If there's such a thing as an old hippie hideout, it's Santa Cruz, California. A port town surfing the edge of Monterey Bay, a few miles south of 'Frisco, Santa Cruz seems loaded with folks of a certain age—my age, actually—sporting hairstyles, clothes, and vocabularies that hark back, sometimes subtly, sometimes strikingly, to the Bad Old Days. Or at least that was my take as I descended upon the Coast Santa Cruz Hotel one recent Friday night, all jet-lagged and burnt out.
Saturday morning confirmed my impressions. Cabo Yachts rep Greg Bourke and I were hoofin' it down a dock in Santa Cruz Harbor, with a brand-new Cabo 32 Express just hoving into view when two extraordinary-looking guys materialized at the pulpit. Each had a long white beard, Wayfarer sunglasses, and a baseball cap. Old album titles whizzed through my head accompanied by the thrum of synthesized drum machines—Tres Hombres, Eliminator...Afterburner.
"Goin' fishin' with ZZ Top!" grinned local Cabo dealer Tommy McGuire, jocularily joining the pair. As we all began loading tackle, rods, coolers, ice, cold drinks, sandwiches, and guacamole fixins, McGuire clarified the situation—slightly. His white-bearded, Wayfarered friends, he said, were locals John Banzick and Joe Mock, fishing buddies for 30-some years, with a penchant for playing the ZZ Top angle for giggles and grins. "They're not the actual guys," added McGuire with an impish expression. Banzick and Mock just smiled.
I'm a flexible fella, even when it comes to impromptu salmon fishing excursions. I told McGuire I was totally up for whatever he had planned, but I also said I needed to squeeze in an offshore wring-out of the 32 as well as a dockside walk-through. His response was forthright. He commanded that rigging, guacamole mashing, and other preparations at the bait-prep station be halted momentarily to allow for the walk-through, which began with the machinery spaces.
The flick of a switch rapidly raised the bridge deck, courtesy of a single-piston actuator from Navtec, energized by MatchMate Plus hydraulic hoses from Aeroquip. I admired the actuator for a moment. Components and related parts were as beefy as they were exquisitely engineered. Then three general features caught my eye in rapid succession.
First was the finish—the entire engine room was fitted with an easy-to-clean-and-maintain fiberglass liner that was so intricately tooled it looked simple, at least at first glance. Not only were bulkheads and hull sides layered with its smooth, white, gel-coated surfaces, so were engine bearers, the walkway between the mains, the battery box (with three house batteries and two starters), and a multitude of landing points for assorted pumps, motors, and other ancillaries.
Second was engineering—it was tops. Our 32's poly water tank was shaped to conform to the underside of the molded steps leading down into the ER to save space. Her robust bonding system included prop-shaft brushes as well as a Diver's Dream bonding plate mounted under water at the transom. Her fiberglass fuel tank had a mainstream electric fuel gauge as well as a removable cap for dipping a plain ol' (always accurate) measuring stick. Her electrical system was equipped with a special junction box to facilitate plug-and-play tower installation. And her hull-to-deck joint, which was visible here and there, had been glassed all the way around (from inside) and secured with bolts and 3M 5200.
Third was equipage—tops again. Our 32 had a 5-kW Westerbeke genset without a soundshield (Cabo thinks soundshields hinder maintenance), a total of five high-dollar Optima batteries, a powerful 40-amp Newmar battery charger, and a set of cross-connected, proprietary, lip-seal-type, dripless shaft logs that can be packed conventionally should a seal break or malfunction.
I finished up by scouting interior and on-deck features as McGuire slowly conned us out of the harbor. The layout below was simple and conventional, with a diagonal berth forward, an enclosed head (with no separate shower stall, unfortunately) and galley to port, settee/dinette and hanging locker to starboard, and an open area with a teak-and-holly sole in between. Superb craftsmanship was evident everywhere. Corian countertops were crisply fitted. Matching closures, hasps, and drawer pulls were made of sculpted stainless steel. There was rod stowage overhead, and the insides of cabinets and lockers had been smoothed out with power grinders and then gelcoated.
There were numerous topside standouts, too. They included proprietary stainless steel hatch pulls that looked like they'd been case-hardened; a complete bait-prep center in the cockpit to port with sink, rigging board, and tackle cabinet; an athwartship fishbox in the cockpit sole (removable for access to steering hydraulics); and a 40-gallon livewell molded into the transom.
Once we were beyond the jetties, McGuire cranked up the stereo and in seconds put the pedal to the metal—the 32 was zooming across the four- to six-foot seas like an F18 Hornet. Banzick, Mock, Bourke, and I hung on. Beards blew. Cockpit speakers fibrillated. And one beaten-up, cherished hat whooshed aft, a victim of the wiles of the wind. In just a bit we were fishing in 200 feet of water.
And we fished. And fished. And fished. Until finally, after roughly four hours of trying our darndest with both live bait and artificials, on the surface and deep down, we had to "give 'er up fer daid," as Mock so colorfully put it.
I'd formed a high opinion of our 32's fishability in the process, however—the boat tracks nicely at trolling speeds, accommodates an arsenal of fishing rods, and offers an elbowroomy cockpit with comfortably placed inwale pads and a console-style icebox big enough to keep a crowd from getting thirsty.
I drove the boat back to Santa Cruz, garnering test data en route. And lemme tell ya: There's nothin' like blasting across the Pacific at the helm of a fast boat, with a good day in your wake, the strains of "Sharp Dressed Man" blarin' (for giggles and grins), and a couple of ZZ Top look-alikes aboard groovin' and grinnin'.
And although the turning radius of our 32 was broad, likely due to relatively small rudders, and the inboard heel in hardover turns significant, likely due to top-heaviness from our optional C-Fab tower, the average top speed of 41.1 mph was flat-out exhilarating. And docking our Cabo 32 Express sealed the deal: Her hefty, low-profile maneuverability and wind-resistant heft made me a total fan.
One thing still bugs me, though. Certainly Banzick and Mock were skilled fishermen, and their story about just being local boys with a penchant for rock-star imitation seemed plausible enough, but I wonder: Is ZZ Top still a Texas band? Or have those guys maybe moved to Californy?
Lewmar windlass; Euro Kera cooktop; Caterpillar instruments; Carling Technologies rubber-booted helm switches; Corian countertops; Panasonic microwave; Nova Kool under-counter refrigerator and freezer; ITT Jabsco UltraMax water pump; Tankwatch; Diver's Dream bonding plate; 40-amp Newmar battery charger; 5/batteries; Reverso oil-changer; Fireboy Xintex auto. fire-extinguishing system; 5-kW Westerbeke genset; proprietary, lip-seal-type, dripless shaft logs; Navtec hydraulic engine-hatch actuator w/ MatchMate Plus Aeroquip hoses; Bennett trim tabs; bait-prep center w/ sink, rigging board, tackle stowage, and 40-gal. livewell
C-Fab tower w/ upper steering station; teak-and-holly sole; West Coast-style aluminum bowrails
Test Boat Specifications
- Test Engine: 2/455-hp Caterpillar C7 diesel inboards
- Transmission/Ratio: ZF280-1A/1.48:1
- Props: 22x24 nibral 4-blade
- Price as Tested: $419,000
This article originally appeared in the August 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.