Long before my test of the new 26 Center Console from Southport Boat Works, I had high expectations of the boat's fit, finish, ride and overall quality given the players involved in the company. Southport was started by industry veterans Alton Herndon, the former president of Hatteras and Rampage, and Frank Longino, a former Grady-White and Rampage executive. Herndon and Longino brought in another industry veteran to build the boats, Val Jenkins of Mako and Cigarette fame, and also enlisted the help of hull designers C. Raymond Hunt Associates. You can see why I expected big things.
On the day of our test, Longino, now the managing partner at Southport, met me at Marina One, the company's South Florida dealer in Deerfield Beach. We quickly jumped aboard the demo boat and headed for Boca Raton Inlet. I was immediately impressed by how quiet the boat was. The 26 is solid. There is no rattling of hardware, no squeaking of ill-fitting glass parts, and its construction blocks the normal sounds of banging and rushing water.
With a hull designed for twin four-stroke power, the 26 features a 22-degree transom deadrise that transitions to 30 degrees at the bow. It sports a fast, raked stem, generous flare and a crisp, steady sheer line. The reverse transom disguises a bit of the distance between the transom and the motors, but it's deep, like most boats today, with integral transom brackets - an unavoidable trait that might bother some hardcore fishermen.
Powered by twin Yamaha 225-hp four-strokes, we ran out of Boca Raton Inlet into a north-northeast wind that was blowing 15 to 18 mph, with seas running three to four feet. With four people aboard and 3/4 tank of fuel, the 26 handled the ocean very well. The lifting strakes, spray rails and constant chine rail directed the water down and away. The boat was very dry and, at a realistic cruising speed for the conditions, rode well without any banging or hard landings. In fact, we ran for a time at 2300 rpm, making 27 mph straight into the head sea, and the ride was very comfortable. I never felt the need to brace myself for a hard landing.
When quartering the seas and running downsea, the boat handled well and tracked straight without burying its bow. And when we laid-to and drifted, exhibited a controlled, cork-like ride over the swells.
One of the design criteria for this boat was that four anglers should be able to stand in the aft corner to release or boat a large fish without getting their wet feet from the scuppers. We tried it, and our feet stayed dry. The 26 slow-trolls into the wind with little ill-effect or foul windage, and kept the spray down on any tack.
The 26 is laid out well and has a lot of storage space, starting with the cavernous anchor locker that drains overboard and features racks for two anchors and enough room to accommodate line and ground tackle for both. The forward seats conceal deep, 45-gallon, insulated fishboxes that also drain directly overboard, eliminating the need for macerator pumps and plumbing. There are under-gunwale racks for two rods forward and four rods aft, plus full wraparound coaming pads. A salt water washdown is located amidships to starboard, so a short hose will suffice for spraying down the whole boat.
The console has a 31-gallon, insulated drink box/storage bin in the front seat. Access to the stand-up head is possibly the best in this size class of boat, with a lift-up lid and large door on the starboard side of the console. The head has a molded-in sink, and Southport uses a self-contained VacuFlush system with 12-gallon holding tank. A removable panel inside the head compartment provides easy access to the back of the electronics dash.
The helm features a large, backlit dash with military breaker switches and ample room for mounting electronics. The wheel is positioned to port, with the binnacle controls close to the centerline and drink holders to starboard. The double-bow T-top provides great handholds and lots of cover.
The leaning post has a 45-gallon, triangular live well with great access to all plumbing, as well as tackle compartments, a slide-out cutting board, removable lure holders and a knife-and-pliers holder on the starboard side. The 38-gallon, in-deck fishbox in the cockpit is equipped with a macerator. It's also removable and lined with Thinsulate. The transom boasts a bait box with cutting board on the port side, a sink with pull-out shower in the center, and a door to port.
The Southport 26 proved to be fuel-wise, as well. At 4000 rpm - its sweet spot - fuel burn was 17.8 gallons per hour, or 1.83 miles per gallon. Speed was 32.5 mph. At 4500 rpm the boat reached 35.6 mph while burning 21.55 gph. According to company data, the boat does 50.4 mph at wide-open throttle while burning 43.1 gph.
It's really no surprise that the talented folks who came together to create Southport Boat Works have produced such a fine boat. The 26 Center Console has a quality feel and a comfortable ride, and enough amenities to keep the whole family smiling.
Southport Boat Works, Leland, NC; (910) 383-0365;