This past June, Contender celebrated the 25th anniversary of its first completed boat. The company has refined its product over the years, building solid fish boats while keeping an eye on industry trends. When rising fuel costs made increased efficiency at running speed a critical consideration, Contender founder, Joe Neber, looked to stepped-hull designs to gain some advantage at the pump. The testing of various step layouts and dimensions led to the development of the new Contender 33 ST. With an already successful deep-V, nonstep version of the 33 in production, Contender kept the deck layout and the things that make its boats fishable, changing only the hull, from the waterline down, and the stringer system, to accommodate the steps.
I had the chance to run the 33 ST twice and came away really liking the boat after both sessions. This past New Year's Day I ran the boat with Neber's son, Matthew, in Miami, Florida. On that windy South Beach morning, we shuffled down Biscayne Bay at a brisk clip as the 33 ST slid across the tops of the short, steep chop without any banging or pounding - and we stayed dry, which was a bonus with the chilly nor'wester. An accomplished angler and boatman, Matthew ran the boat through its paces before turning the wheel over to me. I really liked the feel of the boat through the speed ranges, and even in a sharp turn, where some stepped-hull boats do strange things, the 33 ST clung to the water as I both decelerated and then, as we came straight, accelerated. The other thing I noticed was her quick-to-plane time. Some stepped hulls do not aerate properly, creating a suction that keeps them from getting on plane, but the 33 ST showed no sign of this characteristic.
My second run came recently, on a greasy-calm summer morning without a breath of air. Pushing up the throttles on the 33 ST was the only relief from the heat. Rigged with twin F350 Yamaha four-strokes, the boat had a sweet spot around 4,500 rpm, which offers almost 54 mph while burning 38 gallons per hour, giving the boat over 500 miles of range at that speed. Obviously, slowing down to around 45 mph increases the range by a fair margin. The boat will flat-out run at wide-open. As I trimmed the boat on the glassy bay, we reached over 67 mph, which in my opinion is far more speed than the average boater or fisherman should have at their disposal. Things come at you quickly at those speeds, especially on the water, challenging even experienced operators.
One of the things Contender does very well is keeping their boats simple, and it uses a similar layout in each model. The 33 ST has all the great Contender features, starting in the bow, which has a pop-up nav light, a molded anchor-hatch locker and a proper keeper so the anchor doesn't bang around at sea. The standard recessed handrail forward and the full-wraparound combing cushions are great features on any fishing center console. The forward deck is all business as well, utilizing as much space as possible underdeck for an insulated 208-gallon fish box centerline, then another 115-gallon insulated box just aft of that and forward of the console. Outboard of the aft box are long storage boxes that can be used as in-deck rod lockers for storage or for rods up to 8 feet long.
The newly updated console is larger and wider, with an integrated console seat, vertical rod holders along each side, and a finished interior that hides all wiring yet allows easy access to the dash, the back of the electronics and all battery switches. It is an easy to clean, finished look that is nicely done, and there's an optional head in the walk-in space.
The helm is properly center-mounted, as it should be on a serious center console fish boat, and is on a helm pod, offering more legroom underneath so your knees don't take a beating when you are on the leaning post. All gauges are easily monitored, and switches are ergonomically positioned for the operator to access all functions. An oversized electronics dash makes it possible to use the larger multifunction machines currently available. Contender offers a great T-top option, as well as two leaning post options that fill the bill for serious or occasional fishing.
The cockpit is all fishing with two 85-gallon insulted fish boxes in-deck and a 58-gallon livewell on the centerline forward of the large lazarette, which provides access to all pumps and plumbing. On the transom are two 40-gallon, signature Contender oval livewells. With both transom and in-deck wells, you get the best of both worlds: easy access during the day with the above-deck in the transom and an easy dump for a cast net with the in-deck. The wells are fed by a series of pumps in a continually pressurized sump that reduces air lock and maintains consistent flow to the bait. A transom door to starboard rounds out the fully functional fishing cockpit.
Contender has built a solid reputation on the fishability of its boats and has continued to stay true to building fish boats when other companies have veered off course, trying to be all things to all people, a sure recipe for confusion, loss of focus and, ultimately, failure. The new 33 ST is a venture into a new world of hull design for Contender, and the company has delivered a good-riding, solid-performing boat that should be on your short list.
Contender 33 ST
Dry weight......6,600 lbs.
With twin F350 Yamaha four-strokes
Contender Boats: 800-645-2906 www.contenderfishingboats.com