In each generation, a few boats are set as benchmarks by which others are measured. In the center-console performance market, Contender serves as one of those benchmarks. Say the name and most people instantly think of the massive Contender 31. The Contender 27 we ran boasts all the same great features as its longer sibling: inset handrail around the bow, optional padded bolster around the entire coaming, brilliant hull design, indestructible construction and unbelievable performance.
Fortunately, we had a stretch of calm water for about a mile before we reached the inlet at Miami’s Government Cut. I say fortunately because I could see numerous boats up ahead reaching the wind-against-tide rollers barreling into the area at the end of the breakwaters and then turning around. With winter winds blowing out of the southeast at about 18 knots, the big rollers kept fishermen off the outer half of the jetties. The 27, with Contender president Joe “Do-or-Die” Neber at the wheel, just kept on going.
During that calm stretch, twin Yamaha 200 Ox66 fuel-injected outboards, with tabs trimmed for optimum performance, rocketed us along at a top speed of 54 1/2 mph, burning 47.4 gph. Even cruising speed is fast by most boats’ standards, with 4,000 rpm turning out just over 39 mph using 23 gph.
Then came the barrels. Let me warn you that the Contender 27, or any Contender for that matter, will beat you up in rough seas if you let it. It will run fast in a sizable sea, landing perfectly and keeping you incredibly dry. Nothing will happen to the Contender, but hold on, because it’s built better than you are.
Dropping off a wave in a quartering sea, the boat tracked exactly on the heading I had set it on with hands-off control. When I actually punched the bow into a wave, whether running down-sea or heading right into it, no spray came over the rail. Following a rather abusive ride (Neber would be considered his boats’ worst enemy, having but two speeds in his lexicon), I didn’t even have to wipe off my sunglasses.
Rather than waxing poetic about how stable the 27 sets in a beam-sea drift or what a breeze it was kite fishing for sails in a hefty sea, let me say that I could find no negatives about the fishability of the Contender 27. I find that remarkable.
Several features make this Contender a superior fishing boat. It consists of one level. You never have to step up or down when moving fore and aft. The foredeck, expansive for a center-console, provides plenty of room to safely throw a cast net or plug. And that expansiveness carries well around to the sides of the boat, too. The standard inset handrail offers total security while walking to the bow without ever interfering with a fish fight. Contender regularly places additional optional rod holders in the gunwale amidships and forward instead of just aft, because they know that you fish all the way around the boat. With optional rod storage vertically on each side of the console, standard space for six rods under each gunwale, plus the numerous in-gunwale rod holders and optional rocket launchers on the T-top and leaning post, I doubt I could afford to fill all the rod holders on this 27-footer.
Contender took a lesson in clean decks from flats skiffs, using pop-up bow cleats and bow lights, and locating spring and aft cleats under the gunwales.
The above-deck 65-gallon (75-gallon available) livewell in the transom had an optional clear Lucite top which I believe helps keep baits better without the constant daytime/nighttime switching that goes on with most solid fiberglass wells. Finally, for me, there is immeasurable aesthetic beauty in the Contender’s starkly clean functionality.
An interesting comparison measures the internal volume of the Contender 27 to some of the other performance boats in the 30-foot range and finds that the 27 offers more room than most. Even the console has more space to flush- or bracket-mount all the “big-boat” electronics.
I’m not sure how to improve on the quality of the Contender 27. Certainly not in the ingredients that go into building each hull. Contender uses only vinylester resins for many reasons. Besides preventing osmotic blistering, vinylester resins provide ultraviolet protection, greater elongation, tensile strength and double the flex of polyester resins. What does it all mean? If you run a boat at the edge of the envelope, where your own body may not take it, the Contender will hold up with nary a groan, squeak or complaint.
For more information, contact Contender Boats, 1820 Southeast 38th Ave., Homestead, FL 33035; 305-230-1600 or fax 305-230-1700.