Tested by Erwin Bursik (SKI-BOAT September/October 2004)
IMMENSELY FISHABLE — AND BEAUTIFUL!
A BEAUTIFUL new boat beached next to me at Sodwana during the FIPS-M international competition in May this year. The name, Calypso, immediately identified the craft as the new CobraCat 800, which was confirmed when Geoff Barnes stepped out of the cabin onto the aft deck.
I should have recognised her sooner, as her lines are unmistakably those of a CobraCat, but on the beach she looked so much bigger than the upturned hull I had seen at the Mallards factory a few months earlier.
So this was the new CobraCat 800. Most impressive! However, I had to wait another month before it would be my privilege to take her to sea off Durban …
Slipping out of her moorings at dawn on a calm winter’s morning with the chilly air blowing lightly over our faces, Geoff and I sat comfortably on the flybridge as we made our way through the port of Durban and out to sea.
The first thing that struck me during this review was how easy it was physically getting the craft underway after arriving at Point Yacht Club, compared to the effort and mechanics necessary to undertake the same task when launching off a beach and into the surf at a venue like Sodwana Bay.
In saying this, however, the pioneers of big boat launching from the beach have simplified the procedure to a degree, as was witnessed with all the larger boats being launched and retrieved during the FIPS-M competition. Nowdays the task is practical and, from the angler’s point of view, very simple.
Dawn on a winter’s day, a calm, undulating sea, a responsive craft in the palm of my hand, and the early morning sun casting her warming rays gave me a tremendous sense of well being. Calypso was on a bearing towards Umhlanga lighthouse in flat water protected from the reasonably fresh land breeze that traditionally blows down river valleys on our part of the coast in winter. At 3 800 revs and an SOG of just over 20 knots, I was enjoying the ride while getting to know the craft and feel how her hull reacted to various trim settings at this, her most comfortable cruising speed.
Just as I was getting used to the CobraCat 800 and Geoff and I were chatting amicably, his cellphone’s piercing ring shattered the tranquillity. It was Mike Barnes who informed us he was just exiting the harbour in a Cobra 525, so we had to turn around to rendezvous off the beachfront to start work — photographing the Cobra 800.
It’s only when one transfers from a boat like the Cobra 800 to the smaller Cobra 525 that one is aware of what a mere nine or ten feet in overall boat length actually converts to in boat proportions. This was once again evident when Geoff drove Calypso past the Cobra 525, towering over us and thundering on at well over 20 knots. To see a hull like that, not three metres from one’s face, working the water at 25 to 30 knots, and hear the roar of the motors and the sizzle as the hull cleaves the water’s surface is simply awesome!
The advantage of watching through the camera lens is that I also have the ability to zoom in even closer with the telescopic lens to see the hull-water interaction. One could never see it any other way. I often find myself looking rather than clicking away, because it helps build up a complete picture of the craft’s performance.
When this exercise was over and Mike and the Cobra 525 had disappeared in the direction of the harbour, Geoff, SKI-BOAT’s Mark Wilson and I were left in peace to really enjoy being at sea aboard the Cobra 800.
It is obviously more difficult to assess a craft’s performance in relatively calm water than in the rough stuff, but when you think about it, in most instances we tend to go fishing when the sea is just that flat. Then we only cope with bigger seas when the wind picks up and we head for home.
With the Cobra 800 I set a course to take me out to sea to where I know the land breeze blows harder than in most areas. The chop it creates is directly on one’s beam as we head to the traditional fishing grounds further north. It was interesting to note just how adaptable this hull was at a constant speed when undertaking this fairly long run.
By this time we were all in Calypso’s cabin for two reasons. Firstly, it’s damn cold when this wind comes down to the coast straight off the Drakensberg, then add to that the wind chill factor at 20 knots. Secondly, I wanted to feel the craft’s performance without two big guys creating a pendulum effect by sitting up in the flybridge. When you extend the height of motion by nearly three metres, add to that 250kg of weight and start the pendulum, it’s not easy to stop.
Once we got to the slightly rougher water, I undertook a full array of trials, both directional and at speeds ranging from slow troll, idling with one motor in gear, through the various trolling speeds to the fast 7/9 knots kona speed, and then the much faster cruising speed up to 25 knots. I left the very fast run until I was on the way home. I opened her up to 5 300 revs, which showed an SOG of 40 knots on the GPS, and the twin Mariner 150s were not even at maximum revs.
Throughout these trolling trials, which I undertook both skippering from the cabin helm station as well as the flybridge, I realised that the Cobra 800 is a lot more stable and comfortable than I would have expected from a craft this size. This is especially surprising considering she sports both a very substantial flybridge structure as well as a large, rigid T-top canopy.
Here I must discuss the pendulum effect I mentioned earlier. In very rough beam seas, in a craft this size one must expect to experience more lateral swing than one would expect on a 30, 40 or 50ft craft, as size and beam width have an incredible effect on this aspect. To experience it I have ventured up to the high tuna tower on big sportfishers in relatively rough seas and have been scared witless by the movement up there, while on the main deck the craft hardly felt like it was rolling.
To those who criticise flybridges on smaller boats, I can only say you need to get your mind into gear and accept that when conditions are right, the advantages for the skipper to be up on the flybridge are enormous. Also, accept that when the conditions are not ideal, the skipper has the choice of reducing this pendulum effect by either sending the second person on the flybridge downstairs and thereby reducing the weight, or by both of them moving to the cabin helm station.
This craft had her maiden voyage launching through the surf at Sodwana, and as she is a craft that is usually launched and retrieved with a big 4×4, it was necessary for me to put her through her paces as one would expect to find with such a launch. Turning, out-of-the-hole acceleration, going over a peaking wave and following a swell/wave back into the beach all needed to be assessed. Throughout extensive and repeated excercises covering the whole range, the Cobra 800 proved to be outstanding for a craft of this size. Having watched her launching and returning through the surf at Sodwana Bay, I would be fully confident with her in such conditions.
The Cobra 800 likes a fair bit of bow lift when running, especially with the sea we experienced and with two people up in the flybridge. However, while saying that, I am still not sure that this bow lift really is that important or whether it’s just psychological, because when I was at the cabin helm station I used very little trim to get her to ride at optimum speed-to-revs-to-throttle setting.
What impressed me most was this craft’s performance on one motor. With one dragging she achieved an incredible 15 knots on the plane at 4 800 revs (that’s all I could get) and 17 knots at the same revs with the “dead” motor trimmed up. What’s more, it did not take a long run to get her onto the plane with only one motor.
Finally, I found backing up to be quite easy out at sea, and it will probably become a lot easier manoeuvring her into moorings once I get to know her better. My first attempt at trying to back her into her moorings was not pretty, nor was the second, and although I achieved the desired result, it did not bring me any glory. Geoff has a lot of patience and explained the knack. Next time — and I hope there will be a next time — I’m sure I will do a lot better.
In my opinion, the Cobra 800 — whilst being an exceptionally practical, well fitted-out sportfishing craft — also provides a lot more extras than on most ski-boats this size. However, while Mallards have not gone overboard with luxury finishes that can cause costs to skyrocket, they have elected to maintain their high standard of practical, fisherman-friendly, solid interior finishes that will survive the test of time. Layout overall is also what I would call “socially friendly”: it’s great for when one simply wants to go cruising with family and friends or, most importantly, one’s wife.
As her fishability is of the utmost importance, it was great to review a boat that was not only fully rigged for sport- and billfishing, but had also already been used for that purpose. The hatch drawers, cupboards, etc., were well loaded with equipment, so one could see at a glance just how much she could carry in stowage, and how neatly too when all the drawers and cupboards were closed.
As a major builder of sportfishing craft, Mallards must have had — and heard of — hundreds and hundreds of ideas on how to layout and set up a craft. These ideas have evolved into a good looking craft with a practical deck and cabin configuration that suits the majority of sportfishermen. On the Cobra 800 I reviewed, Geoff and Mike have incorporated their personal requirements, as Calypso is destined to be their personal boat.
The Cobra 800 has a large, open deck area that incorporates either a fighting chair or a coffin centre hatch. Both these configurations still allow enough space for another angler to work the deck. Two 150 litre fuel tanks are built in amidships, and two moderate-sized fish hatches — one in each sponson — are big enough to hold the allowable catch legislated these days.
Also incorporated into this area are a hand basin, two livebait hatches, a wide marlin door in the transom and a substantial wooden deck to the outer extremities of the craft. The wide, level-topped gunnel, set at a very effective, workable height, finishes off this craft’s fishing area.
Access to the flybridge, via steps and a ladder, is extremely well designed and practical, both for climbing up as well as for getting down quickly when an “observer” needs to take a strike. As I have already said, the flybridge is spacious for a craft this size, and the comfortable seating and adequate instrumentation allows the skipper to do his job properly — and enjoy doing it.
The cabin, with access via a glass sliding door, assures total protection for the helm station situated in this area. Indeed, the entire crew can take refuge here during heavy weather or sit back and relax during quiet times. A full length bunk is provided in the starboard forward area to allow for a good, comfortable nap, and an accessible, practical flush toilet is situated on the port side.
Since 2001 Mallards have put a lot of thought into their CobraCat 900, and the experience they have gained producing this popular craft has undoubtedly helped them in the design and manufacture of the Cobra 800.
What’s more, the CobraCat 800 has inherited all the strengths, quality, styling and finishes that Mallards have become renowned for through their very extensive range of offshore sportfishing craft. Indeed, the CobraCat 800 is an immensely fishable craft all round.