Baja 292 Islander: Toy Box

Full of fun.

Here's a pop quiz for you perfmance boat buyers. Besides speed, what's the one thing you can never have too much of? Give up? The answer is... stowage! Don't take my word for it. Just visit any dock on any weekend and catch the show as befuddled go-boaters try to ram and jam and cram aboard all manner of clothes, gear, and cheese snacks - not to mention those giant rubber inflatable wingamathings. It's a regular day at the circus.

Well, those days may be over. Baja has launched its new 292 Islander, which features some of the best stowage designs I've ever seen. Let's start with the enormous insole locker abaft the side-by-side helm bolsters. The compartment is at least 4' wide and 2' deep, with smaller boxes formed by the stringers. I actually climbed inside it and closed the lid. Using twin gas shocks, the lid raises from the front and stays up on its own. Part of the traverse support at the front edge of the locker is cut out so you can crawl through it to check on the hull or some of the rigging. You can also access the freshwater tank, which is held fast by the outboard stringer to port. And it's easy to get a wrench on the backing nuts for the helm bolsters from inside this locker.

The sunlounge on top of the engine hatch also uses gas struts to open up, revealing two large lockers - ideal for docklines, PFDs, or towels. Another plus: There's a nonslip walkthrough that extends from the swim platform to the cockpit. You can move across it without stepping on the upholstery. All the way forward, in the point of the bow, is an anchor locker with a clip for Danforth-style grounding tackle.

A horseshoe-shaped bench seat wraps around the aft section of the cockpit with stowage in the base. Again, Baja has gone above and beyond the call of duty. Under the side cushions are 1'-deep, drop-in plastic bins. Across the back are drop-in fender pockets, plus room for lines and other extra equipment. Here you'll also find the battery switches, circuit breakers, and battery jumper posts.

THE HIGHS: Enough stowage for all that stuff your family brings boating. Onboard compressor is great for toys. A hull that runs over 50 mph through sloppy chop and planes at low speeds.** **

THE LOWS: Windshield frame in driver's line of sight when seated. Lack of ventilation in cabin. Transom shower hose stretched across exhaust brings new meaning to hot shower.

But wait. There's more. In the bow walkthrough is a wastebasket mounted on the inside of the large port hatch that also features lots of room to stash deflated water toys plus an air compressor (part of the Adventure Package, $2,210). Just ahead to port, adjacent to the bow seating area, there's a secured locker that has racks to accommodate wakeboards or fishing rods.

The swim platform has yet another locker that offers wet stowage and covers the boarding ladder. I would have liked a grabrail on the trailing edge of the transom because if you've ever climbed a ladder, you know that once you're up two steps, you then have nothing to reach for between the swim step and the transom.

STRRRETCH. Now that you have your gear stowed, stretch out and relax. On the bow's starboard side are a pair of chaise-lounge-style seats that face forward. Backrests are mounted on the leading edge of the mid-cabin. Want to extend the capacity of the bench? Then you should order the filler cushions ($660).

For easier bow access, Baja designed a walkthrough along the portside of the 292 Islander. To enter the cabin, slide open the hatch near the helm. There's a portable head you can use if the filler cushions are removed. But if you want fresh air, your only option is to leave the hatch open. I would have designed a pair of screened side ports-one in the hull and one in the walkthrough-for some cross ventilation. Also, near the helm is the galley, which can be equipped with a refrigerator ($920) and stove ($420).

Competitors? On its 288 Bowrider ($82,957 with the same power as our test boat), Crownline also has designed a small cabin in the helm console, but the head is placed separately inside a compartment on the opposite side of the bow walkthrough. Crownline loses seating with this approach, but some buyers prefer a head compartment outside the cabin. On its 292 Bowrider ($93,555, again powered as our test boat), Cobalt placed the head within a compartment on the portside of the center walkthrough. Instead of a mid-cabin on the starboard side, however, Cobalt left that area open for stowage.

SWINGING SINGLE. Our test model had the lone 502 MAG MPI and access was outstanding. The engine mounts are strong - aluminum L-angles bolted through the stringers with beefy backing plates. Twin batteries in Gil Brackets and the drive-trim pump are easy to service to port with the tab pumps mounted on each side of the transom. Baja also left the starboard-side compartment open so you can add even more - you guessed it - stowage bins.

Rigging in the engine compartment looked good. All the hoses and wires run along the gunwales through PVC tubes. Where they run along the stringers and transoms, the wires and hoses are supported by stainless-steel clamps. Unfortunately, the hose for the transom shower was lying across the exhaust pipe to port. Baja assured me that the hose would normally be gathered and supported at the transom.The single engine on our test model also afforded a wide-open dash panel. Faria performance series gauges were mounted in bezels with deep eyebrows to shade them from the sun. Our test boat had the optional Mercury Racing K-plane trim tabs and mechanical trim indicators ($3,830). The Zero Effort sport-style separate shift and throttle levers are standard, but putting the trim button on the throttle will cost an extra $250.

In the optional side-by-side bolsters ($2,140) at the helm, the driver and a passenger can talk in normal tones, but I do have another gripe. When I sat down to drive, the windshield frame was directly in my line of sight and standing up to drive means taking a faceful of wind and spray.

After driving this boat, I'd skip the K-planes. Even in confused waters, I never felt the need to use the tabs. The 292 Islander's True-V 24-degree V-bottom with twin strakes and a flat chine worked its way through cluttered boat wakes and chop with ease. I can see this boat becoming an instant hit on big lakes such as the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, Lake Mead in Nevada, or even the Great Lakes. Construction that features balsa coring in the bottom and hullsides with micro-balloon putty strengthening the strakes ensures the boat can take the punishment. The hull and deck are joined by through-bolts and sealed with Plexus adhesive.

The 502 MAG MPI paired with the twin-prop Bravo Three stern drive ($1,660) produced a top speed of 55.1 mph and a cruising speed of 36.6 at 3500 rpm. The Bravo Three also worked brilliantly in maneuvers. The twin props maintained a solid bite even in the tightest circles and made the boat nimble and fun as I whipped through slalom turns. They also gave the 292 Islander an excellent holeshot, pushing it on plane in four seconds, which is plenty potent for yanking out a wakeboarder. Once a boarder is up, the twin props also help the boat hold plane at about 19 or 20 mph and offer wakes that are guaranteed to serve up some big air.

LAST WORD. A boat with space for all your gear no matter what adventure you take.

LOA........29'4"

Beam........8'10"

Draft........3'2"

Displacement (lbs., approx) ........5,500

Transom deadrise.....24° ** **

Bridge clearanc........6'2" ****

Minimum cockpit depth........3'0"

Max. cabin headroom ..........4'6" ****

Fuel capacity (gal.) ...120 ****

Water capacity (gal. )..25 ****

Price (w/standard power) ...........$74,654

Price (w/test power) ...........$87,421

STANDARD POWER: Single 310-hp MerCruiser 7.4L MPI Bravo One V-8 gasoline stern drive.

OPTIONAL POWER: Single V-8 gasoline stern drive to 470 hp or single diesel stern drive to 250 bhp.

TEST BOAT POWER: Single 415-hp MerCruiser 502 MAG MPI V-8 gasoline stern drive with 502 cid, 4.47" bore x 4.0" stroke, swinging a 15 1/2" x 24" and 14 1/4 " x 24" Bravo Three three-bladed ss propset through a 2:1 reduction.

STANDARD EQUIPMENT (major items): Power engine hatch; battery tray; 2 auto. bilge pumps; bilge blower; engine compartment lighting; 12v receptacles; full Faria instrumentation; horn; nav lights; ss cleats; fender stowage; Zero Effort controls; ss 3-step swim ladder; ss ski-tow-eye and hardware; wetbar w/sink; windshield; CO detector; portable head; Clarion Performance stereo.