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America’s Cabo Yachts are sportsfishers first and foremost, but canny cruising couples like them too. Just look at the Cabo 36 Express for example.


There are few times in the boat-driving world where it seems appropriate to pull on a pair of leather gloves – well, not without looking like a bit of Wally anyway. The exception to the rule is when taking a genuine gameboat for a spin. Well, to be honest, I still wouldn’t pull on a pair of gloves, but you get my point.

One of my favourite fishing boat production houses, the Florida-based Cabo Yachts, has been busy releasing a wide range of new models this past year. A few of these noted battlewagons have shown up under the trustworthy stewardship of Graham and Carmen McCloy’s Game & Leisure Boats business at Runaway Bay on the Gold Coast – the Cabo 40 HTX reviewed last month being an excellent example.

With a spare day up our sleeve last month, we grabbed the opportunity to take the 40 HTX’s little sister for a quick spin. I’m glad we did. There are a few things outside the bedroom better for blowing out the frustrations of the office than getting down and dirty on a boat built with aggressive driving in mind. And the Cabo quickly proved to be a throttle jockey’s best friend.


Those that say you should never judge a book by its cover don’t spend much time on boats. This baby of the Cabo range makes no apologies for its fishboat status, a definition easily recognised at any distance. Its chiselled bow arches to slice through the briny, while a squat midsection and stern suggest an underwater configuration shaped to deliver horsepower cleanly and precisely to the sea.

With its classic express, single-level bridge-saloon accentuating the vessel’s low-profile lines, a low centre of gravity seems likely. An added benefit of the sleek look is reduced windage, a factor sure to show-up at the fuel browser.

Even with a sparkling tower in place there is no sense of the 36 Express being a bejeweled pretender, all Italian suit sans trousers. This boat is the Manny Pacquiao of sportsfishers – a champion Filipino welterweight prizefighter – compact, efficient and poised to strike.


For all this fish-fighting potential, the boat we stepped on this day was awaiting delivery to its new owners; a retired couple from Townsville for whom the noble pursuit is a secondary consideration to cruising.

You see, the factors that combine to produce such an efficient sportsfishing boat – precise handling, a spacious cockpit, an ability to handle wear and tear and a soft ride – are considered highly desirable features in many categories of boat. For this reason many dedicated powerboat cruisers, who happen to enjoy a fresh fish dinner, can see the value investing in what can clearly be classed as a specialist. In many regards they get the best of both worlds.


A walk-through of the Cabo 36 Express is a fairly short trip. In my notes I wrote, "Compact, but well thought out."

To for’ard, a galley, a couple of comfortable looking bunks – a diagonally opposed three-quarter berth under a single – a tidy dining area and a bathroom all feature in an open-plan, relatively well-appointed cabin space.

The level of finish can be optioned up or down, more or less, as is desired by the customer. As the photos hereabouts show the full timber interior is as classy as you could expect, although a more low-maintenance interior can be chosen.

Several clever features caught my eye. At-a-glance the benchtop, which I think is Corian, sensibly features sea-rails but looks to be without a stovetop. However, flipping back a camouflaged lid reveals a recessed two-burner stove. Not only does this arrangement free-up valuable bench space but it also ensures pots in use can’t make their way to the floor. There is also a microwave/convection oven in place for convenience, or even to cater culinary challenges of a more ambitious nature.

Of course, there is plenty of refrigeration place and excellent storage. All-in-all most seasoned seafarers will struggle to find many flaws with this setup. Every drawer or cupboard which could be prone to opening and spew its contents on the floor has a catch on it, and there are plenty of places to hang on or wedge yourself in on those days when even a toasted cheese sandwich is a challenge.

The boat we looked at featured easy-clean vinyl wall coverings which, when combined with the mostly gelcoat finish upstairs and outside, ensures the owners of this boat will get to spend plenty of time enjoying it and not too much time cleaning it – for me, a ratio of 95 to 5 always seems about right.

Another clever feature of note is to be found in the bathroom. So many of these more compact vessels struggle to offer reasonable functionality in this area as they attempt to shoehorn a full-size shower, head and basin into the space. As is so often the case the simplest of solutions is the best and Cabo has achieved this with a foldaway shower door, which converts the bathroom from either being a fully dedicated shower stall or a comfortable space for those other important duties.

The defining feature of any express-style vessel is its main cabin. To my eye, with each evolution, the use of the space gets better and better. Enclosed under a hardtop with polycarbonate windows completed by a system of zip-away clears, few could complain about the ventilation. Air-conditioning is available but is hardly needed and conversely, if the weather is cooler a heater is on call.

A single aisle down the middle of this deck leads either forward to the accommodation spaces described above or aft to the business end in the cockpit. In effect this aisle divides the main cabin with the operations department to starboard and the kickback-and-enjoy-the-ride department to port.

As we saw earlier, clever sleights-of-hand optimise the use of the main cabin area. In cruising mode twin bolster seats sit either side of the deck with seating for four — two at the helm station and two passengers on the port side. At rest, or at any time you choose, the position of the portside backrest can be reversed and a hidden table can be flipped out of the adjacent lounger to create a lunch table for four.

Directly opposite the table setup, a custom-built tackle centre with drawers for storage proves to be a practical place to store the barbecue when it is not in use. When it is in use, a custom bracket has been fitted for it on the gunwales in the cockpit.

Speaking of the cockpit, it comes as no surprise to find Cabo’s high standard of fish-friendly outfitting in place.

Close to a third of the Cabo 36 Express’s total floor area is dedicated to this all-important working space. The usual padded bolster encloses the cockpit adding comfort and a certain degree of injury prevention for those enjoying the action firsthand. One large-capacity fishbox resides in the floor, with both fresh and saltwater washdown hoses available to quickly clean-up any mess.

A 200lt moulded bait tank comes as standard, although I personally would augment the system with tuna tubes just to make sure I had all the bases covered. A moulded bait preparation centre, featuring sink, rigging board and tackle storage system finds a home on the portside of the cockpit and almost completes the setup, except for an array of anodised rodholders conveniently located either side of the cockpit and a purpose-built reciprocal for gaffs and tagpoles.


If you feel I glossed over the helm station too quickly it is because I was saving the best until last.

I have always liked the way Cabo centralises all its controls and information displays around the wheel. This ensures that nothing important is ever more than an arm’s reach away from the captain’s standing position.

In today’s case, twin Garmin 7015 navigation systems adds that touch of Space Age to what is an otherwise mostly functional and low-maintenance helm setup. The owner of the boat has opted to add an additional Garmin 7012 unit to the port side. Caterpillar’s well-proved digital control system is in place, which allows for fully independent engine control, synced control and low-speed control should it be needed.

Other features of note include the Bennett trim tab indicators, which are connected to Volvo Penta’s excellent retractable trim system – formerly known as the QL Boat Trim System.

From a driver’s point of view the setup is close to perfectly ergonomic. Some purest gamefishermen would probably prefer split engine control levers but the single criticism I have is that from a standing position the dash is a little high for those under six feet tall. If this is you, I would certainly recommend ordering a custom-built step of some sort.

My time behind the wheel was thoroughly enjoyable, as Graham McCloy noticed, giving me a hard time for playing the throttle jockey. But as a mentor of mine once pointed out these boats are designed for this sort of treatment. You should treat them like ladies when it doesn’t matter, and she'll be happy to go when it does.

A building sea greeted us outside the breakwater but the Cabo’s famously fine entry made short work of it as we effortlessly blasted around at 30kts-plus. I know it is often said but these boats really do handle like sports cars. Forwards, backwards, sideways, you name it, and an experienced driver can put the boat there.

Such performance is no accident of course; this is exactly the sort of manoeuvring these boats are designed for. With conventional shaftdriven propellers sitting in tunnels there is little cavitation, while the reduced shaft angle allows for more efficient delivery of thrust to the water with the added benefit of reduced sucking down of the stern in reverse. Only the very best custom-built gamefishes can outperform a Cabo on the water.


As compact production sportsfishers go, the Cabo 36 Express is at the very top of the bill. Straight off the lot this boat is competitive. With little customisation it would be a serious contender among the hottest fleets on the planet.

And yet, as is proven by its not-so-serious new owners, is extremely versatile. The accommodation spaces are comfortable enough and quite well-appointed. Of more importance is that they are setup to be used at sea, and this is not always the case.

I’ve always liked express-boat styling and appreciate the relatively low maintenance that is the benefit of single-level boat living. As a package, and at this price, it is easy to see why these boats are becoming so popular.


› Outstanding sea-performance and manoeuvrability

› Relative economy

› Low-maintenance options

› Basic boat requires few additions to make it sea-ready

› Compact yet highly versatile


› Limited handholds when accessing the bow

› A step required at the helm for the vertically challenged


With a little customisation it would be a serious contender among the hottest fleets on the planet. And yet, as is proven by its not-so-serious new owners, is extremely versatile.






TYPE Monohull

LOA 11.76m

BEAM 4.33m

DRAFT 0.95m

WEIGHT 13.4t




FUEL 1600lt

WATER 380lt


MAKE/MODEL 2 x Caterpillar C9 ACERT; 2 x 550hp Cummins QSC 8.3 (optional); 2 x 461hp Caterpillars C7 ACERT via ZF pods (optional)

RATED HP 575 (each)


Game & Leisure Boats,

Factory 1, Runaway Bay Marina,

247 Bayview Street,

Runaway Bay, QLD, 4216

Phone:+61 7 5577 5811; Graham McCloy 0412 494 004:?Chris Jones 0409 324 115




Originally published in Trade-a-Boat #443, August/September 2013.

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