BOAT TEST: CARIBBEAN 35 MK III
International Marine has taken the tried-and-tested Caribbean 35 and made it better. DAVID LOCKWOOD reports after a spirited sea trial
The new Caribbean 35 has (wet) track form, more sea miles under its hull than any other Australian-made cruiser, almost 40 years of continual production history. But unlike the 750-plus 35s before it, the new Mark III variant boasts a smarter fit and finish, a redesigned flying bridge with extra room, more modern mouldings and contemporary furniture, and the greater modcons. All that's left is to add the family and/or friends, fishing gear and fodder.
Of course, the Caribbean 35 began life as the Bertram 35. International Marine in Melbourne made that boat under licence from 1971 to 1986. But Mark I had a fine entry and a lot of flare in the hull topsides for lift. From 1986 to 2010, Mk II reigned. The hull lost its flare and had a fuller bow for more buoyancy. And it gained a second portside cabin.
Enter the new Caribbean 35 based on the same hull as the Mk II, but with new flying bridge and cockpit layout and, to my eye, a noticeably improved finish.
"We've sold hundreds of 35s over the years, but the way they are used has changed," explains Nathan Ghosn from Sylvania Marine. Nearby, Matt is the unsung hero behind the fitouts, while founder and father Paul keeps the brotherly rivalry in check.
"In 1982, a 35 represented the pinnacle of boat ownership. Nine-tenths were gameboats and sold to blokes. We had paper sounders and 27 Meg radios back then. Taking your boat from Sydney to Port Stephens was a huge trip. Today, well, you're more likely to have mum and the kids involved. The boat cost half a million, it's a huge investment equipped with the latest chartplotter, satellite television, and depthsounder that reads 1000 fathoms.
"And today we take the boats anywhere," explains Ghosn, whose website opens with the catchphrase "destination anywhere." He goes on to say that one Caribbean owner with a 35 has headed from the Gold Coast around the top to Weipa. He lived aboard for three months, dined out on barra and mud crabs, before ranging back to the Goldie.
Indeed, the Caribbean 35 can be considered a boater's boat today. Ghosn also says people pile aboard for the sense of safety and seaworthiness too often missing in production cruisers that have become more like apartments than real boats.
A pair of trusty 330hp 5.9lt Cummins QSB common rail engines power the Caribbean 35 to a top speed of about 30kts. But control is the Caribbean's mantra and at 20kts the boat takes care of itself. Press the autopilot and let the well-balanced hull reel in the sea miles. It also remains a pleasantly dry boat underway.
Engine access is just fine for owner/driver pre-departure checks. You enter via a floor hatch in the saloon and there are adjoining hatches forward. The engine coolant bottles are where you can see them, the fuel filters hang off the rear bulkhead along with the battery charger and electronic engine boxes, and there were upgraded dripless shaft seals.
But in a matter of about 15 minutes you can have the furniture and floor out for serious servicing, better access to the rocker covers, and unfettered room around all sides of the engines. The 405lt allow water tank is forward to port, offsetting the weight of the generator to starboard, which might necessitate an application of trim tab when the former is empty. They, however, are optional.
Fuel is carried back aft in a GRP tank, with access to the steering gear, but the big thing to embrace underfloor is the storage hold between the lazarette and the engineroom. There's room for deck chairs and crab traps, outboard engine, rollup tender, extra portable icebox, bait and berley. The big hold is something sadly lacking in today's pod-driven cruisers with aft engine installations.
The 35 Mk III pictured hereabouts has a carpet-lined cockpit that saves $14,000 on the teak option. It's a trend that's been evident during the present pared-back times. However, there's no change to the cockpit space, with 9.3m² to cater for a team at a tournament or the family on an outdoor setting. The swim platform isn't the deepest but big enough to sit on and you get a hot-cold shower nearby.
The big change is the moulded sink unit and the icebox/fridge. No longer a split arrangement, MK III has the flybridge ladder to starboard and a portside combo unit with huge icebox (eutectic optional), sink and storage. It's a way smarter moulding than 35s of yore, though the inside finish of the hatch could be improved. A trifling matter.
Matching the new, more rounded mouldings is a smart extended flybridge that casts shade over the aforesaid moulded sink and icebox, thereby creating a great perch from which to wait for a bite or hang out. There are recessed LED lights, a centre spotty, stainless steel latches on the sidepockets, and split livebait/deadbait bins in the transom that double as additional iceboxes or possible fridges.
BRIDGING THE GAP
Besides flipping the ladder to the starboard, the new flying bridge is where the biggest changes have been made. There's a larger and smarter moulded hardtop, and the flybridge moulding itself is no longer a serious of modules screwed together but a one-piece unit. With greater floor space and more room around the back of the seats, crew will like it. The co-pilot can get in and out of his seat with ease, while a new portside forward lounge beckons.
Surrounded by impressive, though, optional factory-supplied Seaflex clears, the flybridge now features a hatch over its ladder. That's welcome to prevent kids or crew falling through while underway. Additionally, the hatch reduces running noise. But a bigger deal for serious cruising types - and especially gamefishers - is the greatly increased dash real estate for mounting any number of large-screen sounders and plotters up to dual 15in plus extra 10in.
The Mk III hereabouts had twin Raymarine C80s, twin VesselView engine-monitoring panels for the Cummins, the latest stop-start combo ignition buttons with separate emergency stop, electronic shifts, Clarion stereo remote, with the VHF mounted in an overhead radio box. Even the drinkholders are heavy-duty models in keeping with the Caribbean tradition.
It's a great flybridge that takes the 35 to new heights.
With a reworked single saloon door, there's more room for the solidly fixed dinette at the portside U-shaped lounge. You can comfortably seat four here and a few more with loose chairs pulled up. The high-gloss teak joinery, smooth rather than ruche-like upholstery, subtle pelmets, and overall fit and finish were impressive on the boat we reviewed, which was destined for the Sydney boat show.
Thanks to LEDs, the 35 now draws 2.2 amps with lights blazing compared with 18.4 amps in the former guise. The practical stuff remains: opening windows for cross-flow ventilation; a starboard lounge that converts to a Pullman berth and three-quarter double below; storage in drawers and a cabinet with flatscreen television atop; as well as simple 12/24V switch panel, Clarion stereo and Onan start/stop.
Across the floor, the U-shaped portside galley remains unchanged. Amenities run the gamut from Panasonic microwave and Blanco two-burner hob with potholders to a useful number of 240V outlets of GPOs, Granicoat servery, pot and appliance cupboard, and more. Clear views extend in all direction, adding to the sense of space, but as Ghosn says, while pointing to the cockpit, hinting at the likely aftermarket barbecue, "it all happens out there."
International Marine (and most owners) remains content with the two-cabin, one-bathroom accommodation plan. The portside cabin contains bunks adequate for adults and perfect for kids. The owner's stateroom in the bow has an offset double bed and a big drawer among its storage solutions. Most owners fit extra LCD TV/DVDs these days.
The starboardside bathroom is a beauty for a 35, with a big separate shower stall, touch-operated LEDs overhead lights, and electric (albeit noisy) Jabsco loo. With 405lt of water, you have a boat that a family can live aboard for up to a week in comfort, which serious crews can campaign in tournaments, and which above all is tried and tested. Press the go-to button and the 35 will do the rest.
Sylvania Marine in Sydney's south is a shrine to Caribbean boats. Its long-serving owners, the Ghosn family, have built something of an empire on the back of the unsinkable craft. Stroll the gangways and you'll find everything from a Reef Runner to the new flagship 49 (we tested it alongside the 35 Mk III). As with most things in life, success is commensurate with the effort they put in.
Paul Ghosn started selling Caribbeans in 1978 and still holds the reins, but these days sons Nathan and Matt do most of the design and fitup. And the grandkids are just as likely to throw you the mooring lines as you sidle up at the fuel wharf or reverse back in your pen.
While few, if any people know Caribbeans like the Ghosns, they respect the fact that the customer is king. It's simply a matter of mapping out your boat, specifying your needs, and they will get the job done. Through their aftermarket facility, they've 'built' many successful tournament gameboats and terrific cruising boats. In-house shipwrights and stainless steel experts are among those on hand.
Since my first test with Sylvania Marine in 1989, of the then new Caribbean 26, a lot has changed. The owner of that boat now owns a Caribbean 40, the 28 is no more, the venerable 35 has been given a new lease on life, and the yard has a new 49 flagship. Oh, and we're all a bit greyer up top.
But I am thrilled to report that the value component, seaworthiness and longevity of the Caribbeans remain. With a more refined interior and finish, the boats are definitely worthy of a spot on your shopping shortlist. But if you want something special then talk to the Ghosns. - David Lockwood
CARIBBEAN 35 FLYBRIDGE MK III
With a typical load of three-quarter fuels and full water, though nothing by way of owner equipment and provisions or gear, the Caribbean 35 Mk III held a smooth cruise at 2000rpm of 18 to 19kts across the lumpy 1.5m sea and swell. Consumption was about 71lt in total on the VesselViews, equating to a safe working range of 320nm from 90 per cent of the 1350lt supply. At 2200rpm, the turbos sound more active and you get 21.5kts for about 80lt/h and a 330nm range.
High-speed cruise was clocked at 2420rpm and 25kts for 91lt/h and a 335nm range. In other words, the boat covers the same distance anywhere from 19 to 25kts, so the sea state rather than the engines will dictate how fast you should go. That said, top speed of 29 to 30kts is on par with market expectations for a flybridge cruiser, though it's more like 28kts by the time you put all the gear aboard. Offshore, the 35 hull proved efficient and seaworthy in the confused seas. We'd happily drive it.
PRICE AS TESTED
Raymarine electronics package, flybridge clears, rodholders, Reelax game poles, polished teak package, auto battery charger, rocket launcher, dry shaft seals, hardtop hatch, cockpit carpet, transport to Sydney, antifouling, and more
MATERIAL: Handlaid fibreglass
LENGTH OVERALL: 10.67m plus swimplatform
HEIGHT: 3.5m (above waterline)
WEIGHT: 8500kg diesel (dry)
BERTHS: 4 + 3
MAKE/MODEL: Cummins QSB330
TYPE: Fully electronic common rail six-cylinder diesel with turbocharging and aftercooling
RATED HP: 330 at 2800rpm
PROPS: Four-blade aluminium/bronze
25 Harrow Street,
Sylvania, NSW, 2224
Phone: (02) 9522 7430
With a base price of $459,800 and a drive-away loaded price of $500,000, it's no wonder the Caribbean 35 has been one of thee most popular cruisers of all time. The boat has that time-proven quality and buyers know they are getting sweet performance and very good resale value. For serious fishers, the big cockpit and manoeuvrability count for plenty, too. However, the 35 is increasingly attracting families who covet living space, comforts and a high-quality finish. With that latter detail, the Caribbean 35 steps out of its shadow to take top billing as a great all-round cruiser that anyone and everyone should be proud to own.
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