words - Bernard Clancy
Bernard Clancy ventures out in Whittley's latest mid-sized family cruiser, and despite his best attempts to upset it in the sloppy conditions, the sleek weekender couldn't be faulted

The Whittley Cruiser 660 is the second in-house computer designed and generated hull from the Whittley stable. I was impressed with the first, the Voyager 580, when I tested it last year. Indeed, its big sister is even more impressive.

This is not just a Darby and Joan comfortable cruiser, it's a dasher as well. And it throws off the 'smooth water only' tag which some people have pinned on Whittleys of old.

Our test on Port Phillip Bay was in a messy half- to one-metre chop and the boat handled it very well indeed &151 even at full noise!

This is a completely new model which sits between the ever-popular Monterey 600 and the top doggie, the Cruisemaster 700. It has the advantage of having more space than the Monterey without the bulk of the Cruisemaster. It can be towed by a mid-sized 4WD and with its sleek, curvy lines it looks a million dollars. But let's not get into comparisons, because the 660 has a character all of its own.

With my fishing-biased eye, the first thing that struck me was the amount of cockpit space incorporated into the Cruiser without sacrificing the creature comforts demanded by the cruising community.

More than any other boat I've seen of a comparable size, this one is the best compromise one could imagine between cruising comfort, family camping and fishability, even offshore.

Whittley says this boat has three 'zones' &151 cockpit, helm station and cabin. Let's take a closer look at them.

As with all good cruisers, one steps aboard in a dignified fashion via an enormous metre-wide swim platform.

The boat's LOA is 7.6m, which includes, of course, this platform. The actual hull length is 6.5m.

Now, this great protrusion extending from the transom may not be popular with serious fishos, but think again: in calm water there's no reason why you couldn't fish from the platform itself.

Fair dinkum, it's big enough to put a couple of deckchairs out there.

Cruising types will love it. It has an in-built foldaway stainless ladder for ease of boarding and an outboard hot/cold shower tucked into a lidded sidepocket. Consequently, the sand stays outside.

And, in true Whittley tradition, there are handrails, courtesy lights, stereo speakers and sturdy cleats built into the sweeping stern section.

Passengers step aboard through a starboard transom door, down onto a step (which is actually a lidded storage box) and then into the cockpit itself that is considerably lower than the swim platform which covers the leg of the V6 MerCruiser. This has the advantage of having no driveleg hump in the middle of the platform.

The transom has a deeply padded bolster top that serves as a seat if you're on the swim platform, or a backrest if you're in the cockpit.

Looking forward on the starboard side there's a huge sidepocket (everything's lined and padded, of course), teak on the coamings and twin swing-up seats, one with a corner padded backrest behind the helm position. These seats can double as a child's bed.

The enginebox cover is moulded like a tray so bits and pieces placed there won't fall off and is complimented by the slide-out teak laminate table on top. Across the transom and above the enginebox is a deep storage shelf.

On the port side of the enginebox are three more swing-up seat cushions which can also double as a bed for a teenager. Again, there's a huge, fully lined sidepocket.

With everything folded away, there really is an incredible amount of free cockpit space which will be of interest to those who like to dangle a line. There were no rodholders fitted to this boat but there's plenty of space on the gunwales to do so.

The cockpit sole is not carpeted but covered in a practical grey vinyl material which I imagine would be much easier to keep clean.

The central 'zone', or helm station, is simple yet effective. The helm seat is mounted on an open-fronted storage bin which itself is on a raised platform storage box accessible through a lift-out lid beneath your foot space. And there's yet another smaller storage pocket in the coaming on the right hand side.

The seat is fixed, yet offers a very comfortable driving position with room to stand if needed. It has one of those swing-away backrests that Whittleys are noted for.

Controls fall nicely to hand and the Autotecnica black leather and metal steering wheel would be considered extremely 'cool' in much younger generations than mine. Looking ahead, the moulded console has full instrumentation in perfect view (comprising battery, fuel, speedo in mph and kmh, tacho, oil, temperature and trim). Below that in their own panel were flat-faced toggle switches for anchor light, engine blower, bilge pump, water pump, windscreen wiper and shower blower.

The CD player and 27mHz radio were mounted behind the wheel but both were quite accessible. A compass was mounted on the top of the very deep dashboard, but such is the raking slope of the windscreen that it seemed to be almost on the horizon. There's plenty of space left to mount electronics.

The passenger seat arrangement is identical to the skipper's but it has a substantially larger sidepocket covered by a black tinted Perspex door with press latch.

But before moving forward, let's look up &151 at the 'hole in the roof'. The Cruiser's hardtop design is a beautiful, flowing extension of the cabin and deck profile. It seems to actually create space &151 not to mention light, but I'll come back to that.

The hardtop features a sliding sunroof that not only leaves the Jones' for dead but is entirely functional as well.

I did much of the on-water testing with my nut through the roof and it was great fun. Berthing as well as launching and retrieving will be far easier this way.

There's a stainless steel rack on top that can support an inflatable as well as provide a solid handhold. Is there anything these guys haven't thought of?

The fully-lined hardtop itself covers three-quarters of the boat so there's only a couple of metres of cockpit that isn't protected from the elements &151 and that's easily fixed with the camper clears, minimising support poles and brackets.

The galley is quite compact with hinged laminate wood lids over a Swedish Rigo 2000 one-burner stove, hot/cold taps and sink, an Engel fridge under and a deep, carpeted cupboard with sliding, tinted Perspex doors. There are more cupboards above and a stainless railed tray.

Headroom is excellent and the light brilliant. Everything is compact and practical, and is just so typical of the thought the Whittley team always puts into its boats.

Opposite is the curtained-off moulded head with hot and cold water, retractable shower, Porta Potti, hand basin and yet more (wet) storage. Light is excellent and headroom fairly good. Most people will be able to stand upright.

The cabin is carpet-lined top to bottom and is wide, spacious, airy and light thanks to the huge side windows and clear front hatch which lifts on gas struts.

Storage under the very large V-berth and wide, padded parcel shelves is good. The bunk centre panels, which in most boats fits over a narrow walkway and lift-out in-fill, are hinged to one side and simply swing up and lock into place when it's time for bed. A bonus is the greater width of the walkway for ease of movement.

Access to the windlass, huge rope lockers and bowsprit-mounted anchor through the hatch is quite good but one wonders how often you'd do things that way. Footprints on the pillows are never popular. The gunwales are wide enough to walk around and the hardtop handrails and split bowrail are very supportive.

Go for the optional electric windlass.

The one-piece curved glass windscreen (with wiper) is very nicely recessed into the deck mould and looks really stylish.

The overall finish on the boat is excellent. Even the silicon joins on the hardtop sections are smooth and drip-free. But I could go on and on, because the true value of the Cruiser 660 is in the detail.

I was really surprised how well the boat rode at full throttle on a sloppy Port Phillip Bay.

The hull features very broad shoulders to accommodate the inside goodies, twin strakes, prominent chines, a narrow planing plank and two spray deflector ridges the length of the hull. For such a relatively narrow, deep-vee hull, stability was excellent.

As I said earlier, much of the testing was done up-periscope and I found the boat very dry indeed, with just the occasional spray drift coming across my face.

Down and across seas it absolutely flew as straight as an arrow, while into the short head sea the broad shoulders caught a couple of waves hard, but that's only to be expected.

At 3000rpm the big MerCruiser pushed the boat along at 40kmh while into the wind and sea we achieved 60kmh at 5000rpm.

Trimmed out to the max downsea, the 660 really hummed at 65kmh at a tick over the 5000rpm limit.

The testboat was fitted with a 220hp V-six MerCruiser sterndrive but it can also accommodate a 260hp V-eight, dual 115hp outboards or a single 225hp outboard. Who would want better performance than this in a cruiser?

As usual I tried all sorts of maniacal things to upset the Cruiser's equilibrium but failed. It was totally predictable and without vice (although the man from JV Marine will hang on a little harder next time he ventures out with a boat tester. The cockpit sole is not a nice place to be thrown!).

The boat, as tested, sat on a Mackay full keel and side roller, dual-axle trailer with mesh walkways and electric brakes.

In my view, the Whittley Cruiser 660 has 'bestseller' written all over it.

Price as tested: $82,000 with MerCruiser V-six MPI
Options fitted:
Electric anchor winch
Priced from: $79,200 (w/ 175hp Yamaha carbureted two-stroke)
Material: GRP
Length (overall): 6.6m
Beam: 2.4m
Deadrise: 20&176
Rec/max hp: 220/260
Weight (BMT): 2400kg
Fuel: 205lt
Water: 160lt
Make/model: MerCruiser sterndrive
Type: V-six MPI
Rated hp: 220
Displacement: 4.3lt
Weight: 425kg
Drive: Alpha 1
Gear ratio: 1:1.62
Prop: 19in alloy three-blade
Supplied by JV Marine World, Braeside, Vic, tel (03) 9798 8883

Published : Sunday, 1 December 2002

Prices and specifications supplied are for the market in Australia only and were correct at time of first publication. boatsales.com.au makes no warranty as to the accuracy of specifications or prices. Please check with manufacturer or local dealer for current pricing and specifications.

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