Stingray Powerboats
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Hot Boat Magazine - January 1995

"At Stingray, an electric 'mule' does the work, sparing the workers fatigue and injury and improving the quality and consistency of the fiberglass layup."

From the outside, Stingray Powerboats is as nondescript as any of the metal warehouses along its side of the railroad tracks in Hartsville, S.C. Yet, through its doors emerges a line of sleek, family runabouts, among the most advanced in design and construction available today. If anything, the company's unassuming exterior disguises the sophistication of the work that goes on inside.

From start to finish, each boat embodies cutting edge, computer-based technology, much of it new to the marine industry. While many manufacturers are still using traditional fiberglass techniques, Stingray is pioneering boatbuilding for the twenty-first century.

The process for building a fiberglass boat doesn't vary much from company to company. It's always some combination of cloth (fiberglass) and goop (resin); it's labor intensive; and it's messy. What differentiates Stingray is the equipment used for fabrication. Its workforce has at its disposal an impressive network of computers and automated machinery.

AUTOMATED BOATBUILDING

For President Al Fink, computers are a passion. And at Stingray, they are everywhere, from engineering and data processing to each department in the plant, including maintenance. And they're all linked so that every boat that leaves the factory also leaves behind a complete computer record of its construction. Like most boatbuilders, those at Stingray take pride in their work. But here they sign off by keyboarding data into a computer.

3D human Furthermore, computer programs using three-dimensional, human scale figures and a library of parts enable Stingray to design very functional boats quickly. "Since 1989, all the boats we've built have been computer designed products, " says Fink. "And everything that we've done has been totally in house."

They have also integrated their computer-aided design capabilities with a computerized router for the production of precisely built wood plugs (the part used to make a female mold). This process has allowed Stingray to shave the development time of new boats and to build the molds for hulls, decks, and parts with unparalleled accuracy. "The things we can do now on a computer are almost impossible to do by hand," he says. "We can design cabin liners that will 'kiss off' on the hull, and the only way we could have done that before was to actually build the liner in the hull as an original part."

To be added to this capability is yet another piece of remarkable machinery, a multi-axis router that will enable Stingray to skip the woodwork altogether and cut a precise, full-size plug out of a single block of foam. Other companies have begun to take advantage of such technology, but Stingray is the first to set up such sophisticated and expensive equipment in house.

Moving on, in the huge hangar-like building where the critical hull and deck lamination takes place, an electronically-operated overhead rail system shuttles molds like boxcars in a railroad switch yard. In the typical boatbuilding operation, workers shove the heavy molds from station to station on cumbersome steel dollies. production photo At Stingray, an electric 'mule' does the work, sparing the workers fatigue and injury and improving the quality and consistency of the fiberglass layup. In a central control room, the supervisor monitors movement of the molds in and out of stations, orchestrating a proper balance between continual work flow and critical cure time.

Finally, a robot - a yellow, one-armed machine about the size of Big Bird - practices for its future job. One day soon it will actually grind the rough fiberglass from the edges of the hull, cut the engine opening in the transom, and drill the bolt holes. Robots are commonplace in many industries, including marine engine manufacturing, but to our knowledge, this will be a boatbuilding first.

But there's more to boatbuilding than materials and processes, there's design and engineering, and Stingray excels in this effort as well. Next to computers, performance is Al Fink's passion. This hands-on CEO is as likely to be found behind the helm of a prototype monitoring an array of test gear as behind a desk in his office.

HULL TUNING

Test, test, test, and test again. That's the only way to determine the subtleties that make a difference in handling and performance. A radius as small as one-eighth inch on a sharp-edged keel or strake can determine whether a hull slips, grabs, or corners with finesse.

That's the type of thinking that produced the company's patented Z-plane hull. On conventional deep-vee hulls, the strakes are mere appendages, which, according to Fink, create performance-robbing air bubbles on the bottom of the boat. On the Z-plane, they are reduced in size and integrated into the hull sections, allowing a clean flow of water to the propeller, giving it a better bite in turns. As an unexpected benefit, Stingray was able to mount the engine higher on the transom, which in turn reduced drag and added speed. As Fink relates, other performance benefits also emerged: "Our boats run high in the water, presenting less wetted surface. They perform more like a car with a sports suspension on it than one with a mushy station wagon suspension. They're also real responsive to trim."

Even on the water, where seat-of-the-pants experience plays such a vital role, Fink has enlisted the help of technology. On a 40-second run aboard a Stingray 586zp, he demonstrated to us how he can record everything from acceleration to top-end speed to fuel consumption on one sophisticated piece of equipment built especially to keep the company on the forefront in product testing. Almost every combination of boat, engine, and prop is tested, and the results downloaded into a massive computer database for future reference.

Essential performance information is available in the Stingray catalog, which even includes fuel consumption figures, something more important to Fink than speed. In fact, he prefers to use the term "efficiency" in talking about Stingray performance. "Efficiency can mean two things," he explains, "more top-end performance with less horsepower or less fuel per mile or per hour. I've got dollars and cents data that show our boats, in some cases, to be 20-100 percent more efficient than our competitors' boats with the same engines in them." Fink's compiled 27 pages of boat test data to back his claims.

PUSH BUTTON BOATS

To accommodate West Coast boaters who wanted a big bowrider that would fit into their downsized garages, Stingray added the 19-foot 586zp to its 1994 line. "We took the 20-footer we had and scaled it down," says Fink.

"We knew how the 20-footer ran, so we said, 'Okay, computer.' Then we pushed a button and in 60 seconds it printed out a boat."As Fink admits, there's a little more to it than that, but the result is no less gratifying. sundeck

This model's standard layout features a pair of smooth-adjusting, three-position lounge seats. Either a sport bucket and lounge buckets is or sundeck interior with twin optional. People who desire more open space inside the cockpit will prefer the sportier sundeck arrangement.

Unique to Stingray are deep, contoured chaise lounge-type bow seats that keep passengers safely ensconced in the cockpit. Additional safety features include a passenger grabhandle, rubber step pads, and non-skid surfaces on the foredeck and swim platform.

Among the boat's amenities are a built-in cooler in the bow, carpeted in-sole ski locker with hingeless polyethylene lid (Hinged lockers can catch children's fingers), and Maxxima stereo cassette. The fiberglass engine box has a tray molded into the top and recesses for four drink holders. The box and the jump seat bottoms and backs remove to provide convenient, unencumbered access to the engine.

The 21 1/2-foot 659zp is one of three low-profile cruisers in the Stingray line. Its standard seating package is a sport bucket and lounge. The cockpit's fiberglass liner is a practical feature for anyone who wants to pull fish aboard. For those who like to have it both ways, a drop-in carpet is available.

The side panels are well padded, but grab handles by the passenger seating positions would add a measure of safety. Cockpit amenities include a small cooler cooler built into the sole, side storage for skis or fishing rods, and Clarion digital stereo cassette system.

Like the 586, there is non-skid where it's needed, including on the foredeck. A fold-out stainless steel ladder provides convenient deck access. And a medium-height stainless steel rail reminds you where you are when you step forward to the anchor locker.

Double-wide, lockable cabin doors give ample access to the cuddy cabin. Close them for privacy; leave them open for convenient back and forth movement. A large, square deck hatch and opening side ports provide cross ventilation and light.

The compact cabin boasts a low maintenance fiberglass liner with built-in recesses for a sink, single burner stove, and portable head. Bilevel seats port and starboard create 33 inches of sitting headroom. With the galley closed up and the cushions in place, the cabin converts to sleeping quarters with a spacious 75-inch-wide by 76-inch-long vee-berth.

Some 1,000 pounds separate the 659zp cruiser from the 586zp bowrider, yet their handling is similar, with the nod going to the smaller and nimbler 586.

This runabout hops on plane with little bowrise, accelerates rapidly, tracks straight, and corners without slipping or grabbing. We churned up some jarring boat wakes and drove straight through without the least discomfort, a testimony to the hull's solid, foam-filled construction.

The larger 659zp cruiser exhibits most of the same handling characteristics, with the exception of increased bowrise coming on plane. Its cuddy cabin adds about a foot of height to the bow, which obscures the horizon for a couple of seconds before settling down. Unlike many small cruisers that require high speeds to remain on plane, this one cruises easily at about 30 mph, allowing its crew to take in the scenery while rationing fuel for the sprint home.

As for performance, here the lighter V-6 powered bowrider prevails by a long shot. We recorded wide open throttle (WOT) speeds of 53 mph with two passengers console and an impressive 56.2 mph with one. With two aboard the V-8 powered cuddy, we got a WOT speed of 47.5 mph.

Both boats offer comfortable helm seating, with a clear view of the gauges and controls that fall right to hand. The windshield offers good protection and an unobstructed view all around.

Stingrays application of robotics ensures uniformity from boat to boat. Everything from plywood stringers to polyethylene cabin doors are precision cut to fit. As for details, Stingray covers all the basics and adds a unique touch here and there of its own. For example, the way it encases the drain plug in fiberglass to prevent water from seeping into the transom's plywood core. Or the shims it places under the engine mounts to ensure proper alignment over time.

Every boat company takes a different approach to delivering value to its customers. Staking their fate on the application of advanced technology, Al Fink and the crew at Stingray have taken a bold step toward the future. So far, they appear right on course.

Hot Boat Magazine
January 1995




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