You strive to balance work, family, and leisure time, so why shouldn't your boat do the same? If you can have only one boat-and we're betting that's the case-it better do it all. Your wife and kids should enjoy it as much as you do. For them, it has to be totally comfortable, for you eminently fishable, and of course for everyone's sake, it must be economically feasible. The best package we've found that accomplishes all this is the 26' walkaround-style of fishboat.
It's big enough for a good ride at sea, has a real cabin that offers weather protection, and there's plenty of room to swing a rod (or three). It's a great combo. The only problem is choosing the right one from a crowded field of contenders.
So how do you pick a winner? Don't fret-that's what we're here for. We arranged to test a fleet of five from some of the best builders: the Boston Whaler 255 Conquest, Century 2600 WA, Cobia 270 WA, Grady-White Islander 270, and Pro-Line 26 Walk. We ran them all in the same place, at the same time, in the same three-foot choppy conditions-that means no hedging when we talk about performance and handling in rough seas. We looked at fishability and livability, then checked how each would affect your wallet. No ifs, ands, or buts-we found a winner. But all these boats were strong contenders for different reasons. Check them out. One of them might be your next boat.
Bop 'N Chop
We try to have equal boats with equal power for these comparisons. But the Century and Cobia were delivered with twin engines that in some cases doubled the power of the contenders with single engines. Had they come with a single 250, we predict that they would have been right in line with the others, giving a top speed in the 38-to-45-mph range.
Charging into the snotty seas, the Boston Whaler's ride was smooth. No ancillary gear vibrated, we stayed completely dry, and the hull met oncoming waves with a muted thud instead of the dreaded slam and bang. In calm water we hit a top end of 42 mph with only 225 hp, the fastest of any single-engine contender. We did, however, encounter a couple of difficulties getting to that speed. Our boat didn't lift fully onto plane until over 3500 rpm, whereupon the bow dropped by three degrees and speed jumped by almost 10 mph. It would also fall off plane just as suddenly. Having little midrange planing speed could mean handling issues when you slow for rough seas.
With 400 hp on the transom, the Century ran a blistering 53.9 mph, which was only sixth-tenths of a mph slower than the lighter, higher-powered Cobia. You pay for this speed, however, by catching more air than water-our knuckles were white from gripping the pipework. Though the landings weren't accompanied by any apparent damage, they were loud-bam! We had to slow to around 30 mph to find the Century's comfort zone, where the ride became smoother and quieter.