Tested by Erwin Bursik (March/April 2013)
UPTOWN GIRL! — Robalo R240 Centre Console
I REMEMBER this boat, I thought, as Craig Watson from Honda Durban backed the Robalo R240 down the slipway at Durban Point Yacht Club. I just couldn’t remember where I knew her from, but that answer would come soon enough …
The Robalo R240 was nestled on a factory-designed trailer that had been with her since she left Robalo’s factory in Nashville, Georgia. After she landed in Cape Town for pre-delivery inspection and to be fitted with twin Honda 150hp counter-rotating motors, she travelled to Durban by road.
Being a big monohull, the trailer, in true American style, places the double axle bogie far aft to take the majority of the craft’s weight and that of the big motors. This ensures that the weight on the towing vehicle’s hitch is correct, allowing for great high-speed towing. The trailer was certainly put through its paces on the 1 500-odd kilometre tow from Cape Town to Durban and proved to be robust and reliable.
While on the subject of the trailer, it is fitted with white vertical poles on the back-end (see photo below, right). I found these were very helpful when running the craft back onto the trailer. They take the judgment risk out of the equation as the skipper normally has to rely on crew to tell him whether he’s on the right line to mount the submerged trailer.
Finally the craft was in the water and I was about to board the beautiful 24ft Robalo. With her sleek, low profile deep-vee entry and wide stern, one can see “speed” etched into her appearance.
As I climbed aboard on the very neat, retractable boarding ladder, onto the aft boarding platform and through the transom gate onto her substantial fish deck, my brain’s computer clicked into gear and reminded me where I had seen and experienced this craft before. It was during the Miami Boat Show a number of years back. On that occasion I was fortunate enough to be invited to go to sea for an evening’s tarpon fishing on a Robalo. I particularly remembered the positioning of the livebait well, because in that instance it was full of lago prawns which looked good enough to eat. However, we proceeded to use them for bait and caught some tarpon off the Miami beachfront.
Back to the present, the weather in Durban had been terrible, with a strong southwesterly and lots of rain arriving on the scheduled day of the review. We had limited time with the craft before I left for Kenya, so the following day, come what may, we had to go to sea.
With remnants of the westerly still chopping up the bay and the sky pregnant with rain, we looked hopefully at the few bits of blue and prayed they would open up as the morning progressed. In the end, whilst the wind persisited at about 8-12 knots, the sea conditions in the lee of Durban were nice and flat, but there was a big swell and wind chop as we exited the protected area into the full teeth of the open ocean. Indeed, ideal conditions to review a craft.
This was the first time Craig had had the opportunity to skipper the R240, and before reluctantly allowing me to take over the helm he opened up the throttles so that she was running at maximum rpm. At about 35 knots over the very choppy bay water she produced an unbelievably smooth ride while streaking along in her designed, very prone stance.
This ride and the configuration of the centre console and deck layout brought back memories of being aboard the Robalo when exiting the Miami inland waterways and cruising along its waterfront at high speed. There was no doubt that I was on the same make of craft.
As we emerged from between the piers of Durban’s harbour, I took the helm of the Robalo R240 to put her through her paces in the rough stuff before meeting up with the photo boats for a photographic session. Taking a course out to the northeast, I was able to cross some reasonably flat water, then an increasing swell and finally into the rough stuff.
The flat water allowed me to get her measure. Being a monohull with a vee entry, I expected her to be laterally sensitive in big water. I had a deep-vee monohull for nearly 25 years, so I was ready to use what knowledge I had gained over the years to ride this “racehorse” of a craft, but in fact skippering her was a walk in the park.
With the help of the counter-rotating props and marginal assistance from the motor trims, I had her measure in just a few moments. She is fitted with hydraulic trim afterplaners, but for some reason — a blown fuse, we suspect — they were not operational. However, throughout the test, apart from when we were running in front of big cresting swells, I did not cry for trim-tab assistance like I used to on my old boat. This craft is stabilised laterally by the wide design of her aft planing area and uses the forward deep-vee to cleave water and smooth out her ride.
Then came the real test — running with a quartering sea for quite some time. I swung her to starboard and put her bow into the never-ending westerly chop over a big swell. She came alive and maintained speeds while on the plane at a tad over 14 knots.
Ross, one of the Durban Honda team, was sitting on the seat in front of the centre console. I had fully expected him to come scuttling back to hide behind the helm console, but he claimed he was fine apart from a bit of wind-driven spray during the extended trials in rough water.
Into the sea she was surprisingly soft and no special trimming was required to sustain her performance. I tried raising and lowering her bow, but regardless of marginal motor trim she retained her hull design entry and ride.
Running with the sea back towards the Umgeni mouth with the swell and wind directly on the transom, she rode very well and showed no tendency to yaw. I still would have liked a bit more bow lift, especially when coming down the face of a swell: deep-vees tend not to be sucked back when going through the bottom of the trough, and I like a bit more prominence of the bow to ride up the swell in front. No doubt the aft trim planer would have provided this lift.
Both on the drift and while slow trolling, I found her surprisingly stable. Indeed, she was able to do all that was asked of her without rocking and rolling and getting us wet.
Finally, when simulating surf conditions, she turned well for her overall length, with minimal cavitation. Coming out of such a turn the props bite very quickly and she is quick out of the hole.
The one aspect that sets apart the craft imported from overseas is the standard of the incorporated finishings of the entire craft — especially in the layout of the deck and helm station.
When one climbs aboard the Robalo R240 one can’t help but be impressed, for at first glance she’s so clean in design and so open that I actually wondered where the stowage was. On closer inspection I noticed the full covering panels with very firm catches on the inside of the gunnel facings which allows one to access all the stowage one needs. There’s also more stowage under the front upholstered seats.
Combine this with a super coolbox that fits neatly under the skipper and “co-pilot’s” seats, and you have all the stowage you need on a craft this size.
The configuration of the transom area is another noteworthy aspect of this craft. I mentioned earlier that the step-aboard facility on the port side of the craft provides very easy access onto the fish deck. There’s also a very neat, secure transom door which locks via a concealed catch on the outer side of the door.
However, the focal point of the transom area is the centrally situated large livebait well which holds 30 gallons (±120 litres) and is finished off with a cool blue interior — presumably to calm the bait. Having the weight of the water centrally situated ensures that the craft’s ride, especially lateral stability, is not affected when you’re running with a full livebait hatch. Alongside this livebait hatch is a bait prep area with a bait cutting board neatly fitted atop a removable fibreglass bait-box.
For the ladies — and those guys who like privacy — the very user-friendly head is situated in the helm station console. It has a proper marine toilet and basin with a fresh water hand shower. With regard to the plumbing aboard, in addition to the freshwater mentioned and the livebait well, there’s a raw seawater washdown system that is extremely powerful.
Sitting behind the helm station is a pleasure as it has the most unique seating system I have seen on a craft this size. The seats are comfortable to sit on, and both of the front seats (see photo below) fold back to provide a “bum seat” for when skippering in heavy weather and one needs to stand.
The helm station is well thought out and very practical to work at. Whilst the GPS/scanner had not yet been fitted, the recessed space for a large electronic machine had been provided and was neatly covered by a black perspex cover until the owner’s choice of electronics was installed.
A very sturdy, well-braced solid T-top covers the entire helm station and includes a well-protected, above eye-level waterproof locker which is ideal for radios, etc. I must also mention the custom curved safety glass windscreen which is a nice touch.
The twin 150hp Honda 4-stroke motors fitted to the Robalo provided more than sufficient power to the large craft. In fact, there was so much power that her revs hit maximum far too early, indicating a need to increase the prop pitch. This would increase her top-end speed, whilst still providing a more than adequate out-the-hole thrust for surf work. Throughout the test these motors ran extremely smoothly and the central levers that operate them were a pleasure to use while skippering.
To my way of thinking the finishes — not just those of aesthetic value, but also the many practical aspects — add up to make this an extremely well presented craft. Just as an example, the switchboard on the dash has large switches with diagrams on each switch to indicate what it is for. Each switch is also positioned so that even when the craft is being thrown around in big seas it is very easy to access, which reduces the chance of mistakes. In addition, a reset button is situated below each switch.
Even if you can’t afford it, just an admiring look over this craft will get any offshore boater’s mind racing to absorb all the extras and the way they are installed.
The Robalo R240 will be available for viewing at Honda dealers nationwide. She will also be displayed at the three major boat shows to be held in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town. If you’re shopping for an upmarket craft, this may just be what you’ve been waiting for, so be sure to stop by and take a closer look.