You know the car commercial where they roll a marble in between the crease of the hood and fender? Big deal. If the car was really cool, the marble would roll up the hood. Good thing for car makers that Cat Boating CoverHarbor Boats, builders of the Cabo 35 Express, isn't in the automobile business. These guys could make that marble stay in the groove, roll uphill over the windshield and back down the trunk crease doing 30 knots.

Case in point: you only have to drop the center hatch over the engine compartment to appreciate what this new boat is all about. The hatch doesn't slam, but sort of eases down. And it doesn't slide into place until you step on it and turn the stainless-steel latch-the type of robust hardware required by the Coast Guard on passenger-carrying vessels. The hatch's resistance to closing is the result of its tight fit with the gasket material. In fact, this tight fit is the reason why there's a woooosh of incoming air at WOT. With an eager pair of 422-hp 3208TA Caterpillars under that hatch, Capt. Mike Moe of HMY Yacht Sales and I ripped along at 39.5 mph in the ocean off Miami Beach, never recording louder than 93 dB-A. For comparison, when I tested the Blackfin 33 Combi (January, 1994) with identical engines, the sound level reached 98 dB-A going 39.3 mph.

Shine On Brightly

And it wasn't just the hatch. Every piece of machinery in the engine room fits like the tail on a tuna. The hatch, for instance, lets you take a quick look underway. But a strap needs to be added to keep it open while you're moving. For main access, a Bernell hydraulic system rams the bridge deck skyward for routine maintenance.

"Brilliant" aptly describes the machinery space. Polished aluminum engine mounts gleam brightly in the snow-white gelcoated bilge with a white fiberglass diamond-plate deck. The Cats are painted a dazzling white with chromed accents. Hooking up our DZL fuel flow gear, I lost white paper towels three times.

Straddling the Cats, Recor 900 filters have fuel pressure gauges to change elements. I also like the inspection plates over the fiberglass fuel tanks which contained the pickup and return fittings. You can clean out these tanks with less effort than it takes to vacuum a rug.

The engine room resembles a loaded tackle box. Every base is covered. Through-hull fittings are labeled. Wiring is bundled, loomed and run in conduit as are the Aeroquip fuel lines. Chafing gear is added where the wiring passes through stringers and bulkheads. I could easily get outboard of both engines and there wasn't one mechanical, plumbing or electrical accessory that was difficult to reach.

The exterior is teak-free and the fiberglass work (solid-glass bottom, Baltek end-grain balsa coring above the chine) is seamless.

Hi Ho Cabo

The biggest attraction of an express fishboat is the ease with which it can work an offshore edge. How it performs is another story. The Cabo can handle bluewater chores as easily as a tuna bends a rod.

Virtually every piece of gear a tournament angler needs can be stowed in cockpit lockers for the ride out, yet can be reached easily even before the turbocharger spools down to trolling speed. Two fiberglass consoles are the heart of this fishboat's cockpit.

The port side console holds a bait prep station. Rods stow dry and safe in a locker below. The starboard side console starts out as an insulated ice chest or stowage bin and converts to an optional freezer. Console tops have heavy-duty stainless locking clasps. Undo them and the lids pop and stay open on gas struts. Say good-bye to pinched fingers, a nice thought especially if the boat bucks into a sea when you reach inside. Park yourself atop these consoles and it'll take one sneaky fish to steal a bait without your seeing him first.

The 7'6" long by 10'10" wide cockpit sole has a gentle crown and deep gutters to sluice water out the scuppers quickly. Molded nonslip grips feet like mackerel scales cling to a rod.

A pair of insulated fishwells, each 4'6 1/2" long by 1' 2" wide by 1'1" deep, drain through pump-out systems. These wells also have locking hatch pulls that you pack them full of block ice for the ride off shore you won't have cubes when you start fishing.

If there's any drawback with express boats, it's the compromised visibility underway. Lower helms make it difficult to see over the bow. And it can get worse when the windshield frame or the enclosure zipper cuts into your line of sight. You either duck down, stand on your toes or flip on the autopilot and hope for the best.

Cabo snuffs out this problem by using a big windshield. I was always looking through glass regardless of the running angel, or whether I was sitting or standing. However, the large windshield means when you take water over the bow and it hits the glass it's not going to stop until it pours over the frame and splashes into your face or slides up the enclosure. Our test boat had neither a windshield wiper nor an enclosure, so plowing through four-footers pushed hard by a 25-mph ocean breeze made it a little damp, but only at displacement speeds. At cruise, the Cabo runs clean and dry, outrunning all but the most obstinate wind-blown spray. Backing down, it pivots like a blue-claw crab in a bucket willing to settle for a finger as its last meal. In a trough, the Cabo, with its 17 1/2-degree transom deadrise, prop pockets and reversed hard chine, rolls once, checks its motion and stabilizes.

Express Yourself

While the Cabo's mission is offshore fishing, you won't be short-changed if you decide to spend the night on the hook. There's a full-sized berth forward and the galley is equipped with a dual-voltage refrigerator, microwave, electric cooktop, deep stainless-steel sink and Corian countertops. Opposite the galley is a convertible settee and dinette. The head has a shower and a SeaLand Vacuflush MSD. Fairly standard stuff, but the varnished teak joinerwork features basketweave fronts that allow fresh air to circulate inside. It take a lot of man-hours to create this level of finish and it reflects Cabo's goal of producing a first rate fishboat that can run with the best.

In this case, the direct comparison is the Blackfin 33 Combi which lists for around $198,000 with V-8 gasoline 454 Crusaders, although the Combi is 1' narrower and 1'7" shorter. Base price of the Cabo with the same engines is $217,300. However, fishermen will want the diesels, which makes the price gap shrink. A comparably rigged Blackfin with 422-hp Cats runs around $300,000 while our test boat, which had optional a/c, ice maker, Corian countertops, plus 5kw Westerbeke genset, custom Pipe Welders tuna tower and Rupp outriggers, came in at $316,725. In all, clever thinking and incredible detailing. It's too bad Cat Harbor doesn't build cars.