They look good and go fast, but what’s it like to fish on a Contender? Mick Fletoridis finds out. Pictures by Scott Thomas.
WHEN you jump on a production boat that carries 22 rod holders it’s a safe bet to assume it wasn’t designed for chardonnay-sipping cruises. Contender’s 21 Open is definitely all fishing business. Not that there aren’t any niceties to be seen here. The smallest boat of the Contender range doesn’t pretend to be anything but a fisho’s boat and for that reason alone demands respect. From stern to stem this arrow-like 21 footer is designed to fish; when the need arises, it can get to the action in a hurry.
Wallrock Marine is Australia’s Contender boats agent, and although relatively new at selling the US brand, owner/importer Sam Wallrock says business is good. So much so that the 21 Open we’d planned to use for targeting Sydney Harbour kings one morning would be trucked to a new Townsville-based owner in the afternoon. We had to be quick.
Unfortunately a case of Sydney traffic gridlock meant time on the Contender 21 Open would be cut shorter than planned Ð luckily this is one boat built for speed.
The need for speed
Across the entrance to Sydney Harbour the sea had lined up messy walls of water, the result of a tropical cyclone that had hovered off the Queensland coast days earlier. The weather bureau predicted bigger seas to peak that afternoon, later driven by galeforce winds. Yahoo!
Despite the conditions Sam had the wick turned up on the blue and white Contender. Its solid fibreglass hull dealt with the lumpy swell at speed better than a boat probably had a right to. The 21’s deep vee features a sporty 24.5 degree deadrise that obviously aids markedly in this regard. The boat’s Evinrude E-TEC 250, fitted with a 19″ pitch prop, occasionally clawed at air with revs racing as the boat effortlessly leapt waves. In the distance a purple boat manned by charter operator Craig McGill rode out the swell, often disappearing from view. McGill would hopefully provide us with a promising fishing outlook, despite our late start.
At well over 20 knots a wave crest met the Contender’s bow with enough force to skew the boat slightly to starboard before coming down reasonably solidly on the hull’s chine. Sam just smiled and kept the gas on as we powered on through as impressively (and dryly) as before. It was an example of how these US sportfishing boats can instil operator and passenger confidence.
As it turned out, some kings were in the harbour. The punters on board the Fishabout boat were enjoying some action, highlighted by a small king coming to the boat as we slowed up. We left them to it to have a look at some of the harbour’s numerous navigation markers.
Before reaching the first marker buoy, surface rippling ahead gave away skittish bait and bite-shy kings. Casts with soft plastics directly at the disturbances only resulted in follows and bumps. Despite a number of kings bulging through the surface film a popper was totally ignored. The short session though was enough to give an indication of the Contender’s fishability. Drifting in the lee of the wind there was enough water movement to test out its stability as three of us worked the deck.
Room to burn
The review boat sported an optional T-top over the helm console. It displayed first-rate anodised aluminium pipe work – as featured throughout – and was fitted with Rupp “Top Guns” radial outrigger arms. Rocket launcher style holders aft keep a number of fishing outfits high and dry, as do additional holders around the console and in (and below) the gunwales. Fishos who like to cart a heap of gear around will be impressed by this boat’s rod storage capability.
Taking a stint behind the stainless destroyer-style wheel, I quizzed Sam on the best way to drive the boat. He said having the bow trimmed down was the best way to tackle the waves at speed, although playing with the trim (and trim tabs) seemed to did little to upset the status quo. Too much out trim made the nose a tad lighter, but it proved to be the sort of boat that’s easily managed without a lot of driver input. Sam was right about attacking the waves with a nose-down plough on through attitude. Many boats in this situation would provide a harsh jolting ride, but the Contender had me thoroughly enjoying the experience. The destroyer-style hoop works the hydraulic steering effortlessly, its metal knob coming in handy when doing a lot of slow speed manoeuvring.
While rated to 300hp the E-TEC 250 seemed more than enough power for the 21 Open. We had three on board but I’m confident the boat would easily handle fishing four up, even with the associated gear.
The Open is aptly named as it has deck space to burn. The helm is located more astern than midships, which seems to give the boat a perfect centre of gravity. It just feels right. The upshot of this too is a huge foredeck that offers a perfect space for throwing lures or waving a fly rod around. The latter activity would no doubt be helped by the cool looking internal flush grab rails.
In comparison, the rear deck isn’t as roomy due to the console’s position; some care needs to be taken when casting to prevent hooking rods stored overhead in the T-top – being a klutz I found this out the hard way! Having said that the T-top on the review boat was extra long and a shorter version is also an option. It features a canvas roof with cut-out sections for rod tips which took a little getting used to when pulling rods in and out.
Sam Wallrock mentioned the boat’s buyer had specified an adjustment of the console’s position, bringing it forward 75mm from standard; this custom modification was done at the factory prior to import.
The fibreglass self-draining hull is foam-filled and features an outboard pod with removable slide-in transom door to facilitate full engine trim for trailering. The helm carries a wide bench seat – a common feature on American boats – fitted with a padded leaning post and loads of space underneath for storing an extra ice box. To the fore of the helm a padded ice box is a standard fit and provides a wind-in-the-hair ride. The console is fitted with a Plexi screen that offers a reasonable wind buffer for those standing or seated astern.
Other extras on the review boat included Lenco trim tabs, which are easy to use with a simple LED readout to display each tab and level of trim. A deckwash was also fitted.
The 21 Open comes standard with a 340 litre fuel capacity that can be optioned up to a huge 470 litres. When coupled to one of the current crop of economical outboards that equates to an impressive range from a single tank.
All in all, there’s little prospective buyers might want to add on a boat like this. There’s a large options list for customising, including a huge range of hull colours to choose from. It has plenty of freeboard, especially up front where a lot of the fishing action is likely to take place; ride and stability is second to none; and the finish and attention to detail first-class. The boat also comes on a Magic-Tilt trailer that features a Carlile electrically operated hydraulic braking system.
CONTENDER 21 OPEN
Length: 6.47m (21′ 3″)
Deadrise: 24.5 degrees
Weight: 1043kgs hull only (dry); 1610kgs (ready to fish)
Fuel: 340 litres
Power: Max. 300hp as reviewed, Evinrude E-TEC 250hp
Price: From $91,000, as reviewed $96,500
Contact: Wallrock Marine on 0432 736 500; website at: www.contender.com