FROM THE ARCHIVES: First published in TrailerBoat #178, March 2004
If I were a trailerboat builder with a no-expense-spared attitude, I would aim to make something like this brace of clever Cobalt bowriders. Although they are the babies of the range, the 200 and 220 bear testimony to the fact that sometimes you have to pay extra to get the job done right.
The top-shelf trailerboats have foam-filled hulls, composite construction, Kevlar in high-load areas, deep-vee running surfaces, throughbolted deck fittings, storage in every nook and cranny, and a club culture to boot.
On the design front, the bowriders flaunt innovation that is refreshing in the price-conscious, pop-out, boat-to-go market. Here, as in hometown America, these craft are pitched as premium products where price plays second fiddle to quality.
On the water, the boats deliver ride comfort and driver pleasure beyond what you are likely to find in your average 20ft bowrider. And there is little evidence of ho-hum, cookie-cutter styling. The boats are sophisticated, but in a subtle, understated way.
While the first-time boatbuyer might not appreciate all the nuances, the discerning one most certainly will. The details make these Cobalts special. One needs to inspect the boats closely to see the great finish even in out-of-the-way areas.
For example, there are hidden clips and zip-up covers for all removable items such as the infills and cockpit tables. There are purposeful tow eyes welded to beautiful, big stainless-steel bow plates. And there are circuitbreakers on the wiring.
Cobalt keeps a lid on the quality of its boats by building a comparatively small range of mainly dayboats from 20–36ft. Their resale value overseas is said to be exceptionally strong, which is hardly surprising given the above details and the impressive transferable warranties.
The hulls and decks come with a 10-year warranty; there is two years on upholstery, canvas and gelcoat, and five years on the electronics, engine and sterndrive, which is beyond what the local manufacturers offer.
OPTIONED TO GO
Cobalt does a good job of promoting its own identity, yet you can option its boats to make them unique. The factory-fitted options are the right way to go. They leave the aftermarket products looking, well, somewhat ad-hoc.
Take the canvas for example. The optional bimini top on both boats was attached to a unique tensioning system using heavy-duty snaplock fittings to make assembly, er, a snap. Once in place, the framework is strong enough to swing off, says Cobalt.
Even the company’s entry-level 200 can be tricked up to a luxury level. Options include a thumping ski-tow sound system with subwoofer, air compressor to fill the tow toys, docking lights, Captain’s Call throaty exhaust and cruise control for set-and-forget wakeboarding.
The boats arrived with optional dinette tables that rest on a sturdy pedestal base in the cockpit. When collapsed, the items are contained by clips in lockers and protected by zip-on covers. Ditto the infill cushions that to turn the aft lounge into a sunpad and the bow into a daybed. There were also optional flagpoles, woodgrain dashes and twin batteries.
The 200 had a black hull, the 220 a blue one, with the latter also getting the coolest recessed stainless-steel headlights I’ve ever seen. Both boats were fitted with MerCruiser’s 260hp 5.0lt MPI and Bravo One drives — a combination that is the base powerplant for the 220. But if power matters, the 200 can be ordered with a Volvo or MerCruiser motor up to 320hp and the 220 will take a 425hp big-block V8 with Bravo Three leg. I don’t doubt either boat can handle the extra power.
The beam of both hulls is identical at 2.62m, but the 220 has noticeably more leg and living room in its stretched cockpit. There is also more freeboard for carrying adults up front. That extra volume on the 220 will cost $10,000 over the package price of the 200.
While both models excelled during their tour of the harbour, the 220 exuded a bigger-boat feel. If you plan to look beyond the river and skipark, it’s definitely the pick of the duo.
SPOT THE DIFFERENCE
The two Cobalts greeted me while pulled up to a Sydney Harbour beach. There is plenty to admire about the boats. The heavy-duty stainless-steel tow rings and scuff plates, stylish horn cleats throughbolted to aluminium backing plates, and stainless-steel supports for sturdy safety-glass windscreens all caught my eye.
The bows contained dedicated anchor lockers — something that isn’t always a feature of American trailerboats — and the locker lids lift on gas struts to reveal black-lined rope-storage and anchor bins. The locker lids are also topped with a non-skid finish so you can use them as tread steps. But bow ladders, which are usually a feature of so-called deckboats, would have given even better access to the interiors from the beach.
The U-shaped bow seating features sculptured cushions and top-quality ribbed vinyl upholstery. The seats are supportive and they give a sense of security to their occupants thanks to the boat’s deep bows and high freeboard.
Both boats also have sufficient legroom for two people to stretch on the seats, using the padded backrest on the front of the dash. Add the bow infills and you can doze at rest. The bigger 220 could probably take two adults and two kiddies in its bow.
The bows are fully lined, with recessed speakers for the sound system, and courtesy lights. Deep storage lockers live under the lounge backrests for lifejackets.
The seat bases in the bow — and elsewhere — are hinged for ease of access to the storage beneath them. This way, there are no fiddly cushions falling to the floor and no fumbling to reassemble the seating after rummaging about inside.
I was impressed by the quality of the cleats and blown away by the pop-up gas filler and groovy engine vents. The aft boarding platform is also excellent: removable and large enough for a couple to sit on before skiing or swimming.
The boarding platform is traced by a stainless-steel rail but — and this is the only fault I found with these boats — there isn’t enough room to get your hand in the gap inside the rail. I mean, what’s the first thing you do when return from a swim? Hang off the transom, of course. So why not make that bumper rail double as a handhold?
The snap-release swim ladder is an ingenious bit of work. I also noted a handy wet locker in the transom for togs, and a clever pop-up skipole that was well braced inside the engine room.
The transoms of the 200 and 220 have padded tops through which moulded steps lead into the cockpit. Optional infills turn the transoms into sunpads with full-width padded aft lounges. There is room to carry six people on the 200 and eight on the 220. Listed maximum capacity of the boats is 11 people.
The moulded sunpads on the boats double as bonnets that lift on gas struts to reveal the MerCruiser mill. There was loads of servicing room around the V8 and twin batteries located for even weight distribution. Dividers are used in the engine bay to create storage areas alongside the motor.
To port is a wakeboard rack. I also noted hoses and overboard drains more in keeping with big-boat fitout. And there was an engine-hour meter nearby. Neat.
In the cockpit, snap-in carpets assist with post-party or beach-picnic cleanups. The drinks are kept in lined iceboxes under the portside aft lounge base. Lift the other lounge base for access to the battery switch and fire extinguisher. There are, of course, plenty of drinkholders dotted about the place.
The co-pilot’s and skipper’s seats are fully adjustable and swivel aft so you can create a social round-table cockpit seating arrangement for doing lunch. Skis and suchlike can be kept underfloor in the long, rubber-lined wet locker. The underside of the lid holds a supplied toolkit. Nice detail.
Two other details worth noting: the engine-room lid is a double-moulded section of fibreglass — no daggy finishes anywhere —
and there is a U-frame around the boat near the companionway to the bow that serves as a kind of torsion device.
A lot of thought has gone into the driving position: nothing is out of place, views are good, and the design is functional in an automotive way. The sturdy Taylor Marine windscreen has only the slightest distortion in its curved sections, which is par for the course.
The windscreen can be held open with a stainless-steel catch — not a dicky clip — that stops the windscreen slamming shut when underway. A hinged windbreak panel lets you seal the bow from the cockpit for those off-season runs or dashes back home in nasty weather.
The helm seats let you look through the windscreen or over its top edge if you flip the bolster on their base. The hinge mechanisms that facilitate this are extra-heavy-duty numbers.
A lockable glovebox and stereo are mounted ahead of the co-pilot. A stereo remote is supplied on the dash in front of the skipper. Both dash areas behind the windscreen are covered in matt-grey, no-glare, soft-touch vinyl.
The woodgrain trim behind the leather steering wheel was an option. The smart, silver gauge mounts were reminiscent of something from a retro racecar or an old Cadillac. Gauges run the gamut from engine temperature to trim, tacho to fuel level. Each boat also had a compass, LCD air/water temperature gauge and great access under the dash to the wiring.
The switchpanels have circuitbreakers for the bilge pump, blower and lights. There are two 12V accessory leads for mobile phones or video recorders or, hey, a small portable kettle for making a cuppa. There is a padded armrest and storage for the skipper too.
While the 200 and 220 are Cobalt’s smallest boats, they exude a giant-killer feeling on the water. Sound is deadened by the cored cockpit sole and foam filling. The boats and motors feel smooth, balanced and very much in tune.
The 200 can hold plane to 2400rpm and 23kmh, but at 2600rpm and 32kmh the boat levels out. You can lift the sterndrive leg and cruise freely at 3000rpm and 43kmh or beat a hasty retreat at 58kmh.
Top speed was 79kmh at 5100rpm, whereupon the rev limiter made its presence felt. So, the 200 could probably do with a slightly bigger prop.
While the 220 had a base power match, it performed better than the lighter 200. There was less bow lift when climbing to planing speed and less flightiness crossing the chop at high speed.
The longer waterline length leads to a really solid feel and extra-smooth motion through the waves. The deep freeboard up front helps generate the big-boat feel. This one is for taming the bay and fast-tracking to a quiet beach somewhere.
The 220 held a handy 21kmh low-speed plane at 2200rpm, a smooth cruise of 38.5kmh at 3000rpm, and a 64kmh fast cruise at 4000rpm. Top speed was 79kmh — a whisker better than the 200, which, as mentioned, was slightly underpropped.
There are a lot of details that make the Cobalts different and better, but at the end of the day it all comes back to money. The company doesn’t believe in costcutting and cornercutting. Rather, it builds boats from the best ingredients for real connoisseurs. They do a great job.
COBALT 200 & 220
Price as tested: $69,950/$76,850 w/ MerCruiser 5.0lt MPI petrol inboard including options, plus $7500 for dual-axle Tinka Classic trailer
Options fitted: Dinette tables, woodgrain dash, swim platform, bimini top, flagstaff, twin batteries, bow, rear lounge and sunpad cushion inserts, stainless-steel driving lights (220)
Priced from: About $59,950/$69,940 plus trailers
Material: GRP w/ Kevlar reinforcing
Length (overall): 6.81m/7.30m
Deadrise: Deep-vee 20°
Rec/max hp: 220–320/260–420
Weight: 1724kg/1890kg hull only
Make/model: MerCruiser 5.0lt MPI
Type: Fuel-injected V8 petrol four-stroke inboard
Rated hp: 260 @ 4800rpm
Weight: About 450kg dry
Drive (make/ratio): Bravo One sterndrive
Jet 1 Marine, Granville, tel (02) 9637 5775. For more information and your nearest dealer, contact Cobalt Boats Australia, tel (02) 6290 2738 or visit www.cobaltboats.com.au
Superb build quality and attention to detail
Good ride and handling
No bow boarding ladder
Needs grabs on stern
200 needed re-propping
First published in TrailerBoat #178
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