Man versus nature isn’t just a powerful literary theme—on a moving boat in rough seas it also makes the difference between a relaxing cruise and a compressed spine. How you operate the throttles and the wheel play a huge role, of course, but the biggest edge humankind gets in this battle is tools. First and foremost, the hull beneath your feet. And if you’re standing on the deck of a Calcutta 263, there’s one hell of a hull down there.
We don’t need to re-hash the old monohull-versus-cat argument here, but if there’s any one powercat trait which can be agreed upon, it’s that cats tend to reduce wave impacts. Actually, we don’t have to agree—it’s been objectively proven, by rigging cats and monos with accelerometers, running them side by side, and measuring the blows. (See Power Cat Versus Monohull: Which is the Better Fishing Boat).
Of course this is a generalization; all hulls are different, and some cats ride worse than some monohulls. Never having been on a Calcutta 263 before, I had no idea what to expect when my first ride began with running headlong into a series of closely-stacked three foot waves. My hand went around the pipework in a white-knuckled grip, I wedged my butt back against the leaning post, and… nothing.
Some boats slam into waves, some cut through them, some bull waves out of the way, and some fly off of them. The Calcutta 263 is one of those rare boats that does none of the above. It remains virtually dead flat throughout the RPM range, levitating upwards with almost zero bowrise as it packs air between the two hulls, then compresses that air into a blow-absorbing cushion. And the boat maintains this attitude while coasting over the waves. After an hour of cruising through two to four foot seas, the boat hadn’t slammed once. Period.
One word of caution: like many planing cats with compression tunnels, it can be a bit bumpy at pre-planing speeds. Below about eight MPH there’s no cushioning effect, and some tunnel slap (when waves roll into the tunnel and impact on the boat’s underside) in seas this large is to be expected.
Of course, every boat has its limits, and I was determined to find the Calcutta’s. So with the owner’s permission I inched the throttles up to 5000 RPM. Then 5500. Then 6050, absolute wide-open throttle. Other than topping 50 MPH and experiencing a much faster skipping sensation as we wave-hopped through the seas, nothing happened. The bottom line? This boat must have a point at which it will start to slam because all boats do, but I simply couldn’t reach that point in two to four foot seas.
Rough and Tumble
When it comes to seakeeping abilities, construction quality plays just as big a role as hull design. And again, Calcutta does things a bit unusually. The hulls are solid glass, while the deck and some other areas of the boat are vacuum-bagged and cored. Deck coring is 1.5” Nidacore, which is about twice as thick as the deck coring in many other boats. This boosts stiffness, adds floatation, and dampens both sound and vibration—adding to the solid feel, as you skim over the waves.
Another very unusual trait found on the Calcutta is its open transom. From a few inches above the waterline and up there essentially is no transom, and instead, a swing-down door closes the opening. While some people may find this a bit unnerving, it’s actually a huge safety advantage. The door keeps water from sloshing in the back, but if a big wave comes over the bow and floods the cockpit, flipping the door down turns the entire transom into one giant scupper.
“Safety is very important to me,” explained company President Steve Ellis. “I lie awake at night thinking about someone over-nighting 50 miles offshore on one of my boats, and I have to know I’ve done everything possible to make them as safe as possible. That’s why we also put two bilge pumps in each hull of the 263. Then, just in case either pair of pumps fails, we add high water alarms.”
To keep the entire structure together, the deck, liner, hull, and bulkheads are fused with methyl merthacrylate, a chemical adhesive that can create a bond stronger than the fiberglass itself. The idea is, as usual among builders of relatively small but high-end boats, to create a mono-structure that doesn’t have separate pieces-parts grinding and creaking against each other as the boat moves through the water.
Speaking of moving through the water: you can often gain some insight into how well a boat handles by how easy it is to steer with your feet. Stop laughing—I’m serious. Some 20-something boats can be steered through three footers with your big toe, while some others will careen wildly out of control the first time you hit a ripple with your tootsies on the wheel. Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone should actually be running their boat this way. But it does make for an interesting experiment to kick back in the leaning post, wrap your toes around the wheel, and see if you can hold a straight course. And when I tried it on the Calcutta, I found it a piece of cake to foot-steer at cruising speeds.
Beyond that, handling is pretty straight-forward. The Calcutta stays relatively flat in turns, like many powercats, which is a turn-off to some V-bottom boaters who are used to banking in on a turn. But it’s something you quickly grow accustomed to. And dockside handling is far superior to most boats of this size and nature, because the outboards are spread so far apart. Shift one into forward, shift the other into reverse, and scoff at the guys who think you need a joystick to dock a boat.
The Calcutta may take full advantage of all the up-sides a cat has to offer, but it’s bound to display some of the disadvantages, too. And the biggest complaint many people have about the twin hull design is the way it looks. Since the owner of the Calcutta 263 I tested lives near-by, several times now I’ve encountered it out on the water. And upon first glance most of the people on my boat say something along the lines of “wow, that’s an unusual looking boat”. Sometimes, “unusual” gets replaced with “weird”. And they’re right. Even a feline-friendly fisherman like myself has to admit that the near-vertical hulls, minimal sheer, box-like footprint, and angular transom combine to form a shape that looks decidedly un-boatish.
But anyone who still uses the term “Chlorox bottle” to describe a fiberglass boat like this hasn’t given the Calcutta a close inspection. Despite its non-traditional lines there’s some fine art to be observed. Swing open the front of the console and check out the wiring, for example. Some pleasure boaters may be turned off by the fact that it’s exposed. But those in the know will gawk at the ramrod-straight looms, supported with cushioning clamps every few inches. They’ll marvel at the tinned-copper magnificence, heat-shrink protected at every connection, running through the boat with the security and organization of the veins in your body. A loose connection will never jiggle free on this boat, because the wires simply don’t jiggle. Does it really qualify as art? Damn straight.
Sometimes fate plays a roll even in boat-building, and in this case, it helps explain the Calcutta’s incredible wiring. “During the housing bust, I came across a couple of highly-qualified electricians who were in the market for a job,” Ellis explained. “It turned out they were cousins. Highly competitive cousins. Every time they work on a boat it turns into a contest to see who can do the best job—and they both do a great job.”
Aside from the unusual looks, another down-side to many powercats is the “sneeze” effect. In some conditions, a fine mist blows out the front of the tunnel and back onto the passengers. The Calcutta does display this phenomenon at times, particularly when running with a choppy following sea. It’s not a huge issue and overall the boat throws significantly less spray than most monohulls, but it is something to be aware of.
All of this boat’s main strengths—a smooth ride, rugged build, fast cruising speeds, and gobs of deck space—combine to form a platform that’s ideal for anglers. Calcutta fully utilizes them and then some. That box-like footprint may not be the most graceful-looking in the world, but it does carry the boat’s full beam all the way forward. As a result, instead of having one or two people casting from the bow you can have an army of anglers line the gunwales from stem to stern. We had six aboard when we threw jigs to bluefish and stripers, and the boat felt empty. On most 26-footers, we would have been smacking rod tips and dodging each other’s lures.
|Fuel capacity||126 gal.|
|Water capacity||0 gal.|
When it was time to catch some spot and switch over to live-baiting, the boat’s gargantuan 65 gallon rounded livewell came into play. One thing I didn’t notice about that livewell at first: it’s pressurized when the boat’s underway. It drains into the tunnel, and remember, the tunnel compresses air as the boat moves forward. The lid, meanwhile, is dogged down over a gasket with a latch. Net result? When the boat’s moving forward the water doesn’t slosh around, beating up your baits.
Built-in tackleboxes in the back of the leaning post made it easy to keep tackle organized, and easily accessible. And when we pulled dinner-fish over the gunwale, they went into the 350 quart foredeck fishbox. Yes, you read that right, it has a 350 quart capacity—enough to ice down a 200-pound big-eye tuna.
If you’re a cat-hater, you probably clicked this review closed about 1,000 words ago. But if you’re a cat-lover, or at least are open-minded about this type of boat, then I’ll bet I know what you’re thinking right about now: just how much is all this angling acuity going to cost me? The answer depends quite a bit on how far you decide to go with customization. Calcutta is a semi-custom builder, and will make just as many additions, subtractions, and modifications as you desire. In any case, for the base boat you can plan on a price in the high $80,000 range. How far north of there it gets depends on just what powerplants, features and changes you decide upon.
|Test conditions: One to three foot chop, winds 15 knots, 5 POB|
|Power||Twin Suzuki DF140 four-stroke outboards swinging three-bladed stainless-steel props.|
Savvy anglers will take all of the factors we’ve discussed—ride quality, construction quality, handling, looks, fishability, and price—into account, when they go to look for a new boat. Sure, it’s in our nature to let emotion creep into the decision. But it’s also in our nature to want to beat nature. And with the Calcutta 263, you’ll have the right tool for the job.
Other Choices: The Glacier Bay 26 is a natural powercat comparison. A smaller, less expensive option is the Carolina Cat 23CC, and a larger competitor is the Ameracat 31.
See Calcutta 26 listings.
For more information, visit Calcutta.