Wilker 20 Review by Andy Adams

Photographs by Peter A. Reid

Fast, dry cuddy cabin. High freeboard, easy planning and lots of power keep the Canadian built Wilker up front in Lake Ontario charter fleet. Low price makes it an easy choice.

If Wilker Boats rings a bell you've probably been around powerboats for a few years. The 28-footers that Floyd Wilker used to build in his shop in London, Ontario were highly regarded but not very numerous. After 23 years Floyd retired and Tom Crowford took over with, if possible, even greater enthusiasm. Tom still gets inquiries about wooden cabin cruisers, but these days all Wilker boats are fibreglass.

Unlike many of his competitors, however, Tom builds only hand laid moldings with mat and roving - no chopper guns. It costs more but the boats are generally better for the extra time and energy.

The larger cabin cruisers are not being built now; there are plans, however, to get up to about 25 feet again because the market is ripe for this sort of boat. Meantime, Wilker's flagship is the 20-ft cuddy cabin. We tested it one very rough, sunny day near the Port Credit Yacht Club.

Wilker 20 - HelmLake Ontario was featuring rollers that day, running 4 to 6 feet in an irregular pattern. Deep troughs appeared from nowhere and occasional waves were breaking - not really a day fit for small craft. The going was generally very slow, but we weren't the only ones out.

Tom Crowford was there, one of a great number of fishermen all trying to win the Great Salmon Hunt - and the Wilker boat and trailer and Jeep Cherokee offered as first prizes. Sales of Gravol likely reached a peak that day.

Photographer Peter Reid and I had work to do, so out we headed. When we first saw the 20-ft Wilker, we were impressed with her generous freeboard and solid, traditional lines. We left the harbour with a few · other boats, mostly 32 Canadian Yachting fishing charter boats about the size of the Wilker, and quickly left them in our wake; they were ploughing out into the teeth of it, bows high and doing under 10 miles an hour.

Trim under and a quick jab at the 228’s throttle - and we were planing out at 25 mph. The Wilker rides high with her bow up into the weather and always seemed to stay in that ride attitude even as we descended the lee side of the rollers. She never ploughed and wouldn't have taken on a drop but for the wind which blew the spray back.

Wilker 20 - forepeakGlorious sun accompanied high winds, so we had the top down and we threw spray outward 30 feet while making our way out into the lake.

My first criticism involves behaviour in the rough conditions and with blowing spray. The helm side wiper, an $85 option, had a path that cleared the upper two-thirds of the windshield. It was not really in my line of sight and eventually I called it quits with the wiper altogether as the spray was sheeting anyway and the wiper became nothing more than a distraction.

This could be easily corrected by repositioning the wiper on the skiff windshield frame or, better yet, by moving it into the dash to wipe upward where the wind would help clear it instead of hampering it.

A second criticism is one that applies to many boats: the wheel and helm seat are out of alignment. In this case, the wheel was about 5-in. starboard of the seat's centreline.

Two problems arise from this positioning. One, the pilot must reach slightly sideways to have both hands on the wheel, but this is not very noticeable because the seat swivels and is very comfortable anyway. Two, and more difficult: at the medium and low speeds we were running, the throttle control lever comes quite close to the wheel rim at about the four o'clock position - so turning the wheel can result in skinned knuckles and crossed-up hands.

Wilker 20 - Merc 228The wheel itself is mounted in an almost-vertical position - that's good, and it's just high enough to allow stand ing

operation. The helm seat is nicely upholstered and adjusts in several ways, so it gets an excellent rating. All the controls are easily visible; instruments are mounted vertically and glare never affects the driver's view.

Outward vision is good and isn't particularly obstructed even with the top up. The windshield has an opening centre section and was sturdy and well-finished. It would have benefitted, however, from opening side vents, as the sun and spray can mist the inside of the glass easily under conditions such as we met the day we ran this test.

The swivel helm seat is paired with a back-to-back sleeper type on the port side, upholstered with particularly soft

padding. The seat is somewhat wider than most sleepers in similar boats, which results in a cushy interior seating arrangement. The usual two small jump seats flank the engine box at the stem; they aren't all that comfortable, especially when things get wet.

Wilker 20 - CabinBehind that area is a lift-up cover for stowing the top. This is a nice idea, seen on many pricier boats, but I have never seen another top storage well that would take the whole top plus the camper-back option. The boot on the Wilker simply swallowed the whole assembly without the slightest difficulty. Very neat indeed.

As one would expect, the cockpit sole is carpeted and the inside is finished properly, right up to the gunwales. There is storage under the floor with a lift-up hatch, and some storage for paddles and extinguishers in the sides.

At the dash there are matching teak dash faces - the helm side with the instruments and the passenger side with a fairly deep glove box. It's high enough so you could stash several bottles safely away in there, although there isn't a rack for the purpose. All well and good but under each side there is another storage well with a rather sharp edge and no padding. For most people and most uses, this is handy; on a day such as the test day it is a hazard to knees. I have the marks to prove it from one occasion when we really stuffed the Wilker 20 into a trough.

More storage space is provided in the cuddy cabin under the V-berth and around the sides. The head is in the centre of the V near the cabin door (as is most often the case) and a lift-up cushion covers it when it's not in use. There's a holding tank and a pump-out connection - all expected, these days.

Wilker 20 - DeckThe V-berth area is a good size, with ample headroom for a 20-ft boat, thanks to a deep fore-foot and the slightly raised deck. There is a port side porthole with a screen, a nice touch, and a tinted glass hatch in the deck itself. It lets in light and is large enough to use for deck access. Great.

The cabin ceiling is finished in a fluffy synthetic material which looks like it might have good insulation properties and adds a cozy feel, but Peter Reid and I felt it wasn't up to the standards of the rest of the boat for quality appearance. Fake fur just isn't businesslike.

There's no attempt at a galley and we weren't expecting one in a 20-ft boat, but a number of people will spend quite a bit of time on Wilker 20s because the charter-boat fishermen have taken notice and are buying. At 20 feet she's not really as big as a charter boat should be, but there are other considerations.

The lines of the Wilker will look a bit dowdy to some, but there's method to the design. She has a very blunt bow and her quite pronounced flare throws off some of the spray and softens the cruelest blows far better than you would expect. By drawing the bow line down straight instead of raking it back sharply, the Wilker effectively gains a longer hull at the keel line, which helps bridge waves and distribute shock over a larger area.

Wilker 20 - RunningShe has a sharp entry as well, with two correctly designed lift strakes and a hard chine that's reversed for throwing spray out and down and runs all the way from the transom to the bow to add more lift. From the bow, one would expect the Wilker to have a lot of dead rise at the transom. Not so. She is round-bilged and has only a moderate V at the transom. A round boat is more sea-kindly under a wide variety of situations than a boat with flat hull surfaces. The moderate angle on the hull at the transom combines with a fairly narrow beam at the chines, letting the boat roll and sink slightly at the stem while still giving lots of lift in recovery and during planning.

The Wilker 20 isn't your typical 1979 boat design but it's very well suited to big water for this size craft. It isn't surprising that the charter-boat fishermen feel the Wilker will get them out and back fast in all weather conditions. But there's more to it than just being sea-kindly.

The charter-boat boys know they are there to at least make enough money to pay for the boat (if not turn a profit), so

the initial price and the lasting value are carefully considered before buying. One onlooker commented while we were testing the Wilker, "That's my next boat.” The 20-ft Wilker with every available option lists at $16,205 with the 228 hp Mercruiser stem drive and power steering. That's a lot of boat for the money; to see it the charter operator's way, she'll be paid for fast.

That's not the only thing that's fast about the Wilker either. When you want to beat a storm in, you need a good turn of speed in a small boat and the Wilker with a 228 hp Mere has it. We recorded a top speed of 41 mph for the boat and engine combination with the engine hours’ meter (a standard feature, by the way) reading only 4.5 hours running.

This particular boat wasn't nearly broken in and the 15.5 in. by 19-in. prop wasn't really right either since she would only turn 4,200 rpm with that combination. Adding a cupped stainless steel prop should see a properly run-in Wilker 20 to more than 45 mph with a light load. That’s really flying for a “dowdy-looking" boat - and she planes off fast, too. Even over-propped with a three-blade aluminum she fairly leaps when you pop the throttle. The 228 will hold the plane down past 2,000 rpm as well, which says a lot about the boat's flexibility.

Credit where credit is due: the 228 Mercruiser is a gem. Torquey, flexible and free-revving, the 228 never missed a beat. It reversed, handled well, and tracked a true course without undue correction. The power steering was always light and precise regardless of how the boat was trimmed.

The Mercruiser control has the trim and tilt buttons built into a hefty handle where you never have to fumble around or guess at what you're doing. This is an excellent arrangement and the sort of thing that should have been done years ago. My only complaint with any aspect of the Wilker's controls was a slight hitch in the throttle movement at about three quarters throttle. The lever would bind and seem to be out full; with a bit of pressure applied, down she'd go with a surge. A kink in the cable is likely responsible and it didn't do it every time, so it's not serious.

Standing or sitting, fast or slow, big open water or calm harbour, the Wilker was a pleasure to run. This is a much bigger boat than the 20-ft length would lead you to expect. The fit and finish everywhere was good - especially the glass work, obviously thick and carefully done, with a glossy smooth surface. Special mention should be made of the teak liberally added to the interior, where it won't deteriorate badly. It adds a really warm feel.

When you consider the price, the Wilker is a quality boat that can hold its head up in any company.

 

Originally published in Canadian Yachting’s December 1979 issue.

 

Specifications:

Length - 19ft 8in

Beam - 94in

Engine - 198hp Merc

Weight with engine - 3,260 lbs

 

Photo Captions:

Photo 1 - High freeboard and bluff bow make the Wilker dry and practical. 

Photo 2 - A common problem on small stern drives is an offset helm. Otherwise visibility is goaded instruments are easily read.

Photo 3 - Fuzzy finish in forepeak is less than businesslike for a fishing boat. 

Photo 4 - Merc 228 gets top marks for easy to handle power.

Photo 5 - Canopy disappears neatly into the transom locker. Seating is comfortable but aft area can be wet. The Wilker’s deep forefoot and bluff bow make for a roomy cuddy cabin. Two hatches provide light.

Photo 6 - Windshield wipers were found to be less than adequate. Centre section opens outwards to deck.

Photo 7 – the Wilker 20 out running.

 

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