CONTENDER 25

Best Buy


Contender 25
LOA:   25'3" Beam: 8'3" Deadrise:  24.5 degrees
Weight:   2700 lbs. Fuel: 185 gallons    

Many of those who haven't been around boating very long probably aren't aware that finding moderately priced boats that are well built has always been a problem. Because of the nature of the industry, which we've described in many of our essays, there is a natural tendency for production builders to shoot for market share. And to do that, you've got to get the cost down to rock bottom, which accounts for the reason why there is always such a huge gap between the best and the worst.  Or even just between good and bad. That gap is occasionally filled by either newcomers, or a reorganized company trying to make its mark for the future. That may be the case here.

Contender Marine is an outfit I've been long familiar with. Located just around the corner from the old Bertram plant in Miami, Contender for years has been turning out very utilitarian pleasure boats, including commercial fishing boats, for mainly the local market. Until recently, Contender was hardly known outside Florida.  Suddenly, dealerships have popped up all over the country. Well, word has it that Yamaha got involved with this company, among many others. (I've been warning that the Japanese were going to take advantage of crappy American boat building, just like with the auto industry years ago. Now its happening, and now the MBA's are gonna have to go back to school and learn something other than how to wring a sponge).  Contender now has a brand new plant in Homestead where they are now in the hot-shot fishing boat market big time with a whole line of production boats ranging from 21 to 35'.

I was down at the Allied Marine facility at the Ocean Reef Club recently and saw this Contender 25 sitting in the parking lot, front and center, on display.  What attracted my attention first was that it has a fire engine red gel coated bottom. Other than that, at first glance there was nothing unusual about this cigarette style hull which, around Florida there are tens of thousands. Whether that red bottom is standard, or just exists on this one to attract attention, I forgot to ask. So, I picked up a brochure, collared a salesman, and they consented to this on-the-spot review.

No test drives here. If you know anything about hull design, they you don't have to ask how it will perform. Looks like a Cigarette and will perform like one. Made to go places in a hurry.

The first thing I noticed was that there weren't any stupid design mistakes. As a life-long fisherman, it only takes a minute or two to spot the kind of design faults that drive me nuts, and this boat was notably lacking in them. In fact, at one glance I liked what I saw. Starting with the integral stern platform, there were no holes back there to let water in and sink the boat, unlike so many others that I see. If I wanted to put an anchor over the stern (at night when you can't see any big waves coming) while fishing on a reef, I wouldn't have any qualms about doing that in this one. No need to worry about swamping the boat because some idiot designer doesn't know why a boat needs a transom. I suppose they could always drill holes in the bottom to let the water out, huh? Sort of like the joke about the first manned space craft to land on the sun. Take your pick of which nationality was first to achieve this stupendous goal.

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Nothing fancy here. Just a sensible layout. Notice that the foot cove goes all the way around the console.  You don't realize how important this feature is until you actually have one and realize how bad all the others are.

That's Julio up there cleaning the boat after I made a mess of it after he just cleaned it. He's camera shy.

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The gaping maw of the console with electrically operated "door?" The console is narrowed to give adequate walkway past it, despite the wide gunwales.

Instead of looking at all the nice features, examination of the construction came next. First, I was impressed that they didn't go out of their way to cover things up. When a builder creates a boat, and then seems to go out of his way to make the internal hull completely inaccessible, that makes me suspicious, whether it was intentional or not. For one thing, if you poke a hole in the hull, wouldn't you want to be able to get to it so you could stuff a rag in it or something to stop the water coming in?  I would. Well, you won't have that problem in this one because there are loads of hatches in the deck and lots of access. The next thing to catch your eye is that the interior of the hull (down in the deep, dark holes) is very nicely finished off. The glass work is all smooth and gelcoated. If any cracks do develop, you'll see 'em in a hurry. On many boats, the inside glass work is so bad, so rough,  that you can't even run a cloth over it to clean it. Try to do that and it tears the rag to shreads. Never mind what it does to your hands.

Everything below the deck is very neat. While I couldn't tell what the material inside the stringers is (they mercifully did not drill them full of holes) the detail work looks good. The hull is solid glass, vinylester resin, so there should be no blistering problems. The stringers are huge. Down in the aft bilge we found bronze sea cocks properly installed and all the wiring and plumbing well secured and very neat. Like with a ty-wrap every 3". So what does it take to do a nice job like this, an extra 30 minutes? Just one glance and you could see that someone cared about what they were doing. Nice.

Ah, yes. You know why there aren't any holes -- I mean those port hole things -- back there in the motor mount platform? Well, they put a nice big hatch just forward of the faux transom, large enough that you could reach the bilge pump back there (see photo below). If you like to keep your bilges clean, heck, you could even swing a mop down there. That really impressed me because I don't like dirty, stinking bilges. The bilge is the place where all important things gravitate toward. Like tools, wallets, pencils, cigars and other stuff you don't want to be there. Its also where you put the extra beer. This design is really super, making maintenance as easy as it can get.

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The helm is set up just right with a large cabinet for gizmos or you wallet. Notice the foot cove at the base of the console. I'd like a bigger wheel, though. You can't sit back and steer with your feet. Why are the switches outside instead of in the cabinet where they will stay dry?

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Dealing with bow flare is always a problem with small boats. Here, they're done it right by creating very wide gunwales with enough overhang that you can stand and brace yourself without leaning over. Terrriffic!

The fuel tank is aluminum, 185 gallons, and foamed in place. But there is a difference here with most other installations. They glassed the gap between stringers and tank perimeter to try to keep the water out. The center stringers -- this boat has FOUR stringers like any boat should -- are very tall, around 14" or so, and should be strong enough that that they're not going to be flexing and breaking the sealing open to let water into the tank cavity. Again, the glass work around the tank is very neatly done. I compare that with some boats where it looks like the laminators stood ten feet away and try to throw the laminations in place. Not kidding here, some stuff I see is so bad as to be laughable. Worse than a rough capenter hacking studs in a house frame. Laminating is ugly work and few do it well. Golly, when you see something well done nowadays, it almost brings tears to your eyes. Any more its almost like some kind of religious experience, its so rare. Paul on the road to Damascus.

Moving up forward,  you got pretty much the same thing in the forward bilges. The deck does NOT have storage boxes built into the deck shell, a feature which I have come to dislike intensely. I want to see the inside of the hull, and if something does start to break, or I'm not watching where I'm going and poke a hole in it, I don't want to have to cut up a cockpit liner to make repairs. Plus you can string wires or hoses for add-ons with no problem. Try to do that in a boat will a full liner. Yer otta luck, Charley.

The way the hull, deck and cockpit liner is put together is just like like they used to do it back in the good old days before the MBA's arrived on scene. Did you catch that? Yeah, there are three parts here, not the usual two. The deck and cockpit are not one shell, but separate pieces. The cockpit deck sits on top of those huge hull stringers and is glued to the hull sides, which don't flop around in the breeze like a flag in a stiff wind because of this extra stiffening. Then the deck is glassed in place rather than screwed. And the owner doesn't get screwed either.  In order to do this of course, that means that the underside of the hull/deck joint is all open. Soooo . . . . .if you bash the guard rail up, there's no problem repairing it. The guard rail is hard PVC, the best kind; holds up but cheap and easy to replace (I'm not big on fenders so good rails are important to me). This is the way a boat SHOULD be built. Fixable. Insurance companies should like that, too. Another benefit of this is that there are rod racks along the sides that you can really put a long rod into.

The deck is foam cored, which gives it a bit of a tinny sound, which is one reason why I don't like foam; the accoustics of the material are not good. But they paid attention to how the console is attached to the deck by creating an INSIDE flange, rather than the usual outside flange where they screw the console to the cored deck. You don't get the honor of tripping over the outside flange either. How's that for brains?  The later method is what allows water to get into the core because the screws are exposed. On this Contender the flange is huge, 3+ inches wide and a good 3/8" thick with loads of caulking oozing out the seams, letting you know they did a good job of it. The molding work is excellent, but not too fancy. The hulls sides are very fair with no ripples, bumps, dimples or bulkheads standing proud.

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Under the console. This is the way electrical installations should look. How much longer do you think it took to do it neatly, rather than creating a plate of spaghetti? Thirty minutes, and hour? Imagine what happens when this boat is bashing into waves, if all that wiring was not secured every three inches. And we wonder why stuff is crapping out all the time.

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Heavily glassed together, this is what a deck properly joined to a hull looks like. Upper part is underside of deck, lower part is cockpit liner. There is a lot of extra work involved in doing it this way, but makes for a much stronger boat. When we talk about quality, this is one of the distinguishing features that you don't often see. Literally and figuratively.

The ergonometrics also stand out, and I found nothing to complain about.  Quite the opposite, really. The side decks (or gunwales) are very wide. While you might look at the way its designed and say, "That cuts down cockpit space!" the idea here is that you can walk right up to the gunwale and brace yourself against it without having to lean forward. The only space it cuts down on is unusable space. Because of this, the sloping cockpit liner is well up under the gunwale so you aren't left with the feeling that you're going to fall overboard. Its that "foot cove" business I keep harping about, and the design of this boat has it exactly right, even up in the bow area. Perfect. This design is not for trying to make a cockpit look like a football field, but to make one that is ergonometrically correct for fishermen or anyone else who has cause to stand up a lot. They got it exactly right. Even the center console has a foot cove! Yeah, really! First I've seen.

The console itself is also something I like very much. While everything else on this boat is simplicity simplified, here we have a big door on the front (24" x 50") controlled with an electric opener, lifting from the bottom. Just one small problem here: the batteries are inside the console, and if they go dead, how  you gonna open the door? The nice thing about this set up is that the interior space is large and it becomes very easy to service the back side of the instrument panel and batteries, as well as providing a good storage space. Installing add-ons will be easy, easy, easy.

Superb  is the right word for the helm layout, with the wheel and controls set just right for my size (6-0). Its centered right and is about 20 degrees off horizontal. It has the quasi-bolster seat which is angled on the front face, with a 14" wide seat; you can sit back and steer with your feet very nicely, thank you. Or sit on the edge or just lean back, take your choice. The console is an ungainly looking box, but that is the price you pay for practicality. While I like style as much as anyone, I'll take the practicalness here.

The Yamaha controls seem to have been improved. Still plastic, at least the levers no longer feel like they're going to break off in your hand, and they're not loose and floppy anymore. Though that chunk of black plastic is going to fade and discolor. The stern cleats, mounted on the face of the transom, means that dock lines will saw against the motors if you try to use the outside cleat. As much as you may not like them up on deck, that's where they need to be.

The faux transom has a large built in bait well with clear plexi cover. Its oriented east-west so the rolling boat is going to cause a problem with keeping live bait here; this tank needs baffles to prevent sloshing. There is also a fold-down seat off to the port side. Some people won't like this, arguing it gets in the way, but it does fold down, albeit not completely out of the way. Unless you get the optional "coffin box" as they call it, there's no place for anyone else to sit. I'll take it. Coffin box? Thats a coffin-shaped fiberglass deck box centerline mounted forward of the console. You can see the corner of it in the top right photo. My first reaction was ugghhh. Takes up a lot of space. On the other hand, I thought, it provides not only a great seating area (it comes with a cushion) but it will also be very good for something like scuba gear storage, as you can easily get a couple tanks in there. I could walk around it easily enough and, on second thought, its so handy I'd probably go with it.

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The aft bilge area. Does it look like you'd have any trouble reaching anything back here? No, because the damn hatch is 30" x 18". What goes through the mind of a builder that gives you an 8 INCH plastic port hole, like most of them do, to reach the bilge pump? Probably nothing but visions of getting rich.

The boat comes with beefy lifting eyes and a decent anchor locker in the foredeck. Plus there is an inside locker beneath it where I'd store my 2nd & 3rd anchors. No way I leave my boat with only one anchor out.  Most of the hardware is bolted on and is devoid of plastic junk and gratuitous hardware, particularly the cheap kind. No el cheapo decals or tape striping or '59 Cadillac fins either. You'll  probably like the way the handrailing is recessed into the deck or gunwale on the inside at a fairly decent hold-on height with enough anchor points to tie things to. Its so unobtrusive that I didn't even notice it until I looked at the photos that I took! Rod holders? I counted 16 but I don't know if they're all standard. But the inside ones  have water catchment and drainage systems so they don't funnel water inside the console area.

This is a boat for the more discriminating sportsman, with a distinct Miami flavor that only South Florida natives really understand. Maybe. This is the kind of boat that we take off in for the Bahamas fishing grounds 100+ miles away on Saturday AM in 3' seas at 35 mph+ beating our brains out to get there and back again. With a 55 gallon drum of extra gasoline in the cockpit, we top off the tanks as soon as we burn 55 and ditch the drum. The kind of boat that will stand up to being loaded with a half ton of grouper, and chunks of coral and conch shells the kids want to bring home, and scuba tanks being thrown around by half-dead divers, and sun-crazed fishinatics drinking beer without a hat on for two days. Or should I say daze? The kind of boat that will take one hell of a beating without falling apart. Its always been the lack of this kind of rugged boat that has caused so many of us Foridians to take an ordinary hull and build it up ourselves because there was nothing on the market that would stand up to the punishment we'd give them. The kind of boat where you don't cringe when someone drops a 35 lb. scuba tank or anchor on the deck. The kind of boat where all the hardware hasn't fallen off by the time you get home. Never mind that one foot of water in the bilge (from that wave you took over the stern that nearly sank you) that submerged all the wiring  installed too low in the bilge so that now you are dead in the water 130 miles from home with nothing but a bunch of vultures circling overhead (the local pirates) waiting to pounce on you. No cell phone calls out there for help, folks. Tow job be half de price of yo boat, mon. Yo mon, yo in a heap a trouble, mon. Ha, ho, ho!.

Yes, I've seen the comments on the forums about my boat reviews, by those who tool around in the bays in their Bayliners and Carvers. They call me a pessimist with a black cloud over my head. Ah, well, folks, I'm the adventurous sort who likes to head to the out islands in a small boat at high speed. To places that aren't covered in concrete and condominiums. That means a lot of deep water, shallow water, water with strong currents, coral heads near the surface, and very rough, confused seas. Places that are hard to get to. I'm not about to fool around with a floating camper. In 30+ years of boating, I've never had to be towed home because I believe in O'Tool's Law. O'Tool? Yes, he's the guy who thought Murphy was overly optimistic. The ocean is not a compassionate liberal; it hears no excuses and cuts no slack for anyone. An equal opportunity employer of calamity to the unwary. I've seen too many people go out never to return, or return without their boats. Me, I intend to return, and to never have a boat go out from under me, at least not one that I own. Besides, I couldn't stand the embarrassment. So for those of you who think I'm too hard on fair weather boats, well there are plenty of other internet sites that will tell you exactly what you want to hear. Me, I prepare for the worst, because it often happens.

This is the kind of boat I wouldn't hesitate to head toward a spot in the ocean with no land in site, like Great Isaacs, Cay Sal or Dry Tortugas, all way down the Exumas, when you just know that the weather is going to turn bad on you (after you get there), and there's no way back but by smashing your way through it. Still haven't learned to walk on water yet. Deep Vee? How about 24.5 degrees? If you're concerned about fuel economy, this one's not for you.   Notice that the deck is completely flat (no drooping nose) with a bit of bow flare. Every little bit helps. Cockpit scuppers are 1-1/2" diameter so any blue water over the bow will drain fairly fast. Plus they exit through the aft side of the transom underwater in that notched hull area. Get some way on and they'll act just like a pump with the suction that is created. Never fool yourself with an open boat. The water's gonna come in and you gotta be able to get it out. Fast.

What's missing? For one thing, some way to get out of the sun. I'd consider an extra large folding Binimi over the T-top, which is of little use. The T-top won't even shield you from the rain. The steering wheel has to be replaced with something bigger. I'd also want a pair of Rule 3700 pumps over the single 2000 that is inadequate. Next a bilge high water alarm. Then I'd probably go for a pair of 4D batteries to run them. If I had any extra money, I'd order one with no bow hatch and have them install a good windlass and make the forepeak into a rope locker. No fun haulin 200 feet of rope by hand. I'd also have them install the cockpit padding on removable mounts so that I could take them off, pile them in the cockpit and put a cover over them so I don't have to replace $1200 worth of padding every 2 years. And with that extra battery power, I'd want a high powered salt water washdown pump. If I'm going anywhere, a water tank would be added (there's room), plus valving to the washdown pump for fresh water washing or showering to get the damn itchy salt off and prevent water logged hands because there is salt over everything. In the rainy season, we chase rain clouds with a canvas and a funnel to fill the tanks in the islands where water is $0.50 a gallon.

Price? About $80,000 rigged as shown with a pair of Yamaha 200's and T top with electronics cabinet. Not cheap by any means, but if you want  something safe and well built, this is about what it takes. After a couple years used ones will probably be down around $50k so put it on your wish list if you can't write that check. For its class, I'll give it . . . .

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Posted July 17, 1998

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David Pascoe is a second generation marine surveyor in his family who began his surveying career at age 16 as an apprentice in 1965 as the era of wooden boats was drawing to a close.

Certified by the National Association of Marine Surveyors in 1972, he has conducted over 5,000 pre purchase surveys in addition to having conducted hundreds of boating accident investigations, including fires, sinkings, hull failures and machinery failure analysis.

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In addition to readers in the United States, boaters and boat industry professionals worldwide from over 70 countries have purchased David Pascoe's books, since introduction of his first book in 2001.

In 2012, David Pascoe has retired from marine surveying business at age 65.

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