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September 21, 2007

Contender 36 Open

For those of you who are convinced that size really does matter, Contender has just designed your kind of boat. The new 36 is for the guy who wants everybody to know that he is serious about the sport, and wants the ultimate outboard boat to take him where he needs to go. This is one big, bad machine, and is not likely to be confused with a picnic or water-ski boat.

Start with the power. Sure, Contender says twins will push it OK, but everybody really wants the thrill of triples. It's a gas (no pun intended) pushing three Gaffrig throttles forward and feeling 36 feet of fiberglass leap onto plane at the urging of 750 horsepower!

Bill Gilbert of Caribee Boat Sales in Islamorada made his personal 36 available to us for testing, and running this boat around off the Florida Keys is something most of us could get used to real quick. The length allows it to ignore seas that would pound a smaller boat into submission, and the deep-vee hull tracks straight and slices through chop effortlessly.

At a 4000 rpm cruise, the boat hit 35.7 knots (at about 48 gallons per hour) with the three 250-hp Yamahas, and it really stretched out at full throttle, hitting 46.3 knots at 5400 rpm. That's fast for a boat this size, and even more incredible when you realize it had a full tower, which adds substantial wind resistance.

All About the Fish

Contender 36 Open helmBut enough about speed, size and other testosterone-related subjects. How does it fish? Well, those of you who admire Contenders will be pleased to know that the 36 contains all the features that have made the company's other boats so popular among hard-core fishermen. In some cases these features are simply bigger.

For starters, the deck area forward of the console is massive, so large that the optional coffin box seems small when plopped down in such an expanse. The coffin is bolted to the deck hatch, and raises on an electric ram when you need to access the huge storage compartment beneath it. Another deep, in-deck storage box aft of the coffin will hold a substantial amount of gear, or could be used as a fishbox if the coffin isn't big enough.

Hatches to port and starboard open into the hull and provide more storage, as well as access to the Y-valve, holding tank, and raw-water through-hull for the head in the port compartment. A substantial anchor locker is at the bow, and our test boat came with a pop-up bow light, so there's nothing to snag a line.

The surprisingly small console has no seat forward, but features a door for easy access to the head compartment below. The optional marine head takes up substantial space, but the sub-console area still has room for storage and the oil tanks. All wiring and electronics can be easily reached from in here.

The helm features a row of gauges beneath the Contender's flat panel, where electronics are meant to go. The wheel is to port, and the triple-lever racing-style Gaffrig controls took up the space to the right of the helm.

The custom tower was integrated into a Birdsall leaning post/tackle center, with lots of rod holders, plastic tackle trays, and two large StarBoard tackle drawers. Even the most hopeless tackle collector should find enough space for storing his hear in here.

The 36 has a very large cockpit, with two 76-gallon insulated fishboxes beneath the cockpit sole, a large hatch for inner-hull access, and a small, in-deck live well. Two more live wells (40 gallons each) are located in the transom bulkhead, so there's no excuse for running out of bait on this boat. A transom gate to starboard provides access to the integrated engine platform, and our test boat sported the optional coaming pads that run all the way around the boat.

Contender builds its boats to withstand quite a bit of punishment, because Contender owners usually fish hard. The 36 has foam flotation, and is built using hand-laid fiberglass with multi-directional fabric and a foam-cored stringer system for maximum strength. It's built tough, and was designed for those of us who accept no compromises when it comes to fishing. If that sounds like you, this could be your boat.

Contender Boats, Homestead, FL; (305) 230-1600.