"Mid Size Power Boats": A Guide for Discreminating Buyers - by David Pascoe


29 Blackfin Combi

Blackfin 29 Combi

LOA 29'4" Year 1998
Beam 10'6" Power Cum 330
Draft 3' Options Crus 330 gas
Weight 12,120 lbs. Top speed 35.5 mph

But for the cockpit area, this boat looks remarkably similar to the 27 Combi with two feet added on with a new windshield. It's been a long time since I've seen a 27, so I'm not going to push that comparison any further. Although it is a 29 footer, it bears little resemblance to the venerable 29 SF other than a very similar hull shape.

There were two things that caught my attention about this boat: the cockpit layout and the helm design.

Blackfin 29 Combi - Helm

The helm layout sort of resembles the instrument panel of an F-16 fighter; big, black and high profile with clipped corners and slightly hooded. The engine instruments are arrayed across the bottom leaving a very large open area to flush mount other electronics. With a radar on one side and a video sounder on the other, it very much looks like the multi-function displays of a modern fighter.

Directly below is your 18" stainless wheel with engine controls properly spaced on each side thereof. This is one of the better designs I've seen in quite a while. While I could compare it with Tiara's very fine panels, it is much too different, but of equally good functionality.

The adjustable seating placement is good, although the fixed footrests sticking out painfully caught my shins more than once.


The F-16 Panel

It took being on the boat for half a day before I began to appreciate the cockpit layout. It is surprisingly roomy for only a 10-6 beam. We had six people aboard for our sea trail and I never had the sense of being crowded. In large part this is facilitated by the raised motor boxes which are cushioned and double as seats. Coming up only a foot off the deck, they make for great seating or lounging. For someone to move out of the central walkway, all one has to do is sit. You know how it is on a boat -- if there is a narrow place, there will always be someone standing in it! Yet the narrow passage between the motor boxes allows people standing there to move out of the way quite easily. That is no small thing with six people on a small boat.

The placement of the high  windshield (again, a la Tiara) helps to keep spray off this area, but does little to keep spray off of people as the thing is just not positioned right to accomplish that. Here you have to have the tower, pipe frame top and soft enclosures to do that.

Unlike all earlier Blackfin models, this one has an all new cockpit liner that is vastly improved. It is mostly of one piece and well designed with a removable section over the fuel tank. But what really caught my attention was the huge hydraulically opening deck section. The so-called motor boxes do not open. I groaned when I saw the thing, thinking that here was yet another engine compartment that is like crawling into an alligator's mouth. I've really come to hate these things due to the terribly limited access that so many of these huge hatches provide.

Surprise! This one opened up like the jaws of a Mako shark. The 29 Combi hatch is fitted with a huge electro-hydraulic pump and cylinder that opens this hatch a good 40" as shown in nearby photo. There is no problem with entering the compartment whatsoever. Where there is a problem is that there is no decking down there so one has to stand in oily bilge water and risk slipping and getting injured, among other unpleasant things.

Blackfin 29 Combi - Engine Room
No problem with access on this one.

And while the engines seem to fit well, there is a major problem with access to the outboard sides. It is so tight on the port engine that it looks like you'd have to remove the engine to service the fuel injection pump. Ah, the marvels of modern boats.

There is a bulkhead with pass through immediately forward of the engines with another small compartment that contains the water and waste tank. There is room for convenient storage here, but one needs to add some decking first. The area is easily reached by a small hatch above.

I can't say that the engine room area was nicely laid out, because it wasn't. However, it is noteworthy that the sea strainers, fuel filters and batteries are easily reached for servicing. There are two 4D batteries with top quality poly boxes, huge strainers and Racor filters. No cheap stuff here except for the head which is one of those ridiculous Raritan plastic jobs, which is an electrified manual pump that grinds itself to pieces. This piece of garbage should have been scuttle decades ago.

Next to catch my attention was the huge electro-hydraulic pump that is 8" in diameter and 14" long. Unlike most others, this thing opens the hatch with authority, even with people standing on it. Hatch hinges are massive and there is nothing flimsy about it. One can walk on it even when partly open.

The exhaust piping/risers are fiberglass laminated insulation on stainless steel that revealed no apparent problems. The underside of the deck has quality insulation and there are no fastener holes in the deck to leak as I so often find.

The one major fault I found was the fuel tank installation, which has always been a problem for Blackfin. The aluminum tank is set very deep in hull on a plywood foundation and almost certainly corrode and fail over time. How long that will take, no one can predict. But the only good news is that the tank is rather easily gotten out and replaced.


Fuel tank within 2" of bottom.

I also appreciated the clean design of the after cockpit which has a low profile diamond non-skid that is kinder to bare feet and knees, and over all is easier to keep clean. There are removable fish wells each side and mercifully they did not mount any electrical apparatus such as pumps and motors back in this very wet environment. Open the hatch and all you see is basically bare hull with nothing but the steering gear to maintain. Overall, this looks like about as easy to maintain boat as you'll find.

While the emphasis of this design is on the cockpit, the cabin space is well done and comfortable for two, although I did find the companionway door to be a bit difficult. There isn't much floor space, but the galley counter is notably large with adequate room for making sandwiches or whatever, though the Norcold reefer is a bit puny.

Up forward is a flared U-shaped settee or dinette that, owing to the wide beam forward, offers comfortable seating. While not nearly as nice as the real dinette found in the 29SF, one can slip into it with reasonable ease so that it's useable and not just there for looks.

Another notable feature is a well-done, padded white vinyl headliner that is vastly superior to most others; there were no leaks or water stains anywhere. The cabin has a nice, hushed ambience.

The head compartment is worthy of mention if only from the standpoint that it is large enough to use comfortably. The toilet, however, is far down at your feet and is like using a piss hole in the Army. Needs to be raised up a foot.

As for hull construction, it is the usual Blackfin; solid laminate all around with huge glass on plywood stringers. No bottom blisters. Decks are foam cored, and nicely done at that. There were no problems anywhere with basic construction.

Fitted with Cummins 5.6BTA-M3, 330 hp turbo diesels, to say that this boat is responsive may be a bit of an understatement. Push the throttles forward and she fairly leaps out of the water with a top speed of 35.5 mph**. She is well balanced and trimmed and will cruise nicely over a wide RPM range right on down to 1800 RPM where we get 19 mph with a trim angle of 7 degrees with no tab extension. The most economical cruise is 2000 RPM at 24.5 mph. With a very deep, constant dead rise vee hull, I didn't think she'd run as level as she did.

As near as I can tell, this hull is near identical to the 29 SF and rough water performance is similar, though not identical. Much of that may be due to the perception of not operating from a fly bridge, but down low where you feel water against the hull more fully.

In any case, this is a superbly performing boat, among the best in its class. Overall, there are extensive improvements in overall design and construction -- particularly the liners and lack of wood components, over earlier models. Comparing this to competitors such as Albemarle and Cabo, it lacks most of their silly design flaws in both small and large ways, such as hatches that don't open fully, undersized exhaust systems, and other ill-considered design features.

Walking away from her, my impression was that of a design that had been perfected over many years (which it was) by people who had spent a lot of time on boats.

Too bad Blackfin went belly-up, for I rate this one as best in class.

**Our test model was fitted with a full tower that will take off about 3 mph over a boat without tower.

Posted October 20, 2001

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David Pascoe - Biography

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

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Surveying Fiberglass Powewr Boats
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Last reviewed August 07, 2015.