When you go out fishing on someone else’s boat, you’re usually just looking for a good day on the water, coming away with memories of fishing and friends. Sometimes, however, it’s the boat that makes the impression.
That’s the way it was 15 years ago for Walter Szeezil. It was the mid-1990s, and he was fishing out of Miami with Capt. Mark Houghtaling on a Contender, a Florida-built center console designed by fisherman/company founder Joe Neber. There was something about the boat he liked, and it wasn’t just the 35-mph performance and the ride. It was also the little things — the deck, the toe kick, the raised live well, the coffin box. He was smitten they way boaters sometimes are by certain boats.
“I’ve wanted one ever since,” says the 46-year old doctor from Terra Ceia, Fla.
A decade-and-a-half and a fleet of fishing boats later, he’s got one, a 2001 Contender 27 he bought in 2008 for $61,500. Szeezil had been checking the Internet regularly when he came across this particular Contender that looked intriguing. “I noticed a 7- year-old Contender 27 at a dealer in Destin [Florida] who seemed to be lowering the price $1,000 a week,” he says. “It was obvious he wanted it gone.”
Szeezil drove seven hours from his Tampa Bay area home to see it, had a “flawless” sea trial, and took the boat home with him. “It was in great mechanical shape,” he says. The boat had a few hull scratches, and it needed a new T-top and canvas and a better GPS, all of which he’s taken care of.
The Contender 27 does double-duty as a family-and-friends boat and a no-nonsense, open-water fishing machine. The layout, including those little things that impressed him 15 years ago, still make the boat a pleasure to run. “The helm — the entire boat, really — has great ergonomics,” says Szeezil. “I’m a little different than most Contender owners. This boat mostly hauls friends and family on different day trips. We swim off the rocks at Egmont Key, a popular party spot, and we hit the waterfront restaurants any time we can. It’s not unusual for me to have six adults and another six kids on board, plus dogs, and the boat doesn’t even seem crowded.”
Kids sit forward on the coffin box, with a recessed grab rail when it’s needed, he says. And because the deck is a single level, there’s no bridge step to trip on.
But don’t think it’s all harbor cruising for the Contender. Szeezil takes the boat out fishing, too, with a couple of trailer-boat road trips each year — one to the Bahamas in June for the mutton spawn and one to the Keys for sportsman lobster season in late July. “I can’t claim to be a hard-core fisherman anymore, but I’ll break out the rods when I know we’ll put fish in the boat,” he says. “Night fishing for snapper off Bimini and the [Florida] Keys are a sure thing.”
Performance has been better than expected. The deep-vee hull is powered by a pair of Yamaha 200-hp HPDI 2-strokes with about 900 hours. “We cruise at 32 mph and 3,600 rpm getting 1.9 mpg with a large crew aboard,” says Szeezil. That’s 8 mph faster and a half-mile per gallon better than the 26-foot power cat he owned. “I’m pleased with that,” he says.
Szeezil tows the Contender with a 345-hp diesel V- 8 Dodge 2500, and the loaded boat and trailer weigh in at less than 10,000 pounds. “It tows easily, and we tow pretty quick,” he says. Tampa to Fort Lauderdale is about a four-hour trip, and he can reach the Keys in about six hours.
The Contender rides even better once it’s in the water. “I’ve owned [power] cats, and there’s nothing they do better than this boat, including head seas … following seas, seas on your beam, drift fishing and just plain speed and efficiency.”
The Contender has made the run to islands with ease. “The boat’s open-water performance is fine and the boat feels safe,” says Szeezil. “We raced an afternoon storm front from Port Everglades to Bimini [running] 35 mph in a beam sea and made it in an hour and 40 minutes. It was a dry, comfortable ride.”
Szeezil calls the Contender 27 his “sixth and last center console.” Through the years, the physician’s fleet has included a series of skiffs smaller than 20 feet, and mono- and multihulls from 23 to 26 feet. But, he says, “this is probably my last boat for a very long time — I am that pleased with it.”
The Contender 27 Open is a “top-quality center console with the kind of … features fishermen love,” according to Ed McKnew in The Power Boat Guide. Those features include standard twin cockpit fishboxes, a raised transom live well, a forward fishbox and a transom door.
The 27 Open has a simple, unencumbered layout with plenty of deck space and easy access all around the boat. Recessed grab rails and toe kicks add to the boat’s fishability. Construction includes a PVC-cored fiberglass stringer system and foam flotation, and the boat has a contemporary look, with clean lines and an even sheer from the moderately flared bow to the transom. Most boats are fitted with a T-top and rocket launchers.
The centerline console has the wheel to port and engine controls to starboard. Above the in-dash gauges is a protected box for the big-screen electronics, and there’s a standard bench seat/leaning post. The console has room inside for storage or a portable head.
Standard power is a pair of 200-hp outboards for a 30- to 35-mph cruise, while the builder claims a top end of 45 to 50 mph. The boat carries a hefty 210 gallons of fuel. With its narrow deep-vee hull (24.5 degrees of transom deadrise), the 27 Open has a reputation for a soft ride in offshore waters.
Steve Knauth is a contributing writer for Soundings Magazine. This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue.