aspect first. The boat comes standard with a pair of stainless steel rod holders, raised side pockets for fishing gear and removable quarter seats so you can fish right into the transom corners.
It is interesting to see fishing and skiing mixed together, however, not so silly when you think of boaties who live in the bush. With large impoundments and warm weather they often mix the two disciplines together.
With an eye to waterskiing, the Sotalia also features a very performance-oriented hull. It runs a decent deep Vee on a wide, low-slung hull that can pack motors up to 200hp! Most readers will probably not go down this route and will be happy with a 130hp-150hp size outboard.
Undoubtedly, Sotalia is going to tick the box for couples wanting to cruise the waterways in style. The back-to-back passenger side seat ensures this is a sociable layout for up to five people.
The day-cruising appeal of Sotalia is outstanding and the cuddy is going to be a great place on fishing trips to dump your fishing gear, or just grab a nap when you are tired.
The Sotalia also works well for families with kids because it has so much comfortable seating and the cabin area to keep the kids safely out of the weather when conditions turn wet. The two-berth sleeping accommodation also comes in handy for camper-boat holidays. That’s something every family should do when the kids are young and before they’ve lost their sense of adventure with package holidays to Bali!
The Sotalia is also the sort of boat that grows with your needs. As time moves on and the kids become less interested in boating you can turn it into a more serious fishing machine. Out go the quarter seats, the floor carpet and in goes the overhead rod racks, live bait tank and decent sounder/plotter.
It’s worth noting the ski pole slot could be used for the base of a raised cutting board. The space between the quarter seats can also utilised for a fully-plumbed live-bait tank.
Our test boat was supplied by Hunts Marine and looked a treat on its Dunbier trailer with its smart black, silver and white colour scheme. It came fitted with an Evinrude 130hp ETEC, bimini, side and front clears, CD sound player and stainless steel ski pole. A nice package at $59,876 ex-Sydney.
Design: There’s a retro look about the Sotalia that’s reminiscent of a Jaguar car – low-slung, slinky and ready to pounce! It’s a styling we saw in the 1980s but this is a modern interpretation with modern touches like the Portafino boarding step transom and curved dashboard with room for in-dash displays.
The exterior styling is enhanced by the eye-catching speed-line graphics and the black hull and white topsides. It all comes together very nicely with the curved windscreen and the matching stainless bowrails.
This is definitely a bigger, better Dorado and overall length stretches out to 5.58m. The beam is a generous 2.35m so the Sotalia feels quite roomy when you step aboard.
And talking of boarding, the Sotalia comes standard with a folding stainless steel boarding ladder (portside) that makes it fairly easy to come aboard from the water, or ramp. I’m a little surprised it doesn’t include a transom walk-through but access is still pretty good, especially with the quarter seat providing a cockpit step.
Below the waterline the hull features a true deep-Vee with sharp bow entry and 21.5 degrees transom deadrise. Sotalia also has reverse-angled chines and a series of sharp strakes to help her lift quickly to the plane.
The transom also features an interesting reverse-angle cutaway below the landing step that is another telltale sign of a high performance boat. It actually allows more water to get around the propeller when the boat is travelling fast.
Stepping aboard you find a comfortable cockpit with carpeted floor and moulded sides and floor, which makes it easy to wash out. In the most recent version the floor has been raised slightly at the front end so you can stow a chemical toilet underneath – a feature that Mum and the kids are going to appreciate, especially on long days afloat.
By the way, this isn’t a self-draining floor, however, a drain sump at the stern ensures any water in the cockpit drains out via an electric bilge pump.
Sotalia has a full-depth bulkhead on the helm side up front to give it more rigidity and allow for a deeper dashboard.
The cabin gives you two comfortable Vee berths and a vinyl privacy curtain that will be appreciated once you fit the optional chemical toilet. An optional in-fill cushion also gives you a double bunk.
Structurally, these Kiwi boats are well put together with high class fibreglass finish and automotive-quality upholstered seats. The standard of fit-out is impressive and explains why CSB Huntsman is so confident about backing the boat with a five-year warranty.
With a dry hull weigh of 760kg the Sotalia trail weight is around 1300kg-1450kg, depending on the motor choice.
This keeps the Sotalia within the range of cars like the Toyota Aurion V6 (1600kg tow capacity), Falcon or Commodore. However, it's more likely buyers these days will be pulling the boat with a four-wheel drive like the Toyota Kluger that has a two-tonne tow capacity.
Performance: We cracked a delightful summer’s day when we took the Sotalia for a spin on Botany Bay.
The boat looked a beauty on the trailer and Hunt's Marine had gone to some trouble to match it up with a black bimini top with sun awning extension over the cockpit.
My immediate impression is Sotalia is the kind of boat your wife would love! It looks so comfortable and the overhead sun-shading means it looks like a boat you could enjoy being on the water all day.
Slipping Sotalia in the water was a breeze with the multi-roller trailer and she fired up first go with the clean-tech Evinrude motor. The boat handled very nicely at low speed and allowed me to pick John Hunt up from the dock in one go.
Clear of the mooring zone the Sotalia slipped easily to the plane despite the extra depth of the Vee hull. The 130hp ETEC certainly had the power to get us going and well-balanced hull gets up and running easily doing a steady 20-30 knots.
This is a nice all-round power choice and probably the best choice for a mixture of day cruising and close-range fishing. It’s quick, but not neck-snapping.
Encountering a small wind chop on the bay, the Sotalia showed off its smooth and remarkably dry ride. The deep Vee hull certainly helps the ride quality, but the well-padded seats also help to enhance the comfort of the driver and passengers.
The Sotalia also ran very cleanly at cross angles to wave direction and still gave us a dry ride. It’s a tribute to the pedigree hull that throws bow spray well back.
The added size of Sotalia makes her well-suited to fishing in open and offshore waters. Best of all, it’s not too tippy with two people on one side.
Throwing the boat into fast turns at full speed wasn’t a problem and it soon became obvious you could push this boat a lot harder with bigger size motors.
I was surprised Sotalia runs a non-feedback steering system, however, it worked well enough during our test. That said, I would prefer to get the optional hydraulic steering system with a motor of this size, or bigger.
Talking of steering, the Sotalia provides a really comfortable help position with a body-hugging pedestal seat for the skipper. You also get a moulded footrest for security, seat slide and nice I Command digital motor gauges.
Other features on our dashboard included a four-gang switch panel, VHF radio and LED navigation lights. We also noted a GME CD sound system mounted off to the side under the throttle handle.
Driving view is quite good through the curved windscreen and the thick edge mould of the windscreen makes for a good handhold.
Power: The Sotalia is rated for single motors of 115-200hp either in two, or four-stroke. The two standard packages offered by Hunts Marine include a Yamaha 130hp oil-injected two-stroke and the 130hp Evinrude ETEC.
Alternative engine packages include a Yamaha 150hp four-stroke, an Evinrude 150hp ETEC or a whacking big Yamaha 200hp ETEC. However, from the results of this test I’d suggest most fishos wouldn’t need to go more than a 130hp, or 150hp size motor.
The 130hp Evinrude ETEC certainly delivered quite acceptable results as the following figures attest:
3500rpm 20 knots
4500rpm 28 knots
5500rpm 34 knots
This is fast enough also for most fishing trips, though some boaties might want to go a bit quicker with a 150hp motor.
In this case, we found the best cruising range was around the 4000rpm mark where the boat did about 25 knots and felt just right. This was the ‘sweet spot’ for inshore running but offshore you’d be running a bit slower because of the wave conditions.
I didn’t get fuel flow figures but I’d expect they’d be pretty good with the ETEC motor running around 3500-4000rpms. You should have sufficient range with the 100-litre in-floor fuel tank. That said, you might want to investigate the optional bigger size tank if you were fishing any distance offshore.
The Sotalia is certainly well-equipped and comes with a battery isolator switch, electric bilge pump, LED navigation lights and a stainless steel propeller.
Deck layout: Up front you get a mini anchor spit, anchor roller and Tee bollard within a moulded anchor locker. The latter keeps the front end of the boat very clean and leaves you the option to fit an electric anchor winch. You also get a split stainless steel bowrail and classy (Maxwell) glass-top hatch. The latter is semi-recessed into the foredeck and also helps convey a quality finish to this boat.
A narrow side deck precludes you walking around to the bows, however, you can easily reach the anchor point from the foredeck hatch.
Back in the cockpit you find a moulded dash behind the curved windscreen and cut-away access to the cuddy cabin.
The cuddy has a low roofline but still gives you a comfortable seating position below. Here, you also find a very tidy, attractively layout with light grey carpet liner and dark grey fabric seats and backrests. There are narrow slit windows for extra light and fully enclosed instrument panel with passport hatch.
Our test boat had a BRP slimline throttle box, however, you might like
to get the flush-mount throttle that
looks smarter and gives you more elbow room.
Sotalia has plenty of stowage options with raised side pockets for fishing gear, upper level stowage pocket alongside the passenger position and a big in-floor ski locker. The latter has a moulded liner so it could double as a kill tank.
Meanwhile, there’s a surprisingly large stowage bin for personal gear under the back-to-back seats.
Other features worth noting in the cockpit include comfortable quarter seats with padded backrests and pop-up quarter cleats. Factory options include extra rod holders, overhead rod rack, cockpit lighting and a gas shock-absorber for the helm seat.
Verdict: Sotalia is more than just another comfortable family cuddy boat. She has a top-notch finish and an interior design that is flexible enough to suit serious fishing, or waterskiing.
In the latter mode you’d can order the boat without bowrail, bimini top and instead put the money into a larger V6 motor and push the boat up to a scintillating 40 knots.
However, the package as presented here strikes a nice balance between family boating and fishing needs. With the addition of a decent in-dash sounder and perhaps another set of rod holders, Sotalia will be a pretty decent close-coastal fishing rig.
Its worth mentioning the boat comes standard with internal polyurethane foam buoyancy, which also makes for a quieter ride.
Overall, this Kiwi newcomer warrants a second look for anyone after cross-over cruiser/fishing boat. It’s a nice size for coastal boating and also for parking at home in the garage. Pricing is also pretty keen thanks to the high Aussie dollar and the brand is well supported by a local dealer network.