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TOPAZ 28_1981

There's nothing like the passage of time to show up how well a boat is or isn't built. Now a good 17 years old, this 1981 model wasn't particularly well maintained, as most boats this age aren't. This is a very popular style boat in the southland so we were eager to get a look at her and see how she's holding up.

Topaz Marine Corp of Swansboro, North Carolina, also once named Sea Hawk Marine, was never a big player in the sport fishing market, but they built enough of them that they're worth talking about. Like many marginal, undercapitalized builders, its hard to tell when Topaz was in, or out of business. As near as we can tell, they've been out since 1992.   Company's like these can hang on for years, turning out just a few boats a year, and changing owners again and again.  This is such a common characteristic of the boat building industry that we no longer even attempt to keep track of who's in and who's out anymore.

This is one of the reasons why it becomes so difficult to talk about the quality of any one manufacturer's products, because what they do from year to year, or month to month, can change dramatically. All we really know is what they have DONE with a particular boat.

Topaz 28 1981 Topaz 28 1981

Set up with a pair of 124 hp Volvo diesels (the ID plates were corroded so we couldn't tell what model they were) this is a pretty nifty little fishing boat. Like all Topaz's, she's styled after the old Bertram Bahia Mar with the big, wrap-around coaming forward, but its square instead of round. The cockpit deck is at least 2/3rds the length of the boat with only a 6" step up to accommodate the engine height, located far enough forward that there's little tendency to trip over it. The engines are really far forward, and with a tower and low fuel, this boat tends to be a little nose heavy when that 1200 lbs of fuel in two 100 gallon aluminum tanks runs low.

The cockpit has a full fiberglass liner and they blessedly carried all the way over to the hull side so you've got a good foot cove and overhanging bulwark that allows you brace yourself against falling overboard. This is an important design feature that some builders have overlooked, one that can ruin an otherwise good fishing boat. This one had a pair of small pedestal mount chairs that didn't get in the way too much; there was room enough to walk around or between them, but I think I would prefer the portable Pompanette Yellow Fin chairs. For doing any work on the boat, they do get in the way. But even more awkward are the hinged fold-up/down helm chairs. Since they're situated right over the large engine hatches, there's no other solution for replacing them with something like pedestal seats.

The forward coaming has a low plexiglass windshield that is basically useless, since the spray comes right over it and there is no protection for instruments. Without a tower and overhead electronics cabinet, there's no place to put any electronic gizmos on the outside. This boat was intended to have a tower, and without one its not too cool. Fitting a folding  Bimimi is possible, but it doesn't look that great. To provide adequate head room, it looks ungainly.

The large hatches are nice because they give you complete access to the engine compartment and just about everything is reachable. This boat had been somewhat jury-rigged by prior owners so we can't really comment much on how the original installations were done. Its got plastic through hull fittings, many of which were broken and about ready to sink the boat. Other than that this is a very simple boat with not much to go wrong with it.

Unfortunately, something did because the forward plywood bulkhead was all rotted out because the fiberglass cockpit deck dead ends at the plywood bulkhead. Not being an enclosed area, everytime it rained, it channeled water onto the bulkhead. Equally unfortunate is the fact that its not easy to repair this; you have to remove the small galley area and cut out the head partition to make the repair. This owner wasn't willing to foot the expense and so just patched it up by covering over it.

Otherwise, the hull is well built of moderately thick glass, with glass over wood framing, and there was no sign of structural failure. There were no blisters on the bottom and the hardware was plenty sturdy. The hull/deck joint has one of those awful rope inserted in a rubber rub rail, which has been replaced at least once, but the gunwale is solid and so are the decks.

Another problem we noted was that the wet exhaust hoses were aged and cracked, needing replacement. The difficulty is that they are nearly impossible to reach from the inside. To replace them, you will have to remove the transom exhaust flanges, probably cut the transom holes large enough to fit the hoses, and then slide the new hoses in from the rear. This entire area is behind the fuel tanks and we couldn't tell if there are mufflers back there. After you're done doing this, you will probably have to have wider transom flange plates made up to cover up the larger hole you made. That's the only way to do it because no one can reach back up under the deck to attach the hose and clamps. If there are mufflers, you can slide the whole exhaust system in from the engine room, attach it to the flange plate and its done. Not difficult to accomplish if you plan for this, it just costs a few dollars.

The hull is a moderate vee, but our sea trial was performed in dead calm water so we can't comment on sea keeping much. Performance wise, its a bit slow, as should be expected with an 8,000 lb. boat with only 248 horsepower. The other power option was 228 hp Volvo gas inboards. These were poorly marinized Chevy 305 V8's, usually sea water cooled that did not last long. Most of them probably will have been replaced by now, and a good thing, too. I'm not much of a fan on Volvo engines, but these diesels are still going after 17 years.  Barely. It was Big Bill time for both of them. With 450 hp, this boat will do well over 30 knots.

The cabin has an enclosed head, small galley and vee berth area. Its small, but its also surprising that they managed to get as much room in it as it has. Its adequate for getting in out of the rain, but its not the sort of thing for an overnight family outing. Two people overnight would be slightly better than a tent, and its a lot better than a sleeping bag on deck.  Its a fishing boat, or maybe I should call it a "sport utility?" Something like that.

We posted this review because the boat is a good, solid platform from which to launch a refurbishing project. The design style is good enough that it has aged gracefully without becoming passe. A boat this age, you shouldn't expect to find something that's ready to go, unless someone has already done the job. These low powered diesels drive the price up well above any comparable gas boat, so unless you can tolerate such a slow boat, replacing these engines is not going to be cost effective. If you wanted to repower with diesels for better speed, picking up a gas boat would be the way to go. Nor should you expect 17 year old gas engines to be worth a diddly either. Rest assured, there is no joy in owning a boat with old engines; call it Heartache City if you try. The engine compartment will probably hold up to 260 hp gas engines, but you'd better take some measurements and make sure your engine choice will fit before you buy. Clearances will be close.

Considering what you'd pay for a late model, comparably size boat,  even having to replace engines this is a good buy, if you can find one,. Open boats of this style are far and few between. The best you can compare it to are the old 28 Tiara Continentals, but the 28 Topaz is generally a better built boat, although the weights are identical. There isn't anything at this size in the Bertram line up to compare to until you go up to the 30 Bahia Mar.

The original MSRP of this boat was $65,900.00. As equipped, today a comparable new one would go out the door for nearly two double large.

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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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