The Roplene polyethylene material we first told you about in a review of the Triumph 1700 Skiff presents an interesting alternative to fiberglass and aluminum construction for the angler shopping for a small boat. Triumph has a new offering in the 186 Sportsman, an 18-foot six-inch inshore fishing boat which represents an effort by Triumph to move into freshwater markets. The same hull will also be offered with a single side console, a dual console with full windshield, and in a fish ‘n ski format. I gave the TL (tiller) model powered by a 90-horsepower Evinrude outboard a quick demo, and came away impressed.

triumph 186 sportsman

Triumph hopes to break into the freshwater angling market with its 186 Sportsman, offered in this tiller configuration and three other styles.

Triumph currently offers 13 models, from 17 to 21 feet in length. The brand’s history dates to 1995, when it was called Logic and introduced a roto-molded polyethylene center console model. At boat shows that year a rep would use a sledge hammer to pound the “plastic” Logic hull, and then invite onlookers to give it a try. Those boats were tough but looked cosmetically crude. The process and material has been improved significantly since the company was acquired in 1999 by Genmar Holdings, and then moved in 2012 from North Carolina to Little Falls, Minn., following the bankruptcy of Genmar. The Triumph works are now on the same property as the Larson facility on the banks of the Mississippi River.

The roto-molding (rotational molding) process used to mold the Triumph boats is essentially the same as that use to make molded kayaks and all kinds of other products, except in this case it’s on a pretty big scale. Initially designed in CAD, the tooling is formed of cast and welded metal, and its shape may incorporate stowage compartments and live wells, seat and console bases, and a well for the fuel tank. The entire boat will be molded as a single part – there is no separate hull and deck. The metal mold is partially filled with Roplene in a powder form, suspended in a fixture that will rotate it, and placed in a 500-degree oven. As the metal mold heats, the Roplene powder begins to melt and cling to the interior surface of the mold. The rotation distributes the material evenly as it melts, and it reaches a wall thickness of about one-half inch. The mold is then allowed to cool. The entire process is computer-controlled through sensors in the mold. The finished part is hollow, and the cavity is filled with high-density (20-pound per cubic foot) foam in the transom, and much lower-density foam (three-pound) in the remaining volume. The boat is unsinkable without the foam, which Triumph says functions mostly to add sound-deadening and stiffness to the structure. The durability of the Roplene material is its biggest selling point – recall the sledge hammer bashing – and Triumph has produced videos depicting creative abusive behavior (dropping one on cement, dragging it through the woods, etc.) which never damages the boat.

triumph molding oven

The powder Roplene is baked in a rotating mold, which ensures even hull thickness throughout.

The Triumph 186 is next fitted with stainless steel transverse stringers to support the aft deck surface, which is a sheet of polyethylene material molded with a non-skid texture. A very generous 41-gallon fuel tank is placed below the deck. The hatch assembly over an eight-foot rod locker in each gunwale is a polyethylene insert, as is the lid for the 24-gallon live well located in the stern deck and for the anchor locker and stowage compartments in the bow. A console to port with room for instruments and switches is built up from polyethylene board. Some components, like the grab handles, are mounted with screws run right into the Roplene material, which is soft enough to hold well according to Triumph, which says those handles have been tested to withstand 500 pounds of pulling force.

The layout of the 186 Sportsman is typical for the type, with a raised casting deck forward with a single pedestal seat socket and four seat positions in the lower cockpit. There are three stowage compartments in the bow deck, with a cavity for a trolling motor battery in the center compartment. The cranking battery stows in a compartment in the starboard corner of the aft deck, opposite the live well. Snap-in carpet, a swim platform and boarding ladder, and a Bimini top are on the options list, along with a number of trolling motor and fish locator choices. The Sportsman TL is rated for 90 horsepower, and MSRP starts a little over $30,000 with a 90-hp Evinrude or Mercury FourStroke or OptiMax outboard, including a galvanized trailer with swing-away tongue. That’s a premium price. Consider that a Crestliner 1850 Pro Tiller (Outboard Expert: 2011 Crestliner 1850 Pro Tiller Review) with a 90-horsepower Mercury outboard and a trailer carries an MSRP that’s several thousand dollars less. You’ve got to be really sold on the benefit of Roplene over that of aluminum fishing boats to go with the Triumph.

I’ll say this for the Triumph; it feels really solid on the water. While underway I had the sensation that the only sound was coming from the Evinrude motor. There no harmonics or vibration through the hull, no sound of water flowing past the boat. Top speed was about 32 mph with that big fuel tank filled. It was a flat-calm day, so I can’t comment on how this boat might handle rough water.
Max. Draft1'2"
Deadrise16 degrees
Weight2,370 lbs
Fuel capacity41 gal.

The finished Roplene surface is not quite as shiny and smooth and fiberglass or painted aluminum, but it also won’t dent or chip or scratch like those materials. Triumph is also using a new color for 2013, a softer “off-white” rather than the brilliant white color material it’s used in the past. Larger vinyl hull graphics also dress the boats up a little.

I like everything about the Triumph Sportsman – heck, it’s even recyclable – except for its price. This boat is so tough you might never wear it out, and it’s likely to look new for a long time. Triumph has placed a fleet of these boats at a Canadian fishing lodge that claims to wear out aluminum boats in less than two seasons, and the lodge is pleased with the results. If you are really hard on your boat, there is a case to be made for the value of Roplene construction.

For information, visit Triumph Boats.