Tested by Erwin Bursik (March/April 2005)
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Another Cobra Cat, unmistakably a Cobra, I thought as the new Calypso followed Mallards’ Landcruiser stationwagon into the launch area of Natal Deep Sea Rod & Reel Club in Durban Harbour. I would go so far as to say she’s a carbon copy — at least to top-deck level — of the Cobra 800 and Cobra 900, and looks equally splendid.
From the time Mike Barnes started the tow vehicle to the time the Cobra 700 was afloat in Durban Bay was a surprising one-minute 35 seconds on my stopwatch. I timed the launch because it is significant to a large segment of the offshore boating fraternity in South Africa, but more about this later.
Geoff Barnes and I — having been ensconced on this craft from the top of the slipway — commenced wending our way through moored yachts to the open water, while Mike and Moon launched the Cobra 525 which was to be used as the photo boat.
It was while we were heading towards the harbour entrance at the required low speed that Geoff explained the rationale behind the design and development of the Cobra 700. Having moved from their range of successful Cobra ski-boats to the eight- and nine-metre sportfishers, Mallards found there was a demand for a craft that had the fishability of a bigger boat, yet could be practically towed and launched from the beach using a big 4×4 vehicle, without having to resort to a large 4×4 tractor. Thus the Cobra 700 was conceived.
A light north-easterly was just beginning to ruffle the surface of the bay, indicating that as soon as we turned to run out between the piers we would meet the beastly easterly full on. And meet it we did.
A north-easterly sea off the KwaZulu-Natal coast, especially in the area between Durban Harbour’s piers and Umhlanga lighthouse, is probably the worst chop and wave motion that one can experience when comparing wind velocity to sea conditions.
As the sea has no shape, it is not an ideal sea for boat reviewing. However, at speed and planing seawards between Durban’s north and south piers at the harbour entrance, the deteriorating sea conditions did nothing to impede the Cobra 700. She handled the conditions with ease and at a constant speed, and performed brilliantly.
Away from the confines of the piers, into the real easterly sea, I turned the boat to port until her bow was running along the swell line. With the wind and sea on her beam I increased throttle until we were running at about 16-18 knots. I lifted her bow slightly with the motor trims, and she really supplied an awesome ride with very good lateral stability, minimal hydraulic action in the tunnel and no pounding. Then and there I knew that this was going to be a very enjoyable time at sea reviewing the Cobra 700.
In the deep waters off Durban’s beachfront, I swapped to the Cobra 525 to take photographs and see what the 700’s hull looked like as she performed for the camera. The resultant photographs do not lie — look at them and drool.
Back on Calypso I could relax with the photographic work in the bag, so to speak, and now I could play with the Cobra 700 at my leisure.
Mallards chose twin 150hp Mercury Optimax counter-rotating drive motors to power this craft and fitted them with 17-pitch four-bladed props. This combination proved ideal for the Cobra 700, not only providing her with tremendous out-the-hole acceleration, but also, in my opinion, supplying both smooth and constant power push, whether running into or with the sea. They also provided higher speed in relation to motor revs than I would have expected from a craft this size, considering the extra wind resistance created by the full cabin.
Running these Optimax motors mainly between 3 200 and 4 500rpm, because that is all the prevailing sea conditions would allow, I had a lot of reserve power should the need have arisen. Geoff told me that at full throttle they attained 40 knots with this rig.
The throttle controls were so smooth that I asked Geoff whether we were flying by wire — the latest electronic controls. “No, standard Mercury controls,” he replied. They really were a pleasure to use.
In simulated surf conditions the Cobra 700 turned well into a starboard turn, naturally using much more power on the port motor. She turned very tightly, considering her length and size, and exited out and onto the plane very quickly.
The turn to port is always more difficult, but one that is essential when operating at venues like Sodwana Bay or Cape Vidal. Again she pulled around tightly, but I used a lot of extra power — in this case on the starboard motor. What really pleased me was the way the craft turned, using enough heel to allow her to swing, but not so much as to make her to lean uncomfortably into the turn.
I always had plenty of power to the motors and they never lost grip or cavitated, even in the tightest of tight turns.
Deciding to drive head-on into a north-easterly depends largely on both the strength of the wind and over what period it has been blowing. I believe it’s bad seamanship to put any craft and crew into a big head sea, even a moderate sea, at excessive speed. However, there may be circumstances where one needs to open a boat up a bit, and this I did soon after taking command of the Cobra 700 again.
After trimming her bow down a fraction, I eased open the throttle, correlating the rev-counter with the SOW (speed over water), and, most importantly, with the feel of the craft as she raced, crest-to-crest, into the north-east.
She actually performed very well, but I felt bad exposing her to this essentially unnecessary hammering. I backed off the throttles to a point quite a few knots slower — about 15 knots — where the craft, Geoff and I calmed down, relaxed and started to enjoy the Cobra 700.
By the time this run was over we were a good few miles out to sea, and although the wind was steadily increasing, the swell and chop was more even, allowing me to swing her to starboard and run almost parallel to the sea. She really loved it — and so did I. In the protection of her sizable cabin we were dry, had plenty of air from the scoops and aft opening Lumar hatch, and could really enjoy her incredibly smooth ride.
If I thought that was good, when we turned to run with the sea the Cobra 700 really came alive. A bit of trim-up, to keep her bow from cutting into a wave crest after running down the face of a big one, allowed us to almost glide back towards Durban. Her 23ft overall length seemed just right for running the beastly easterly.
During all my trials at troll speeds, from idle on one motor to 7-8 knots using both motors, she was in the Miss Perfection league. She throws a light wake — obviously better at 5 knots than at 8 — is very stable laterally and extremely dry. With regard to this latter aspect, I am referring to the fishing cockpit area — the deck — and not the inside of the cabin. Those who dislike getting wet will acknowledge the importance of this.
In the cabin the airflow can be increased by installing sliding windows, and in fact that’s where Calypso was going directly after the review.
Finally, on the performance side she backs up very quickly, responding to both steering and throttle activation.
At the beginning I referred to the minimal time taken to launch this big craft. This aspect is important because it demonstrated that a craft as big as the Cobra 700 can be handled with ease, provided the tow vehicle is reasonably strong, the craft has a good trailer and at least two people know what they are doing — that is the vehicle’s driver and the skipper.
Geoff and Mike Barnes had towed a Cobra 700 to Sodwana in November using the same tow vehicle we were using. According to Mike it’s no problem, provided you keep the speed to 80-90km/h and you have an excellent braking system.
He demonstrated for me the new electronically-activated braking system he had installed on the craft’s trailer. It works electronically via the vehicle’s tail-light and a remote-control powered by the cigarette lighter plug in the vehicle. Mike says the system is brilliant, and the little I experienced really impressed me.
The Cobra 700 is more than just a big ski-boat with a fancy cabin, and she’s certainly not just a scaled down model of the Cobra 800 or 900 either. Both the deck and the cabin have been styled for practical use by fishermen. Using the construction and design facilities of their bigger ski-boats, and adding what they have learned from having extensively fished the big Cobras, Mallards have come up with a simple, straightforward deck and cabin layout that will be ideal for the serious offshore angler.
The helm station is placed amidships in the large expanse of the inside console/dashboard of the cabin. There is more than adequate space for all the instrumentation and gadgets a skipper could want. Even if the crew are standing upfront alongside the skipper, he has plenty of room to swing the wheel and work the throttles.
The helmstation also has the standard Mallards two “front doors”. In the case of the Cobra 700, they allow entry to a fairly large front cabin/sleeping area on the starboard side, and a bathroom on the port side, with a proper marine toilet and a wash hand-basin with plumbed water. What’s more, when sitting on the throne there’s more than sufficient space.
The main cabin itself is spacious, with ample stainless-steel handrails that have been sited in all the right places for use in heavy weather. Two cushioned seats with padded backs are positioned aft of the helm station area to allow anglers to sit comfortably in the shade while watching their trolled lures. These seats are so comfortable that I can foresee many an angler dozing off while supposedly being on rod watch.
In the centre of the fishing deck Mallards have mounted one of their fighting chairs, designed and manufactured in the Mallards Pinetown factory, for those anglers who want to fight big fish on heavy tackle. It has full swing and is very firmly mounted. Even with the chair in place, the deck area is still big enough for the other anglers and/or deckies to move about — even while manning the aft flat lines — without falling over the chair’s footrest.
Two large, built-in 200-litre fuel tanks are positioned in the aft sponson area, and ahead of each is a moderate-sized fish hatch. As this craft is due to go to Cape Town, a non-slip deck finish has been incorporated into the deck mouldings. Flotex carpeting is an optional extra and would be a lot more practical in our hot, east coast climate.
On the inside face of the under gunnel area, two cubby holes with hinged drop-down covers are provided to house all the accessories one needs when working the deck of a craft such as this.
The transom, or rather “false transom”, houses the batteries, electrical pumps and accessories, as well as two livebait wells on each side of a central marlin gate. This gate opens outwards and over a teak deck/dive platform that not only gives access to the sea between the motors, but also covers and protects the hydraulic steering system mounted in the motor well area.
Need I say that, even in its simplicity, the entire Cobra 700 carries the immaculate finishes we have come to expect from every craft that leaves the Mallards factory? The Cobra 700 that I reviewed had all the elements required to make her a sportfisher’s dream boat, and her solid construction and excellent final finish means that this craft will provide her owner with many, many years of trouble-free boating. What’s more, I have no doubt that she’ll hold her value for a good many years to come.
The Cobra 700 is a magic craft, and is also big enough to provide comfortable fishing in all weather. At the same time, she remains within the size limits that enable her to be towed to the numerous fishing destinations we have along our South African coast.