CARIBBEAN 2400 CRUISER BOAT TEST
Old sea salts know that when the going gets tough, the smart drive a Caribbean. And that philosophy extends to the baby of this long cherished, no-nonsense Australian-built fishing boat, the Caribbean 2400.
It is rare in the age of fibreglass to hear the term "cult following" be applied to a plastic boat. Indeed such a suggestion of gratuitous worship is usually the reserve of the wooden boat fraternity, where to consider any vessel not been crafted with a sharp chisel as having anything akin to a soul is tantamount to blasphemy. And frankly I agree, except for one brand - Caribbean.
Now let's be honest. If you were from Mars and had never heard or seen a Caribbean (or its close cousin Bertram) and were teleported onto one with no prior experience, you would think anyone extolling such high praise had "rocks in their head" because in truth, straight from the factory these boats are no supermodels. The parent company's approach is famously "take it or leave it" - any customisation is up to you. Fortunately most of its dealers are masters at turning plain Jane into sexy Sara.
And yet no other brand can boast such domination of the chat forums. Our digital geeks tell me the best way to double our viewing numbers on any given story is to put the words Caribbean or Bertram in the subject line.
Why is this you may ask? Well it's a story mostly built on the back of what can reasonably be claimed as the best sportsfishing hull ever built.
In a move which could be described as visionary Melbourne-based International Marine, founded by the Spooner family in 1958, began building the legendary Bertram boats under license in 1963, literally only a year or two after the powerhouse brand was founded in the US. The relationship allowed International Marine to enjoy the phenomenal success of models like the Bertram 28 (1971) and the Bertram 35 (1970), which, a full seven years after its release was described by Sea magazine as "one of the best offshore powerboats available on the market today. It's tough, well-designed, and seaworthy." To put that comment in context the '70s were considered the golden age of offshore powerboat development. Great names of the era like Merritt, Viking, and Rybovich are still thought of as the Rolls-Royces of the industry.
In 1989 International Marine changed direction slightly launching Caribbean. To the untrained eye little changed although the new boats tended to have slightly more volume forward allowing for more space in the accommodation areas.
The boats continue to boast class-leading seaworthiness and even the most simplistically setup Caribbean is fish-ready, but the real secret behind this brand's success is that it has never priced itself out of the market. Indeed the classic Caribbean sportsfisher has always been an achievable dream for most blue-water enthusiasts and in a game where the biggest cheque book usually wins, the Caribbean remains the exception to the rule.
THE BABY (ALMOST)
At the time of testing, the Caribbean 2400 was indeed the baby of the fleet (although we have enjoyed a sneak preview of the new 2300). With a beam of 2.7m it is trailerable, subject to a few restrictions state by state. Given it weighs a minimum of 2000kg a well-considered towing vehicle is recommended regardless of your local regulations. Many 2400s, though, live happily in marina berths or dry stacks so this is a boat with options.
At-a-glance the Caribbean 2400 is clearly not apologetic about its fishing credentials, yet a closer inspection reveals this is no one-trick pony. A fully enclosed and lockable front cabin boasts a near full-width double berth to facilitate overnight excursions, although a refrigeration unit and a cooktop would need to be optioned in to make such ambitions a comfortable reality. Today's test boat is already well on its way, with an inbuilt head to help ensure the decision-maker sees her comfort and sensibilities have been considered.
An even bigger box ticker could well be the customised port and starboard fully upholstered and detachable bench seating, the first of a few excellent customisations by Travis and the team at Mansfield Marine. By complementing foldaway aft lounger (standard) these seats convert the expansive cockpit to a highly capable entertainer, with seating for at least six passengers.
This customisation was at the request of the owner who sees this boat as both a practical and an affordable tool to enjoy all the Western Australian coastline has to offer, without compromising on comfort. He is also 6ft4in tall, which meant the hardtop had to be raised and lengthened, another tailoring task Mansfield Marine is more than happy to accommodate. Often such an extension beyond a vessel's original lines is difficult to deliver, without the add-on looking like an unfortunate afterthought. No problem here though.
A FISHERMAN AT HEART
While it is nice to see consideration given to those who don't have to sweep the fish scales up from under their desk, at the end of the day a pedigree like this cannot be ignored and the 2400 does not disappoint. Clear the seating from the cockpit and you are left with a working platform to rival any boat in this class, complete with toe-kick space, comfortably rounded gunwale edges and custom handholds for that extra leverage required to save face when buckled over the transom.
As the photo hereabouts show, even as standard the 2400 offers enough storage to keep the typically overly-armed Aussie fishing fanatic vaguely organised, although many will find plenty of opportunity to trip over themselves regardless (why some of those guys think they need all that crap is a mystery to me - keeps the tackle stores in business I guess).
For me the pièce de résistance of the Caribbean 2400's fishing arsenal has to be the huge-capacity circular livewell located handily in the transom. Professional fisherman will all tell you there is no substitute to volume when it comes to keeping sensitive live offerings in tip-top condition, and the circular tank stops them banging their heads into the corners. Full marks for this one!
BURDEN OF PROOF
All Caribbeans by virtue of their Bertram heritage shoulder a burden of expectation when it comes to performance on the water, and I was curious to see how the baby of the line would stack up. Adding interest to this drive test was the pair of new-technology 150hp Mercury four-stroke outboards bolted on the back, a configuration I had no experience with.
Leaping into the hot heat it quickly becomes apparent Caribbean has delivered on the first part of the equation, a comfortable and sturdy driving position. Extra deep and wide bolster seats sit at an ideal height behind a clean and uncluttered dash. A quality stainless steel wheel complete with singlehanded steering nob allows the skipper to assume a stable driving stance, with easy bracing for any unexpected bumps.
That Mercury hasn't yet delivered a digital option for the four-stroke 150s' dual-lever engine controls is a bit of a letdown. It means correct operation and trim of these otherwise delightful units requires more concentration than should be necessary, and when you are travelling at 30kts concentration is a valuable commodity. The rest of the dash is a study of uncluttered simplicity, with room for a decent-sized widescreen electronics package that won't crowd the Mercury SmartCraft display and an array of 12V switching systems.
With 300 horsepower I expected the 2400 to leap out of the hole and it delivered. In reality
a pulse-quickening holeshot is just a bonus, this is a boat built to eat mile upon exhausting offshore mile, without battering its passengers into a quivering pulp. And it does.
Oh sure, there are naysayers out there on chat forums rubbishing this vintage hull - virtually unchanged since the early '70s - in favour of some recent CAD rendering or another, but let me say this, in my home waters off NZ I can count on one hand the number of people who have put more water under a Caribbean hull than myself, and I also get to drive most of the latest and greatest available. When the going gets tough, the smart drive a Caribbean.
Straight off the shelf the Caribbean 2400 is a good, honest, hardworking battlewagon boasting exceptional ride characteristics. With a little bit of customisation its appeal broadens exponentially. Finding negatives in these boats is not easy. Yes they can be comparatively Spartan from the factory but that means a price point which allows fat for plenty of extra toys. The truth is that once you belong to this club it is very, very hard to relinquish your membership.
Mansfield Marine, as it exists today, is seven years strong. Both of the managing partners, Travis and Coby Mansfield, have been building and enjoying the boating lifestyle from a young age. They have 28 years of combined hands-on experience in an industry they are both passionate about. Being a family owned and run business, the partnership formed by Travis and Coby works extremely well and breeds levels of trust that generally only exist in a family environment. They, along with their young families, all live and breathe boating. Their team's formal and informal qualifications in the industry add value to the service and dependability applied to their customers.
Yet again my trip to Western Oz was made a pleasure by dealing with more great people. It is never easy organising a complex shoot in unfamiliar territory and my thanks go out to Travis and Coby for pulling this one together.
TYPE: Planing monohull
LENGTH OVERALL: 7.54m
PEOPLE (NIGHT): 2
WATER: Underfloor tank with pressure pump
MAKE/MODEL: 2 x Mercury 150
TYPE: Four-stroke four-cylinder petrol outboard
RATED HP: 150 (each)
DISPLACEMENT: 3lt (each)
WEIGHT: 206kg (each)
GEAR RATIO: 1.92:1
Shop 3, 45 Northside Drive,
Hillarys, WA, 6025
Phone: (08) 9448 1100; 0419 911 560; 0418 958 658
Fax: (08) 9307 9391
Email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
From Trade-a-Boat Issue 432, Oct-Nov 2012. Story: Jeff Strang. Photos: Mike Hunter.
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