Nobody can accuse the Brunswick-owned, North Carolina sportsboat builder Cabo Yachts of suffering an identity crisis. The company’s byline says it all: “One Mission — One Outcome — One Choice.” In its own words, and before the first hull was ever delivered, the company’s single goal was to build the best sportsfishing vessels money can buy. I find when boatbuilders are not distracted by attempting to be “all things to all people” the results usually speak for themselves.
Cabo’s range of top-line production battlewagons includes both Express and Flybridge models, starting at 32ft and charging all the way up to the big daddy 52 Express.
While we often refer to boats as possessing female traits, to my mind this is one case where such metaphors are just not apt. This is a man’s boat in every way. With muscularly flared shoulders and more than 3000hp of cold steel in its belly, it sits chained to the dock more like a gladiator thirsty for fresh meat than the lady of the hunt. “God help us when we take the shackles off”, I thought reading the spec box. I was right as it turns out, but more about that later.
My first opportunity take a look at the Cabo 52 Express was during a flying visit to the Game & Leisure Boats yard at Runaway Bay on the Gold Coast. Graham McCloy, principle dealer and owner of this sportsboat-specific outlet had just arrived with Giaconda after a long haul in rubbish conditions down from the Whitsundays. It is worth noting that neither Graham nor the boat looked any the worse for wear after the 1000-plus-kilometre bash down the coast.
The outside space of the 52 and most of Cabo’s express-style boats is dominated by an oversized cockpit and open helm station. A lofty American-made tuna tower fills out this predatory looking vessel’s lines. This look sets the tone in no uncertain terms. If fishing isn’t your thing, look elsewhere, but if it is, grab a rod and let’s get out of here.
The helm and adjourning fish-spotting deck is expansive and shouts “USA” much like a Cadillac does. Three enormous, top-quality Stidd helm chairs punctuate the approach. So widely spaced and comfortable are these chairs that a set of intercoms wouldn’t go astray to facilitate a chat between chums without anyone feeling they should leave their luxurious perch. Naturally, chairs of this quality can be adjusted in an almost mind-bending array of configurations and are easily locked in place once the desired setup is achieved to prevent any untimely accidents.
Extra passenger space on the raised helm is provided for by means of an extended L-shaped lounger surrounding a central table. All up there is comfortable sitting room on this deck alone for at least nine keen anglers. Anytime the vessel is carrying less than this complement there should be room for worn out anglers to grab a kip between bites.
A sportsfishing boat is only as good as its cockpit and I was pleased (but not surprised) to see all the basics in place ready for action. The essential livewell has a large volume, is suitably rounded and has all the right elements internally to assure a long life for precious offerings to be contained in there.
An oversized freezer is paired with an identical icewell under the cockpit sole. Those fishing the GBR during “grander” season could arguably utilise this freezer as an XOS iced slurry tank for deadbaits or it could be the ultimate iced plunge tank for tuna destined for the sushi plate. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. The fact that the heavy lids of these twin fish holds have been designed to soft-close is testament to the genuine experience of the designers.
A rigging bench to gladden the heart of most deckhands runs across the forward section of the cockpit, parallel and attached to the L-shaped lounger on the helm deck. It is complete with tackle lockers but does need plenty of customisation to truly be up to the rigours of a busy fishing day. I would add a heavy-duty cutting board and custom rigging-station to keep items like knives, thread and needles within easy reach and off the floor.
In summary, as it is off the factory floor, the Cabo 52 Express presents a cockpit ready for duty in its raw form. Hardcore professionals will want to customise a few things (perhaps add tuna tubes and a more robust rigging station) to suit their own style of fishing, but the bare bones of a great fishing cockpit is there to be utilised.
If there was one thing I wanted for Christmas during my professional gamefishing days, it was a tuna tower. When I finally got one it proved its weight in gold. I would estimate that this one piece of equipment increased our catch rate 15 to 20 per cent. The ability to spot fish either deep below or feeding well away from the path of the vessel meant we could make the most of opportunities other boats would never even see.
I am pleased to say this tower is both sturdily constructed and comfortable. A wide forward-facing bench seat has room for two and collapses out of the way when necessary. Giaconda’s tower station comes complete with a wheel, an autopilot and a quality Furuno multifunction navigation system so there is no reason to leave the tower.
Head below and you will find surprisingly spacious and private living quarters perfect for planning excursions deep into enemy territory. Some would argue the boat is short on bed space, with only a double berth forward and twin singles to port, but in reality this is large boat designed to take smaller, more dedicated parties on bluewater adventures and as such is unlikely to need many beds.
The saloon itself features another large L-shaped lounger of similar proportions to the couch upstairs. This feature is sumptuous in the extreme and would provide more than adequate extra bed space for two more fishing companions if needed.
Directly opposite in the galley a combination microwave-convection oven supplements an electric four-burner cooktop. One item of particular note was the quality of the catches on the refrigeration doors. They are impressive and should stand up to the rigours of a tough day at sea.
On a lesser note this space could do with a few items of customisation to make it realistically functional on a rough day. A fiddle on the stove would not go astray, nor would some sort of lip on the bench top. I guess the argument is that this boat has the capability to quickly reach calm conditions at dinnertime, but in my experience hardcore Australian fishers are unlikely to want to compromise a minute of optimum angling time for something as trivial as a meal in the calm. Of course, neither of these adaptations are particularly challenging for a competent shipwright.
It is also worth noting the 52 Express features almost boundless storage, so perhaps having the shipwright onboard might prove a good time to stretch the imagination on the customisation front and convert some of that storage to other purposes.
GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
True to the American way both the forward stateroom, and the twin-single crew cabin feature generous and comfortable bunks for their respective classes, so a good night’s sleep is a given. Observers might suggest the forward bunk is considerably higher off the floor than in comparative vessels. There is method in the madness. The high bunk is a result of the Cabo’s very fine entry at the pointy end. This fine entry vastly improves the vessel’s ride at high speed. Some boatbuilders opt to maximise this space forward internally but pay the price in a heavy sea. All boatbuilding is a compromise.
Two heads service the Cabo 52 Express. One, which includes a shower, is forward and to starboard, while the other, which serves as a dayhead, is located amidships.
No boat test is worth the paper it’s written on without a visit to the engineroom. With almost $500,000 worth of engines down there it is critical this place is correctly set-up and engineered. The paired C32s make for petrol-head (or in this case diesel-head) heaven and even though space is at a premium, to my eye there looked to be plenty available to get the job done and with more than seven-foot of headroom even the tallest engineer’s back will be happy.
I like that everything gleams in white, it makes it easy to spot any minor issues and it is also good to see a clear and logical labelling process in place. Cabo has also been sensible enough to fully utilise the space behind the powerplants, with a work bench on one side and a purpose-built bulk storage container on the other.
I did notice a lack of pumping and other accessory equipment in the engineroom — turns out it all lies forward behind a watertight bulkhead with separate access. Very sensible.
UNLEASH THE BEAST
An appropriate quote that has always stuck in my mind goes as follows: “When you race the Kentucky Derby, you don’t leave your prize stallion in the stable.”
No, it wasn’t Obama waxing lyrical about the State of the Union or Warren Buffet delivering pearls of wisdom to budding CEOs, it was Dr McCoy lambasting Spock for kicking Captain Kirk off the USS Enterprise right before the final showdown with a vastly superior foe. I am sure you get the point and in the sportsfishing world, the Cabo 56 Express is most certainly a prize stallion.
In terms of power-to-weight ratios I am pretty certain this is the biggest steroid abuser of any vessel I have taken command of. I knew it would be headstrong but wasn’t quite prepared for just how much of a handful it would be. Leaving the marina proved best done with a series of “short into gear, out of gear” bursts. I suspect there was a low idle or an electronic trolling valve setting available that our skipper for the day was not aware of.
Once clear of the constraints of the Gold Coast Broadwater the shackles came off and away we went. This is a vessel totally in its element in the wide-open spaces. The boat quickly muscled its way past 30kts, its fine entry slicing the easterly set in total ease. The 52 Express is reputably capable of speeds approaching 42kts and I can believe it — there are an awful lot of horses downstairs to call on if needed.
Unable to help myself I jumped into the hot seat for a play in close quarters as you would when fighting a fish. This boat does have bow and stern thrusters available but they are unwarranted — a good skipper would find the boat more responsive and precise on the main engines alone.
There is no question in my mind that the Cabo 52 Express is up there with the most competitive heavy tackle production battleships available anywhere on the globe. While in many respects it could be considered a blank canvas on which to customise the ultimate sportsfishing boat, it is very impressive right off the shelf. It looks hungry for action and has a reputation for superb heavy-water seakeeping. The vessel’s power-to-weight ratio is extraordinary, which harks of its American heritage, where they quite rightly believe that horsepower is the only answer for speed.
Quite frankly when you grab the wheel and throttle levers of this boat, you know you’re in for a generous dose of Viagra on the water.
CABO 52 EXPRESS
PRICE AS TESTED:
Rupp outriggers, and bow and stern thrusters
MATERIAL: Moulded fibreglass
LENGTH OVERALL : 54ft11in
HULL LENGTH: 52ft1in
PEOPLE (NIGHT): 6+2
MAKE/MODEL: 2 x Caterpillar C32
RATED HP: 1572 (each)
Game & Leisure Boats,
247 Bayview Street,
Runaway Bay, QLD, 4216
Phone: (07) 5577 5811
Fax: (07) 5577 5822
From Trade-a-Boat Issue 428, June-July, 2012. Story by Jeff Strang; photos by Murray Rix.