Tested by Erwin Bursik (SKI-BOAT November/December 2005)
GEOFF and Mike Barnes of Mallards Boating have, I believe, read the boating market indicators here in southern Africa extremely well. As a result, they have complemented their range of offshore craft with a new 5-metre CobraCat, the Cobra 500.
With the success Mallards have had with their Cobra 525, they have incorporated similar lines, curves, flares and wetted area surfaces into the new Cobra 500 in an endeavour to emulate the 525’s “ride”. They avoided the designer’s trap of merely scaling down the dimension of a proven design, thereby expecting it to produce a craft with supposedly proven on-water capabilities.
As Mike Barnes said, they wanted a brand new boat that, while smaller all round, was capable of fully taking on the seas we experience off the east coast of southern Africa.
When I saw the new Cobra 500 at its inaugural launch during the Durban International Boat Show in early July, both on mooring and in the distance while being demonstrated in the waters of Durban Bay, adjacent to the Wilson’s Wharf Marina, it took me back a few months to when I was asked to have a ride on the prototype during its original trials on the same stretch of water.
I felt then that the latent potential was there, a fact that was quite plain to see during the demonstration of the final product during the show. But more than that — she bore the looks and lines of her proven heritage.
CONDITIONS FOR TEST
The time of the spring solstice clashed with the dates we chose for the test of the Cobra 500. The associated fronts — both south-west and north-east — were causing us a problem to find a suitable window period of reasonable weather off Durban in which to put the Cobra 500 through her paces.
It arrived with the sun and the haze that is common with the start of a good north-east blow. It’s Sodwana-like weather that those of us who fish that area know so well. With the early morning hazy conditions, we prepared ourselves for a few hours at sea in conditions dictated by a constant velocity increase of the “beastly easterly”.
“Good boat test weather,” said Geoff Barnes. Maybe, but I still prefer a south-westerly as I find that the easterly chop is too short and lacks constant shape. The sea we did the test in was exactly that, and it got progressively rougher during the morning.
LAUNCHING AND TRAILERING
The Cobra 500 was launched into the protected Durban Bay, using the Natal Deep Sea Rod and Reel slipway for two reasons. Firstly, it is infinitely easier and less time-consuming; and it gave me a chance to use a slipway instead of the beach at Vetch’s that I use so often. Secondly, considering the threat of closure Durban Ski-Boat club is under at the moment, launching small craft through the harbour could be what most of us will be forced to do in the not too distant future.
As she was presented on a Mallards heavy-duty Swift trailer with breakneck facilities, there was little need for me to again judge their trailer’s capabilities on the beach. In fact, it was more important to see how well the trailer — which, incidentally, had been fitted with docking planks — performed from the slipway.
Launching is normally quite straightforward in this situation — calm water, no wind and an excellent gradient of the slip itself. The return loading is usually more difficult with cross winds being the major culprit. Mike, however, drove the Cobra 500 up and onto the trailer effortlessly, despite the north-easterly wind, with the docking planks forcing the craft’s keel to centre on the rollers during the run up.
A quick coupling of the bow safety chain while the motors were holding it in position, then the motors were killed, and we were up and off the slip in literally seconds.
As for road towability, a craft this size and an excellent trailer cannot be a problem, regardless of the road or beach on which it is towed.
MOTORS AND CONTROLS
Twin 50hp Mercury trim-and-tilt motors had been fitted to the Cobra 500 I tested, and they were swinging 17-pitch aluminum props.
As Mike and I discussed during the trials, a boat builder and the buyer are faced with the dilemma of what power would be necessary, equated to the cost of the motors and the eventual fuel consumption. For the Cobra 500, twin 40hp motors would work if only protected launch sites are used; 50hp motors would make the rig capable of exiting even where serious surf conditions prevail; and twin 60hp motors would add an immense amount of exhilaration to boating on a Cobra 500. It’s the buyer’s choice.
With the twin Mercury 50s, this craft provided all the power and speed I demanded of her, and her out-the-hole performance was very good. No doubt, it would have been spectacular had 60hp motors been fitted. At nearly 6 000rpm they topped out, giving us a very good SOG, in fact a lot faster than is required for general ski-boating.
Moving from the photo boat — a Mallards 900 with two Verado 275 four-stroke turbo-charged outboard motors and electronic controls — was patently unfair when it came to judging the controls and steering on the Cobra 500. What it did do, however, was highlight the differences between cable-versus-electronic controls, as much as hydraulic steering differs from the old push-pull cable steering system.
Yet once I settled in, the initial comparisons were forgotten. I found the controls and steering on the craft I tested to be smooth as well as nicely positioned in the helm station to make skippering very comfortable.
Watching the Cobra 500 perform for the camera, I knew that Geoff and Mike Barnes had got this hull right. Yes, one can say that I had already tried the plug so was au fait with her performance on the water. Not true. A basic hull with a centre console does not necessarily ride the same as the completed forward console with the extra weight of the top deck and additional windage on the superstructure and windscreen.
Once I had control of her myself, her performance corroborated this.
With the technical redesign of the keel section, the Cobra 500 retains the tracking ability of the Cobra 525, and even though narrower than her bigger sister, she still has excellent lateral stability during all phases of performance, not normally associated with boats this size.
Before the north-easterly really started pumping, I put her bow into the wind and gradually increased power until we were making surprisingly fast progress in the direction of the deep water off Durban North.
Specific SOG, now determined by means of a GPS, became relative to the size of the craft, as we found when trying to keep up with Geoff in the Cobra 900. While he looked as if he was cruising, we were literally flying to keep up.
Ultimately, in this regard, my view is: can I get to my destination at a reasonable speed, in comfort and — above all — stay dry. In other words, disregard the SOG number on your GPS, and much rather feel your boat and determine your comfort levels.
Remember that the skipper is always more comfortable than the crew, so also take your crew’s comfort into consideration when determining what speed to drive your craft through rough water.
The Cobra 500 surprised me in that for a relatively short craft, she not only rode the oncoming short, sharp chop very well, but she also provided a very smooth ride with minimal pounding.
Swinging her bow to port to allow her to run across the line of the north-east chop, I could feel the craft’s lateral stability really begin to manifest itself. She needed only marginal assistance of starboard motor-up trim to hold her starboard sponson into the oncoming swell.
Then I swung her around and began the long, sustained run back towards Durban port entrance. On course one tends to run in a following sea, but marginally towards port. It’s not the easiest course to take in any craft, as one has the effect of a following sea compounded, because one is not running directly with the sea’s influence.
The Cobra 500 is able to hold her bow quite proud. As such she runs down the following sea, showing no tendency to yaw, and yet also accepts the slight push on the port transom.
This lateral stability is even more beneficial during fast trolling —1 800/2 000rpm — and she is able to hold a troll path through an eventual 360° without being continually blown off her path of travel.
A major factor with smaller craft these days is the inclusion of a substantial motor-well or — as is the case with the Cobra 500 — a full transom that not only protects from over-transom water slop, but also allows crew to move right aft without the deck flooding.
Need I say that on slow troll or on the drift, she is very stable.
During high speed trials I found her sensitive to motor trim. Therefore, determining her correct trim is vital to getting a very good ride, especially at high speed and in surf conditions.
The Cobra 500 is not the tightest turning craft of this size, but still can be brought around very quickly with a lot of throttle to the outside motor. There was no cavitation, and her ability to climb out of the hole after a fast turn and get back onto the plane was very good.
With two aboard I was able to get her onto the plane on one motor with the other lifted, but not all that easily. No doubt, with 60hp motors, she will fly on one.
In order to be competitive in the sector of the boating market in which this craft will compete, Mallards have had to produce a craft according to modern American-style standards. Basically, this calls for two moulds — hull and topdeck — sandwiched together, and the resultant voids in between foam-filled. It’s not quite as easy as it sounds, but it does cut down on a lot of time-consuming labour.
Mallards, however, will not compromise quality, even if it means that this craft is marginally more expensive than its competition.
The Cobra 500 has been designed with a marginally narrowed the forward console. This provides for a wider gunnel on each side of the forward console, so that access to the forward anchor hatch is made easier, while still mounting a sturdy bow rail.
The deck has a non-slip moulding, replacing Flotex carpeting, and two below-deck fuel/fish hatches have been incorporated.
It is, however, the inside gunnel of the craft that sets her aside from other CobraCats. The top deck mould incorporating the deck leaves a smooth inside face, and the space between the hull and the side moulding is used for rod storage with access via a neatly-fitted hinged locker cover.
Within the moulding of the full transom, two side hatches house the batteries, and in the centre there is a good sized livebait hatch.
In order to maximise deck space, the forward console is sited well forward, is comfortable and is designed to afford the skipper plenty of space in which to skipper his craft, protected by a high windscreen.
More than sufficient on-board storage both upfront and in the centre coffin hatch is provided for a craft of this size.
Using the method of construction mentioned earlier, a good mould will produce a very good-looking final product. The Cobra 500 is definitely that. Even more impressive is that the laminations feel solid not only to touch or when one leans against them, but also when one is skippering the craft in rough water.
This is the time when inadequate lamination and or lack of structural “behind the scenes support” tends to show up.
Mallards have always prided themselves on the quality of presentation of their craft. This includes the overall perfection of their hull and top-deck moulding, as well as in the finer finishes used to complete the craft’s construction and the hardware they add to her.
The Cobra 500 was no exception.
The Cobra 500 is a craft with an undeniable heritage, both in construction and finish, and — above all — performance. She is big enough and stable enough for serious light tackle angling, yet of a size that makes her practical to hitch up and tow to faraway destinations with little if any difficulty.
With the strong resurgence in the trend towards ultra-light tackle angling as well as flyfishing, both in home waters and Moçambique, a craft like the Cobra 500 would be ideal.