BOAT TEST: CONTENDER 23 TOURNAMENT/23 OPEN

By: David Lockwood, Photography by: John Ford, Coastcolour


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The Florida-built Contenders have hit our shores and David Lockwood writes the newcomers are a serious challenger to the established trailerable centre-console sportsfishers.

BOAT TEST: CONTENDER 23 TOURNAMENT/23 OPEN
CONTENDER 23 TOURNAMENT/23 OPEN

 

FROM THE ARCHIVE: First published in TrailerBoat #223, 2008

 

 

THE NEWEST CONTENDER


If I had a dollar for every time I am asked - what is the best-riding (trailer)boat of all time? - I could retire a rich man. More often than not it's the leading question from serious offshore anglers in the new-boat market. The quest for the best is the overriding consideration for those who want to lock horns with big fish and contest tournaments, come hell or high water.
Up until now, the first brand to spring to my mind is Boston Whaler. This fine magazine ran a 24 Outrage demo boat that was the bomb. But as great as that badge is, Contender has knocked it off its perch. And I say this after a lengthy boat test in less-than-friendly seas where I, too, appreciated that smooth - and surprisingly dry ride - from this brace of centre consoles.
Naturally enough, the ride quality comes back to hull shape and the boats' monocoque or one-piece rattle-free construction. After which other things begin to hold sway: there's a purpose-built minimalist layout for serious fishing; the latest direct-injection two-stroke outboards for snappy acceleration and economy; and a keen price for such well-made boats.
With the Contenders - or at least the exemplary 23 Tournament and 23 Open models tested here - it's very much a case of less being more. The uncompromising fishing boats will appeal to tournament anglers who grimace when they see Clayton's fishboats with decks adorned with line-snagging fittings, a bow that you can't access easily, and livewells and fishboxes that look more like goldfish bowls and glove boxes.
On the Contenders, the decks are clean and uncluttered, there is concealed anchoring gear, pop-up nav. lights and deck cleats, plus under-gunwale cleats below hawsepipes, recessed internal grabrails and underfloor or in-transom fish and bait tanks. Everything you need but all tucked away or built in as in integral part of the boats.
Just as importantly, the outboard pod isn't too big on these boats, which means you can clear your rod tip and keep the line away from the prop when fighting a deep slugging fish. And this, I should add, isn't so common on Yankee fishing boats that place the emphasis on performance and, as such, go with extended outboard pods.

 

 

CUSTOM OPTIONS


Though a production boatbuilder, Contender isn't averse to suggestions. The T-tops on the demo boats pictured hereabout were enlarged for a little more shade from our savage summer sun. There was also the option of shifting the centre console forward to gain more aft cockpit fishing room, a detail being considered by the agent.
Florida-based, Contender also builds necessarily long-range boats for local anglers with tickets on fishing the Bahamas, Outer Banks, canyons and so on. That helps explain why one of the first Contenders sold here went to a couple of anglers in Townsville, who apparently intend to run 100km to their local outer reefs for better fishing.
Meantime, Contender importer, Sam Wallrock from Wallrock Marine, offers promising support. He is a marine mechanic, engineer and Master V with 12 years experience in the boating industry. Though he intends to establish a national dealer network in Australia, he says he will personally fit-up engines and accessories in a consistent manner here.
But from what I hear, Contender isn't a yard that experiences many issues. Construction involves handlaid biaxial and triaxial cloths, foam sandwich, vinylester resin and polyurethane foam injected into the subfloor voids for stiffening, sound deadening and flotation.
The 23T is a three-piece boat, as in separate hull, deck and liner moulds, while the 23 Open is a two-piece hull. Built for rough water, the Contenders are backed by 10-year structural warranties and, on the water, are delightfully rattle and bump free.

 

 

THE VITALS


The primary focus of this test is the 23T, which is short for Tournament Series. The range starts with a 21 footer (coming soon along with a 27 footer) and ends with a 36 footer. All the boats are big for their size.
The 23T measures 25ft 3in (7.57m) overall excluding the optional bowsprit, which wasn't fitted to the demo boat. So, despite its designation, you need to think of it as a 25 footer. The 8ft 6in (2.55m) beam is right on the trailerable limit - on-road towing weight is about 2600kg dry on an aluminium Magic Tilt dual-axle four-wheel-disc braked multiroller trailer.
The 23 Open measures 23ft 3in (6.97m) overall with an 8ft 3in (2.47m) beam. With a dry towing weight of 1900kg on the above mentioned aluminium Magic Tilt trailer, it will prove to be an easy tow by today's trailerboat standards.
While I'm all for four-stroke outboards, the direct-injection E-TECs were a fitting match for these boats. On the 23T, the twin 150hp direct-injection two-strokes are built on a compact and torquey V6 block. The single E-TEC 250hp on the 23 Open, which you can option with twin 200hp outboards, was similarly punchy.
Rated up to twin 200hp outboards or down to a single XXL-shaft 300hp outboard, the 23T's twin 150hp Evinrude E-TECs were spinning 17 x 15¼in stainless-steel Rebel props. These gave snappy acceleration right through the rev range - handy for bar work - and the boat bounded to planing speed in the blink of an eye.
The low-profile 23T hull has a huge 662lt fuel capacity that it carries down low and amidships to assist stability. In fact, the surefootedness of the boat was amazing and surprising considering the deep 24.5º deep-vee hull. The boat also features a stepped pod, big chines and a rounded planing plank for lift.
It's a similar hull on the 23 Open, only fuel capacity is 567lt. Also, above the water, the 23 Open has a slightly different style, with relatively higher sides, more freeboard in the bow, and more flare in keeping with a traditional Carolina-style hulls. Nice lines indeed

 

 

HOOKS, LINES BUT NO SINKER


Clean lines and concealed fishing features are a big part of the 23T's attraction. The recessed Lenco trim tabs won't foul lines - the tabs are only needed in strong crosswinds - SeaStar hydraulic steering makes light work of helming, and I noted a very tidy local engine fit-up with clean wiring looms.
There's a marlin door leading out to what Contender calls a dive platform, which has a swim ladder, but as mentioned it's not an intrusive appendage. I also noted room to mount a berley pot.
A deck hatch leads into the bilge, which has big-boat bronze seacocks on the skin fittings for the livebait tank pickup, the saltwater and freshwater wash downs, and good access to the fuel filter. All the switches and breakers located inside the centre console are waterproof and there's a high-capacity 2000gal/h or 7500lt/h bilge pump.
Both Contenders are self-draining. The deck mouldings and drains will ensure your toes stay dry and there's a subtle but grippy non-skid underfoot. The low-profile gunwales that hit at high knee level offer support when tracing or fishing stand-up tackle.
From bow to stern, both centre consoles are true fish-around boats and just wonderfully snag-free. The bows on both boats are noticeably deeper than the transoms and feature integral grabrails for holding onto while fish fighting and tracing as the boats idle forward.
The 23T has an in-transom 189lt livebait tank, massive 530lt insulated fishbox forward flanked by two additional fish or gear storage boxes with 287lt capacity, and two more underfloor storage holds back aft. Add rod, gaff or tagpole storage racks under the gunwales and details like an anchor-holding tube in the bow to prevent rattles when underway, and you have a complete fishboat indeed.
The 23 Open has three sub-floor storage or insulated fishboxes, the biggest of which will take a decent tuna, plus an in-floor instead of in-transom livebait tank with 114lt capacity. The rodholders on both boats are heavy-duty Lees models - the best gear.

 

 

DRIVING STATIONS


The centre consoles on the Contenders are fitted with optional leaning posts, oversized T-tops, rocket launchers and additional rodholders either side of the console that were plumbed to drain water. A zip-out panel in the rubber-backed bimini lets you poke the rod tips out the top when running. All told, storage for 10 outfits.
The boats were fitted with Rupp aluminium outriggers and Top Gun bases with internal operating mechanisms. There were also rear spotlights, a big LED cockpit night-fishing light and wonderful anodised alloy T-top frames. The 23T had a Plexiglass windscreen much appreciated in the bitter winter winds.
There's a strap under the leaning post for holding a decent icebox (a rigging centre is optional), while inside the console are things for dry storage plus the boats' battery banks, isolators and oil bottles. The wiring is nice and neat, too.
On the dash, I found multifunction engine gauges offering data on fuel flow and consumption. With NMEA 2000 interface you can display E-TEC engine data on your nav. screens, too.
The recessed electronics boxes are handy for a 10in or two 7in screens, there's room for mounting radios, and solid stainless steel steering wheels with the obligatory steering knob so you can crank the boats around effortlessly.

 

 

NO HOLDING BACK


On or off the water, the Contenders are purposeful looking boats. So I didn't hold back. The 23T with its extra weight and half fuel load performed brilliantly. The boat was loathe to leap out of the water and spent more time cutting a path through the rough stuff.
The 23T jumped to planing speed and cruised at 20 to 21kts at 3000rpm while consuming 34lt/h on both 150hp E-TEC outboards. The boat hit a 30 to 31kts high-speed cruise at 4000rpm for 47lt/h, ran up to 40kts at 5000rpm for 106lt/h, and returned a top speed of 42.3 knots at 5400rpm (it was too rough to trim the boat out and reach top revs of 5800rpm).
The 23 Open clocked 19 to 20kts at 3000rpm, 26 to 27kts at 4000rpm, 34kts at 5000rpm and had a top speed of 43.5kts at 6000rpm back in calm water. In both cases, the ride was commensurate with that from a real pedigree and, for my money, you won't find a brace of smoother riding offshore racehorses on which to punt your fishing money.

 

 

WHAT WE LIKED


Superb offshore performance from a great foam-filled deep-vee hull
Excellent engineering for offshore work
A huge range from big fuel tanks
Seriously good fishing layout
Plenty of features built in, out of the way, and great stability
Clean, uncluttered decks and bow to stern fishing room
Transom isn't too far from outboard motors, meaning you can clear your rod tip when fighting deep-slugging fish from a dead boat
Revered American badge with a great reputation
Local importer is a skilled marine mechanic and engineer, and bound to be supportive of the product

 

 

NOT SO MUCH


External trim tabs on the 23 Open could foul lines
No windshield on 23 Open
Boats could do with (optional) bowsprits
Not a huge amount of room behind the console on the 23T
A new brand on the market with no established second-hand market
Centre consoles offer scant weather protection

 

 

 

 

Specifications: Contender 23T/23 Open

 

 

HOW MUCH?


Price as tested:  The Contender 23 Tournament (23T) was selling for $159,900 as a turnkey package w/ twin Evinrude 150hp E-TEC outboards; dual-axle four-wheel-disc braked multiroller trailer, rego, stamp duty; offshore safety and optional recessed console footrest; deluxe T-top w/ white light, twin spots, led night light, four rodholders, radar and antenna pads, 15-foot Rupp Top Gun outriggers and built-in Rupp radial arms for outriggers; livewell plumbing; six vertical rodholders in console; telescoping boarding ladder; freshwater washdown; saltwater washdown; flush mounted electronics box; mini fixed back leaning post; removable rear bench seat; and more
 
The Contender 23 Open was selling for $115,900 as a turnkey package w/ single Evinrude 250hp E-TEC outboard; dual-axle four-wheel-disc braked multiroller trailer, rego, stamp duty; offshore safety and optional deluxe T-top w/ white light, twin spots, led night light, four rodholders, radar and antenna pads; livewell plumbing; freshwater washdown; saltwater washdown; flush mounted electronics box; mini fixed back leaning post; Lenco trim tabs; and more

Priced from:
The 23T costs from $136,476.00 w/ 300hp Suzuki, T-top, aluminium dual-axle four-wheel-disc braked multiroller trailer, stamp duty and offshore safety equipment
The 23 Open costs $107,551 w/ 250hp Evinrude E-TEC, T-top and aluminium dual-axle four-wheel-disc braked multiroller trailer, stamp duty and offshore safety equipment

 

 

GENERAL


Material: GRP with multi-axial woven rovings, composite lay-up, and foam-filled hull
Type: True deep-vee mono
Deadrise at transom: 24.5º
Length overall: 7.57m/6.97m
Beam: 2.55m/2.47m
Draft: Approx 0.45m
Weight: 1905kg (hull only) or 2600kg dry on road; 1270kg (hull only) or 1900kg dry on road

 

 

CAPACITIES


Fuel: 662lt/567lt
Freshwater: Approx 40lt for washdown

 


 
ENGINE


Make/model: Twin Evinrude E-Tec 150hp outboards/singe Evinrude E-Tec 250hp outboard
Rated HP: 2 x 150/ 1 x 250 at 4500 to 5500rpm
Type: V6 direct-injection two-strokes
Displacement (ea): 2.589lt/3.3lt
Weight (ea): 190kg/240kg
Drives and props: 25in XL with 17in SS Rebel props

 


 
SUPPLIED BY:


Wallrock Marine,
Samuel Wallrock,
Australian and NZ distributor of Contender boats
Phone: 0432 736 500
Email: samwallrock@optusnet.com.au
Website: www.contender.com

 

 

Originally published in TrailerBoat #223

Find Contender boats for sale.

 


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