It would be interesting to give two boat builders a blank sheet of paper and ask them each to come up with the "ideal" convertible sportfisherman in the low-to-mid 30-foot range. For this hypothetical exercise, the requirements would be permanent berths for two, a galley and head suitable for overnighting, a big cockpit, and a gas-engine price tag under 200 grand.

Even if we were able to afford such an experiment, we couldn't have asked for a more intriguing comparison than the Blackfin 33 and the new Cabo 35. Similar in size (without bow platforms, the Blackfin is 32 feet 11 inches while the Cabo is 34 feet 6 inches), they both meet our aforementioned requirements, but each builder has approached the task from a different vantage point, basing decisions on what each thinks the serious sportfishing skipper really wants.

Florida-built Blackfin, a top name in the fishing market, builds a range of boats from 25 to 38 feet. The early Blackfins were a seemingly obvious derivative of the Bertram 31, which then owned the sportfishing franchise in that size range. When Bertram dropped the 31, Blackfin had a clear shot at the top and motored steadily ahead into a position of repute.

The Cabo 35, built by Cat Harbor Boats, is the new kid on the block. Cat Harbor was formed after Henry Mohrschladt and Michael Howarth sold Pacific Seacraft Corporation, a sailboat builder formerly picked by Fortune magazine as one of the 100 best American manufacturers. Prevented from building another line of sailboats by a non-compete clause in the sales contract, the duo had to look for other worlds to conquer.

Mohrschladt says he had always been fascinated with sportfishermen and has often admired the likes of Rybovitch, Merritt, and other highend sportfishermen. After taking a look at the powerboat market, he and Howarth thought they could do better. They say they launched the company with two goals: Build a quality product from superb tooling, and allow no compromises.

Both of the boats we tested were privately owned, and both had Cat 3208 power--the Cabo with the 375-horse version, and the Blackfin with 320 horsepower.

Design and Construction

The Blackfin hull is a constant-deadrise deep-V with a minimum deadrise of 21 degrees, a shape that has proven itself in terms of seakeeping at cruising speed. Planning strakes run from above the waterline at the bow, where they serve to knock down spray, ending alongside the propeller shafts. The origins in the Ray Hunt-designed, deep-V Bertram hull are still evident, though the Blackfin's lines have evolved over the years, executed by the company's talented in-house design team. Perhaps the most significant improvement over the early Bertrams is the Blackfin's considerable flare in the forward sections, which helps shoulder aside heavy seas without burying the bow.

The Cabo sports a modified-V hull with a deadrise at the transom of 17-1/2 degrees. The lines come from the board of noted West-Coast naval architect W.I.B. "Bill" Crealock. The bottom has planning strakes as expected, but it incorporates a wide flat section below the waterline at each chine with a 1-1/2 inch deep ridge running its length. This flat area provides added lifting surface for planning, and contributes to stability at trolling speeds or when lying ahull in a choppy seaway. Another feature intended to help control the deeper hull's tendency to roll at trolling speed--one less common these days than the flat area at the chine--is a 7-inch-deep, 16-foot long keel that ends about 5 feet forward of the stern.

The Blackfin 33's construction could be described as conventional, using polyester resin in a solid-fiberglass hull. The deck laminate incorporates a combination of Klegecell foam and balsa coring to reduce weight and increase stiffness without sacrificing strength. Blackfin uses mechanical fasteners and 3M 5200 adhesive to secure the hull-to-deck joint.

The Cabo's construction is more impressive, we feel, and uses more expensive materials. It is built using vinylester resin throughout to resist blistering, with stitched bi-directional cloth for reinforcement. Below the waterline, the hull is solid fiberglass. A vacuum-bagged Airex core stiffens and lightens the topsides, while an end-grain balsa core does the job in the deck. Cabo goes the extra mile to install flush through-hull fittings, and to fair the struts into the hull, which should help to make up for some of the extra drag of the warped-plane hull and keel.

The Cabo 35 also stands out in moldwork, as well as in fit and finish. One example: Every deck hatch aboard the Cabo fit perfectly. The Blackfin, on the other hand, while exhibiting what has become acceptable in the marine industry, lost points for hatch covers that scraped against their frames or that were a different height from the surrounding fiberglass sole.

The builders of the Cabo 35 have lavished well-executed nonskid on most of the boat's horizontal surfaces, providing excellent footing without being overly abrasive to knees or bare feet. The crinkly nonskid on the Blackfin didn't provide as good a grip, even when dry. Moreover, nonskid was missing altogether from the Blackfin's cabin top extending from the house to the bow cleats. Blackfin sales manager Jack Robertson says, "that's what the customers want," explaining that with the advent of remote-control anchor windlasses, many owners don't venture forward and prefer the easy-to-clean glossy surface.

Both boats have sturdy welded railings. The Cabo's stainless steel rail also incorporates a toe loop for those who do venture forward and like to work fish from the bow. The Cabo's bow rail is 33 inches high forward, and extends all the way back to the cockpit at no less than 25 inches high. The Blackfin's aluminum rail is a maximum of 25 inches in height, and stops at the cabin house where side grab rails take over. Since convenient and safe access to the bow is a priority with PBR's editors, we clearly prefer the Cabo in this regard. We also like the Cabo's ground-tackle arrangement, with a slot in the platform that permits the shank of a patent-type anchor to recess flush, eliminating a potential toe-stubber.

Poking into the nooks and crannies of both boats, we found that the Cabo has a fully gelcoated bilge, while the Blackfin is coated in visible areas only. Both builders do a good job of tabbing the bulkheads in place, but Cabo takes care to use grommets to guard against chafe everywhere a cable, hose, or wire passes through the bulkhead. In several instances, we found the Blackfin's wiring or plumbing resting against the splintered edges of holes through the bulkheads.

Both builders make good use of backing plates behind deck fittings. Cabo uses thick aluminum plates under all cleats and other load-bearing gear, while Blackfin molds aluminum plates into the laminate under the fittings. We appreciated the ready access to the fasteners for all the deck hardware on the Cabo. Blackfin hides some of theirs behind woodwork or under fabric that must be removed to effect repairs or replacement.

Because the engine boxes protrude into the cockpit on both boats, it's difficult to calculate the usable space, but suffice it to say that cockpit volume is ample aboard both boats. Blackfin designers worked in considerable cockpit crown to shed water, a necessary feature in light of the step-down to the companionway. Both boats have a pair of fish boxes in the cockpit sole--the Cabo's being considerably larger. Cabo provides sumps with pumps in each permanently molded box, with fully gasketed hatch covers equipped with anti-rattle latches. Blackfin also uses anti-rattle latches, but the gaskets aren't as beefy and pumps are not provided.

Venturing below aboard the Blackfin, you descend two steps between the engine boxes before reaching the cabin door, while the Cabo cabin sole is slightly above cockpit level. In theory, at least, if you filled the cockpit of the Blackfin, the cabin could then be flooded, since the cabin sole is 25 inches below that of the cockpit. Blackfin's Robertson points out that there is a sealed well under that area with a separate automatic bilge pump. We think the risk is acceptable, but we would keep the cabin door closed in questionable conditions offshore.

Up top, the flying bridge on both boats is comfortable, with dual helm chairs aft of the console and a bench seat forward. The bridge is accessed by a short ladder over the starboard engine box on the Blackfin, or a portside ladder from the cockpit sole on the Cabo. One peculiarity of the Cabo's bridge is the flat-topped console, which complicates the installation of flush-mounted electronics. Blackfin supplies molded-fiberglass electronics boxes, which protect the equipment and make them easy to see.

On the other hand, we took considerable exception to the large fiberglass box that passengers are forced to step over to reach the forward seating position in the Blackfin's flying bridge. Presumably, this arrangement simplifies the routing of control cables down the starboard side. We would have simply reversed the bridge layout so that the bridge sole remained unobstructed. In additon, Blackfin's flying bridge arrangement creates a footwell forward that drains into the lockers under the forward seat. That means contents will get wet and stay that way. Lastly, while we lauded Blackfin's molded-in boxes for electronics, we have to criticize instrument access, which requires the removal of a silicon-sealed footwell. Cabo uses a special fold-down water-proof hatch that provides sufficient room to access the neatly loomed electrical system.

Cabin Interior

Here again, both designers take a different tack. The Blackfin interior is characterized by less "sole space," primarily because it is mounted lower in the hull. (In a world of compromises, this equates to a lower CG and improved handling in the rough stuff.) Descending from the cockpit, you enter the companionway and pass on one level by the enclosed head to starboard, a dinette to port, a galley farther forward to starboard, ending at a V-berth under the foredeck.

Taking full advantage of its slightly greater overall dimensions, the Cabo has a large cockpit-level salon with a settee port and starboard. A galley counter wraps around the port forward corner of the house (a galley-down version is optional). Proceeding down two steps, one finds an enclosed head to starboard and a private forward stateroom with island-style double berth, bureau, and settee.

Both boats have undercounter refrigerators, flush-counted cooktops, and microwaves. The joinerwork on the Cabo is superior, we feel, with extensive use of teak panels and doors, while Blackfin relies more heavily on the use of Formica. The Cabo is notable for other premium-quality materials, such as the Corian countertops and recessed halogen lighting.

The Cabo's towage solutions appear both clever and plentiful, ranging from a large hanging locker forward (cedar lined, 3 feet square, and more than 4 feet high) to a locker behind the settee that holds a quiver of 8-foot fishing rods. There are literally no dead areas in the Cabo, with fully finished lockers, drawers, and bins tucked everywhere. Also, as you might expect, there are fiddles on most horizontal surfaces (except, unfortunately, the galley counter) to deep things in place.

Blackfin utilizes unfinished wood drawers and carpeted galley lockers, a type which we've found hard to keep clean. Fiddles are omitted on many surfaces, including those above the galley lockers and on the shelves surrounding the forward berths.

The Blackfin has a shower stall in the enclosed head, which is partitioned off with clear plexiglass, while the Cabo uses the less-desirable curtain enclosure. A shower stall is optional on the Cabo, but it cuts into the saloon area. The heads on both boats are nicely finished in white fiberglass, and are quite pleasant and spacious.

The Blackfin's sleeping accommodations seem a bit stingy, with a forward berth that's only 6 feet 5 inches long and only 18 inches wide at the foot. We don't like to see berths less than 6 feet 6 inches long, particularly if they're narrow at the foot, since you need room for a pillow and to stretch out your toes. The Blackfin's dinette also converts to a berth, but it is only 5 feet 10 inches by 46 inches wide, so it can only be used by couples who are very short--or very friendly.

Engine and Mechanicals

Both boats have engine boxes extending into the cockpit. Aboard the Cabo, however, the engines pass under the main bulkhead, so you check the oil and water by lifting heavily insulated settee cushions. Compared to the Blackfin, it takes second place. The Blackfin engine boxes hinge upward from the centerline with pneumatic assists that make opening the boxes a one-handed operation. The result is complete access to all sides of the engines. On the Cabo, the engine covers slide aft giving good access to the engine area, albeit less conveniently.

All the hoses are double-clamped on both boats. Batteries on the Blackfin are somewhat more awkward to reach through the lift-out fish boxes; batteries on the Cabo are positioned under hatches in the cockpit sole and are easy to check. Aft cockpit hatches provide good access to steering hydraulics, rudderstocks, and stuffing boxes on both boats.

After a lifetime of boat maintenance, we very much like the safety of the fiberglass fuel tanks aboard the Cabo, since they are well-installed and won't corrode. The Blackfin has painted aluminum tanks, which are installed better than many we've seen, but are still prone to corrosion.

The electrical panel on the Cabo is back-lit, so all switch labels show up even in the dark--a nice touch for those who don't sleep with a flashlight. The panel hinges outward to expose perfectly loomed and labeled wiring, all of which is routed through the boat in plastic conduits for protection from chafe and moisture. Gaining access to the Blackfin's wiring is a good deal more taxing.


We clocked the Cabo with our radar gun at 41 mph (35.6 knots) at 2750 rpm, while the Blackfin topped out (with erratic tachs) at 32 mph (27.8 knots) at about 2800 rpm. The Cabo in this case had a 110-horsepower advantage, and carried slightly more than half a load of fuel and water, while the Blackfin's tanks had been topped off before we got aboard.

The Cabo cruised at 2200 rpm and 28 knots, with a fuel consumption of about 30 gallons per hour. Because of the balky tachs, we were unable to get an equivalent fuel-consumption reading on the Blackfin. Sound levels were significantly lower on the Cabo, with a full throttle reading on the bridge of 76 decibels compared to 82 on the Blackfin.

In profile, the Cabo is definitely a taller boat than the Blackfin, which has the low, lean, "war-wagon" look that seems to translate into offshore stability. Nevertheless, we didn't notice any real difference in handling, perhaps because so much effort had been made to reduce the Cabo's topside weight. Although we ran these boats in moderate conditions only, they each have a solid, no-nonsense feel that would instill confidence in any condition. We have no reservations about recommending either for all-weather operation.

The Bottom Line

Base price on the Cabo 35 with a pair of 454 gas Crusaders is $189,300, and a host of other engines (Cummins, Volvo, and Detroits) are available. Base price on our Cat 3208TA-powered test boat was $233,300.

The base price of the Blackfin 33 with 454 Crusaders is $186,795. As tested, with 3208Ts, it listed for $232,785. With the same 375-horse Cat 3208TAs that the Cabo had, the Blackfin would list for $249,750, or better than $16,000 more.

With the gas engines, and at about the same price, we would clearly prefer the larger, roomier Cabo over the leaner, meaner-looking Blackfin. With diesel engines, and at $10,000 or $15,000 less, our penchant for the Cabo becomes clearer still.

Frankly, as much as we appreciate the Blackfin's strong points, we don't see what warrants the higher price, unless it's the name Blackfin. The name Cabo may eventually command a premium, too, but for now, we think it's a lot more boat for the money. Plus, we believe the Cabo exhibits better construction standards, better fit and finish, and a number of superior design details. Based, therefore, on the combination of quality and price, we give the nod to Cabo.


Reprinted form Powerboat Reports Copyright©1992 Belvoir Publications, Inc.Powerboat Reports is published monthly (12 issues) by Belvoir Publications, Inc., 75 Holly Lane, Box 2626, Greenwich, CT 06836-2626.800-829-9086. Subscriptions are $29 annually.