Sportsboat Magazine cover Stingray Powerboats
Troy Tempest for a day!

Sportsboat Magazine - November 1998

Ever since the cult 1960's puppet show, waterborne plastic toys called Stingray have done it for Phil Draper. A recent trip to Stingray Powerboats in South Carolina brought it all flooding back...

Anyone south of 35 or north of 15 may as well skip the next two paragraphs. I'm regressing to childhood and, unless you're around my age or up to speed with the most recent kiddie videos from Virgin, you're not going to follow my drift. Catch up with you later...

Back in the mid '60s when I was too young to bathe myself, I had a bath toy called Stingray. And it was brilliant, Stingray, star of the puppet show that put Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet well and truly in the shade, was Troy Tempest's sub and, with Phones and the Admiral's daughter for crew, and a helping hand from the mermaidish Marina, they ran out of Marineville once a week to save the world. My toy was actually better than the real thing on our black and white telly, because it was bright yellow and blue. Stingray looked like a cross between an early '50s Ferrari, the space shuttle and a kitchen hand-whisk, and as far as I remember it was at least a foot long - although seeing as I wasn't much bigger it could have been nearer six inches (an easy mistake even today).

I adored that toy, but alas, somewhere along the way it disappeared. Since a recent trip to the States to visit Stingray Powerboats, where I got to play Troy Tempest for three blissful days with an assortment of rather bigger Stingrays, I've been ruing the loss - such is the power of nostalgia.

Vital statistics

190LX In business for getting on for 20 years, Stingray is based in America's 'deep south', well away from it all in a mostly farming-oriented community. But it would be a mistake to be fooled by its remoteness from big business, or indeed its staff's Carolina drawl. This is definitely no 'Hicksville' operation...

Actually based in Hartsville, South Carolina, Stingray Powerboats boasts one of the most advanced boatbuilding operations in the business, with plenty of computer-aided manufacturing and high-tech processes. Employing around 150 people and building up to 3,000 or so boats each year, the company is one of the largest American independent sportsboat builders, meaning it is not a subsidiary of the big boatbuilding and engine manufacturing conglomerates Brunswick or OMC. Indeed, according to a recent survey, Stingray is the 12th biggest motorboat brand in the US market, which is no mean feat when you consider just how many well-known brands there are over there. Yet Stingray is still very much the private company, run by founder and president Al Fink and his son Todd. The family's commitment is clearly evident in their boats.

There are 20-plus Stingray models across an 18-24ft (5.5-7.3m) range, based on probably six or seven basic hull mouldings. All are in-house designs. And, apart from one 18ft (5.5m) outboard-powered bowrider model, all Stingrays are sterndrive boats, with both MerCruiser and Volvo Penta powertrains available in this country. All essentially trailerable, the current Stingray model portfolio includes bowriders and 'deckboats', cuddy-cabined boats and true sportcruiser models; the SX high-performance cuddy models, and lastly the DS or 'Deck Saloon' model, which is essentially a cross between a bowrider and a cruiser. A new 27-footer is currently under development too.

Stingray lines are subtly rounded, but less curvy than a lot of the market. The sportsboats all have fairly sporty low freeboards, but 240CS cruiser and 220/230DS deck-saloon models are really rather chunky above the waterline. Stingray styling inside and out is perhaps a bit stronger than with many other US brands - good strong colour options in blues and reds are favoured, which makes a welcome change from some gloomy greens and browns found on much of the competition these days.

Stingray's hulls, decks, and cockpits, including upholstery, are mostly off white - with the colour schemes being confined to hull stripes and upholstery paneling. The two high-performance models, the 220SX and 230SX, are even available to order with solid-coloured hulls, decks, and cockpits - for example, the two I saw were striking in all-over dark green and blood-red respectively.

Stingray trades on a solid reputation for good performance, excellent handling and an enviable overall build quality. Prices tend to be at the volume end of the market - on average, say, somewhere around the likes of Bayliner and Sea Ray depending on the model. They're right there in that value-for-money sector - great for skiing, but also with that knock-about-with-friends versatility. The top end of the range also includes a serious cruiser or two, and even the bigger cuddy ones are quite up to serious overnighting.

Handling

The Stingray reputation for performance stems from good power-to-weight ratios and clever design. For example, all models benefit from its own patented hull profile which is made much of in the Stingray 220SX marketing as 'Z-Plane' or 'ZP' technology. The idea utilises shallow Z-shaped strakes that perform like mini reverse chines, biting the water while deflecting spray downwards and improving the water flow under the hull by reducing the vortices that create drag. Stingray also combines that underwater geometry with moderate deadrises (mostly 19 degrees) and raceboat-style notched transoms, which allow engines to be mounted higher for less drag, enhanced fuel efficiency and better top speeds.

As for handling, Stingrays are generally as crisp and responsive as they come at this end of the market. On my visit I got to play with pretty much the whole Stingray range on the company's local sportsboat arena, Lake Robinson - a four-mile-long banana-shaped expanse of freshwater made remarkable for its ridiculously high average water temperature for around 35 degrees C, all owing to a nuclear powerstation at one end that uses it for reactor cooling-water. Stingray has its own 'Lake House' there, a bungalow hidden among trees complete with its own foreshore and docks. With the lake temperature every bit as hot as my baths were in the '60s, I hope my association with bath toys doesn't seem quite so daft.

Ripping up the lake mornings, afternoons and well into the evenings over three days, the whole range performed pretty much immaculately. I couldn't get to see how they cope with a real sea, as the lake was mostly mirror-smooth if left undisturbed for a few minutes. But screeching back and forth across every available wake and wash, gave a reasonable impression.

In a straight line and on the turns they twist on their heels like catwalk supermodels. Trim them down just a squeak as you dial in the lock and consistently precise hydraulic steering whips them round with minimal oversteer and rarely a trace of cavitation, regardless of hard-forward throttles.

Out of the hole, Stingray's hull geometry allows the powertrains to work efficiently. They all step up on to the plane quickly. And once up, the really fly...

Performance

For any given engine option, Stingrays are about as quick as any comparably priced boat and certainly a shade livelier than many.

For example, a Stingray 192RX with a Volvo Penta 4.3 litre GL will easily run to around 56mph (57-58mph on the clock). A 220CS with a 5.0-litre MerCruiser will do 55mph and a 220CS with a 5.7-litre MerCruiser EFI 58mph.

At the very top end the high performance 220SX and the 230SX are seriously wild the 'big lump' options. Every time one of these monsters took to the lake with their straight through-hull exhausts onlookers gazed skyward. They were seriously loud, like low-flying B-17s. Idling, they 'grobber-grobber' nervously, but wind them up and they really howl beautifully, although when driving fast you don't get the full benefit in the cockpit as the sound gets left behind! The 220SX test boat, with its MerCruiser 350 (5.2-litre) Magnum MPI and Alpha 1 drive giving 300 horses at the prop, was doing 65/66mph on the clock, which is said to translate to a true 63mph on the radar gun. Its big sister is something else again. With the MerCruiser 502 (7.5-litre) Magnum MPI with Bravo 3 and 415 horsepower, the 230SX was blistering along at 76mph on the clock, again reliably caught on radar at around 73mph - definitely a big boys' toy.

With these two at those sorts of speeds the hulls are hardly in the water and the whole boat flies from the sterndrive. Put your head up over the screen on these babies, and your cheeks don't just indent they flap like fox-kissed chickens.

New for the '99 model year, the 230LX Bowrider hooked with a MerCruiser 350 Magnum and Alpha 1 drive was also wondrously wild all the way to 64-65mph.

Build quality

The build quality is also as good as it gets for this grade of boat. Hull and deck moulding are all produced within a high-tech computer-controlled facility. Each hull is matched with its stainless steel hardware deck long before the two come together. And each moulding has exactly the right proportion and quantity of resins, cloth and cores - such as Coremat, Klegecel and Trevira. Every moulding is check weighed. Under its 'Five-Year Protection Plan', Stingrays are all guaranteed against osmosis blistering.

The process control, all computerized, is so good at Stingray that production records can now show who made which moulding and with exactly what material batch. The factory makes much use of high-tech machinery, including five-axis mills to develop new models, perfect hull profiles and rout hull plugs out of high-density foams, and water-jet cutting gear to trim mouldings and cut upholstery fabrics.

Apart from the smallest 18ft and 19ft 'R' models which have marine ply stringers and cockpit-soles, Stingrays use plenty of interior moulding, including GRP-moulded stringer systems and cockpit/cabin soles for increased rigidity.

Away from the structural mouldings, the dashboard and engine boxes are also neatly moulded regardless of their rear seating options - most are available with either rear high-low quarter seats or a bench seat and sun pad. Dashboard areas are mostly moulded in a non-glare khaki-coloured plastic, except on the 220/230SXs which have moulded black plastic consoles with business-like smart black Kevlar fascias - which look great until you touch them with bare flesh on a sunny day.

As you would expect, all Stingray hardware is stainless steel, including toe-rails, bow-access steps, bow-rails, bathing ladders and the standard-fit ski-hooks. The wrap-around Taylor Made windscreens are also nicely faired and reassuringly solid, even the walk-through ones.

Standard specifications are on par with all the other major players. However, there are some really nice details on Stingrays that you don't see on the majority. For example, the cuddy arrangements are very sweet, with a flexible interior that really makes use of every cubic inch. Most of the cuddies provide moulded-in lockers, as well as mini sink units and neat locations for small Origa alcohol stoves and Porta-Pottis. Headroom in the cuddies is also better than most, the V-berth cushions are easy to move and the cotton-nylon mix fabrics are some of the best I've seen.

ice chest Other neat features include self-draining cockpits, sturdy bi-fold doors, neat foot rests on cockpit coamings, and on all but the smallest models courtesy lights in the cockpit (two each side just above the cabin sole) and easy-adjustable side vents in the windshield to the side of drivers and passengers.

If pushed to criticise anything, I'd have a go at the front seats. These are not as efficient as they could be at locking off from fore and aft adjustment and swiveling. And the optional 'drop-down bolster-style' seats are not much better; although the cushion drops to provide the stand-up option, often a preferred driving position when not flat out and thrashing about, it would make far more sense if the seat cushion lifted up against the backrest instead, which would allow your feet to push back a little further underneath while at the same time providing a decent bum perch.

Prices

Stingray's are priced keenly enough, particularly in the middle of the range. Prices between MerCruiser and Volvo Penta are pretty even, although Volvo Penta seems to be the preferred option from the UK importer.

Conclusion

Stingrays have been available in the UK for almost a year, via exclusive importer Auto Marine Specialists in Penrhyndeudraeth, near Porthmadog, Gwynedd, North Wales. If you're in the market for a Bayliner, Sea Ray, or similar, you could do a lot worse than check out the latest equivalent boat-engined package from Stingray.

Phil Draper
Sportsboat Magazine
November 1998




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