Alive and wellPosted on Written by
It’s rare that getting a late start or being behind the competition can prove to be an advantage, but that’s precisely how the executives at Groupe Beneteau see their relaunch of the Wellcraft name in the already crowded open fishing boat market.
“We are late to the market, so we have an opportunity to offer the best of what everyone else is already doing and design at least one or two true innovations into each boat,” says Christophe Lavigne, vice president of engineering and customer service for the four American brands — Wellcraft, Scarab jet, Four Winns and Glastron — that Groupe Beneteau purchased in 2014.
During the past two years, Wellcraft has certainly been busy, introducing nine new bay boats and center consoles. All carry the Fisherman name. The center consoles are badged with an even number and end in a “2” (182, 222, 242, 262 and 302).
They are also available as Scarab Offshore models — essentially a graphics and interior options upgrade. The bay boats are the 221 and 241 Fisherman, and they can be had with an optional Tournament package.
Lavigne is responsible for the American brands, which Groupe Beneteau builds in Cadillac, Mich. From the start he wanted to ensure that each brand has its own identity, so he worked with four design firms.
“My goal was to make sure I wasn’t designing another Four Winns with a Wellcraft name,” he says. “Every boat and brand needs to have their own personality.”
All of the boats in the Wellcraft Fisherman series were designed to share the same signature lines, including a raised sheer line from bow to stern, creating excellent freeboard and cockpit depth for fishing.
The design team retained the 23-degree deep-vee bottom of the Scarab offshore series, but widened the boat to make it more appealing to modern-day customers, many of whom buy a center console for use as a family boat as well as a fishing boat.
“We wanted true fishermen to really love the boats, but we also wanted them to be attractive to a larger group of customers with families and children,” Lavigne says.
All of the boats in the Fisherman series can be ordered with a family package that includes bow seating and a table, although owners also can get the boat with no seats to have as much fishing space as possible.
One of the most unique design elements of the new 302 Fisherman, which made its official debut at the 2017 Miami International Boat Show, is the hinged wing built into the port side of the windshield. It opens in concert with the hatch built into the port side of the console to provide easier entry to the private head compartment.
On many center-console models in this size range, the front of the console is hinged and it rises on pneumatic struts for access to the head compartment. Wellcraft designers thought this approach created a heavier hatch and limited the size of the lounge on the front of the console. Using the port-side door let them create a bigger entryway to the console, and it gives the 302 Fisherman a larger console lounge with more storage in the base.
To get real-world comment on the design of its bay boats and center consoles, Wellcraft consulted Capt. Glyn Austin, who runs Going Coastal Charters (goingcoastalcharters.com) in Palm Bay, Fla. Austin also spent 21 years in public relations at Bombardier, the parent company of Evinrude outboards.
Austin fished a 221 Fisherman for a season and worked with Wellcraft on all of the new models. Describing the 302 Fisherman, he says, “It’s not a hard-core fishing boat, but it’s a functional boat that’s comfortable for the family.”
His goal for all of the boats was to make sure they have the seating, features and storage to appeal to a family and have “functional” fishing features, such as adequately sized live wells. Austin has stepped aboard many boats and found that they have undersized wells.
On the 262 and 302 Fisherman there are dual 23-gallon live wells, and the 221 Fisherman has a 34-gallon unit. All are finished in blue and have rounded corners to ease stress on the fish. Lastly, Austin wanted to ensure that whoever is maintaining the boats has access to on-board systems such as live well pumps and batteries, so Wellcraft provided plenty of inspection plates and larger hatches.
Other highlights on boats in the Fisherman series include three-level footrests for the captain and companion on the console, and front access to the storage compartments on the T-tops on the bay boats so anglers don’t have to walk all the way aft to the helm to get to something inside. For more enjoyable cruising, on the 302 Fisherman the cooler in the base of the leaning post can be replaced by an optional electric grill.
Although all of the new Wellcraft models can be used for freshwater fishing, Groupe Beneteau has done its homework when it comes to its target audience. Lavigne says 13,385 center consoles were sold in the U.S. last September and 5,011 of them were sold in Florida, so the company’s primary focus is the Sunshine State.
Retail pricing for the 302 Fisherman starts at $183,646 with a pair of 250-hp Mercury Verado 250XL 4-stroke outboards or $184,262 with twin Evinrude E-Tec G2 250X 2-strokes.
The Scarab Offshore Trim Package is a $1,308 upgrade that includes graphics and padded mats for the cockpit, helm and rod storage. The Family Package has a price of $2,462 and comes with a bow seating package, a bow table and removable forward-facing backrests.
For the bay boats, the 221 Fisherman starts at $49,100 with a Mercury 150XL 4-stroke or $49,485 with an Evinrude E-Tec 150DPX 2-stroke.
After taking orders for 33 new boats at the Miami show, Wellcraft is off to a strong start this year. The 202 Fisherman will be unveiled this summer, and consumers could see a new model in the 35-foot range by the fall. The company implemented a new marketing strategy with some dealers at the Miami show and will discuss its plans more openly at the Fort Lauderdale show in November.
“We are not a big player yet, but the growth has been unbelievable,” Lavigne says. “When Beneteau acquired the company we made it a point to relaunch the Wellcraft brand. We’re going to be a player in that segment.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue.