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Boat Review: Countess 170cc

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Fishing, skiing, tubing or cruising? You pick the memories you want to make and you can be sure the Countess 170 centre console will happily oblige by making every moment count. Take a cruise along the Knysna lagoon with us as we check out this locally-built beauty as it’s pitted with Mercury’s exciting new highpowered 115 HP CT outboard.

The 17-foot Countess centre console is no new-comer to the South African boating market – but each year this craft receives fresh new facelift upgrades to keep it in tune with the times. After all – it has always offered an exceptional ride quality, so there really is no need to go tinkering with the hull design. Over the recent years I have become rather well-acquainted with this model, having given it extensive use on Knysna lagoon, as well as in a small-swell ocean in Cape Town – and I believe that has equipped me well enough to adequately assess Mercury’s sensational new 115 HP Command Thrust 4-Stroke outboard.

As the latest Countess 170 cc has got minor cosmetic changes and has even been further improved upon since doing this review, I’m not going to rehash what you’ve read from me in previous years – instead, allow me to recap on the stand out features this craft has to offer before we dive into the crux of the all-new Mercury powerplant.

Deck layout

What I can appreciate about the team over at Marine and Powersports is that they’re continuously refining techniques and building practices to make the best product that they can. It’s not necessarily the things you can see, but rather what you can’t – and these things make the difference. Take for example the fact that the deck used to be built in three parts and then joined together to make the finished product; the 2017 version has seen this process being streamlined to be produced in one go, meaning better quality control and higher attention to detail. This year’s model has maintained all of the stand out features I liked – such as the stern seats which can be folded down to allow easy access to the boarding platforms, or folded up in order to get into the live-bait well or onboard cooler box. I also particularly like the dual console which is centred to give the skipper good visibility around the craft. It’s wide enough to seat yourself and the wife, and when you’re anchored at the sand bar, you are able to reverse the seat backrest which will allow you to face rearwards and watch your kids playing in the water. It’s important to note that the 170 cc is fully sea-capable – thanks to its wet deck with scuppers which are around 20 cm above the water at standstill, meaning any water should drain from the deck quickly – although, owing to high gunnels and a large splashwell which doesn’t detract from onboard space, I’d be surprised if any water did make it onboard in large amounts.

Deck layout

What I can appreciate about the team over at Marine and Powersports is that they’re continuously refining techniques and building practices to make the best product that they can. It’s not necessarily the things you can see, but rather what you can’t – and these things make the difference. Take for example the fact that the deck used to be built in three parts and then joined together to make the finished product; the 2017 version has seen this process being streamlined to be produced in one go, meaning better quality control and higher attention to detail. This year’s model has maintained all of the stand out features I liked – such as the stern seats which can be folded down to allow easy access to the boarding platforms, or folded up in order to get into the live-bait well or onboard cooler box. I also particularly like the dual console which is centred to give the skipper good visibility around the craft. It’s wide enough to seat yourself and the wife, and when you’re anchored at the sand bar, you are able to reverse the seat backrest which will allow you to face rearwards and watch your kids playing in the water. It’s important to note that the 170 cc is fully sea-capable – thanks to its wet deck with scuppers which are around 20 cm above the water at standstill, meaning any water should drain from the deck quickly – although, owing to high gunnels and a large splashwell which doesn’t detract from onboard space, I’d be surprised if any water did make it onboard in large amounts.

As if the Mercury designers had been watching a rerun of Frankenstein, they had the idea of taking their 90 and 115 HP platforms and gave them the option to be coupled to their V6 gearbox from the 150 HP motor which allows you to swing the much bigger V6-class Enertia propeller instead of the standard smaller BlackMax prop. Now, I know what you’re thinking – the motor still says 115 HP and in order to turn the prop as a 150 would, you need the extra horsepower. Right? Well, oddly enough, wrong. By some form of dark art, it just works. The big bore of the head, offering a displacement of 2 100 cc according to Marine and Powersports, is said to be the biggest in its class, allowing the torque to swing the much bigger prop. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not quite the same thing as a bigger engine with raw power, but, Mercury says that the Command Thrust gearbox is designed to give better pull off/hole shot on lighter boats, with a smooth progressive surge of power right up to full throttle.

Now, when news of these remarkable improvements broke, I assume I had the same “Yea, right” reaction as you may be having right now. It’s all just seemed too good to be true. Keep it in mind that this outboard weighs just 165 kg – two kilograms lighter than the previous 100 HP motor we’d tested!

The Marine and Powersports team were still in the process of selecting the right size prop for the motor and boat combination at the time of our review and that meant that the rev-limiter would kick in at three-quarter throttle – when there’s usually still plenty left in the tank. Even still, at 6 000 rpm we were reaching around 65 km/h on the gauge; previous top speed with the correct prop on a 100 HP was just 73 km/h.

While preliminary reports would seem to suggest that there may be an increase in top speed, usable power is also certainly up. Getting onto the plane or accelerating from 4 000 rpm is almost what I image it feels like to be on a rocket! In addition to the marked improvement brought on by Mercury’s 115 CT outboard, I noticed that the steering seems to be more refined – it appears as though the larger engine leg acts as big rudder to keep the boat stable and predictable in the turns.

With all things considered, this outboard has taken a superbly performing hull to even greater heights.

Conclusion

The Countess 170 cc is certainly up there in my category of favourites for this size boat. It’s a fun, reliable and safe boat that can pretty much do it all. Launching and retrieving is very possible if you’re just one person, making for stress-free cruising when you just need to get away. But, when the weekend comes, load up the family and water toys and get ready for the time of your life.

Pricing of the Countess 170 cc with a Mercury 115 HP CT gearbox starts at R365 000 which includes a boat cover and a high-quality sun canopy.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a budget deal, previous results show that you could easily fit from 80 HP to score roughly R40k on the pricetag and save for the accessories.

For more information contact Marine and Powersports on (044) 382 4090.

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