You’d think that writing a review of a new Cabo would be easy. After all, the talented workmen at Cat Harbor consistently build world-class, yacht-quality sport-fishing boats. However, having reviewed the already successful Cabo 35 and 31, I’m running short in the superlatives department.
Performance Whether at the docks or offshore, you’ll immediately notice the Cabo 45’s responsive close-quarters handling. Turbo boost develops extremely quickly on the Cats, so when backing down or spinning on a fish, you need a delicate touch with the throttles (especially the Mathers MicroCommanders on our test boat) or you’ll end up gunning it beyond what you really want. In fact, the controls are so responsive that you might want to use the slow-troll mode or trolling valves that come standard with the electronic Cats until you get used to them.
Though the Cabo is nimble, it’s by no means squirrelly. It stays where you put it. Traveling down the channel in a 20-mph crosswind, the 45 forged straight ahead, while boats ahead of and behind us were steering crab angles to compensate for the wind.
After navigating the inlet, our test boat turned a 10-knot trolling speed at 1,500 rpm. Wide-open throttle at 2,250 rpm produced 32.5 knots, burning 65 gph with a full load of fuel, water and passengers – quite economical compared to many 45-footers. The most efficient cruising speed was 25 knots at 2,000 rpm, using a cumulative 50 gph. (The 45 was still in the middle of prop experimentation, and the manufacturer expected improvements at midrange and top speeds.) We trolled the reef off the Florida Keys in a very sloppy 4- to 6-foot beam sea, which translated into a minimal roll. And those who drift-fish will appreciate that whether you put the stern or the bow to the seas at first, you’ll end up beam-to in a drift.
It took several minutes’ running time in a quartering or following sea for the boat to start to wander with hands off the wheel. Then it started to slowly creep up into the wind. The Cabo has a very buoyant bow so that in any following sea, the bow lifts as soon as it reaches the next wave. Engines didn’t lag and speed didn’t drop appreciably when overtaking large waves.
Down sea, water shears down and out rather than curling up and over the bow. Make no mistake, though – you should outfit any express boat with an enclosure between the windshield and the hardtop. In a stiff breeze, you’ll take some spray in the face that on convertibles with the same hull would have fallen unnoticed on the forward salon windshield.
Accommodations Five-star best describes the accommodations aboard the new Cabo 45. Everywhere you look the flawless book-matched woods and blemish-free finishes gleam in the custom-designed lighting. Standard leather upholstery and a bodacious Bose sound system take the 45 well beyond the spartan fishing machine category. A fore-and-aft queen-size berth in the forward cabin allows plenty of room on each side to make up the berth, as well as to access the signature Cabo rod storage cabinetry with the cross-hatch ventilation panels.
Children or extra guests can make use of the extra-large settee on the salon’s port side. The galley and full head with shower take up the starboard side. Both have Corian countertops, Moen fixtures and loads of dry storage. There’s even a built-in vacuum system to keep clean any fine carpet you add (for those who want to cover a beautiful teak and holly cabin sole). Although I thought it impossible, the Cabo 45 represents a significant step up in luxury, quality, appointments, sophistication and technology from the 35.
Helm Station As you’d expect on a 45-foot express, the bridgedeck is huge. Harbor cruises for 15 or 20 will be cake walks. Thankfully, the centerline helm keeps the driver from feeling distracted in such circumstances, as the wheel and chair seem somewhat elevated above the madding crowd. A broad expanse of windshield with a giant wiper on each pane provides unobstructed visibility. An electrically controlled vent window on the bottom section of the center window introduces fresh, cool breezes to the helmsman – a welcome addition since expresses (with enclosures) often swelter heading into the wind.
Though an overhead instrument box could certainly be mounted on the hardtop, the dash panel offers more than enough flush-mounting room for most electronics suites. But perhaps the most intriguing feature of the new 45’s helm station is the Stidd helm seat; it offers more adjustments than a chiropractor. I found but one negative in the control station. While Caterpillar’s new 3196 engines performed brilliantly, Caterpillar’s electronic engine displays have a long way to go to catch up with the competition in information presented, ease of access and aesthetics. As the displays are impossible to read through polarized sunglasses, I’d go for simple aircraft gauges and leave the electronic displays in the engine room.
Engine Room Our test boat featured the very first pair of production CAT 3196s, which start developing 600 hp by the time they hit 1,300 to 1,400 rpm. Each of the engines retains constant, synchronized rpm levels even when you make hard turns, a welcome change for those used to mechanically controlled engines. I also appreciated the 3196’s standard synchronizing, slow-idle and trolling valves, as well as how little smoke these Cats produced, especially on cold starts at 3 or 4 in the morning.
A large part of Cat Harbor’s reputation stems from how they arrange their engine rooms. The 45’s feels bigger than those of many 65-footers, and that’s no mean trick considering the extra iron required by the larger Cat engines. I was able to fit my way outboard of the engines, all the way forward and everywhere else you’d need to be for routine maintenance. Each pipe and wire is run individually and labeled clearly.
Fishing Appointments There’s no doubt in my mind that thanks to this boat’s elegance and comfort, many of the 45s sold will never be fished. But every one of them will have every fishing amenity a dedicated offshore angler would opt for – some of them unique. For example, most boat owners (or crews) jury-rig some sort of a tray in the cockpit freezer to lay rigged baits on while fishing. Cat Harbor built a Lucite tray for that very purpose. A large, in-transom livewell contains a broad, see-through Lucite front so you can see the bait swimming – as if in an aquarium. Alongside the freezer, tackle storage and a bait-rigging center keep everything handy.
Casting to stripes or whites from the bow can be accomplished in complete safety and security, as the walkway forward has been designed to be wide and unobstructed with well-placed handholds. Once on the bow, the entire foredeck is finished in diamond-pattern nonskid rather than the more customary narrow strip of nonskid around the perimeter.
Besides the substantial rod storage available belowdecks and under settees on the bridgedeck, the Cabo 45 provides five rod holders around the cockpit and six rocket launchers along the back of the hardtop. And you’ll never want for a place to put the fish you catch with very large fish boxes (with gas shock-controlled hatches) to port and starboard in the cockpit sole. Then, there’s the tower. I hate towers. I never feel secure as I hang on for dear life in a rolling sea while climbing under the rails. Towers always seem to leave numerous bruises on me, and once in the tower I rarely find the ride comfortable. With that said, the Cabo’s tower (by Atkinson) is extremely comfortable under way. A tribute to the success of the Lou Codega-designed hull is the fact that I never got thrown around the tower even in the 4- to 6-foot seas.
Construction With all the attention to detail that goes into designing and outfitting a Cabo 45, it stands to reason that the construction will be commensurate. Cat Harbor uses only vinylester resin throughout for greater durability and biaxial fiberglass for multidirectional strength. The bottom layup contains solid laminate, while the topsides and decks get Baltek coring. The stringer system consists of fiberglass-encapsulated high-density foam. The hull and deck are joined via two flanges that Cat Harbor bonds together with 5200 adhesive (perhaps the strongest known to man). The inside joint then receives two passes of biaxial fiberglass followed by the entire joint being through-bolted on 4-inch centers. A cap then fits over the outside of the hull-to-deck joint and is also screwed together.
One rather unusual construction feature can be found in the bridgedeck. Most boats use structural beams beneath the deck to support the weight and give rigidity. Cat Harbor’s 45 contains a 3-inch core in lieu of beams, accomplishing several things. It makes the deck relatively lightweight, eliminates the cross-members that always take up valuable engine room space and gives excellent sound insulation. It also allows the Cabo to have a lower overall profile since the deck is lower – as is everything else.
The Cabo 45 doesn’t skimp anywhere. If you check the running gear of most comparably sized vessels, you’ll find they frequently have 2.25-inch shafts. The Cabo 45 boasts 2.5-inch-diameter shafts and equally oversized running gear. Another example can be found in the thick aluminum plates that get molded into the hull where each tower leg meets the deck, the better to avoid any compression problems in advance. One way you can easily see the quality of a Cabo is to simply put your face against the hull in a bright light. Looking from one end to the other, all you’ll see is shine. No bumps, dimples or dull spots. As one who’s faired his share of hulls, I know that alone takes more work than some companies put into an entire boat.
You might be led to believe that all this quality would carry a premium, perhaps even excessive, price. Interestingly, if you compare all the other express boats in the 43- to 46-foot range, with all the basic factory options, you’ll find that Cat Harbor’s Cabo 45 sails away for a very competitive price.