BOAT TEST BOSTON WHALER 280 OUTRAGE & 285 CONQUEST
Far from scuttled, these kissing cousins from Boston Whaler offer signature seaworthiness, five-star fishability, but greater creature comforts than ever before. DAVID LOCKWOOD finds gold at the end of the rainbow…
Realising we're not getting any younger, legendary American boatbuilder Boston Whaler has revamped its range of dedicated fishing boats to include more creature comforts than ever before. Even its hardcore centre console lineup has weather protection for us old salts. But however you look at them, the new 280 Outrage centre console and 285 Conquest walkaround tested here before a stunning rainbow are anything and everything but soft-core sea boats.
The Boston Whaler 280 Outrage breaks new ground with three-sided armour-plate safety class around its centre console, an electric forward vent window, and a T-top big enough to cast shade. The 285 Conquest walkaround sister ship takes comfort fishing a step further, with weather protection behind a full-width windscreen and under a hardtop, plus a cosy cabin that can sleep four for weekend fishing and family trips away.
As is Boston Whaler's style, both the 280 and 285 are presented as turnkey tournament fishing and family boats with everything but the electronics bundled aboard. As tested, the rigs ran outriggers, big livewells, serious underfloor fishboxes, bait-prep centres, terrific rod storage and heavy-duty deck gear. Add a spread of your favourite fish-finding gadgetry and you're ready to hit the water. And with clip-on cushions and, on the centre console especially, dedicated lounging and comfortable seating areas, you can follow up the serious fishing with frolicking time aboard.
In respect of the sea trails, as luck would have it, I got to test these boats in the kind of weather that fish enjoy more than battle-weary anglers. There were 15 to 20kts of bracing southeast wind, two-metres of short-packed swell, black clouds, showers and, dah-dah, a rainbow right on cue. But the Whalers made this not-so-pretty day bearable, riding high and dry, with a real sense of purpose. And, ultimately, that mean more pleasureboating days.
Marine multinational Brunswick Corporation owns Boston Whaler and Mercury, so it comes as no surprise to find both boats were pre-rigged for a pair of Mercury's latest supercharged four-stroke outboard Verado outboards. The 280 Outrage was the real weapon with twin 300hp Verados, the biggest six-cylinder outboards in the four-stroke range, while the 285 Conquest was a tad tamer with twin 250hp six-cylinder Verados and a beamier, higher-volume hull.
In the prevailing conditions, finding the comfort zone offshore with the 285 Conquest required tugging on the reins and settling back to 24 to 25kts at 4000rpm, but I let the leaner Outrage centre console have its head and it cruised at 31kts at the same rev setting. Although the 280 Outrage was the better of the two boats for straight-line speed, once you reach the fishing grounds, then troll, setup a drift, anchor - or just fudge about with the family somewhere -the 285 Conquest comes into its own.
Besides boasting greater weather protection behind the full-width windscreen with clears and hardtop, the helm on the 285 Conquest walkaround boat is located on a raised bridgedeck where commanding views unfold in all directions. That elevation will be a real boon to spotting fish and general navigation and, what's more, it doesn't come at the expense of cockpit space.
Importantly, both Whalers have a great sense of freeboard, making you feel doubly safe in their self-draining cockpits. With diamond-pattern non-skid, toerails and padded bolsters, you gain a real sense of security aboard these mid-range boats. Another nice thing is the buoyancy at rest and underway, with the transom easily carrying the weight of the big four-stroke outboards, while the bow has a natural tendency to lift over, rather than duck into the swells.
Interestingly, Whaler says its new 280 Outrage has been redesigned from the keel up with, among other things, a beamier hull. There is definitely more room around the centre console - in fact, you can fit optional snap-in seats for your crew - but also improved storage. Indeed, both Whalers are big on storage, which is another sign of seriously good offshore boats. You'll find a place for everything and everything has its place, right down to special downrigger weight holders.
Needless to say, Whaler made a name for itself on the back of its apparently unsinkable hulls. Each boat is built with a hull and a liner, then the void between is pumped full of liquid foam that sets firm. The resulting boats enjoy incredible reserve buoyancy.
Swamped capacity of the 280 Outrage is 1588kg, while the beamier 285 Conquest is rated to 1723kg. Whaler says these boats will float after having live rounds pumped into them, when chopped in half, speared with a marlin bill, or run up a reef. But the foam insulation adds to the ride comfort more often, helping dampen noise as you go.
Meantime, the hull shapes of the 280 Outrage and 285 Conquest expand on a pre-existing Whaler theme. There's a fine entry that soon flares to aggressive down-turned chines that, head on, almost resemble a cathedral hull. The effect is that the boats are stable at rest, with plenty of lift at trolling speeds, while also remaining dry at speed, even in pesky quartering seas.
With recessed Lenco trim tabs and individual outboard leg trims, I could keep the boats on an even keel in all directions and, I'm confident of saying, even with an uneven load of, say, a big tuna in one of the two underfloor killtanks. Another nice feature is the mid-range poke of the supercharged Verados. From go to whoa takes just seconds, making these ideal bar-crossing propositions. Or harbour or bay busters.
Engineering is in keeping with serious offshore boats, with stainless steel-skin fittings and seacocks with double hose clips on all the key plumbing lines, aluminium fuel tanks, heavy-duty deck gear and impressive electrical breaker panels. The underfloor fishboxes have macerator pumps, and there are decent raw-water pumps for your deckwash and bait tanks. You won't be disappointed peering into out-of-the-way places. Everything is built with purpose.
While the Whalers are designed on the drawing board for serious fishing, you still have to tick a few options boxes to make them tournament ready. The dynamic duo driven here boasts optional Taco radial outriggers with telescopic three-piece poles mounted on their hardtops. These are nice bits of gear, easy to set thanks to the snap-lock bases, and once deployed you still enjoy unfettered bow-to-stern fishing room and access.
Meanwhile, the decks are intentionally snag-free. The gunwales have hawse pipes and recessed inboard cleats rather than bollards, smooth welded one-piece bowrails with concealed windlass, and through-bow anchor dispatch systems. I also thought the outboard pod extensions weren't so big as to make fighting a fish around the transom impossible. With all that aforesaid buoyancy, you can stand outboard at sea, too. The new watertight marlin doors appear well made as well.
While the 285 Conquest had a functional set of heavy-duty rodholders, the spread was greater on the new 280 Outrage. There were two rodholders either side of the centre console, roughly amidships, three in each aft gunwale, and three across the transom, together allowing all kinds of lure spreads and drifting patterns.
The rather excellent centre console on the 280 Outrage is deserving of ink. It's surrounded by a powder-coated aluminium frame that looks good new but, at some point in its life, will require respraying. Stainless steel, on the other hand, responds to a mere polish. That said, it's a damn nice T-top with plenty of grabrails.
The six-rod rocket launcher has what the Americans call kingfish holders, as in angled corner rodholders from which you can troll a high-bait or lure. There are also recessed spreader and spotlights, stereo speakers, an overhead radio box, and a soft zip-up pouch for storing lifejackets and/or wet-weather jackets under the hardtop.
A CATACOMB OF STORAGE
Beneath the entire forward casting platform on the 280 Outrage is a catacomb of storage space. Plenty of thought has gone into it, with concealed rod lockers for six outfits - rod storage is inside the cabin of the 285 Conquest - a central fish well with pump-out, and dedicated recesses to hold twin buckets filled with bait or berley.
With clip-in cushions in place, the casting platform converts to a sunlounge for après fishing family days. It could even double as daybed or sleep-out if you are happy to kip in the open air. Think about some custom camper covers and a mozzie net.
All the hatches on the Whalers have stainless steel gas struts, recessed water drains and rubber dampening. But if hardcore fishing is the order, I would do away with the optional extended sunpad on the 280 Outrage, whose StarBoard plastic base extends the casting platform all the way back to the centre console. You will gain more footspace for fighting fish without it.
Storage continues underfloor on both Whalers, with port and starboard fishboxes big enough for toting a bull dolphin or dressed tuna. Above here are twin under-gunwale gaff or rod racks, while back aft is an in-transom tackle locker. Both boats also have fold-down casual seating, with a concealed aft lounge on the 280 Outrage and, on the 285 Conquest, a portside flip-down seat.
The livebait tank in the 285 Conquest is in the port corner of the transom, with a bait-prep centre, sink and storage at the start of the bridgedeck. An even bigger livewell is part of a superior bait-prep centre built off the back of the leaning post on the 280 Outrage Centre Console. You get rodholders, drinkholders, sink, knife and lure storage, and a stack of handy drawers.
Additional dry storage, the boat's batteries and main breakers, Vacuflush loo and even a handheld shower all exist in the cavernous step-down storage recess inside centre console of the 280 Outrage. Of course, the 285 Conquest has an even bigger cabin, with comforts ranging from an aft double bed to a separate head with handheld shower, through a dinette that converts to a second double bed, to a galley that can be optioned up with a Cruising Package including microwave oven, water heater and electric stove.
PLENTY OF DASH
Back up top, the dash on both Whalers boasts ample room for two 12in screens. There are iPod jack and 12V outlet, sturdy stainless steel wheel with grip-and-rip knob, and a big bank of switches. Naturally, the Verados comes with SmartCraft and VesselView that relay all the engine data digitally, including fuel consumption and range to go. There are also smart-start buttons that require a simple touch of the finger to fire the engines into life or stop them. No more turning keys.
The fly-by-wire DTS throttles are lovely to us, smooth and not-at-all clunky, allowing you to manoeuvre the boat using the outboards thrust alone, as you do with big shaft-driven craft. The throttle box includes synchro mode, preset troll with +/- rev adjustment, and single-lever control of both engines, which I used when heading to sea.
Helm seating on the 280 Outrage is centred on a two-person leaning post with flip-up bolsters and armrests, in case you want to give your feet a rest when travelling at speed, drive standing. The 285 Conquest has a neat helm seat and a two-person co-pilot lounge with backrest that swings around to relocate and create an aft-facing trolling perch. Both setups work well, with the 285 Conquest the cruisier of the two, while the 280 Outrage delivers a good dose of sporty spice.
Supercharged and super quiet, the Verados are pretty frugal outboards, too. The big twin 300hp models on the 280 Outrage idled in gear at 560rpm for 3 to 4kts bait-towing speed - troll on one motor if you want to go slower - then return 8kts lure-trolling speed at 2120rpm for 26lt/h, before using 46lt/h at 2730rpm, where the boat planes.
Low-speed cruise of 20.5kts was recorded at 3210rpm for 53lt/h, while the generally accepted 4000rpm economical setting returned a fast 31kts cruise for 84lt/h. Should conditions allow, you can sit on 36kts at 4600rpm or 39kts at 5000rpm, but you will burn 130 to 150lt every hour.
Top speed of the 280 Outrage was 52kts at 6020rpm. But offshore is where the boat was most impressive, travelling at about 30kts, while remaining dry and smooth. The 285 Conquest with twin 250hp Verados wasn't too far behind, returning 37kts top speed, and 24 to 25kts cruise at 4000rpm for 72lt/h.
Having now spent the best part of a blustery winter's day at sea, I was stirred but not shaken. The Whalers are well thought-out, considerate and comfortable. In fact, they are so obliging they make you want to set the alarm for 5am to go fishing.
Specifications: Boston Whaler 280 Outrage & 285 Conquest
PRICE AS TESTED
Approx $299,900 w/ twin Mercury 300hp four-stroke Verado outboards, and options; approx $300,000 for 285 Conquest w/ twin Mercury 250hp four-stroke Verado outboards, and options
280 Outrage: Anchor windlass, bowrail, sun lounge, spotlight, radial outriggers, stereo, console cover, leaning post livewell cover, Shorepower with battery charger, and more; 285 Conquest: Anchor windlass, bow cushion, radial outriggers, weather curtain, foldout cockpit seat, cockpit table, spotlight, Shorepower, and more
Material: Foam-filled GRP hull
Type: Monohull deep-vee
Length overall: 8.40m/9.19m inc. pulpit or bowsprit
Weight: 2767kg/3401kg (hull)
Fuel (lt): 757/783
Water: Enough for a weekend
Make/model: Mercury 300hp/250hp Verado
Type: Four-stroke six-cylinder outboard with supercharging
Rated HP: 300/250 at 5800 to 6400rpm
Weight: Approx 288kg
Gearbox (ratio): 1.75:1 outboard
Props: Three-blade stainless steel
Andrew Short Marine,
Ferguson's Boatshed, The Spit,
Mosman, NSW, 2088
Phone Andrew Short, Taren Point outlet: (02) 9524 2699
Website: www.whaler.com (for interstate dealers)
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