by Graham Lloyd

Bigger does not always mean better, but this Cobalt 26 Sport Deck makes a good case for why it should be so. Essentially this is a giant-size bowrider with space-aplenty for family and friends (or business associates?) to enjoy all of fun, thrills and relaxation whilst cruising, fishing, waters-porting or just doing nothing at all amidst the tranquillity of our wonderful Aussie waterways.

Competitively priced from $113,490, the boat is packed with practical benefits including a clever, patented, swim step that folds out-and-down from the centre of the boarding platform. The near eight metre (26 feet) 26SD also hides away a small but imminently usable toilet to remove one of the aspects of day-boating that can cause internal pressures to build to intolerable levels.

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When first viewing this 13-passenger bowrider, those two innovations are not immediately apparent, but the curious and very novel design of the bow is certainly in that category. It’s a new approach to creating extra space in the bowrider area by carrying a wider beam further forward. Some bowriders have used a simple bluffly-rounded stem while others have adopted a pickle-fork shape to obtain this additional room onboard, but Cobalt has come up with an entirely new idea.

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The keel of the 26SD curves up to the top of the stem in the usual way, but the quite wide forward chines end abruptly shortly before they camber inwards toward the stem. That creates near-vertical faces that angle out slightly as they cut up to meet the gun’l. It’s not easy to describe or to visualize, but a look at the bow-on photo quickly shows the design. It allows the front deck of the boat and the forward cockpit to be wider for both added comfort and for extra storage. That includes a good sized anchor locker and a partially concealed drop-down boarding ladder.

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The ladder is very helpful when pulled in to a beach, as it makes getting on and off the front of the 26SD so much easier. In fact, ease-of-use is a good theme to describe the whole approach of the boat. The extra size helps of course, but Cobalt has employed a raft of features, many of which appear individually on other craft, but all of which are rarely combined to such good effect.

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Apart from the unique stem, the rest of the hull is fairly conventional with two strakes either side of the keel. The latter centres a quite deep deadrise of 21 degrees which is helpful in providing a soft ride. There is a recessed area in the middle of the transom so that the MerCruiser Bravo Three Drive with its twin counter-rotating props sits snugly between extensions that add additional planing areas and aft floatation. They also provide mounting points for the small, but still very welcome, hydraulic trim tabs.

Even with 7.97 metres to smooth out the lines, the 26SD has quite high topsides that prevent any impression of a low profile hull. The appearance remains appealing though with a raked windscreen and side returns that sweep gracefully down to the side decks. The hull height is used to good effect so that the crew has plenty of depth in the cockpit for safety and a splash-free ride.

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That height also makes possible the hidden toilet which is concealed under the port-side screen console. The whole section behind the screen hinges inward and reveals a compartment with enough room to comfortably sit on the porcelain toilet that is fitted with an electric pump, macerator and holding tank. There’s a small basin in there too, a shelf to hold a few toiletries and a port hole for natural light. It’s not overly spacious of course, but it’s entirely roomy enough to achieve its objective.

The electric toilet and sink are optional upgrades with a simpler Porta Potti set-up as standard. Especially when boating away from shore facilities, having an onboard loo of any type in a private compartment makes such a difference; it’s a real convenience!

However, this is no houseboat when it comes to performance. Nestled in a very clean engine bay at the back of the 26SD is a potent MerCruiser 8.2 litre V8 that produces a healthy 380hp (283kw) which the counter-rotating props of a Bravo Three Drive use very efficiently. Not all hull and Bravo Three combinations work well, but this is one that does. Whilst the typical MerCruiser power steering would anyway reduce torque effect on the wheel to minimal proportions, the two props spinning in opposite directions make possible an even smoother drive train that also gains extra thrust.

The result is turbine-like acceleration away from rest as well as at intermediate speeds. An even driving force is maintained through all but the tightest turns – tighter than any normal boating would require – and drive trim is not critical either, although the hull does re-act pleasingly to trim adjustment through about the first quarter of the trim range.

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Both the throttle and the wheel are smooth to operate with a light touch bringing linear and responsive results. There is a little bowrise under initial acceleration, but forward visibility remains good and improves further as the hull quickly and smoothly drops back to an efficient running attitude. The Cobalt is easy and rewarding to drive as it spears away under full throttle to reach just on 82km/h at 4,900rpm. That’s fast for a boat of this size and style.

The hull was cruising on plane at 2,300rpm with the crew happy at 30km/h and with grins growing across faces as the Merc V8 spooled up in that lazy style of big-block high-torque engines. By 4,000rpm we were really hooting along at 71km/h, and 4,500rpm had the GPS reading an impressive fast cruise of 78km/h which the Cobalt held effortlessly.

There is moderate banking in tighter turns, but just enough to be interesting bordering on exciting without ever becoming a concern for inexperienced crew members. The overall ride is soft and that high freeboard would keep spray well away except maybe in very windy conditions. Whilst confident that this would be the case, we couldn’t actually check it as we were blessed for our test run with a gorgeous clear and calm winter’s day on Sydney’s Port Hacking. It was one of those days that proves boating can be as marvellous in winter as in any season.

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Cobalt makes full use of the length of the 26SD from stern to stem. A boarding platform across the transom is below a panel with grab handles and stereo speakers; there’s also a removable ski tow pylon that’s a realistic indication of the watersports potential of the boat. Above that, a convertible sunlounge has a pivoting back rest that, when swung forward, makes a full size aft-facing sunlounge. Or it can be swung back to still leave a sunpad behind a forward-facing aft settee across the rear of the cockpit.

To starboard, between the platform and cockpit, is a walk-through passage that’s equipped with a hinged safety-gate above a large under-floor stowage compartment. The latter’s position and size makes it ideal for storing wet items, and is additional to an even larger storage area under the sunlounge that is perfect for fenders and other bulky items; this locker is insulated so it can be used as a giant-sized cooler too.

The rear starboard quarter of the cockpit has a neatly curved cabinet that contains a workbench and sink above a storage cabinet and a fridge/freezer; it’s perfectly located for preparing and serving snacks and drinks to guests lazing around the beautifully upholstered seating. That extends from the rear settee along another lounge on the port side which continues to become the first mate’s seat with another pivoting backrest. When swung forward, the backrest forms an aft-facing stretch-out recliner lounge. All round, the 26SD has very versatile seating which has loads of stowage spaces below.

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A demountable circular table with inset drink holders can mount to a bracket on the port lounge, or to another bracket in the forward cockpit. In that bowrider area is more delectable seating including two armchairs! Well, the seats in front of the screen have drop-down armrests and do indeed make superbly comfortable spots to relax. More seating is down the sides (removable on the starboard side) and across the front of this up-front living room; the unique stem design described earlier making possible the much wider-than-usual space. Under the seats is more generous stowage including an extra-spacious locker running back under the starboard screen that contains a dedicated spot for the table and its mounting leg. The centre front cushion hides a non-skid step up to the also-non-skid foredeck.

Throughout the 26SD, the clip-out carpets are particularly noticeable for their comfort and style. An inexpensive upgrade option, the Sand and Terra coloured Cesara carpet looks and feels great. One section of it down the middle of the boat lifts away for access to yet another very large stowage locker under the floor. A very good touch from Cobalt is that a small toolkit is clipped to the underside of this locker’s hatch.

Back at the helm position, the skipper is just as well provided for as the crew with a superb set-up. The seat swivels and adjusts and has a flip-up bolster so that standing to drive is as comfortable as sitting and with the bolster-options of looking through or over the screen. A patterned stainless panel forms an angled foot rest with a drinkholder and small storage areas to hand for the inevitable car keys, mobile phone, sunglasses and other essentials of a carefree day out on the water.

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The leather-rimmed triple-spoked wheel is adjustable too so that just about any skipper-physique can find a truly comfy and supported alignment at the controls. The dash is quite simple in layout but very effective in application. Four dials set in a burr walnut style veneer deliver easily understood information in a mix of analogue and digital formats covering everything the skipper needs to know about the boat and engine.

It’s intuitive to select between various digital read-outs whilst the analogue gauges show a typical mix of speed, revs, fuel level and drive trim angle. The digital information is connected into the MerCruiser SmartCraft engine management system. There’s no read-out for the trim tab position though; that’s not a huge issue, as mostly the skipper can sense where the tabs are, but it would be an extra nice touch if tab indicators could have been included.

Those tabs are quite small and it does need a fair-while hold-down on the rocker switches for them to achieve any change in the hull’s lateral balance. But they do work and it is good to be able to adjust the side-to-side riding of the 26SD to counter the effects of a strong side breeze or of uneven passenger weight distribution. If you are not used to having tabs, don’t be concerned as it takes but a short while to get the hang of them and to enjoy operating them for even-keel running. Once you are used to having tabs, running a boat without them can be frustrating at times.

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Close by the wheel are a bank of switches and the Sony stereo controls, and the overall dash area continues the high standard of trim in the Cobalt with contrasting precision double-stitching in the Sand and Terra coloured fabric trim.

There are many other examples of thoughtful design and construction in every aspect of the 26SD. The deck hardware is appropriately sized and stylish in appearance, and can include clever stainless fender clips. These allow fenders to be set up with just the right length securing lines and special clips then oh-so-easily snap into fittings on the topsides. It’s another patented Cobalt feature. There are showers both at the transom and bow, smart LED lights either side of the stem, an automatic fire extinguishing system, the very comfortable “Varadense” seating, docking lights and more.

Our test boat was quite heavily optioned that took the price up to $146,990 which remains competitive and good value when you list out all the inclusions. The friendly team at Cobalt distributor JD’s Boatshed can provide all the help and information you need to explain the features in more detail and/or to tailor the 26SD to your own requirements – or to select from the other models in the Cobalt range.

 

SPECIFICATIONS:

COBALT 26SD

Overall Length (incl swim platform): 8.38m

Length (hull): 7.97m

Beam: 2.59m

Deadrise at transom: 21 degrees

Draft: 0.99m

Weight (dry): 2,495kg

Capacity: 13 persons

Fuel capacity: 189l

Fresh Water capacity: 38l

Power (as reviewed): MerCruiser 8.2L MAG V8 (283 kw; 380 hp)

Drive: MerCruiser Bravo Three Twin Prop

Price (from): $113,490

Price (as reviewed): $146,990

Performance:

2300 rpm 30.3 km/h

3000 rpm 48.7 km/h

3500 rpm 59.1 km/h

4000 rpm 71.4 km/h

4500 rpm 78.0 km/h

4900 rpm 81.7 km/h