The dayboat-spawn of a bowrider and a cruiser-is a large, fast, seating-filled vessel with just enough cabin to provide clothes-changing privacy, an enclosed head, and perhaps a double berth and a simple galley. Simply put, Cobalt's 323 may be the best dayboat ever. Here's why.
THE DEEP. Step aboard the 323 and you're struck by the depth of its cockpit. Though the minimum depth of 1'3" is correct, that's only one measurement, taken at the raised walkway that leads to the platform. The remainder of the cockpit averages 3'3", which is about waist-high to a six-footer. That's deep enough to provide exceptionally tall (read: comfortable) lounge backrests, keep guests from getting blasted by wind, and allow you to be fully weather protected at the wheel while standing. All good attributes in a dayboat.
But there's more than depth afoot. One subtle space enhancer you'll notice immediately is the 323's windshield. Its corners are curved, not square, allowing more cockpit space. Cobalt arranged the 323's seating so that it begins aft of the motors. In other words, the sole rides right over the engines. This creates an exceptionally long cockpit, and one with a single-level sole to boot, which is perfect for a boat designed to have a crowd milling about all day. It's similar in layout to Regal's 3350 ($176,996 powered like our test boat), in my view the 323's most direct competitor. Regal's twist was to start the 3350's seating at the engine compartment. It also has a single-level sole.
The 323's seating arrangement provides the attributes cited, plus one more: If some guests aren't used to boats, the cockpit depth offers a psychological security blanket should you desire to wring some horsepower out of the engines. And why wouldn't you?
The 323 delivers visceral thrills. Crank the wheel at 50 mph and the 323 whirls like a dervish. Now straighten your course and trim out. With twin 375-hp MerCruiser 496 MAG MPI Bravo Three stern drives, four crew, full fuel, and full water, my test boat rocketed to 54.3 mph. It tracked straight at moderate speeds, and I found it handy around the dock. All of this took place on freshwater and at 1,600 feet above sea level, where a 2.2:1 gear ratio might have been optimal. Still we over-revved by 160 rpm, leading me to conclude that, even fully loaded, I'd expect better performance at the coast.
DESIGN DRIVE. The 323's seating placement also raises the freeboard to a point that could have been unattractive. But Cobalt mostly hid the height by trading its signature straight sheer for a reverse sheer. This looks good in profile but affects the shape of the bow to the detriment of those walking out on the foredeck. It's a steep slope-I measured a 9-degree incline-tapering to a narrow triangle at the anchor locker. Both the Regal 3350 and Formula's 330 Sun Sport ($204,270 powered like our tester) offer much more secure foredecks on which to handle lines and rode.
Getting on the 323's bow is no problem, however. A set of stairs slides from its hiding place in the companionway to provide secure footing. Moving aft, you'll note more cool engineering at the triple-wide companion lounge, where flip-flop backrests morph into an aft-facing recliner. Farther aft, the cockpit table swings out from a lounge backrest (you'd never know it was there) on a heavy stainless-steel assembly. At the platform you'll find another flip-flop backrest, this one serving the aft lounge or flipping out of the way to make a three-tanner sunpad. That sunpad, made of dense, high-quality foam, flips open in two places, revealing a huge cooler and bulk stowage. The neatest bit of hardware is the swim step. Mounted on the centerline, a stainless-steel pipe with a step at its bottom flips out and down, extending 1'10" below the waterline. It makes boarding easy. And because the step is the size of a bicycle seat, you can sit astride it, facing the boat, and use the swim platform as a bar. I suggest having Cobalt install a couple more of these, which they will do, for "wet" bar purposes. An actual wetbar, with refrigerator, hot and cold sink, cutting board, and stowage, resides in the cockpit.
Getting to the engines beneath their electric hatch was easy, and I found almost all service points at my fingertips. An exception being the main breakers, which were clumsily installed high and forward. In fact, they're mounted to the back of the abovedeck battery switch locker. Simply installing the mains on the other side of the bulkhead they're already mounted to would make access easy. Cobalt agreed, saying the location would be changed on forthcoming boats. But check it out to make sure. My only other gripe topside related to the under-lounge stowage. This drains to the bilge, but with the 323's high freeboard, there's no reason not to make these compartments self-bailing.
KOZY KABIN. Most adults won't stand up straight in the 323's cabin. Nor will they in the Formula or Regal for that matter. Aboard dayboats, such height isn't a requirement. But luxury is hardly forsaken. You'll find faux-ostrich coverings, a huge V-lounge smothered in Austrian leather, a comfortable head, and a minimalist galley. There's even an MP3 port installed, the first I've seen aboard a boat. A couple could spend the night, but have no delusions about camping with the kids. This cabin, like this boat, is ideal for those who boat in four-hour doses.
EXTRA POINT: Cobalt uses LED lighting topside for efficiency and durability, yet uses incandescent fixtures belowdecks for the warmer glow these "old-fashioned" lights provide.