After a year’s worth of testing more than a hundred new boats, our test team has seen a few that stand out from the pack. Naturally, after all this throttle time, our team has compared and contrasted the models and arrived at a consensus on our favorites for 2011.
This isn’t about perfection or a quota or a category. Nor is it simply about superlatives, such as largest, fastest or flashiest. Our judging criteria are consistent from year to year. How well does the boat meet the mission to which it was designed by the manufacturer? Does it do it with consideration to the safety standards in effect today? And has the manufacturer maintained a strong track record in owner satisfaction?
We admit that there are some subjective judgments in a process sprinkled with perils. But, at the end of a test, when we say to ourselves, “That is cool,” that’s a boat that will be in the nomination process — if not a winner.
Cabo 44 HTX
The hardtop enclosure aboard the 44 HTX eliminates that boaters’ bane — canvas. In doing so, it provides climate-controlled comfort, great looks and ventilation via sliding windows and an overhead hatch.
We also cheered the cockpit mezzanine, which allows five crew members — those not presently grasping a bent rod — to watch the battle without being underfoot, a neat trick in this size boat while retaining room to swing a fighting chair.
Steaming to the grounds, the 44 HTX paved a smooth road through five-footers in excess of 30 knots. Visibility from the helm is excellent — the best we’ve experienced aboard an express of this size.
Belowdecks, the staterooms are separated by the head, with its generous shower, instead of sharing a bulkhead. The arrangement enhances privacy, while the unique athwartship galley opens up the salon. The pièce de résistance? An optional “tackle room” in which to showcase your tackle and gear.
"Practical innovations driving the evolution of the open express with superior fishabaility and comfort" - Brent Barkley, program manager, Cabo Engineering
Replacing its venerable 45 with a fully enclosed helm express, Cabo delivered on its mission statement.
Intrepid 400 Cuddy
Riding Intrepid’s next-generation stepped hull, the 400 Cuddy eliminates handling intimidation in any seas. We were delighted with the crisp, yet light, feel at the helm regardless of the way we hit waves — and through a rigorous regimen of test maneuvers. This tangible feel of balance stands out even more than does the boat’s 300-mile range and 65 mph top speed.
From the custom-painted hull color to the hullside dive door to the retractable electronics pod, the 400 Cuddy is over the top. With its massive cockpit, center helm and forward lounge area between command console and cabin, the 400 Cuddy’s topsides provides the flexibility to pursue all of your waterborne passions. Belowdecks, the twin stateroom layout will host a dockside soiree one weekend then serve as a cruising getaway the next. Skylights, hatches and hull windows make this cabin most inviting. Fish, dive, cruise and entertain? Yes. The 400 Cuddy’s ownership experience is without equal.
"Packing superior quality and custom design into a truly versatile boat outfitted to fish, dive, cruise or entertain in first-class comfort.” — Mark Beaver, chief operations officer
We’ve not seen another boat that does so much so well.
Monterey 328SS Anniversary
The 328SS Anniversary’s crisp lines ensure this boat will not be mistaken for any other, all the while screaming, “Take me out!” We were happy to oblige.
The 328SS Anniversary charged across the wave-churned water, shouldering through confused seas with the power of a Clydesdale and the grace of a Lipizzaner stallion. Our initial instinct to throttle back proved moot as wave after wave rushed beneath us without complaint from boat or crew. The 328SS Anniversary will provide its owner with more boating days as a result of its wave-taming performance.
Accommodations include a cuddy, making it suitable for a couple overnighting occasionally. The platform and sun pad are stylish and functional. The plug-and-play electric grill is a stroke of genius. A networked electrical system is operated via LCD screens, and the optional Volvo Penta stern-drive joystick allows the 328SS Anniversary to dance while docking. It melds performance, style, function and technology.
"Creating a hard-edged, 32-foot bowrider with striking exterior lines and unique features throughout." - Mark Owens, vice president of design and engineering
Was it ever. We were all pleased and surprised by the experience this boat delivers.
Stamas 308 Predator
“I fell in love with the Stamas Predator when I stepped aboard it,” said Boating editor-in-chief Randy Vance. A clean fighting cockpit with a handy rigging station and livewell made the boat fishable from the factory. The integrated cobia tower complete with a second Yamaha helm and Garmin GPS equipment added even more fishability and, for families, a third dimension for space to hang out. The deck was clean and ready for fishing; the helm comfortable. Stamas rigged its craft with Teleflex digital throttle and shift to ease operation at the main station and cobia tower. It’s a breeze to drive. We were impressed with the serviceability of the Predator, with its easy access to all pumps, fittings, fuel tanks and through-hulls.
The smooth Suzuki engines on board are quiet and powerful. We put the 308 over hard in heavy chop and felt confident throughout the turns. The Stamas brand is a special rarity in the marketplace, offering an opportunity for a custom build at production prices.
"Our customers wanted their new Predator to provide an easy ride in seas and be stable while trolling or bottomfishing and economical at the fuel pump.” — John Stamas, president
Our tests showed the 308 Predator to have plenty of speed and acceleration with the modest Suzuki 175s and all the amenities to make it fun to fish and easy to own.
Pursuit DC 265
Dual-console hulls have waxed and waned in popularity over the years, but the advent of the DC 265, built specifically with the Yamaha V-8 outboard in mind, set a standard that other builders will aim for as family-friendly, dual-console fishers continue to grow in popularity.
Building first with family comfort in mind, Pursuit employed foldaway aft seating that wraps from the portside console seat with integral cooler to the starboard-side transom door. Best of all, for anglers, the seats flip down, clearing the deck for fishing action.
Style and quality are evident in this boat’s sweeping lines, matched perfectly with the molded hardtop and windshield rim and powder-coated hardtop supports — all tastefully complementary to the 265’s hull colors.
"We believed the angling, family-boater marketplace was ready for a new design built with modern production techniques and packed with durable yacht-caliber features and styling consistent with our company’s heritage.” — Tom Slikkers, president
We’ve seen no other dual console sporting the luxurious detailing in the hull and fixtures, and we’ve seen few that have comparable comfort features with such strong fishability.
Chris-Craft Corsair 28
We won’t even call this classic styling, because Chris-Craft has brought sexy curves and lines to the boat that can be so well-accomplished only with the modern building techniques it employs. Sure, somehow its stylists find special materials like in the dash panel trim, and they add traditional glamour with the yacht ensign flown from a transom flagstaff, but it’s done in a 21st century way that stands out distinctly.
On the water, the Corsair rumbles softly, tapping into the romance of early performance, but doing so with modern and efficient engines of today. Power steering and ultrasmooth throttle and shift mechanisms make the boat seem to respond more to the thoughts of the captain than to his motions. This is why the Corsair 28 is one of our top picks for 2011.
"Our customer is experienced and on his fifth or sixth boat, so to serve him, the Corsair 28 was designed with refined elegance in the lines, warmth in the use of wood, bright work, quality materials, and all that with sporty performance.” — Chris Collier, vice president of engineering
Construction detail is so polished even the rub rail and trim’s screw heads are aligned in the gleaming hardware and hinges to complete the look.
The gelcoat luster is mirrorlike and broken beautifully only by the concave features aft of midships. These features add rigidity to the hull, reducing noise, but the real reason Cobalt employed a five-piece mold is to make the look so unassailably beautiful it could be had only from the Neodesha, Kansas, luxury boatbuilder.
Cobalt didn’t quit with the hull shape, though. It went inside the cockpit and filled it with sturdy, Euro-style seating that has firm cushions covered in leather-grain vinyl stitched in Cobalt’s own factory. Even the dash is molded and vinyl-covered in Neodesha.
On the water, the A25 is a racehorse and, at rest, provides the most beautiful relaxation platform we’ve seen, thanks to its optional power swim platform that lowers to create a handy swim step or seat.
Cobalt’s consistent application of Midwestern ingenuity and superior work ethic makes its products front-runners year after year.
"The A25's elegant and distinctive shape is a tribute to the engineering team's development of the five-part tooling, and we are pleased to see our customers and dealers’ excitement over it.” — Paxson St. Claire, CEO
The A25’s three-dimensional freeboard, with fins morphing from the side to the platform, puts it untouchably ahead on style in its class.
Grady-White 230 CC
Our test staff is bullish on the new model because of a number of features only the best boats carry. Guttered storage hatches covering above-the-waterline storage compartments are sealed with rubber gaskets, eliminating water intrusion and silencing rattles in rough water. Even the insulated fish boxes in the forward seating are above the waterline and drain by gravity, not failure-prone pumps.
“We’ve always stayed away from pumps,” says David Neese, vice president of engineering. “None of our boxes need to be pumped, and they are all insulated for keeping fish or drinks, and gasketed for dry storage.”
Grady’s patented mechanism on the aft jump seat stows-and-goes more easily than any we’ve seen — almost like pushing a button.
Another part of Grady’s popularity comes from the reliable reputation of Yamaha power. Generally, nothing is left out on Gradys, and even the smaller 230 has a full complement of Yamaha Command Link instruments, including digital throttle and shift coupled with hydraulic steering for butter-smooth operations to match its seakeeping capabilities.
“If there’s one good word for this boat, it’s versatility. It’s got to be a great fishing boat and keep the family in mind.” — David Neese, vice president of engineering
Grady’s 230 enhances the company’s reputation for durable versatility by combining understated elegance with comfortable appointments.
Rinker Captiva 200 MTX
Though it retails for less than $30,000 ($28,881 with a 220 hp MerCruiser 4.3-liter MPI Alpha stern-drive), the Captiva 200 MTX impressed us with many features more typical of pricier boats. It has a hidden boarding walkway integrated into the platform, faux-stone trim, recessed grab rails and gas-strut hatch lifts standard. In the options lineup, the boat is available with a unique — and eye-catching — aft-mounted, cantilevered wakeboard tower that creates less obstruction and increases visibility compared with traditionally mounted towers.
It also boasts the MTX hull design, merging the roomy bow cockpit we applauded with excellent weight distribution for carrying the whole gang. Rated for nine people, you actually can seat that many comfortably aboard the 200 MTX. Though it delivers sporty pickle-fork styling, the MTX rides a user-friendly V-hull that responded crisply and uneventfully to our input at the helm. All of this comes in an easily trailerable package that will fit inside many garages.
"Delivering unequaled interior spaciousness, unique styling and classleading performance that’s convincingly above the status quo.” — Kim Slocum, president
Our testing validated Rinker’s mission statement, and its style is unique in its class.