Contender 21 Open Review

This new overseas offering has been modified and fretted over with Aussie anglers in mind

The Contender brand hails from sunny Florida and has been in production for the past 20 years. Contender’s original 25-footer is now considered a classic and the pedigree is clearly evident in latter designs that range from 21-36’. The Contender 21 Open is a fisherman’s boat foremost and has been nurtured from the offshore fishing around the Gulf of Mexico, which conjures images of large pelagics.

Contenders are now sought-after far and wide by serious anglers who want to get to the fishing grounds fast and with minimal fuss.

As a fishing fanatic, my bias is towards boats that cater for my tribe, and I will judge harshly one that cannot meet my requirements. My first gold star goes to the clever sod who thought up centre consoles. In my humble opinion, you cannot beat a well-designed centre console for versatility. I know there are some that swear by the half-cabin, but when more than four people are trying to fish at once, the space and the feel of a centre console are wonderful.

When I met Sam Wallrock, who is importing Contenders, I mentioned the position of the console being quite aft of midships, and he stressed he has the unit pushed slightly forward than that of the manufacturer’s recommendations. The reason for this is that Australian anglers like to fish off the back, and this set-up gives them that area to drop their lines over the stern. Having said that, after an hour or so on this boat you will see how much space there is at the bow to fish, too. One slight criticism would be the lack of space inside the centre console for storage. It’s alright, but not special, so if you are a keen photographer like me and want to keep your stuff dry, take a Pelican box.
The console houses the Lowrance fish finder quite nicely, with lots of space for the engine dials and trim-tab adjustment.

The hull on this vessel is hand-laid fibreglass throughout with a fabric- and foam-cored solid ‘glass ‘stringer system’. The multi-directional fibreglass construction is particularly hard-wearing and along with the foam lining, gives a very smooth ride when coming down off waves and acts as a flotation device should the vessel capsize. On the day of my test the water was choppy, but I was not on open sea so I didn’t really get to see what the deep-V hull could do when treated with some disrespect.

Having said that, the wind was pushing 20 knots from the south-east, so it was time to see if we were going to get wet. As Sam opened up the two Evinrude 90hp engines, my immediate reaction was how quickly the boat responded. Even at around 2000rpm the hull was getting on the plane and within seconds we were cruising at 12 knots and 2500rpm. With the bow trimmed down, we seemed to cut through the water and all spray was dissipated port and starboard. The only time I got a touch wet was when we hit a particularly big wave on the cross-wind. Even then, it was only minimal. When Sam handed me the wheel it felt rock-solid.

You really had to put effort into moving the vessel, which told me how much the hull was cutting a line through the water. This was emphasised when I went to make a sharp turn. You may have heard the expression ‘running on rails’ – not an exaggeration in this case! My body weight was shifted by the force caused by the boat gripping to the water due to the 24o-deep hull.

Sam instructed me to trim-up the twin Evinrudes as we headed home, putting the bow nice and high on the run in. With the bow pointing skyward, it reminded me of a prancing horse that dons the bonnet of a certain racing car. The smile was beginning to crack on my face and now I wanted to see how fast the baby Contender could go.

The Contender 21 is recommended to carry an Evinrude single outboard between 200hp and 300hp, however the boat I tested had two 90hp engines.

If you want some stats on how the Contender handled a 300hp Evinrude, they are available online from Wallrock Marine, but for this test I will stick with the twin 90s. It is no secret in the boating fraternity that these boats are fast. Whether it’s because the Americans like to be on their marks before anyone else, I can only surmise. The long sleek lines and deep hull make for a torpedo of a fishing boat. With our twin 90s, the boat responded well to small movements of the throttle and was on the plane within seconds. Once up, there is not much between that and 40 knots. Not even a heavy swell is going to put this boat down. With a bit of fine-tweaking of the trim tabs and the engines all the way down, you can just punch into waves that would normally have you reaching for the grab rail. Admittedly there were only two on board at the time of testing, but I think with a bit of adjustment the boat would perform just as well with more. With twin engines, the thought of getting stuck out at sea with a broken outboard is less of a worry. The engines are not counter-geared, but Sam assured me this is not a problem. Another advantage of having twin engines is that they aid in stability. While talking of stability, there is a large fuel tank just under the helm that also acts as a counter-weight.

The twin Etecs are reliable, economical and smooth, especially important when trolling for tuna or marlin.
The Yanks have really put a lot of thought into this boat from a fishing perspective. You can tell it has been designed by fishermen for fishermen. There are rod holders everywhere. There are three down each side of the helm with a little hole in the T-Top hood to poke the tips through. Then there are two on each side of the gunwales towards the stern. There are outriggers on top of the T-Top, which have an ingenious design that lets them swing out at the lift of a lever. Last but not least there are two rod holders for downrigging at each corner of the T-Top.

There are huge storage areas down each gunwale for rods and some tackle storage areas under the pilot’s seat.
Another extra that makes a boat great is a big kill tank. I could quite easily curl up inside the Contender’s; it was that big! The live-bait tank is situated behind the helm station. It’s big and round and easy to access, albeit on the floor. I suppose its positioning means you won’t lose your mobile phone when bending over to get a livie, as I have done twice now! The gunwales are at a nice height and at the stern there is a transom door that opens out into the engine well, making life easier when you get that 80lb braid caught round the props and you need to access the engine 40km out to sea!

This boat gets close to full marks from me. The way it has been thought out, the beautiful finish, the safety aspect of the foam hull and its fishability all contributed. Not only is this boat great for offshore applications, it also seems to work in and around estuaries looking for flatties and bream. You can cast pretty much anywhere on this boat, so the lure twitchers are as satisfied as the jiggers. Teamed up with the twin Etecs, this boat is a real winner, and I can’t wait to try out the bigger brothers to this baby Contender 21 Open.