Hell's Bay Boatworks has a cult of passionate anglers, fans who are uncompromising in their search for the sleekest craft to slip quietly and harmlessly over delicate grass flats. They expect their boats to step up on plane quickly and skim through shallow channels without raking sand. Hell's Bay built the Boca Grande 18, its lightest flats boat in this size class, with a well-crafted Spartan elegance these anglers will love. The introduction was nearly simultaneous with Suzuki's introduction of its new, compact DF70, DF80 and DF90 four-stroke outboards weighing in at a trim 375 pounds. I tested them together this summer in Key Largo at Suzuki's media event and concluded that the rig is a superb blend of precision boat- and motor-building technology.
When I pressed the throttle of the new DF90, the Boca Grande lunged forward, stepping immediately to plane and zipping quickly to a top speed of nearly 43 mph. In aggressive turns, the Boca held its course and the motor held its bite instead of dumping valuable speed that could've plopped heavier boats and motors down in the sand of shallow cuts.
Suzuki's aggressive redesign of the DF90 borrowed from technologies proven in its powerful 300 hp model. The profile is compact and accomplished by Suzuki's offset driveshaft design. Instead of hanging the engine powerhead far aft on the transom, they balanced the motor gracefully over the transom by using an offset two-stage gear-reduction system to transfer crankshaft energy to the driveshaft, then used the second-gear system on the prop shaft to give the optimum torque. Tuned air-intake tubes and changes in the exhaust system open the airflow, improving throttle response. Fuel injection also boosts power while offering fuel efficiencies not available in carbureted engines.
Hell's Bay accomplished its weight-trimming design objectives by using Kevlar, carbon fiber and S-glass mat laid up in a closed-mold process that employs a vacuum-bag system to inject premium resins into the mat and distribute them so precisely that none is wasted. The process reduces waste, noxious styrene emissions and fuel-robbing hull weight, giving anglers of the green mind something to appreciate. Hell's Bay also scuttled the standard fiberglass poling platform for a lightweight but sturdy aluminum deck covered attractively with SeaDek, a self-healing, soft-on-the-feet nonskid pad.
The Boca Grande is an ideal platform to demonstrate the snap and light weight of the Suzuki DF90, but back at the dock were pontoons and other bay boats enjoying the advantages of Suzuki's new power plants. Boaters will soon see Suzuki's new motors on aluminum bass and walleye boats as well.
• Passenger seat cushions are joined with aft deck hatches for secure convenience, comfort and easy access.
• Rod storage tubes are beautifully molded in, not bolted on.
• Casting decks and floor are solid, thanks to encapsulated foam cores.
• Forward seat doubles as an insulated cooler.
• Poling platform is easy to mount and dismount.
At A Glance...
Suzuki's new "lite" DF90 outboard is the ideal power to preserve the shallow draft built into the 625-pound Boca Grande 18.
Length Overall: 18'2"
Dry Weight(w/o engine): 626 lb.
People/Weight Capacity: 4/581 lb.
Fuel Capacity: 30 gal.
Maximum HP: 130
MSRP (w/Suzuki DF90): $43,450
Test Engine: Suzuki DF90
Test Prop: Aluminum 13.75x21
Test Load: People (400 lb.), Fuel (30 gal.)
Top Speed: 42.9 mph @ 5,500 rpm
Time to Plane: 4.5 sec.
Time to 30 MPH: 9.0 sec.
Minimum Planing Speed: 19.5 mph @ 3,000 rpm