It was around 2017 when Cameron Bow, then distributor of G3 Boats, passed on a catalogue for an American boat brand named Sportsman that he was looking to bring into the country. As a lover of American centre consoles and bay boats, I was filled with enthusiasm and was very encouraging of this new possible venture. Fast forward about 12 months and Sportsman Boats Australia was established, with Cam bringing them into the country in all models and sizes.
Sportsman had two models that garnered a lot of interest – the Island Reef 17 and 19. They had a price point and features that appealed to a new and younger generation of northern anglers who were looking to move on from the small tinny to something larger with a better ride and features – and a bucketload more style. All was well until Cam got the call from Sportsman that, due to overwhelming demand for the larger boats in the fleet, they were ceasing production of the Island Reef series. The smallest boat Sportsman now manufactures is the Masters 207 (21ft), the same boat Hooked Up owns.
Fast forward another few years and Cam called to let me know, after many late-night meetings with the US office, they had agreed to sell Cam the moulds for the Island Reef series, and he would need a good manufacturer to build them. I offered to do some research on who would be a good fit for manufacturing and Ben Savage of Savage Trailers mentioned Concept Fibres – they’d been doing some great work on maintenance and repair and had been called in to help some other local manufacturers get their moulds right.
I went down with Ben after hours to meet with Matt and Rohan from Concept Fibres to see their work and suss them out before giving Cam the go-ahead for a follow-up meeting. Rohan is a qualified shipwright, Matt is an industrial designer and they have over 16 years of experience in composite construction. I could quickly see they did high-quality work and were good people. I encouraged Cam to meet them and all went well – a synergy was formed. The first Australian Island Reef came out of the mould in March 2020 and since then, 24 have been made and sold and multiple dealers established. They have been in such high demand that it’s taken until November 2021 before one sat in Victoria long enough for Hooked Up to get in one to test it out.
Aesthetically it’s a beautiful-looking boat; its sleek lines and that big Carolina flare look amazing both on and off the water. The interior offers two large port and starboard hatches – the starboard side comes plumbed as standard, but you could plumb both. In between these hatches (in front of the engine well) are four rod holders. The console helm offers enough room for gauges, a 10in electronics unit and you could fit a 12in or bigger on top of the console if you are prepared to sacrifice the cup holders. I did find the console to be too short and I had to bend over to drive. I’m 6ft 3in, so shorter people may not notice as much, but as far as consoles go it’s on the shorter side.
There are three vertical rod holders on each side of the console, giving the 19 a total of 10 rod holders. If you were travelling on a long trip or you wanted to fit a storm cover, there isn’t anywhere to store rods horizontally (there are no side pockets or storage of any kind) so you’ll have to get creative. Sportsman does offer Sea Suckers as an option, which use suction caps to hold rod storage on the side of the liner. This also mean there isn’t anywhere to tuck your toes under when fighting a fish which could be challenging offshore in rough seas.
The bow offers a large casting platform that encompasses a large storage hatch and anchor locker. There is room to fit a bow-mounted sounder in varying positions, and you can easily fit large electric motors up on the bow. It’s a great sportfishing platform that can cover everything from lakes and estuaries to offshore.
Ride & Handling
The day of testing had been blowing 20 knots from the northwest and had backed off to 10, providing light waves and some slop to get a good feel for how the hull would handle less desirable conditions. The Island Reef is fitted with a 200-litre fuel tank and on the day of testing, the tank had 70 litres in it. This model was fitted with a 130hp Yamaha and an alloy prop. The 19 is available with a 115, 130 and 150.
The 130 provided excellent hole shot and getting out into the sloppy conditions showed the 16-degree deadrise and aggressive entry to provide a very soft ride going into it. The big Carolina flare deflected water very well and as far as centre consoles go, it can be considered “dry”. I managed to get speeds of 67km/h quite easily at WOT and I’m sure with the addition of a stainless prop and some adjustments you could achieve more.
It was also capable and sure in a following sea, even at high speed. There was some slight porpoising at higher trim angles, which I attribute to lack of weight from the minimal amount of fuel and the absence of any batteries and electronics. It’s certainly a very fun boat to drive and its handling with sharp cornering – even within the slop and small waves – was outstanding.
As tested with a dual-axle Savage Trailer A series (aluminium) and 130hp Yamaha this model is $75,029 but the 19 starts at $71, 496 with a 115hp Yamaha and single-axle galvanised steel trailer. It’s a great-looking boat that covers a lot of bases and provides good ride and handling. If you’re in the market for quality fibre glass centre console, there isn’t a lot in this price bracket that can compete.
Words & Images: Kosta Linardos
Distributed by: Sportsman Boats