Blackfin 32 Flybridge

Blackfin 32 Flybridge
LOA: 32'11"
Beam: 12'0"
Draft: 2'8"
Weight: (gas) 17,645 lbs.
Year Built 1988-1997
Power Options Cat 3208, Volvo, Cummins, Crusader
Yes, there is a LOT of confusion about the model designation of this boat. It's called just about everything you can think of, including now, the Blackfin 33. Well, whatever it is, it is 32'11" long. That we know for sure. And that in years past it was called the 32 Flybridge. Not sport fish, not combi, but flybridge.

Previously we put the above photo in "Blackfin 29 SF" article, along with a 29 and made mistakes in our Favorites section, not once but twice, referring to the shot of a 32 as a 29. That's because two different size boats could hardly be more alike. At first, second and third glance, they are identical. Oh, there are differences, but they are subtle. One way you can be sure to distinguish the 29 and 32 is that the 29 had the aft bulkhead window on the starboard side that the 32 never does. If it doesn't have the window on the starboard side, it's a 32. If it's got a full size chair in the cockpit, be sure it's not a 29, in which a full chair will not fit. While people write to call us on our mistakes all the time, no one  ever picked on those two.

At first glance, it does not look like a bigger boat. But after spending some time on a 29, you definitely notice that it's quite a bit bigger, in the cockpit and in the cabin. As for handling, you'll notice only one difference, and that is in the weight and mass of the boat. Coming in at 17,000+ pounds with gas engines, wave action doesn't move her nearly as much, flattening out the bigger ones with greater ease.

Strangely enough, in the last month we've surveyed five of these boats; three 32's and two 29's. Beyond size and mass, there's hardly a bit of difference. The performance of both is equally superb. 

We recently surveyed a Sea Ray for a client whom we found that, after the survey, said he's always wanted a Blackfin. His wife, of course, wanted something a bit more luxurious, hence the SeaRay. On the sea trial, we demonstrated the performance virtues for him. First, the boat pointed its nose up in the sky and generally stayed there. The cruise trim angle without tabs extended was a whopping 15 degrees. With tabs extended it came down to a only 11 degrees when it should have been more like 7 degrees. The automotive power steering had failed, leaving the boat nearly impossible to steer.

Later, we needed to turn the boat around to get the cockpit area out of the western sun. I threw off the docklines and hopped aboard thinking that was a simple enough task I could do by myself. Wrong! With twin engines, I could not turn the boat around in a confined space. It simply would not turn on its axis at all. I had to bring it back to the dock and get help turn it around by hand. So why wouldn't a twin engine inboard boat turn around? Because it had propeller pockets, and the engines were so close together that the props were a mere 33' apart. The boat basically handles like a single engine boat. Needless to say, the guy changed his mind about that one. He decided to spring for an additional 70% in price and buy the Blackfin he always wanted.

Blackfin 32 Flybridge
Very widely spaced engines is only part of the reason for superior handling.

By contrast, the deep vee Blackfin props are 56" part and set down deep where they take big bites of water like they should. The client mentioned that he had heard that it would turn within a six foot radius. Wrong, I said. It will turn in a ZERO radius, meaning that it will spin precisely on its axis.  Then I demonstrated the fact that it would do that with total ease. You can make these boats dance; tango, foxtrot, waltz or Chubby Checker twist. Maybe even Algore's macarena.

Another interesting fact is that whether it's a 29 or 32, most are powered to do about the same speeds, and both do it with ease. The 32 is most often found with Cat 3208's at 425 hp, a deep vee speed demon that does up to 32 knots on a clean bottom and not loaded down. A tower will shave two knots off. With 375's it's a bit slower at 28 kn. Similarly, the 29 does around 28 with Crusader 350's. With Cummins 315's we got 29.2. with a somewhat dirty bottom. This is explained by the fact that both swing a substantially larger propeller with diesels so you get more speed out of less horsepower. That's our old friend Mr. Torque. As for gas engines, our view is that this boat is too heavy and gas is a poor choice.

Both these boats have a versatile cruise speed range, meaning that you can cruise at a substantially lower speed than a mere couple hundred RPM off WOT. If you're interested in engine life and fuel consumption, that's important. Here's a typical speed range for the 32:

2500 RPM 30.5
2200 23.2
2100 21.0
2000 18.1
1800 13.7

As you can see, it drops off dramatically below 2000 where cruising at this engine speed becomes very inefficient. That's typical of a deep vee hull that has to run at a certain speed to maintain the right trim angle, below which the stern begins to squat and speed falls off dramatically. Yet here you have a speed range all the way from 30.5 on down to 18, which is a very wide range indeed for a deep vee hull. Very few boats will do this well. Now note how the 29 does with Cummins:

1800 RPM 13.5
2100 18.0
2200 22.2
2400 24.6
2800 29.2
(should do 31 with clean bottom)

These speed tables are remarkably similar and basically demonstrate that these two hulls are the same configuration and both equally efficient. One great thing you can say about these boats is that there are very few high production boats that perform and handle rough water like these two boats do. Most people overestimate wave size. A two foot chop will bring most boats this size to a crawl. The Blackfin parts the two foot waters like Moses. It will crush the three footers nearly flat at slower speeds, say 18 kn where most boats would be reduced to idle speed head on. While the boat can take #3's full bore, most likely the passengers can't. Even so, it doesn't slam much. As for four footers, no boat this size can take seas that big. Even a 46 Bertram is going to have trouble with that. Four foot waves are damn big waves. You can definitely sense the increase in mass of the 32 over the 29 by the slower motion of the hull as well as the slower response (pitching) to waves head-on.

I keep reading on the forums that the guys with bargain boats keep saying that deep vee hulls are less stable. Oh, really? I doubt they've ever been on one. Or maybe they're saying that at high speed deep vees are very sensitive to trim tab inputs. That they are indeed. That's because as the hull rises high out of the water, there's much less of the chine in the water to stabilize it. Take your choice: go fast and wobbly, or very slow and stable. For trolling and drift fishing, there's nothing better. Yes, they roll more, but the motion is very slow and fluid. Does not throw you off your feet with a whip-snap motion like flat bottom boats do.

One down side is that bargain autopilots cannot control these boats adequately because of this. Pilots like the Autohelm simply don't measure up, so don't waste your money on one.

Prices vary between the two by a factor of around 70% depending on condition and engines. Both of these boats are comfortable for four people, though the 32 has a more ideally sized cockpit for the hardcore fisherman. The cabin area on the 29 is comfortable; on the 32 it's more comfortable. On the 29 the head is going to give you trouble if you have a wide beam yourself. It has a shower arrangement but you can forget about using it. It's far too small. On the 32 this problem is eliminated by the increase in size. Although the cabin is not notably longer, it does have a notably larger volume -- wider, deeper and slightly longer. Most of the additional length shows up in the cockpit and bridge. The beam is only 6" wider.

Ease of maintenance. This is another of the features that has always attracted me to this boat. The lack of clutter and simplicity of design lets you wash it down in a matter of minutes. In a half-hour you wash AND dry it. Compound and wax it one man in a day. Every bit of hardware is first rate stainless. The painted aluminum window frames are properly prepped so that they don't corrode, not even after 10 years. Check out what happens to aluminum window frames on your bargain boats after just a few years. Corrosion city. Unsightly and very costly to fix.

These boats are made with DCDP resin based gelcoat which is quite brittle and prone to stress cracking. So are Bertrams and boats from both these builders are famous for having gelcoats that polish up to like new even 20 years later. Take the high luster shine with the stress cracks any day. You have to look close to see the cracks. On a boat that is hopelessly oxidized, you can see from the end of the dock.

The interiors are sensibly well decorated, pleasing to the eye without looking like a modern bordello. Not tons of upholstered vinyl or fabrics. The dinette cushions are vinyl because they get a lot of wear, while the forward berth cushions are fabric like they should be. Not upholstered chunks of foam rubber so that you wake up in a pool of sweat either. Honest to goodness fiber stuffing that breathes. It seems like a little thing . . . until you try to sleep on foam rubber. The difference in cost, of course, is like   1000%.

None of the five surveyed recently had blisters. Not even one blister.

Are these boats near perfect? No. If you look closely, you'll find a lot of minor faults that should not be there for the price you pay. Faults that you'd never find on a Viking, Hatteras or Bertram of just about any vintage. These are truly well-designed, superbly handling boats, but the overall fit and finish simply does not measure up to the price tag. I think this is part of what kept Blackfin from being a larger volume seller. They're priced higher than the overall level of fit and finish justifies.  The only saving grace is that you're not going to find any better quality at a comparable cost. At least not this size boat. You can get better quality, but it costs disproportionately more. Boats like Cabo and some of semi-custom jobs.

Many people wonder why they should consider the 32 when the 29 goes for so much less and both are nearly identical. Well, there aren't a lot of reasons. One is that if you're going to fish with four, the 32 offers much better space. Another is that the 32 will handle bigger seas, and all seas with greater ease. The 60-80% increase in mass makes a substantial difference. As for fuel range, it's going to be about the same. The 32 carries only 65 more gallons without auxiliary tanks. But the biggest difference is that you can get a generator in the 32, whereas in the 29 there is no way to get a generator in this boat. No way. So if you want air conditioning at sea, the 32 would be your choice. In the tropics, this becomes a no brainer if dollars aren't a factor.

See also Blackfin 29 SF.

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Posted June 27, 1999

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