The Barker Boatworks 26 Open is the follow-up model to the company’s much-acclaimed inaugural 26 Calibogue Bay. Like its sister ship, the new boat is great for fishing for tarpon, snook and redfish in bays and estuaries or working nearshore reefs and wrecks for snapper and grouper. Yet the 26 Open also has bluewater capabilities.
“You can venture offshore when the weather permits to pursue species such as dolphin, kingfish and sails,” says Kevin Barker, founder, owner and president of Barker Boatworks. The 26 Open boasts a deep deck throughout most of the interior for rough-water safety, with abbreviated casting decks in the bow and stern for greater elevation when sight-fishing in calm water. By eliminating a splashwell on the 26 Open, Barker maximizes the deck space, particularly in the aft cockpit. A grit-style nonskid sole helps to ensure traction when the deck gets wet.
To carry an abundant amount of live bait, the 26 Open features four standard livewells, offering 85 gallons of capacity. A pressurized 40-gallon upright livewell behind the helm seat features a clear acrylic lid with friction hinges to keep it open when loading or accessing bait. The aft-facing viewing window lets you quickly check the condition of the liveys. You’ll find additional bait capacity in a 15-gallon pitch-bait well in the bow, plus a pair of 15-gallon transom wells. If that’s not enough, opt for a 40-gallon livewell below the aft cockpit sole.
Once you start boating tasty dolphin, snapper or grouper, use the massive 140-gallon insulated fish locker below the forward deck to ice them down. At the helm, a fully networked Garmin 7616xsv multifunction display not only serves as a chart plotter/fish finder, but it’s also a monitor for the Mercury Verado 350 outboard, with screens that show rpm, mph, trim, fuel and more. C-Zone digital switching controls all systems, and a trio of LED readouts monitor voltage of the battery banks.
Twin richly upholstered helm seats feature flip-up bolsters, fold-down armrests, and two tiers of footrests at the base of the console. Across the transom, a bench-style seat folds open from the aft casting deck. A sliding pilot hatch in the Key West-style hardtop provides easy access to the half-tower helm, which features a second Garmin MFD. You can stand on a special SeaDek-covered platform above the center console or sit on a bench on the hardtop while aloft. A rack of seven vertical rod holders lines the aft edge of the hardtop and five more punctuate each side of the console.
Along each gunwale, five flush-mount rod holders let anglers alternate between various techniques such as kite-fishing and drifting, or trolling. Each stainless-steel holder also doubles as a drink holder. Padded coaming bolsters encircle the interior. Undergunwale racks allow convenient rod, gaff, deck-brush and boat-hook storage. The inwale is covered with SeaDek EVA foam to protect both the tackle and gelcoat. Twin locking compartments in the forward gunwales — a cool feature — stow rods up to 10 feet long.
An upward-hinging forward door allows entry to the center console. Inside, you find access to the helm rigging and plenty of space for a portable marine head. Barker covers the interior sole with SeaDek EVA foam nonskid to cushion gear you might stow there. When the console door is closed, it becomes a high-back forward-facing seat. The interior of the 26-footer displays impeccable fit and finish throughout.
For a stealthy approach, the Barker 26 Open features a bow-mounted Minn Kota Riptide Ulterra trolling motor. The auto stow-and-deploy feature lowers and raises the motor at the press of button on the iPilot wireless remote. Twin 8-foot Power-Pole anchoring systems on the transom enable staking out in shallow water. A bow anchor locker holds 300 feet of line.
The hull is based on a patented 25½-foot Michael Peters-designed twin-step running surface, which introduces a cushion of air under the boat to increase lift, speed and fuel efficiency. An adjustable jack plate on the transom allows you to dial in the elevation of the Mercury Verado 350 outboard on the fly for the best ride and fuel economy. The jack plate is also handy for raising the engine when traversing shallow water.
Despite a steady 10 mph wind and 2-foot chop on test day, the 26 Open provided a dry and comfortable ride no matter what direction we took on the seas. The boat also handled like a dream, carving hairpin turns at speed with sure-footed predictability. The lifting power of the twin steps helped it leap on plane in 5.7 seconds with virtually no bow rise. The 26 Open reached 30 mph in 9.5 seconds from a standing start.
With the Verado 350 turning a Mirage Plus 19-inch-pitch, stainless-steel, three-blade propeller, the top speed in our test was 57 mph at 6,200 rpm when the big outboard burned 30 gph for 1.9 mpg. Running 37 mph at 4,000 rpm produced the best overall fuel efficiency, 10.9 gph, which resulted in a pleasing 3.4 mpg. Barker’s first boat, the 26 Calibogue Bay, is a tough act to follow, yet the new Open model has done it one better. For anglers looking for maximum versatility, comfort and quality, the Barker 26 Open is hard to overlook.
- Weather: Mostly sunny
- Location: Biscayne Bay, Florida
- Wind: East 9 knots
- Sea State: 2-foot chop
- Test Load: Three adults, 69 gallons of fuel, 40 gallons of water