When I was about to buy my first boat, my Dad gave me some sage advice. “Check out the seller as much as the boat,” he said. That’s proven a good approach, and I’ve followed it when testing boats as well as when buying them. In this case, I had a head start because I’d been lucky enough to first encounter James and Daniel (the ‘J’ and ‘D’ in JD’s Boatshed, who brought this smart bowrider along for a test run) more than a decade ago.
They’d been aboard their dad’s potent twinoutboard rig when I’d reviewed it, and even as youngsters their passion for boats was evident. In more recent years, when JD’s took on the Cobalt brand, I’d again seen their enthusiasm, in a more professional sense, as they built their business and established Cobalt as an up-market presence in the Australian family-boat market.
Each time that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing a Cobalt, the story was the same as on this occasion – the brothers having made the effort to immaculately prepare and present the 7.8m A25. They arrived right on time at Wally’s Wharf (what a great name!) in Dolan’s Bay on Sydney’s beautiful Port Hacking. Everything was perfect and ready to go, and James even brought along his lovely wife Jaya and baby daughter Charlize to further brighten our photos.
As James backed the big A25 down the decidedly steep ramp, I took a few minutes to check out its undersides. The hull has quite a fine entry at the stem, with deep-vee forward sections promising a soft ride. Twin strakes either side of the slightly rounded keel are inboard of chines that widen considerably as they run aft, and which continue under the outer sections of the boarding platform to form extended running surfaces. These continue either side a short distance beyond the ‘real transom’, on which was mounted a MerCruiser Bravo 3 drive with twin counter-rotating 24in pitch props. Also mounted there were the trim tabs and the mechanism for the clever submersible section of the boarding platform.
The hull sides had unusual and appealing mould lines, along with an ebony colour panel flanked by a sandstone accent that highlighted the sweeping sheer of the gunnels and chines. It’s constructed of composite materials (no wood) and the higher-stress areas such as the transom, chines and running strakes are Kevlar-reinforced. Most of the stainless steel hardware is top quality 316 grade, with some electro-plated 304 items.
At the bow, that lower fine entry flared outward and upward to give a well-rounded section at the gunnels line, with a stainless ‘cutwater’ neatly fitted below the rub rail, also stainless steel. Docking lights were neatly recessed just aft of the cutwater and a combined navigation light was at the front of a small foredeck that housed a generous-sized self-draining anchor locker, complete with tie-off for the bitter end of the anchor rode. Mooring cleats were either side fore and aft as well as (thankfully) amidships, while a slot for the drop-in riding light was on the starboard aft side deck.
SLICE AND DICE
It was a windy day, but the A25 creamed through the areas of chop and slop with its high freeboard keeping the crew snug and dry.
Once in more protected waters, James could open the throttle to give the A25 a chance to stretch its legs. Those strakes and strong chines did a good job, the big bowrider shooting along; it was interesting to watch the wake streaming out from under the boarding platform in a clean, low pattern, indicating the hull was running lightly and efficiently.
At the start of each camera run, I could see the A25 lifting smoothly on plane, with barely any change in running angle, which is another good indicator of an efficient hull design. As James manoeuvered the Cobalt for different camera angles, the boat banked gently around even tight turns and the bow held high, with lots of buoyancy in the forward shoulders, promising a dry ride for those lucky enough to get a “thrill ride” up front.
Onboard the A25, I started to realise just how much space the boat offered – and why it’s rated to accommodate up to 15 people. That’s quite a crew! The layout is typical bowrider, just with more of everything neatly integrated into the overall package.
There are loads of stowage places, including under all the seats (some of these places being much larger than expected), under the screen consoles and even under the aft walkway to the boarding platform. Unexpected spots were either side in front of the screen, where hatches lift to provide neat slots for docking fenders – great idea, Cobalt! A long and cavernous lockable compartment under the floor of the passage between the cockpits is less surprising, even if better finished than most, and entirely large enough to take skis, wakeboards and other bulky items. Just about all the seat bases and hatches have gas-assist struts so they lift and lower smoothly and easily. The passenger seat has a lockable glove box (with a premium grade stereo inside), as well as an open compartment neatly angled down to safely hold sunglasses, wallets, mobile phones, sunscreen and the like. Also prevalent throughout the boat were drink holders and grab handles.
A demountable table can be set up in either cockpit area, with clip-out carpet on the floor covering non-skid surfaces. The main cockpit selfdrains through tubes into the aft bilges, where an automatic bilge pump can clear any accumulation of water. Overhead was an optional bimini shade cover tidily furled inside a storage sock.
Another indication of quality found throughout the boat is the use of stainless ‘piano hinges’ on the seat bases and elsewhere. They more or less run the length of the hinged component, and will undoubtedly offer a longer service life, as well as easier operation, compared to the usual ‘bracket’ hinges.
The quality of the upholstery is exceptionally good, with quilted areas and superb contrasting stitching, especially over the helm console. The seats are very comfortable and versatile, too, with flipover backrests for both the port passenger seat and on the aft lounge. Another clever touch is found up front, where the side in-fill panels between the forward-and aft-facing seats neatly hinge back to be concealed under those forward-facing seats.
The aft lounge in the main cockpit lifts on hydraulic rams to reveal a tidy engine bay layout. The big MerCruiser V8 had all its maintenance access points within easy reach, as were the twin batteries on either side, and all the visible engineering was of a top quality. It was good to see that an automatic fire extinguisher system had also been fitted.
BOARD, NOT BORING
I’ve seen submersible boarding platforms on large luxury cruisers, but never before on a boat of this size. Controlled by rocker switches conveniently placed in a recess on the starboard side of the cockpit, the aft section of the boarding platform hydraulically lowers below the water level.
That still leaves a healthy area above water, and the step-down into the water would be great either for just sitting and cooling off on hot days, or for more easily using skis, wakeboards and tow toys. A swim ladder drops even further down to help you climb back onboard, and there’s a recess in the sunlounge area for a removable ski pole to be slotted into place. Also on the transom was an extra set of speakers for the stereo system.
As good as the interior of the A25 was in white with brown and sand-colour accents, the helm position was even better. The dash console is beautifully finished with a leather (or at least a leather-like) covering superbly installed with contrasting stitching. The tilt-adjustable wheel has stainless spokes and a padded rim for a very luxurious feel, and the fore-aft-adjustable seat has a flip-up bolster at the front to aid a standing position when the skipper feels like it.
The instrument panel has two large dials comprising a speedo to the left and tacho to the right. Both have digital inset displays that cycle through an incredible range of read-outs covering oil pressure, engine coolant pressure and temperature, engine hours, volts, compass heading, water depth, water temperature, air temperature, fuel level, drive trim setting and the colour of the skipper’s eyes. Well, perhaps not the latter, but just about anything else you might need or want to know is there at your fingertips. The digital displays can also repeat the analogue readings of the dials for speed and revs.
Between the dials is a colour Garmin 620 GPS unit with a further gold mine of information including speed, heading, latitude and longitude coordinates, and a resettable maximum speed. To the right of the wheel is a set of two rocker switches for the trim tabs and (a great inclusion) a set of LED lights that show the tab positions. Also at the helm was a stereo control, a row of very neat button-switches for the ancilliaries, and a 12V power outlet. Below the helm was a set of circuit breakers, where they can be conveniently checked.
The dash consoles are recessed for plenty of knee and leg room underneath the wheel and glovebox areas, and optional stainless ‘vented’ covers for the angled footrests give an even better grip – and they look great.
Settling in at the driving position I found the helm seat particularly welcoming, if without too much in the way of lateral support. However, I found that wasn’t too much of an issue, as the A25 turns very smoothly. That lovely stainless-spoked padded-rim wheel was light to operate, as were the throttle and shift, and the boat was immediately reactive to all the controls. The A25 simply felt really good, and rapidly instilled a high level of confidence in the boat’s abilities and handling.
In the engine bay was a potent 8.2lt MerCruiser MAG V8 rated at 380hp, which gave the counter-rotating 24in pitch props of the Bravo 3 drive plenty of grunt to haul the A25 out of the hole. Actually, initial acceleration could be anything from leisurely to rapid, and in all cases the hull just slipped gently on plane with minimal bowrise. Forward vision was retained for the skipper as the Cobalt got underway, even over the fairly high bow, and the hull gave prompt and predictable responses to any input from the helm, throttle, drive trim and trim tabs. However, it wasn’t overly sensitive and tyro skippers will quickly feel at home. Skippers with more hours in their log books will revel in the responsiveness of the hull, while the crew will enjoy the soft ride and gentle banking through turns.
Top speed was an impressive 85.2km/h (46 knots) at 4600rpm, with easy-loping cruising anywhere between 55km/h at 3000rpm and 73km/h at 4000rpm. Noise and vibration levels were low, and the A25 exuded smooth controllability.
The steering is just under three turns lock to lock and so was fairly direct (helping that quick response), whilst there’s clear vision of the gauges and electronics whether seated or standing at the wheel. The trim tab controls were within easy reach, too. Especially when cruising, an arm rest was placed just right for the skipper to relax with their hand lightly on the throttle.
All in all, the A25 is a superb day boat with stacks of seating and open room for entertaining family and friends. Cobalt decided to not include a toilet to maximise onboard space, but it does offer that facility aboard its 242 and 262 bowriders, so the choice is there. The A25 encompasses a certain level of exclusivity in its style and features, with a good range of options. Pricing starts around $105,000 and our heavily-optioned test boat was priced at $134,000. A Dunbier trailer can be provided, if required, from around $15,500.
JDs Boatshed is well equipped to help select the best boat for your needs and budget; as well as the Cobalt range (with 20ft bowriders to 32ft cruisers), it offers other fibreglass craft plus aluminium and inflatable boats and Yamaha outboards, so whatever you want it’ll be able to guide you to the best result. Finance and insurance are available too (the company is a Platinum Club Marine Dealer), and James and Daniel package everything with friendly and professional advice.
SPECIFICATIONS: COBALT A25
Overall length: 7.77m (incl. swim platform)
Deadrise: 21 degrees
Capacity: 15 persons
Fuel capacity: 189lt
Power (standard): MerCruiser 350 MAG MPI V8 (224kW/300hp)
Power (as tested): MerCruiser 8.2L MAG V8 (284kW/380hp)
Drive: MerCruiser Bravo 3 Twin Prop
Base price: $105,000
Price (as tested): $134,000
For more information: www.jdsboatshed.com.au or tel (02) 9525 3166.