Thursday, July 21, 2011

Boat Review: Beavertail Skiffs New BT3 Test Drive In Key West, FL

Update: Since I first wrote this post last year I purchased a BT3 of my own. It is hands down the best 18 foot skiff on the market.
Capt. Mike Bartlett of Key West and his Beavertail BT3. 

Beavertail Skiffs new BT3 was introduced earlier this year and my buddy Capt. Mike Bartlett down in Key West purchased the first one.  I recently spent a weekend with him chasing tarpon, bones, and permit on the flats off the Southermost City and came away more than impressed with his new ride.  I've spent a good part of the last 20 years poling anglers across the shallows of Florida and the Caribbean on a variety of different skiffs and I can safely say that the Beavertail BT3 is easily one of the best flats boats ever built. 

I've been a big fan of this company and their boats since I purchased a 2006 B2 model to replace my thirteen year old Maverick Mirage. The 550 pound infused fiberglass Beavertail hull was almost half the price of its carbon fiber competitors but nearly equal in weight and performance.  On top of that, the customer service and hands on involvement from the owner and his staff was better than any company I've ever dealt with to this day.  Even though they were located in Minnesota at the time, they would always answer the phone anytime I called while they were building my skiff.

My 2006 Beavertail B2 on the flats off Vieques, Puerto Rico.
When Beavertail announced an entirely new design called the Vengeance was coming in 2009 I was eager to check it out and got the chance during a very windy week in Key West last year.  I came away highly impressed.  It was the smoothest and driest riding flats boat I've ever run and it poled like a dream.  Now built in Palmetto, FL by Aeon Marine, the Vengeance was clearly in the same class as boats like Maverick's HPX 18 or the Hell's Bay Marquesa, but over $10,000 less than the price of those two excellent hulls. 

The first production Beavertail Vengeance at the Hurricane Hole Marina, Key West, FL.  April, 2010.

The Vengeance hull was a great start for the new Beavertail lineup and the BT3 joined it this year with a wider beam and reconfigured deck.  Capt. Mike Bartlett's boat, which is rigged exclusively for the flats off Key West, was ordered with a Yamaha 90 4-stroke and a 3 blade stainless Power Tech prop.  Neither Mike or myself are speed demons so we cruised from spot to spot at 4400 rpms or 33 mph.  On our first day we ran 42 miles and burned less than 6 gallons of gas.

This new Beavertail runs so smooth and quiet that Mike's customers will easily be able to sleep off their hangovers on their way to the first flat. 
Running the BT3 toward the flats.

The front storage hatch and fuel tank.
Mike's BT3 has a center console with an integrated cooler/passenger seat in the front and the battery underneath for excellent weight distribution.  A side steering console is also available for this hull.  The forward storage compartment gives access to the removable 22 gal. fuel tank and the rear storage is also huge.  This aft compartment can be rigged as a tournament size release well.  Mike has a custom side mounted livewell instead that is perfect for a day's worth of crabs and shrimp.  The positioning of this well might seem odd at first but it allows him to quickly run between flats without rerigging his live bait each time.  He can simply set a spinning rod on the deck and dunk the hooked crab or shrimp back in the well and have it ready to fish a few minutes later. 
Mike's custom side mounted livewell.  A must have for any Keys based flat guide ordering this skiff.
The console holds the battery right at the boat's center of gravity.

Unlike the gusty condtions that marked my trip with the Vengeance last year, the weather was absolutely flawless for my first ride on the BT3.  With just a minor breeze and slight ripple on the surface, we obviously never got a drop of water on us while underway.  Poling after bonefish on a falling tide was effortless and the new Beavertail stops and spins as as easily as my old Maverick Mirage but not as quick as my current B2 with its narrower beam and much lighter 50hp 2-stroke engine.  The BT3 is an honest 6" draft skiff with two anglers and a full tank of gas. 

Poling before the wind kicks in at Marvin Key.

A quiet hull is one of the most crucial and difficult to design features of any poling skiff and the BT3 really has no slap regardless of how it's positioned in the water.  It was so quiet that Mike managed to pole me within a boat's lenght of a 20 pound permit that I finally hooked with a live crab.  The fish was totally unaware of our presence until it felt the hook.  This was just one dozens of permit that Mike has landed in the few short months that he's owned the new boat.  He's also managed to score a couple Grand Slams for his clients so far this season. 
A 20 pound permit caught within a boat's length of Capt. Mike's new BT3.

Like myself, Capt. Mike was also a long time Maverick owner and guide.  Switching brands after a decade of hard work and good service from one particular boat doesn't come easy, but the Beavertail was a serious leap forward in performance and value.  You can easily purchase a BT3 rigged like Mike Bartlett's for around $10,000 less than its competitors.

So what do you sacrifice when you choose to buy a Beavertail BT3 instead of a more established brand such as Maverick or Hell's Bay? 

Basically, nothing.  The price difference in those other hulls comes from their extensive use of carbon fiber, which reduces weight but dramatically increases cost.  Carbon fiber is an amazing and expensive substance that has been in the employed by skiff industry for over a decade.  The current line of Beavertails do not use carbon fiber and at 675 pounds the BT3 does not suffer any significant weight penalties when compared to its competition.  There are no sacrifices in utility or fit and finish either. 

In fact, here are the standard features of the BT3 as is comes from the factory in Palmetto, FL:

-100% vacuum-infused vinylester resin hull and deck-15" custom walkboards
-Two large multi-purpose boxes w/ stainless drains and fully insulated

-22 gallon ready-to-plumb insulated livewell w/ washdown capability. Compartment can also be used as dry storage or a cooler
-Custom anodized poling platform
-Custom non-skid on deck and cockpit
-Rod racks for up to 8 eleven foot rods
-Stainless flip-up bow cleat
-Flush-mount stainless hinges
-Heavy duty rub rail w/ polished stainless insert
-Stainless bow and stern eyes
-Stainless hatch latches
-Navigation lights fore and aft
-Dry gutters on all hatches
-Quiet, dry hatches w/ rubber gaskets
-Built-in spray rail
-Molded-in poling/tracking strakes
-Absolutely no-slide hull design
-No hull slap design hull
-Meets and exceeds Coast Guard floatation requirements

For the last two decades, the skiff market in Florida and especially down in the Keys, has been dominated by Maverick, Hell's Bay, and Dolphin.  Those three companies all make outstanding products and if you purchase one of those boats, either as a charter guide or recreational angler, your money will be well spent.  Now it's time to add Beavertail to that list. 

Is the BT3 the best flats boat that money can buy? 

No.  That award would have to go to the Chittum Islamorada, which at $63,000 is the Bugatti Veyron of flats boats. 

But if we're making sports car analogies, then the Beavertail BT3 is the Corvette ZR-1 of skiffs.  A working class hero that can run right along with anything else in its class and for a lot less money.