By BoatTEST.com Test Team
It may be one of the most memorable boating images the public has ever seen. The year was 1961, and LIFE magazine published a photograph of a man sitting in a small boat as it was sawed in half. Both halves floated, and subsequent pictures showed the man driving away in only half a boat. The man in the photograph was Richard Fisher, and the boat, of course, was the unsinkable Boston Whaler, built by the company he founded.
Back in those days, Fisher pioneered a unique construction process in boat building. The fiberglass hull and inner liner of the boat were locked together, and then liquid foam was poured into the cavity between the two. As the foam hardened it also expanded, completely filling the voids and permanently locking the hull and liner together in a single integrated unit. The result was a hull form that had not just level, but positive flotation, and this construction process is still used today in every Whaler that rolls down the ways. The newest example of this is the 28 Conquest, a tough offshore fishing rig that's been designed to rival anything out there in the under-30' class.
The 28 Conquest made her debut at the 1998 New York Boat Show, and she's the largest outboard-powered boat Boston Whaler has ever built. According to Deane Kuti--Whaler's sales and marketing coordinator--the 28 is new from the keel up, yet she's a much larger version of the company's earlier 21 and 23 Conquest designs. "Our customers were looking for a larger cabin boat," said Kuti, "but it had to be a real fishing machine with family features. The 28 has overnight accommodations for two couples or a family with two kids, and options like a generator, air conditioning, and an electric range really extend her cruising capabilities."
Whalers--particularly the Montauk 17--have enjoyed explosive success over the years, but their early tri-hull design earned them the dubious reputation as one of the hardest-pounding boats on the water. But today's Whaler's have made great strides in achieving a soft ride. On the 28 Conquest, Whaler employs a modified-V design it calls the Accutrack hull. This features a reverse-chine spray knocker at the bow that does an excellent job of shedding water away from the boat, plus a series of full-length running strakes that not only provide good lift out of the hole, but excellent lateral stability as well. At one point we rode out a wake from a 58-foot cruiser beam-to, and the 28 Conquest settled down to level in just three seconds.
The first thing you notice about the 28 is her extra-high freeboard. The good news is it keeps you secure in the deep cockpit, and it affords great protection from spray when running at speed. The bad news is it's a big step down from the wide gunwales to the cockpit sole, and even though there's a small inwale step to assist in boarding, our test boat had the optional aluminum radar arch which partially blocks access to that step. Without the arch you'd have no trouble stepping down, but you'd lose a good grabrail. Either way, once inside you're treated to a whole host of high-quality fishboat features. The cockpit is rimmed all around with thick, thigh-high bolster cushions, and the flip-down transom seat is one of the best designs I've seen. The seat features stainless steel hinges and fold-in legs, and it stows away inside the transom (in two seconds) when not in use. When it's down, you have easy access behind it to the fuel filters and priming bulbs for the twin outboards.
A starboard-side transom door swings aft for access to the swim platform and engines, and the area features a good nonskid surface and grabrails within easy reach. A covered, stainless steel swim ladder flips down easily, and you also have access here--in gasketed lockers--to the batteries and battery master switch. Swimmers and waterskiers will also appreciate the fresh-water shower here.
As an offshore fishing machine, the 28 Conquest is loaded to the gills with fishing features. At the aft port corner there's a hip-high, 30-gallon livewell with inside light and STARBOARD cutting surface, and the cockpit sole has two deep, four-foot-long fishboxes aligned fore-and-aft. As a demonstration of the 28's positive floatation, Kuti pulled the drain plugs on both fishboxes, and the 28 barely budged as the boxes filled with water and found their level. Other features include four gunwale-mounted rod holders, three built-in tackle drawers, a stainless steel toe rail that keeps you secure when leaning over the side, and a switch that diverts the raw-water pump's output between livewell fill and cockpit washdown.
Moving forward on the same deck level, the 28 has a portside sun lounge/bench seat for two across from the single pedestal helm chair to starboard. This chair--made by Garelick--swivels and slides easily fore-and-aft for sit-down or standup driving, and the fixed, angled footrest helps keep you secure in the rough stuff. It was an easy reach to the Quicksilver controls (with in-handle engine trim), and the anodized aluminum-framed windshield did a good job of deflecting wind and most of the heavy rain over our heads as we performed our high-speed test runs. For easy access to electronics, the 28 has an electronics box just forward of the helm with a lockable and removable Plexiglas cover. While there's no panel in which to flushmount electronics, they'll do just fine mounted in brackets, and there's ample room for an LCD fishfinder, GPS/plotter, and VHF radio here.
There must be a lot of long-legged people at Whaler these days, since it's another BIG step down through the companionway and into the salon below decks. Here, you're greeted by a teak-and-holly sole and a galley console to port, complete with aft-facing Norcold refrigerator, Wellbilt microwave oven, and optional single-burner Kenyon electric cooktop. This is hidden beneath a Corian cover that lays flush with the simulated-granite FRP counter top. A circular sink with hot/cold water is standard too, as is adequate stowage behind and below the countertop. Our test boat was equipped with the optional 4.0-kW genset and CruisAir air conditioning, and while that's a welcome addition, the a/c compressor is located below the countertop so it takes up valuable stowage space. Still, that's a trade-off worth considering, since there's plenty of other hidden stowage around and below the circular lounge/dining area in the bow that quickly converts to a double berth.
Other surprising big-boat features on this 28-footer include a fully enclosed head/shower with Vacuflush toilet (for real-life cruising use), and a fairly spacious mid-cabin double berth located beneath the helm area. Though this berth has no privacy from the salon, it does have an opening portlight for a more spacious feel, and it's more than six-feet long so two adults can spend the night in comfort.
Amenities and solid construction aside, it's in the ride where this boat earns the Conquest name. The Accutrack hull did a fine job of holding a steady course when running down the faces of big wakes, and if it weren't for the rain we never would have touched the windshield wipers. With twin 225-hp Mercury Offshore EFI outboards, the 28 got up on plane in about three seconds, but tabs are needed (after trimming the engines) throughout the rpm range as she tends to run bow-high at all times. She showed no tendency to cavitate in tight, carving turns, and she exhibited excellent steering qualities in reverse--so good you won't need differential engine power when docking. Just line up her transom with the slip, and back her down using the wheel alone. Top speed was nearly 50 mph, and at a leisurely best cruise of 3000 rpm she moved right along at 25 mph with an economical fuel burn of just 1.43 mpg for a range of nearly 400 miles!
It's ironic when you realize that the best way to test the 28 Conquest is to cut her in half and see what happens. But thanks to a man named Fisher, we didn't have to go to that extreme since he showed us how that story ends. So even though Boston Whaler continues to develop and improve its products--as in the case of the Conquest 28--it's also good to know that some things never change.