Text by Barry Thompson
The name is back and it’s bigger, bolder and better than ever. Fi-Glass has certainly found a sweet spot with the all-new Fi-Glass Cavalier that neatly fills a gap in its already extensive range.
Since I started messing about with boats, I have heard the name Fi-Glass. It is synonymous with Kiwi trailer boats and has been one of the market leaders for over 50 years, a record no other boat builder comes even close to!
Since testing my first ever Fi-Glass over 37 years ago, I have always enjoyed the brand and like thousands of Kiwis, I have grown up with one or two in my backyard or in the neighbours’ in that time.
I spent many seasons skiing behind a Lightning and catching fish from a Viscount and got very involved with offshore racing around the time Fi-Glass campaigned a number of twin- and single-rigged Lightnings and Sidewinders.
In the mid 1970s, Fi-Glass had a twelve-model line-up from the 14ft 11in Ski Angler and Fireball, through to the impressive 23ft Baron. Amongst them was a 15ft 11in hull that was common to both the Scamp and the Cavalier. The basic difference was that the Cavalier was a cabin convertible (the name in those days for soft top cabin boats, whereas the Scamp had a solid cabin roof.
The Cavalier was around until the early 1980s when after many hundreds had been built, the mould and the name were retired. However, good things never really die and in the case of the Cavalier the name is back, bigger and better than before.
Actually, there is no likeness or family resemblance to the Cavalier of old apart from the name and of course the builder, Fi-Glass Products Limited.
Fi-Glass Products Ltd was formed in 1958 to take advantage of new fibreglass technology in the manufacture of washtubs and shower trays and in 1964 the company started building fibreglass production boats. Unquestionably, Fi-Glass has been making fibreglass boats for longer than any other company in New Zealand. Not content to let the family firm rest on its laurels, managing director Griff Simpson, the son of founder Frank, has in recent years led Fi-Glass to be very innovative in its construction techniques, both with materials and the systems used to build its boats.
There is no timber in a Fi-Glass boat built these days. They have fibreglass stringers, Divinycell and closed cell polyurethane foam and a full inner liner, that produces a safe, strong and robust boat that is built to last! Non-rot Divinycell core is used for the transom and polyurethane foam fills the under-floor cavities for superior buoyancy.
The building techniques in fact exceed the guidelines set down by the CPC, and Fi-Glass offers a six-year structural hull warranty – one of the longest hull warranties offered by any company in the New Zealand boating industry.
Gulfland Marine in Auckland supplied our test boat, brand new off the showroom floor. It was so new it had never been in the water until we borrowed it. Auckland winter weather being what it is, you can never predict what the day’s going to give you. On the day of the test we had been looking for some choppy weather off Gulf Harbour, as predicted by the weather forecasters, but instead got a mirror smooth sea that was ruffled only by our boat wake.
Power options for the Cavalier are 70-115hp, so with a Mercury 2-stroke 90hp bolted on the transom we had a good average package. Top speed was just over 40 mph, running an 18” pitch three-blade Mercury Vengeance propeller, with the engine mounted high on the 5th bolt hole. There were only two aboard and minimal fuel.
If you like your trolling then the slowest we could get at around 800 rpm was 3.5mph, so if it’s trout you are after you might consider a small auxiliary. There is certainly space for a bracket on the transom. At around 4500-5000 rpm the Cavalier runs 28 – 33 mph, which in the calm conditions was an acceptable cruise speed.
If you plan to tow skiers (a ski pole is optional) then even the 90hp has the grunt to pull a slalom skier from a deep-water start, especially on one of the new generation wide bodied skis. Tubers or wake boarders will find the power more than enough.
As would be expected the boat handled perfectly in the calm conditions with excellent response to both throttle and steering movements. It’s not a rocket ship and it isn’t meant to be. This is a wholesome family cabin boat built with Kiwis in mind. Stability underway is as good as any boat of this size and at rest more than acceptable given the beam and deadrise.
With some attention given to the trim I was able to get the hull really well balanced at speed, with a level-riding attitude. It was quick to plane and reached maximum speed very rapidly. In sharp high-speed turns the hull hangs on tightly and if you play around with the engine trim you can hook the boat around fast enough to have to make sure your passengers are holding on!
Although I didn’t get to run the boat in any rough water I can say that from my past experience with the slightly larger Lightning, it gives me the confidence to predict the ride and handling would be equally as good. And the fact that the Cavalier is in effect a ‘mini-me’ of the Lightning, goes a long way to confirming its handling prowess.
Drawing on the fact that the larger Lightning hull has been such a huge success and has been well proven over many years, Fi-Glass has designed the Cavalier on the same platform by simply modifying the hull where necessary.
The Cavalier is 400mm shorter, 100mm narrower and 50mm lower in overall height. This downsizing of the Lightning hull has the advantage of being a better fit for some who found the Lightning too big for their garage. Also, a smaller outboard can power it, it is lighter to tow and the real upside, it is a few thousand dollars cheaper than an equivalently spec’d Lightning.
However, while externally the Cavalier is a smaller package, internally you have a very high volume boat. In fact the cockpit is longer than the Lightning’s and with the narrower side coamings loses nothing in the internal beam. The coaming height is only a few mm lower so it is still at a very comforting and safe height for young kids.
The cabin length is shorter by 30mm and the sitting headroom is down marginally, but that hardly matters considering the berths are still generous in length.
The underwater shape of the Cavalier is very typical Fi-Glass without any special effects that some trailer boat builders are prone to do these days. In fact, the hull design was created by modifying a Lightning hull by cutting a 100mm wide band out of the centreline and moving the transom 400mm forward. The variable deadrise tapers back to 22 deg at the transom either side of the 300mm wide ski plank. There are two moulded inner strakes, one running all the way to the transom and extra wide chines that give the boat the shoulders that it needs to turn. Along with the flared bow they help to keep the water and spray away from the cockpit.
There is a pronounced knuckle in the side of the hull, which is more cosmetic than practical, but it does give the Cavalier its distinctive Fi-Glass look.
The Conventional Layout
The layout is simple yet practical and reflects the sector of the market that this boat is being targeted at. The base boat at under $40,000 is priced with plenty of standard items that you would expect and provides a hefty option list should you wish to spec-up the boat.
Boats the size of the Cavalier are not really designed for staying out overnight, but the cabin does offer some all-weather protection. There is sitting headroom for two adults on the 1.6m long berths. Storage is provided under the side squabs and in full-length trays either side. Open the extra large acrylic hatch and all the anchoring chores can be carried out in safety. It’s a big anchor locker that will hold loads of warp and chain with a deep fall if you want to install an auto anchoring system.
The transition from the cabin to the cockpit has been well thought out and is recessed so you have easy access in and out. No scraping your back or hitting your head on the cabin top!
It’s a very traditional Fi-Glass style cockpit and reflects the appeal of this boat to family buyers who are looking for both comfort and practicality. The standard seating package has a swivelling helm seat, king/queen passenger seats to port and two removable fully upholstered aft seats with padded backrests.
There is storage in side trays that run the entire length of the cockpit, in the passenger seat fibreglass moulded base with double top entry access and under the cockpit sole. The gelcoat cockpit liner has a non skid tread and a dome-out removable marine acrylic carpet
Without the under-floor fuel tank option you are left with a cavernous 2.7m long central storage area that is a great place for things like fishing rods or water skis. However even if you do go or the 100-litre fuel tank option there is still enough space forward for a wet locker or fish bin.
Under the aft decks there is ample space for tote tanks as well as the battery, with the battery cut-off on the side of the battery box. A transom skirt hides all that away from view.
The Cavalier offers an excellent driving position either seated or standing, with an imitation carbon fibre dash panel and plenty of space below for a reasonably sized fishfinder/GPS/plotter that is all within easy view. The moulded acrylic screen is solidly mounted in an alloy extrusion.
One of the few extras on our test boat was the full bimini with clip-on clears. Mounted on a sturdy stainless steel frame, the whole structure can be folded down or totally removed.
The Fi-Glass Cavalier is a boat that offers exceptional value for money. Fi-Glass has made great use of the space in presenting a big volume boat that is practical in every sense. It’s a very traditional style Kiwi mid cabin trailer boat that has all the right boxes ticked and is certain to be as good, if not a better seller than the Lightning it has been modelled off.
- Make: Fi-Glass
- Model: Cavalier
- Price As Tested: $42,000
- Packages from: $38,000
- Designers: Frank and Griff Simpson
- Material: Solid GRP
- Type: Cabin
- LOA: 5.40m
- Beam: 2.20m
- Deadrise: 22 degrees
- Hull Config: Medium V
- Trailerable Weight: 1100kg (approx)
- Height on Trailer: 2.25m
- Engine Capacity: 70 – 130hp
- Power Options: Outboard only
- Fuel Capacity: Tote tanks
PERFORMANCE – Mercury 90
|600 rpm||3.0 mph|
|1000 rpm||4.5 mph|
|1500 rpm||6.0 mph|
|2000 rpm||7.0 mph|
|2500 rpm||9.0 mph|
|3000 rpm||14.5 mph|
|3500 rpm||19.0 mph|
|4000 rpm||24.5 mph|
|4500 rpm||29.0 mph|
|5000 rpm||32.5 mph|
|5500 rpm||37.5 mph|
Speeds were recorded on a Lowrance GPS.