Top Aussie good for Kiwis too

The new Steber is a good-looking, practical and top performing 12m family launch. The first time I encountered a Steber was back in the 1980s. New Zealand's customs service had chosen to order a brace and there was a fair bit of consternation around the waterfront.

This was well before globalisation and most struggled to understand why a government department had chosen an Aussie design over one of ours. As a (relatively young) marine writer, my job was to put one of these interlopers through its paces and try to discover why the customs lads thought it so good.

Rapidly aging brain cells mean I don't remember much about the craft now, although I do recall thinking it was incredibly well-built and robust-looking; a sort of work boat without all the rough edges.

Given there are not a huge number of Steber boats imported into New Zealand (although Tauranga Boat Sales is the local agent), I hadn't thought about the brand much lately.

However, the company recently released a new 12.2m model called the Steber 3800 Twin Cabin Family Cruiser. It features in the latest edition of Pacific Powerboat magazine and looks so different to those old customs boats that I needed to know more.

What I discovered is that Steber International is a far more versatile company than it might appear from this distance.

Based in Taree, on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, Steber is a family-owned firm that was founded in 1946. Although it originally produced timber clinker craft, it was one of the first Australian boatbuilders to switch to fibreglass. (Coincidently, it did this in 1959, the same year Christchurch's Frank Simpson was building New Zealand's first GRP production pleasure boats.)

In the 1970s, the company stopped building runabouts and instead concentrated on bigger vessels. Today it still builds commercial vessels (ranging in size from 8.5m to 15.8m for charter, commercial fishing, patrol, shark meshing, sea rescue, surveillance and the like) and also offers seven quite distinct models of pleasure craft, ranging from the 2800 Super Sedan to the 5200 Luxury Motor Cruiser.

The 3800 Twin Cabin Family Cruiser lies in the middle of that range and has been designed as an affordable weekender or extended-stay coastal cruiser.

In true Australian fashion, it is also bigger than its name suggests. The 3800 part of the model name obviously refers to 38ft, or about 11.6m. However, the vessel's LOA is actually 12.2m and, had it been built on this side of the Tasman, it would probably have a 4000 or 40 in its title.

The Steber philosophy seems to be to create a basic boat and then allow clients to up-spec to whatever level they wish or can afford.

At its most basic, the 3800 Twin Cabin has a price tag of A$648,425 ($844,631). In the somewhat fancier guise pictured here, that has risen to A$798,000, although this does include a vessel in full survey.

Although the 3800 will comfortably sleep six in the two cabins, it's the saloon and cockpit that have received the spacious treatment. The latter is of a size and style likely to appeal to Kiwis. Completely teak-lined, it has just the single transom gate. This leads out to a substantial and pushpit-protected boarding-cum-swim platform. The island transom station here is a simple affair, with just a washbasin, rope locker and cockpit shower/deck wash. However, one can choose to fit whatever one likes: barbecue, bait station, live bait tank, etc.

As is becoming increasingly common, there is just the single station on board. It has been set aft on the relatively small flybridge, which has been enclosed front and sides with clears (aft clears are an option, as is an extended bridge, which would overhang the cockpit and be a good spot for a davit).

In its current, smaller guise, the 3800's bridge is nicely proportioned and more than adequate in size. As well as a brace of helm chairs, there is a pair of corner seats and a table forward, although the latter can be replaced with a settee.

While many designers now use the lack of a lower helm to enclose the saloon at the front, Steber has resisted that temptation. The result is a bright, airy space with fantastic all-round visibility. That said, the layout is slightly unusual: the galley occupies the entire port side and its small return is forward (by the companionway to the cabins) rather than aft.

On starboard, a long settee runs almost the full length of the saloon.

Given Steber vessels perform so successfully for organisations such as the navy, police, customs and coastguard, the company sees little need to offer a variety of hull shapes. This means the same hull can be found beneath the 3800 and all the other Steber pleasure craft.

While the 3800 will handle anything from twin 300hp through to twin 480hp diesels, this model has a pair of 440hp Yanmar turbocharged 5813cc, 24-valve, six-cylinder inline models. They run through 2.43:1 Yanmar gearboxes and conventional shaft drives to swing four-bladed 24 "P by 33" D propellers and give a top speed of 32 knots.

Fuel consumption is also impressive: at a cruising speed of 21 knots, they burn just 80 litres per hour. The 3800 also performs well in long-range cruising. At nine knots and with the customary 10 per cent margin, the range is 380 nautical miles. Surprisingly, the full cruising speed of 21 knots only reduces that range by 20 nautical miles.

Steber 3800

LOA: 12.2m

LOH: 11.38m

LWL: 9.83m

Beam: 3.84m

Draft: 1m

Displacement: 11,600kg (heavy ship)

Construction: FRP Composite

Engines: Twin 440hp Yanmar 6LY3A-STP

Maximum speed: 32.2 knots

Cruising speed: 25 knots

Fuel capacity: 1530 litres

Water capacity: 400 litres

Want to know more?
Check out Barry Tyler's boat review on the Steber 3800 Twin Cabin Family Cruiser in the November/December issue of Pacific Powerboat magazine.

- NZ Herald

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