Aquila 28 Molokai
Aquila launches a center console built to handle rough seas and fuel adventure.
With the forecast calling for 4- to 6-foot seas and a 15- to 20-knot offshore wind, I thought it might be a good idea to pack a raincoat. Not for rain, but for spray. Testing a 28-foot open boat in big seas sounded wet. And I was totally cool with that—actually, I was fired up about it. The Aquila 28 Molokai was made for these conditions, and I looked forward to seeing how this not-so-big cat handled big seas.
Aquila president and longtime catamaran innovator Lex Raas got the idea for the 28 Molokai while participating in an outrigger canoe race across the Hawaiian channel between Maui and Molokai. These channels are notorious for swift currents and funneling trade winds that pick up velocity and kick up the chop. Such was the case during the canoe race. After the event, participants loaded up their canoes on boats to shuttle them back. Raas found himself transfixed on a small catamaran slicing through the seas as the monohulls pounded and fell behind. He befriended the designer of the catamaran, Kirk Clark, who has been building cats on Molokai for 30-plus years. With their combined knowledge, they decided to create a hull that is both efficient and smooth riding.
“We took the foundation Kirk has built and applied it with modern construction methodologies, giving it a more contemporary, modern-day build. That’s how the Aquila 28 Molokai was born,” said Alain Raas, Lex’s son and Aquila brand manager. “The Hawaiian channels are known for strong currents and big seas. You could have nice, long-running swells or steep chop depending on how the currents are running against the trades. Coming up with a boat that works in Hawaii is going to work around the world.”
Aquila 28 Molokai
We conducted our speed and performance tests on a quiet stretch of the ICW as we ran toward Hillsborough Inlet in Pompano Beach, Florida. The fall king tides flooded the channel, covering most of the private docks on the bulkheads. Running with the outgoing tide, the 28 Molokai sped along a hair shy of 40 knots at wide open, without trimming the heck out of the boat. To get that kind of speed with twin 200-hp Mercury Verados impressed me. Pulling the throttles back to 4,000 rpm, we cruised at 29 knots burning 17 gph. The boat is efficient—it seems to slide along the water like the hull’s been oiled up. It got on plane just a bump past idle, running less than 10 knots.
As we approached the inlet, the waves threw white water across the breakwater like a bunch of kids splashing in a pool. I clenched my grip on the grab rail beside the helm expecting to slam into the head sea. It didn’t happen. Catamarans run incredibly well in these sea states, and the Aquila 28 was more than happy to run 23 knots into the windswept chop. The boat stayed on top of the waves with soft landings for the most part, though we did get a bit of hull slap coming off some of the larger waves. But it wasn’t a teeth-rattling hull slap.
The boat handled well as I picked my line through the swells. The trick with cats is to trim them just right—you want a nice air pocket between the hulls to smooth out the ride. Bringing up the nose a bit helped improve her ride as we sped up. The tunnel on the Molokai is about 18 inches high and it doesn’t close out at the transom, which helps maintain that cushion as you run into the seas. My only complaint was the dang VHF cord from the handheld mic kept hitting me in the head, but that’s easily fixed with a retractable cord.
We ran the boat north up the beach with a beam-sea hitting the starboard side, and only a few drops of spray landed on the windshield. In a following sea, the boat stayed on course with very little bow steering. I took my hand off the wheel to see if she’d surf, and she didn’t. When I put the boat in neutral and let the waves push us around, the 9-foot, 9-inch beam kept her stable. The Molokai is rigged to fish, so I ran the boat at a 7-knot trolling speed. Some people claim cats don’t troll well and throw too much white water, messing up the action of the lures and baits. This boat has an incredibly clean prop wash, so that won’t be an issue.
As this is the first true fishing boat to come out of Aquila, Alain said the company worked with a few different tournament teams for fishing feedback on things like where to place rod holders. One thing I’d suggest is extending the hard top aft another foot or so for more shade without hindering the fishability.
There’s a 30-gallon livewell, sink and long fold-down hatch on the back of the console. They plan to add some supports for the hatch so it can double as a work area by staying level instead of falling flat. But the best fishing feature on the 28 is the sheer amount of space. The cockpit is roomy thanks to aft seats that fold out of the way, and the area on top of the anchor locker can be used as a forward casting platform. And because it’s a catamaran with the engines spaced far apart, she can spin on a dime, a handy tool when chasing a hot fish.
Aquila placed a black design element on the hullsides to mimic the windows they place on their larger cruising cats. I know it’s meant to maintain the look of the brand, but I would like to see what the hull looks like without it. As for functionality, the boat is simple and easy to operate. There is a ton of storage space in the sponsons, with insulated fish boxes and a long rod locker. More storage lives under the seats in the bow and inside the console, which has a Porta Potty and dedicated spots for the bow table and swim ladder. The LED flood lights recessed in the hardtop fore and aft will light this boat up like a football stadium. The builder also provides easy access to all systems, including the fuel tanks which live right under a hatch.
The helm is clean, and there’s a gap in the windshield that lets in air, though you might want to get an enclosure for that if you run the boat in colder climates. Aquila has plans for another 28 with an enclosed helm and cuddy. The helm seats are comfortable, and there’s a platform that folds down to give you a few more inches of height when standing. The layout is simple, with everything you need, but none of the extraneous stuff that you could easily live without.
After riding on a cat on a day like our test day, you can’t deny their performance. I never did need that raincoat.
Aquila 28 Molokai Test Report
Aquila 28 Molokai Specifications:
Displ.: 6,166 lbs. (dry with twin 150s)
Fuel: 150 gal.
Water: 16 gal.
Power: 2/200-hp Mercury Verados