1999 Caribbean 28 Boat Review

The adage reads: “Don’t fix what ain’t broke.” It’s often used when people discuss methods or techniques, but it can apply equally to trains, planes, automobiles, anything mechanical – even boats.

In its own way the manufacturer behind the Caribbean marque, International Marine, was a champion of this mindset. It has long boasted a healthy report card and full order books, in no small way due to the fact that it continued to build boats that fishermen want to buy.

Lately, however, there has been a wave of change through the company’s Scoresby (Vic) headquarters. Faced with renewed, and in some cases, rejuvenated and expanded opposition in the battle for the Australian gameboat buyer’s dollar, International has been looking more closely at its range. With the help of some particularly vocal gamefishing-oriented dealers and customers, it has subtly massaged and updated it.

Last year saw the successful ‘relaunch’ of the 23 and 26 Opens in both Sportsfisherman and Profisherman models. After several false starts the 40 has appeared and is already in back order. Now we hear stories of a number of the 40’s features filtering through to a revamped 35 and perhaps even a bridgedeck-equipped open version of the 32 (Bertram USA call its so-equipped 36 a ‘Moppie’). It’s clearly head down and bum up at Caribbean.

All-new 40 aside, in our book the boat which has benefited most from this renewed vigour is the 28.

Designed in the USA and first produced Down Under in the early 1970s, the midsized shaftdrive flybridge sportsfisherman has vied with the 35 as the maker’s most successful craft in the past. In fact, International’s Russell Spooner estimates “well over 300” 28s have been built Down Under over the years.

With a seakindly hull and plenty of deck space, the 28 has always been popular with gamefishermen – especially sharkers with their propensity for carrying truckloads of berley, bait and equipment to sea.

Though updated in mid-1991, with deck and hull changes when it became a Caribbean, it’s fair to say that the 28 had recently lost some of its appeal.

A less diplomatic observer might have said it was showing its age.

In truth the ‘problem’ was not in performance or on-water ability, rather it was a simple case of the boat design being firmly planted in the good old days.

It’s owners like GFAA president, Grahame Williams, who have rung in the changes. Williams’ first 28 was one of the abovementioned early-’90s vintage Caribbeans. Like the hundreds of 28s before it, it featured a lower helm station that unnecessarily cramped the saloon, a flybridge that was less than friendly to an active skipper and a cockpit with a few too many hard corners and edges.

It was, however, too good a boat to walk away from. According to Williams, the 28 could cope with the worst fishing weather you’re ever likely to face. Indeed, it happily steamed up-sea or down with ne’er a hint of concern in conditions that had larger craft back at the dock.

No fan of sterndrives, Williams considered it a bonus that it was a true shaftdrive. Add to that unbeatable cockpit room and a size that meant it could be easily berthed, anchored and fuelled one-up, and you can understand his loyalty.

Thus, working with his local Caribbean dealer, Sylvania Marina, and the factory boffins, a plot was hatched. The ‘new’ 28 would lose the lower helm station and a large section of the bulkhead that unnecessarily enclosed the forward berths. Up top, the helmsman and co-pilot would get proper helm chairs (the seatbox of the old design gone for good). And importantly for a boat that would be seriously fished, the cockpit interior would be revised… Say goodbye to sharp edges and protruding deck shower. Say hello to thigh-friendly curves, toe space under the coamings and enough storage to satisfy even the keenest gaffman.

That’s drastically simplifying the process, but you get the idea. Along with the above ‘majors,’ there have been a whole swag of detailed changes that ensure the craft will please gameboat buyers well into the next century.

Wearing the name Silzy (taken from Williams’ last 28), the new boat has been fitted with the best of everything.

Starting from the top, custom stainless steel work gleams and is comprehensive (it’s been passivated too, so corrosion and spotting is no longer a concern). A smart bimini and tinted clears shade the helm station where there’s a Raytheon electronics suite and marine comms that many a 50-footer would be proud to carry.

Like all good gameboats, single lever controls are fitted and the steering is via SeaStar hydraulics.

Fishing equipment is the work of Tailored Marine Accessories, including outriggers, heavy tackle gamechair and even a fitted custom marlin door. As we went to press, Silzy was being fitted with teak to the deck and flybridge.

Step inside the saloon and you’ll see fabrics and coverings selected by the owner’s daughter and a fully-equipped yet compact galley that features plenty of storage, fridge, microwave and all the comforts of home. And to ensure the crew don’t go hungry during those long waits for big tigers on the deep reefs, there’s even a 1800W inverter to run the micro at sea.

If you’re a fan of speed and efficiency there’s plenty to celebrate under the rear deck as well. Silzy is powered by a pair of turbocharged four-cylinder Yanmar 4LH-STE powerplants.

Rated at 230hp a side, the 3.455lt diesels are not as silky smooth as their OHC multi-valve six-cylinder 6LP stablemates, but are nonetheless impressive engines in their own right.

So-equipped, the 28 accelerates like a big-horsepower trailerboat and tops out at a GPS-verified 33.1kt at 3550rpm. Even more impressive is the fuss-free 24kt cruise offered at around 2900rpm.

Of course, the beauty of the 28’s time-proven hull is these speeds are bearable, even in fresh conditions. It sure makes for a fast passage when the Botany Bay-based Silzy next heads to Port Stephens, Coffs Harbour or another popular port of call.

Grahame is the first to admit that he’s gone just a little overboard with the fitout of the new Silzy.

With a starting price of around $177,000 fitted with 170hp Yanmars, the standard 28 represents good value, even without most of the goodies fitted to Silzy.

Williams makes no bones about the fact that he’s built this boat to last him a long time and as a personal toy rather than a tool. That’s more or less why you don’t see a full specs list here or an ‘as tested’ price. Truth be known, I reckon he’s scared to add it up (Think $200k and add a bit)…

Nonetheless, with the help of a number of trusted suppliers and Caribbean, he has created a stunning midsized craft with one purpose in mind – catching gamefish.

Sort of obvious, given his position, don’t you think? …….Mike Sinclair


**Review written in 1999