BOAT TEST: COBALT 240

By: DAVID LOCKWOOD


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After 21 years behind boat wheel and keyboard, David Lockwood has uncovered his favourite bowrider of all time. Boats like this don’t come along every day, so read on...

BOAT TEST: COBALT 240
At the time of testing, our tester said the Cobalt 240 was his favourite bowrider of all time. That's no mean feat.

First published in TrailerBoat #173, Oct 2003


Yo, what we got here? Just another ho-hum Yankee bowrider with seating for the Brady Bunch, an icebox with some lonely cans of Dr Pepper, ski tow-eye and the note of a bog-standard V8 motor? No, bro - this is the best darn bowrider this boating writer has tested in 21 years behind the wheel and keyboard.

Although I'm not one to pass such judgement lightly, the Cobalt 240 took my breath away before I'd even turned the key. The only disappointing bit is the promotional DVD, what with its breathless sales pitch and twee soundtrack. It's superfluous to a boat that speaks volumes by itself.

The thinking man's bowrider, the Cobalt 240 is (a) the closest thing to a car in terms of quality that I have seen from a production boatbuilder; (b) a showcase of clever design; (c) a social boat to bring family and friends together; and (d) a whole lot of driving pleasure. In other words, every seat in the house delivers.

But who is Cobalt? Apparently, only four boats have made it Downunder from this boutique American boatbuider. Astonishing really, considering Cobalt turned 35 this year and the brand has a big reputation in the USA and lots of industry-awarded accolades.

 

COBALT STORY

Judging by its production run, Cobalt doesn't spread itself too thinly like some other US marques. Instead, ?it concentrates on building ?mainly dayboats from 16 to 36ft that are quite a bit better by design. The objective, says the blurb, is waterbound fun for family and friends. A commitment to quality underscores that motto.

One of few remaining private boatbuilders in America, Cobalt is based in Neodesha, Kansas, where it's one of the biggest local employers along with small-bird builder Cessna. This year, Cobalt was ranked highest in customer satisfaction for the second time running in the large runabout category of the revered JD Power and Associates Boat Competitive Information Study.

The 240 seen here also won US Powerboat magazine's boat of the year for 2002. Had it entered our local awards - well, geez, I'd better not say. You be the judge.

 

MADE TO LAST

Construction is chiefly fibreglass, including the stringer system, but there is a composite transom to absorb vibration and Kevlar in key stress areas such as the chines.

A steel-ring frame is 'glassed in across ?the boat near the companionway to the bow - a traditional flex area on bowriders.
The boat's hand-laid overlapping ?woven rovings are saturated with polyester resin in the structural layers and vinylester resin in the skin coat. A special barrier between these two layers prevents any chance of water ingress.

The Cobalt 240 will be just as comfortable tied to a marina as it will be in a dry stack ?or on a trailer. Towing weight and a big beam of 2.62m puts the rig in the maxi ?4WD league and daytime towing permit area. But it's worth it.

The hull is cured in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment and ?topped with a long-life gelcoat. The upholstery and internal trim is a cut above the production pack, more in keeping with a custom boat. Every single Cobalt is tank tested and inspected with the critical eye of ?a new owner before it leaves the factory, says Cobalt.

Not a boatbuilder to make idle claims, Cobalt's hulls and decks are backed by a ?10-year transferable warranty, which is double the industry standard; and five-?year warranties cover the engine and ?drive - which is more than you will get from local distributors - steering, electrical system and accessories. You ?even get two years on the gelcoat, ?upholstery and canvas.

 

DIFFERENT BY DESIGN

A deep-vee hull with 20° of deadrise and reversed chines, a fine entry and excellent stability, the 240 felt stiff driven across a rough Sydney Harbour. I consider it the smoothest-riding 24ft bowrider money can buy, and a superbly dry boat to boot. Lots of sound-insulation leads to a quiet Volvo engine installation, but you can get optional through-hub exhaust to lower running noise to 89db.

The 240 also proved to be responsive ?to the throttle - and wheel - without throwing its bow skywards. Extended running surfaces either side of the sterndrive leg are credited with lifting the aft sections and thereby delivering a flat ride.

This is also a deep bowrider with a lot of freeboard fore and aft for keeping rough water at bay. ?No need to baulk at the boatramp when the wind's up early. No need to slow down or power-up when crossing steep wake, either. Take it how it comes.

All the hardware is bolted through alloy backing plates and there's not a hint of chromed brass to be seen. Only highly-polished stainless steel is used for things ?like the bow scuff plate near the trailer eye, oversized ski-tow eyes and an ingenious swim ladder.

The carpet is a heavy-grade snap-out number, lids lift on gas struts, and there is innovation from the storage area to the seats and lunch-table assembly. The ?custom wiring harnesses are machine crimped and there is no plastic in the dash panel. Instead, the switches are all ?stainless steel and linked to circuit breakers. There are battery isolators with big, accessible terminals, too.

Details like the soft-touch double-stitched dash cover - which reduces glare in the windscreen - aluminium dash plates, and glovebox with a moulded recess for the mobile phone address several of the issues this boating scribe has been hollering for in big and small boats for years.

All the storage hatches swing open on full-length piano hinges and are lined ?with rubber chafe mats or carpet. There's even a drying bay in the engine room for wetsuits and towels. Not to mention a ?tool kit and comprehensive owner's manuals in a day-pack. The designer ignition keys ?are something special.



A BIG PLAN

The local importer considered five other brands of boat before settling on Cobalt. ?His business plan aims to account for 10 per cent of the 2000-plus annual boat production here in two years. He also added a few tasty extras to the 240 to show the difference in quality between factory-fitted options and aftermarket ones.

There was a removable-for-garaging swim platform, a bimini top with clears so strong you could do chin-ups off the bar, and an upgraded head with electric macerator and holding tank. The boat had a flagstaff, twin batteries and a premium sound system with not one, but two amps - plus a subwoofer. Factory-fitted options negate the chance of a dealer undercutting the boat's premium status or its big warranties.

Of the 14 boats in the Cobalt range, the 240 is indicative of what the company is all about. With five adults and three children, our lunch aboard wasn't too squeezy. Turn the key and you'll find sports performance - another part of the pitch - and your favourite anchorage not far away.

 

TOUR OF DUTY

The things that make the Cobalt 240 a standout are evident the moment you set foot on the full-length removable boarding platform, which takes this 24-footer to 26ft overall. A heavy-duty stainless-steel bumper traces the beaut moulded platform. There is a trick fold-down designer swim ladder with clever locking mechanism and clips for strapping down watertoys like tubes.

There are a number of wet wells across the transom and a deep ski/wakeboard locker beneath a hatch to port, with racks for boards and clips for the bimini framework. Basically, everything provided with the boat has a dedicated storage spot. There are recessed drinkholders here and there, places for lifejackets, and a bin and net in the engine bay for drying wet stuff.

The boat has superb upholstery. Look under the seat bases and you will see no sign of stitching or stapling. The foam is a non-absorbent type and is deeply comfortable. The seating arrangement is such that everyone can sit around the dinette. The table lives in a recess on the floor - nice and accessible, so removalists are not required.

Five adults and three children devoured several platters of sandwiches, dips and cheese, and there was room to spare. I don't doubt the 240 can handle its ?stated capacity of 11 people on the L-shaped lounge, two swivel helm seats, saddle-seat behind the skipper's seat, and lounges in the bow.

The tabletop can be relocated and a cushion added to create a sunpad. ?Unlike most boats, the table slots into grooves moulded into the lounge base. ?This way, you don't need to fiddle about with a second pedestal base. There is an icebox nearby.

The head behind the passenger's dash isn't a token WC. The electric loo was linked to a macerator; there was a powerful extractor fan, a good, strong reading light and bathroom fittings. It's a head you can actually use if you have to.

The windscreen is an amour-plate glass number held up by strong stainless-steel struts. A fold-out windbreak can be bolted in place and a bow cover added to create a runabout with a lot more protection for winter.

Up front, you will find two sculptured adult-sized lounges, sturdy stainless-steel handrails, drinkholders, lined storage bins and a separate dedicated anchor ?locker with - hooray! - a deadeye. There is access to the plumbing for the ?head under the portside seat and a giant storage locker to starboard.

Among the options are a starboard-side amenities centre comprising a sink, a cockpit heater, transom shower, stainless-steel tow tower, docking lights, air-compressor, cruise control for set-and-?forget wakeboarding, Captains Call ?exhaust for a sportier note, and Sonic ?Tub speakers aimed at those being towed astern. Pump up the jam.

All of this stuff and the good gear provided as standard is a cut above. Many of the details, like the deadeye that I find missing in so many production boats, was part of the spec. Pre-delivery should be nothing more than pulling the shrink-wrap from the boat.

 

DRIVING STATIONS

The helm seats are nice and deep, adjustable fore and aft and swivelling, and set so you are looking through the windscreen when steering. Flip-up seats bases let you sit a higher for close-?quarters parking. The mechanisms used for this are over-engineered hinges that the ?kids can't break.

There are padded armrests either side, while the copilot has a grabrail and glovebox. There is a stereo facia in the glovebox, but also a remote unit at the helm so the skipper can alter volume, flick tracks or change channels. The Sony marine sound system had been upgraded to include 600W and 900W amps, a subwoofer and six speakers. Pump it up indeed.

The low-glare luxury upholstered dash was fitted with what looked to be Faria gauges, a big spread of aircraft-style stainless-steel switches, the stereo remote, and LCD air/water temp gauges and depth gauge. Two 12V outlets let you run the mobile phone and video camera.

 

DRIVE TIME

The adjustable timber wheel, trim tabs and leg tab provide a wide range of readily-accessible trim positions. Such was the intuitive nature of the controls that you ?could re-trim mid-turn or, say, just before crossing boat wake without having to look away from the water.

I explored the outer limits of engine trim, top speed and the boat's turning ability in the quiet upper reaches. Take it from me, the boat can be snapped around to deliver a fun-park ride without the leg letting go or the bow burying. In the rougher outer harbour I discovered a terrifically seaworthy dayboat that whooshed through the ?water without dishing out a beating to mum and the kids.

At 2200rpm, the 320hp 5.7lt GXI Volvo V8 inboard motor held a low-speed plane of 24kmh without the boat dragging its stern. Wakeboarding speeds and a good steep wave came in at 35kmh at 2500rpm. Cruise speeds ranged from 45.6kmh at 3000rpm to 69kmh at 4000rpm. Top speed was 83.2kmh, or the benchmark 50mph. Motor options runs to MAG 496 MerCruiser 425hp inboard.

I'm not an apologist or a big fan of in-your-face American culture. But this boat, the Cobalt 240, is the best bowrider I have ever set foot aboard. Heck, it's so good I'd happily wear the Cobalt crew gear and twill cap with the American flag on the back...

 

Specifications: Cobalt 240

Priced from:  About $97,750 as drive-away package w/ 5.0lt MerCruiser w/ Alpha One leg, plus trailer
Price as tested:  $121,000 w/ Volvo Penta 5.7 GXi petrol inboard on dual-axle Tinka trailer and options
Options fitted:  Premium sound system with subwoofer, electric loo and holding tank, dual-axle braked trailer, swim platform, bimini top with clears, flagstaff, twin batteries, bow cushion insert and trim tabs

GENERAL
Material:  GRP w/ Kevlar reinforcing
Length (overall):  7.28m
Beam:  2.62m
Deadrise:  Deep-vee 20°
Rec/max hp:  320/425
Weight:  1923kg hull only

CAPACITIES
Fuel:  189lt
Water:  38lt
Passengers:  11

ENGINE
Make/model:  Volvo 5.7 GXi
Type:  Fuel-injected V8 petrol? four-stroke inboard
Rated HP:  320 @ 4800rpm
Displacement:  5.7lt
Weight:  About 468kg dry
Drive (make/ratio):  Volvo Penta ? sterndrive
Props:  Duoprop

For further information and your nearest dealer, contact Cobalt Boats Australia, tel (02) 6290 2738 or visit www.cobaltboats.com.au

First published in TrailerBoat #173, Oct 2003

Find Cobalt boats for sale.

 


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