By Reg Bragonier

The new Cabo 35 from California is bullet proof, nimble and roomy.

Ed Rice looked up at his sleek new sportfisherman, sitting on the rocks at Point Loma. The props and shafts had been torn off the night before when he'd run the boat aground in the fog at ten knots. "But the hull was practically unmarred," says Rice, an avid 56-year-old San Diego fisherman. "The scratches didn't even go through the gelcoat." So awed was he by the vessel's strength and finish that he phoned the manufacturer to suggest that a photographer be assigned to document the lack of hull damage.

Rice's call went to Henry Mohrschladt, president of Cat Harbor Boats, a man who made his reputation as a builder of quality sailboats. While Mohrschladt was pleased to hear such flattery in the form of a suggestion, he was not surprised. Quality, after all, is what goes into Mohrschladt's boats before the name goes on.

By way of explanation, when Mohrschladt and his partner Michael Howarth sold their sailboat company, they decided to create a sportfisherman that would set the standard for all other production boats. And, as I was to discover for myself during a weekend of fishing off the coast of New England, some things in life don't change: The new Cabo 35 suggests that Mohrschladt and Howarth build to a standard instead of to a price, refusing to scrimp on design, materials or execution.

New Englanders have a legendary penchant for brevity. Describing a sportfishing boat, a flinty Down Easter might say, "For them what want fishing, cruising is over." Traditionally that's been true of fishing boats in the thirty-something foot range. But Mohrschladt and Howarth set out to debunk the myth that a fisherman's battlewagon has to be Spartan.

There is no doubt about the Cabo's heritage as a fishing boat. The cockpit is large and uncluttered. At 130 square feet, it's big enough to satisfy four stand-up anglers. The nonskid, here as elsewhere on the boat, is an effective pattern imported from England. As for other critical fishing accoutrements, padded bolsters ring the cockpit, a pair of six-foot fish boxes are molded into the cockpit sole, and the two rigging stations, built over the engine boxes, double as spotter seats. The fly-bridge boasts seating for five, excellent 360-degree visibility and single-lever tournament controls.

Also to the point, as I was to learn maneuvering in the seas around Nantucket Island, 28 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, the Cabo 35 is extremely nimble. She tracks, turns and spins like a custom design.

Several factors contribute to the Cabo's agility. The modified-V hull design has a fine, 58-degree entry that parts surface chop. Large, flat planing sections inboard of the chines impart added lift under say and stability at trolling speeds. In addition, the deadrise, which carries 17-1/2 degrees to the transom, is augmented by a seven-inch keelson. Extending almost the entire length of the boat, the keelson contributes to exceptional tracking and helps to dampen rolling in cross seas. Also distinctive is the boat's flat, clean wake, a by-product of small propeller pockets that produce 12 to 15-foot trolling alleys.

But just as important as the blue wakes are the boat's generous accommodations. And here is where the Cabo 35 parts company with other sportfishers in her size class.

The Cabo's design is successfully balanced between the needs of dedicated fishermen and those of cruising couples. The large master stateroom forward is totally enclosed and private, as is the head adjoining it. The galley, offered either up or down, is equipped to serve a party of four on weekends or just captain and mate on week-long cruises. The salon is roomy and airy, even by cruiser standards, with plenty of seating for entertaining or just plain lounging.

Dr. Alan Hermer, a cardiologist in Huntington Beach, Calif., and his wife, Sandy, often use their Cabo to hunt for fish. "The boat backs down on fish like a dream," says Dr. Hermer of his bouts with marlin off San Clemente. But the Hermers also live aboard a week at a time and entertain friends. "I like the wide open spaces inside and the storage," says his wife, "and the boat's big enough to take 12 to 14 people to Avalon to watch the fireworks at night."

We departed Cape Cod early one Saturday last autumn, with winds blowing at a brisk 20 knots. I expected the ride out to Nantucket to be unsettling. I was in for a surprise.

When Mohrschladt and Howarth shifted from producing heavy, bullet-proof sailboats to the Cabo, they make a conscientious effort to improve performance by building light. They didn't stint below the waterline, because the hull is solid fiberglass. But the topsides are light, stiffened with a vacuum-bagged Airex core, and the decks and house are backed with end-grain balsa. Vinylester resin is used throughout. Ten percent lighter than polyester and 15 percent stronger, it is more impermeable and resists osmotic blistering.

As a result, a typical Cabo 35 equipped with twin 3208TA Caterpillar diesels weigh approximately 22,000 pounds, which accounts for the boat's acceleration and quickness. It also explains its responsiveness and why it could be threaded between seas and over waves with relative ease. The double chines effectively deflected spray, and heavy sound shielding suppressed engine drone. The ride to seaward was neither uncomfortable nor unpleasant.

Nevertheless, it wasn't until we found a lee along Nantucket's north shore that the Cabo's penchant for speed emerged. She wolfed along at 25 knots, a comfortable all-day-long cruising speed, the 375-horse power engines turning an easy 2,100 rpm. A nudge of the throttles to 2,400 rpm and the speed shot up to 30-plus knots. On the run back up the island's coastline I throttled down to 1,500 rpm. The boat settled into a fuel-efficient 14-knot groove, burning less than 10 gallons per hour.

Efforts to fish that day and the next were soured by the wind. The seas had kicked up considerably and the trolling was both sloppy and ineffective. Now if you happen to be one of those people who likes to mess about in boats, and most of us do, being sidelined by weather provides a ready excuse to poke into those recesses that go largely ignored.

The Cabo's engine room and bilge. I learned, were gelcoated front to back, top to bottom, and the engines had been custom painted at the plant. Another quality touch was the tinned, marine-grade wiring, color-coded, loomed, with anti-chafe grommets wherever it passed through bulkheads. All seacocks were bronze and each hose was nicely secured with a pair of T-clamps.

Hatch covers don't generally draw attention, unless the moldwork happens to be perfect and they feature recessed full-length piano hinges, snug-fitting gaskets and overboard scuppering. The same goes for clothes closets, or salon lighting, unless it's quality teakwood that's crafted just so.

The superb fit and finish and the attention to detail suggest that Mohrschladt and Howarth continue to build to the same exacting standards cited by Fortune magazine some years ago when their company's products were chosen as being among the best in the U.S.

The next morning the breeze had climbed to better than 30 knots and had clocked into the northeast, meaning we'd have to forego attempts to fish and instead return to the mainland with the wind on our nose. By the time we headed out, the tide was backing strongly into the wind, setting up haystacks to climb and holes to fall into. Gusts were blowing spindrift off the cresting seas.

At 1,800 rpm, however, the Cabo slipped along at 17 knots, its fine entry all but eliminating the bone-jarring pounding and shuddering that occur when pushing hard into head seas. For the next hour the bow cut through the surface slop and the flair forward shouldered aside six-foot seas. Then, as we neared the mainland's lee, the seas laid down and we increased speed to 25 knots, blasting the wrinkled surface veneer into small puffs of white spray.

At the end of such an outing I, for one, engage in some earnest self-discussion at the dock. The fish we intended to catch off Nantucket will live to fight another day, I tell myself. And the Cabo will provide another opportunity to even the odds on some other occasion. It becomes a mantra, and I keep repeating it to myself as I stow the fishing rigs and hose off the boat.