Nor is it the ideal platform for every fisherman. On this boat, you fish from the (deep and sizable) cockpit—there'll be no chasing a fish around the hull. The 31 Express was designed as a deep-sea, big-fish hunter of the canyons and, within those parameters, it fulfills its mission exceptionally well. It is also a rare design that truly provides both fishing (c. 60 square feet of cockpit sole) and cruising amenities (6' 9" of headroom below) without seriously compromising either function.
Cabo, as many know, got its start about eight years ago, after Henry Mohrschladt and Mike Howarth sold Pacific SeaCraft, builders of rugged little sailing craft in Dana Point, California. Having signed a no-compete clause, the two formed Cat Harbor Boats and embarked on building a top-of-line fisherman, beginning with the Cabo 35, which we reviewed back in April of '92.
This was the first Cabo designed by Louis T. Codega, best known for his Regulator hulls, along with Carolina Classic, the Hines Farley 63, and some of newer Rybovitches. The 31 has been in production about one year; Codega also is designer of the new Cabo 45. The smaller version of the Cabo 35 that was introduced about six years ago, but, with Codega's touch, has a different hull bottom than that on the Bill Crealock designed original. (One rap against the 35 was that it was not as good at meeting a head sea as, for example, the Blackfin.)
Mohrschladt, company president, said they were looking, in the 31, for "a hull that was soft-riding as well as fast" and that also would provide a stable platform for fishing. Codega was hired because of his reputation for producing comfortable, workable hulls. "We were looking for ride," Mohrschladt said.
The 31 has an extremely deep forefoot that is carried back fairly far (there's no keel as on the 35); the V at the bow is 46 degrees, tapering, but gradually, to a moderate 18.5 degrees at the stern. The Cabo 35, by contrast, is a modified-V that sports wide flat sections near each chine, each of which incorporate a 1-1/2-inch deep crease along the full length; it's also fitted with a full-length 7-inch keel—the whole thought being to enhance lift as well as stability at rest or trolling speeds.
On the 31, the big forefoot and the sharp bow are designed to give the boat great heads-on sea-keeping authority (which we can attest to). It also creates a sense of appearing larger than it is—when we saw a 31 side-by-side with the 35 at the dock, we were hard pressed to tell which was the bigger boat. If the 35 could be faulted for head-sea performance, there's little doubt it is stable; the deeper-V 31, on the other hand, theoretically might give up some stability at rest. But Codega seems to have found a happy balance: Considerable beam (12 feet), reverse chines, and the moderate-V at the transom combine to prevent rolling and provide stability. (There's also a series of running strakes, two per side, that run part way aft from the bow that, again in theory, might add lift while helping to knock down spray.) The 31 draws more than the larger version—3' 2" vs. 2' 6" although prop tunnels (pockets) keep things from getting deeper.
We'd expect anyone asking a quarter-million for a 31-footer to put together a pretty good boat, and it appears that is exactly what Cabo has done. The quality of the fit and finish—and this boat was having the canvas installed when we first saw it—was immediately obvious, and borne out by subsequent observation. We're not surprised to find a sticky door or hatch on a brand new boat, but we found none on the Cabo; nor did we see any sloppy finish work—anywhere.
The 31 is a fairly heavy boat for its size (19,500 pounds, compared to 11,500 for a Tiara 31 open, about 16,000 for the old Blackfin 32 Combi) and one reason is a solid laminate. Below the waterline, the Cook NPG ISO gelcoat is coated with two layers of expoxy before the bottom paint goes on. Inside the gel is layer of mat followed by six layers of 2415 biaxial cloth, overlapped at the appropriate stress points. Instead of a separate vinylester resin barrier to deter osmotic blistering, vinylester resin is used through the laminate. Morris Yachts—one of the few other builders we know of who do this—say the vinylester resin not only helps block water migration, it provides excellent adhesion. It's also an expensive way to lay up a boat.
Above the chines, the hull is cored with Baltek end-grain balsa, as is the deck. Four longitudinal stringers are cored with fir plywood, which is laminated with 2415 stitched roving. There are three glass sandwich bulkheads, but before they are tabbed in, the hull-deck joint is made. The shoebox-style joint is mated with 3M 5200 adhesive, then fastened every four inches with through-bolts. The inside of the joint is then glassed over twice (the absence of bulkheads means no gaps) for further security. This is about as thorough as a hull-deck joint can be done, in our experience. "It's like a tank," agrees Mike Howarth, vice president. "It's a heavy little boat."
Lay-up takes about five days, with the hull sitting in the mold for two additional days. The Cabo carries a five-year warranty that includes blister coverage.
Fit and finish aside, it's obvious that a lot of work went into the 31's tooling (both Howarth and Mohrschladt have backgrounds in fiberglass tooling). There are moldings everywhere—64 in all, Howarth estimates, 14 for the helm deck alone. A molded glass module forms just about the entire interior of the hull, as well as deck, headliner, head interior, and basis for the bow platform. The engine compartment is another module, strong enough, Howarth says, to support the weight of the engines on its own. Instead, it is installed over the stringer system before the hull leaves the mold. The top part of the engine compartment—which is also the bottom of the helm deck—is another module, cored with balsa, and with depressions for installing insulation.
There are two distinct parts to the Cabo 31—the cockpit, from which the fishing is done, and the forward portion consisting of the helm deck, tuna or marlin towers, and bow. The cockpit, which measures 10' wide by 5' 7" long, doesn't overwhelm or dominate the boat, yet it is large enough to easily accommodate four (hard) working fishermen. It's also reinforced for installation of an optional fighting chair.
You can board via a transom gate to starboard, with a monster heavy-duty latch and huge hinges (7 bolts per hinge on the gate alone). You also can add a swim platform as an option. Stainless-rimmed hawseholes at corners lead to 12" (yes, 1') cleats. There are two-rod holders per gunwale, plus two under-gunwale racks per side. The sole is covered with a molded-in subdued diamond pattern non-skid—similar to that on Tiaras; we thought looked like it might be a little slippery, although no one slipped at any time despite water (and some diesel from our testing) spread across the sole. At 26 inches deep, the cockpit also isa reasonably secure place to fight a fish (there's also toeholds under the gunwales). Fishing accommodations include a double-doored 2' deep battle with a drain at the center of the transom; at only 1-1/2' thick, this is really not an obstruction for a fisherman working over the transom. There's a two-door fishbox in the floor at the transom, with removable box, which is detachable from its drain hose and macerator hookup. This can be converted to a livewell, if desired. The cockpit is well drained—the scuppers more than 1" deep, leading to 3" diameter drains at transom.
Step-downs amidships are topped with nonskid and contain fresh (port) and saltwater (starboard) washdowns.
Side decks are a reasonable 9-1/2" wide, with 9 of those inches with molded nonskid. A pulpit is standard on the 31, with a hawsehole leading to anchor locker. A windlass is optional, but most boats we saw carried one, and it's an option that makes sense on a boat this size. Foot-long bow cleats are tucked far enough under bow rail to minimize toe-stubs (even the 12" spring cleats have hawseholes for no snags going forward).
The helm area is a sizable space, up two steps from the cockpit. The aft area is flanked by two large, lockable baitwell lockers. There are several layouts available, but the (optional) one that we saw on most boats (and should gain the status of standard because of its good sense) provides a forward-facing co-pilot's seat opposite the helm. Behind each is a side-ways-facing jump seat. (The so-called standard version dispenses with the passenger seat and has a wraparound bench to port. The helm seat, a 36-inch long bench (6" thick) is very comfortable (and adjustable) with a good view of the extensive (but organized) gauge panel and all controls; there's plenty of room available for add-ons. Steering, as we discovered, is comfortable from either a sitting or standing position. Sightlines are superb, although one professional charter captain on board said he still preferred to steer from an upper station. There's dry storage under the helm seat, and also room for an optional icemaker; a four-drawer tackle box is under the companion seat. Forward is a flat dash with lift-up plexi cover for holding down a chart; this also permits you to mark routes with a grease pencil rather than scarring up the chart.
Access to engine and mechanicals is pretty amazing and caught the attention of passersby at the Miami show: To gain entrance to the engine room, you press a hydraulic button under the starboard gunwale, and the entire helm deck—about 500-600 pounds—begins to tilt back and rise up, like a Hollywood set. The ram operates off a 12-volt motor and hydraulic pump. Besides natural daylight, two large headlamp-style lights provide illumination. Even with two 3116 Cats (1,650 lbs. each, including transmission) and attendant connections, there's sufficient room to easily reach just about everything.
We've seen a lot of engine rooms—good, bad, and in between; the Cabo 31 space is one of best in terms of access, organization, quality of assembly, and user-friendliness. In short, it's a boat owner's or mechanic's dream. Mohrschladt explained that Cabo's intention was that all 31 engine rooms look pretty much identical; specific bosses—for all mechanical components and through-hulls—are molded in, so that assemblers place the various components in exactly the same place each time. Parts are identified by label plaques, so that even a novice can quickly identify what he or she is looking at (or for). This is deep space, 4' 3" from the bilges, and Cabo has installed vent ducts that have intakes on the side of the hull, then lead down to vents near the bottom of the cavity that pump cooling air deep into the compartment, and also extract moisture on the trip down. The space is well insulated—we read about 91 dBs at the helm at cruising speed from the twin turbo diesels—and the hatch is gasketed top and bottom for a secure fit. You don't get a genset with the Cabo, but there is room just aft of the engines to install a 5kW Westerbeke, an option that makes sense on a boat this size.
Handling of mechanicals is superb. The electrical panel on the forward bulkhead to starboard is textbook—color coordinated, nicely supported, and with positively-fastened terminals. At points where hoses, etc. must pass through a bulkhead, they are supported and protected from chafe by rubber grommets.
The fuel tank is molded fiberglass made by Cabo and holds about 320 gallons; that's about it—there's no room for a larger tank. With a pair of 350 hp cats, that gave the boat an average range of about 250 miles—about par for the class.
To step down (four steps, covered with Vetus "Safari" nonskid) into the 31 cabin is to forget you are on a fishing boat. The interior is well-arranged, roomy, and more tastefully done than on many dedicated cruising boats, even if there is less emphasis on cruisability than on a Tiara for example. Headroom is a generous 6' 9" in the main saloon. There's plenty of teak trim below, and you can choose an optional teak and holly sole over a carpet. Overhead, a molded liner with vinyl inserts conceals recessed halogen lighting. To port, is a cleverly laid out galley with pedestal sink (7" deep) that opens up counter space while providing a rounded edge to the module. The large countertop is Corian with a molded fit, including around the sink. There's an oversized Norcold reefer, two-burner stove, microwave, and the usual galley stuff.
Aft to port is the enclosed head and shower, which provides 6' 3" headroom. There's an opening Lewmar hatch and additional ventilation from the ship's a/c system. As a reminder that this is a fishing boat, there's vertical storage for three rods on the inboard wall—wash ’em down and rack ’em.
On the rear starboard bulkhead, as you enter, there's a sophisticated and fully labeled electrical panel (complete with additional engine gauges) that mirrors the wiring pattern in the engine compartment; if flips down for complete access to wiring and instruments. Nearby is a built-in TV console. Forward is a bench seat that converts to upper and lower single berths. Next, there's a hanging locker before the banquette, which fronts the V-berth. You get more rod storage behind louvered above either side of a large double berth. On the forward bulkhead, a louvered wooden hatch provides access to the anchor locker. Overhead, a large Lewmar screened hatch provides illumination and access—there's also a Sky Shade to block out dawn's early light for those who fished too hard the day before.
We took the 31 out to the Atlantic through the channel that separates Miami from Miami Beach. Seas were about three feet, not extreme, but there were also plenty of nasty wakes to beat against from the heavy traffic in the area—deep forefoot and high freeboard, we still covered the windshields with spray. Some Cabos have Morse throttles and controls combined with Hynautic hydraulic steering. This was a strictly Hynautic boat, and we found all the controls to work very well, with no slippage. Steering was extremely precise and required a light touch only, even though the wheel was fairly tight at about three turns lock-to-lock. The bow responded immediately to the most minute adjustments and held course when we took our hands off the wheel.
With our twin 3116 350-horse Caterpillars, we got on plane shortly after 1800 rpm, which the boat can then maintain as low as 1400 rpm. There is very little bow rise, but judicial use of trim upon coming onto plane rapidly (especially if you're carrying a full load of fuel) can drop the bow down a degree or two; but even at high speeds, the boat ran level and use of tabs might not be necessary. At any rate, at no time did we feel our vision from the helm was compromised. Several professional captains we talked to said the Cabo would normally be cruised a 2300-2400 rpm—about 24-25 knots or close to 30 miles per hour. We topped out a t 29.35 knots, or almost 34 mph. Those familiar with the boat said it will do about 37 knots with larger 420 hp cats (but the tradeoff here would be speed for extra engine weight and greater fuel consumption).
We pointed the Cabo at every wave and wake we could find and, even at cruising and top-end speeds, the boat responded with a (for a monohull) very soft ride. The bow would bang into a head sea—but no shock would be translated to those in the cockpit or on the helm deck. In fact, the hull, not surprisingly, rode much like a larger version of a Regulator.
If you've got the money, this is a boat you can take offshore in offshore conditions while maintaining reasonable cruising speed. A lot comes standard on the Cabo 31, but you'll probably want to add a genset, the teak and holly sole, cockpit coaming pads, stereo, air conditioning if needed, etc., which will bring your total close to $250,000. You can save a few bucks here and there by, for example, installing your own electric oil changers, instead of laying out $1,200 for Cabo's optional system. If you prefer a colored hull—and 28 percent of buyers do—it will cost you $3,300. There's a fairly complete electronics package that costs about $19,000 (but includes top-of-the-line items, such as a Northstar GPS plotter), and a fishing rig with marlin (or tuna) tower, canvas, and assorted accessories will add about $26,000. All told, we're up to about $300,000.
While that's a lot of money, this is a lot of boat, and in our opinion, you get excellent value for the price. We doubt that Cabo is getting rich off these models considering the quality of the components and the care with which they are put together. Add in an improved ride over the 35 and we're not sure Cabo has any viable competition at the moment in this niche and size range.