Cabo 52 Express Boat Test

Cabo 52 Express Boat Test

Boat Test Cabo 52 Express: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
Author and photography: Warren Steptoe

This boat test ran in ISSUE 93 of BlueWater magazine –  SEPT-OCT 2012

For the complete feature, including all photos and information captions, you can purchase back-issues here

Vessels promoted as Express sportfishers can be expected to be serious fishing boats. Usually, fishability is clearly at the top of an Express configuration’s priority list and ‘really comfortable downstairs’ are words that might be expected to have less relevance to this style of boat. The fact that ‘serious fishing boat’and‘really comfortable downstairs’ are both accurate descriptions of Cabo’s 52 Express contradicts, even defies, what’s usually expected of the configuration.

Just poke your head down the companionway to see this incongruity – a surprisingly spacious and comfortable salon. Obviously, being nearly 16 metres long (‘52 feet’ says it better to boating folk) with a 5.3m (nearly 18 foot) beam provides plenty of space. And perhaps, being a Cabo, you’d expect the boat to be well set-up for fishing as Cabo boats tend to be. But as good a fishing boat as the 52 Express undoubtedly is, it’s what’s downstairs that stands out as its most remarkable feature.

The Cabo 52 Express (alongside a flybridge model built over the same Michael Peters-designed hull) is the flagship of Cabo’s fleet, and according to their website is the biggest of all the production Express-configuration sportfishers built in the world today.

Even the omnipotence of Google failed to reveal the accuracy of this statement, but sheer size does validate the good old American saying, “There ain’t no substitute for cubes,” in this case cubic metres of internal space. This size allowed its designers to do something special withthe Cabo 52 Express’ downstairs accommodation, affording levels of comfort unmatched by any production Express-configuration sportfisher before it – without in any way compromising the expected fishing function.

Breath-taking Speed

Then there’s something else about this boat – sheer speed. With a total of 2940 horses stabled beneath her helm station, it was hardly surprising to find the Cabo 52 Express trying to shuffle out of the marina, shifting in and out of gear to keep the speed down.

You’d think the amount of power available would make this a boat ever-eager to get up and go, and the way it accelerates away when the throttles are opened still comes as a surprise. The GPS was showing 30 knots mere seconds after we passed the final restricted-speed-zone sign. It’s difficult to imagine anyone wanting more power because the pair of 32 litre V12 twin turbo C32 ACERT Caterpillar engines powering this boat have been re-rated from 1572hp to 1470hp (C32 Cats with up to 1675hp are optional – see below).

Our captain for BlueWater’s photo shoot told me that during sea trials he’d seen this boat doing over 45 knots on the GPS while the bottom was clean and the tanks empty. While conditions outside the Gold Coast Seaway on the day weren’t conducive to checking that claim, “Bloody hell,” was about the most profound observation I could manage as we rocketed towards open water. This thing gets out of the hole like a ski boat, and regardless of the 45-knot claim, in the real world a top speed above 40 knots is an entirely reasonable expectation.

A full-moon ebb tide was piling water against incoming swells for some distance offshore, and while sea conditions were almost glass-calm further out, there were enough steep-faced lumps and bumps around the entrance to note that the 52’s exit was remarkably bump- and bang-free compared to the 40 footer we’d brought as a camera boat.

What’s interesting about our ride across the Seaway Bar is that the camera boat was a borrowed Cabo 40, a vessel widely considered to have particularly seakindly manners. Her big sister the 52 showed her up big-time, simply ironing out of existence the jarring thumps delivered by the 40’s wake. It was a most impressive ride, to put it mildly, one of the best I’ve ever enjoyed in a sportfishing boat of any size.

More Fishing Time

So here’s food for thought. From most places along Australia’s eastern seaboard, south of the Great Barrier Reef anyway, this boat can be fishing the continental shelf about an hour after leaving her berth.

Against this capacity for speed must be weighed a preconception: who wouldn’t expect that 3000-plus horses are going to need a big drink after going full gallop? The people who provided the Cabo 52 Express for this review (Game & Leisure Boats on Queensland’s Gold Coast) were not evasive about the subject because they’re not that kind of people.

Fuel consumption of 600 litres per hour was mentioned during talk of a recent passage from Hamilton Island to the Gold Coast (Caterpillar’s fuel rating for the C32 ACERT is 298 litres per hour at 2300rpm). Just mentioned, that is, among some tall tales and true about how amazingly quick the boat was point-to-point despite a patch of pretty ordinary weather, which was encountered largely because the crew aboard couldn’t help themselves and took time out during the trip to ‘do a bit of fishing’!

While our cameras were going aboard, a wag on the dock put it well, if maybe a bit bluntly, when he said, “If you have to worry about fuel costs I suppose you won’t buy it.” Fair comment perhaps, but then the 30 knots necessary to reach the shelf inside our hypothetical hour is somewhere short of full gallop. At 30 knots those big C32 Cats are just loafing along, so thinking in terms of litres per kilometre, or what would perhaps be even more interesting –total fuel burned across a whole day’s fishing – might be the best way to look at it.

Unfortunately, while we were aboard, an electronics gremlin shut down the Cabo 52’s fuel consumption telemetry. But for what it’s worth, the crew bringing the boat south reportedthey were burning around 20-odd litres per hour when trolling.

To be accurate you’d need to consider the potential reduction in travel-time to and from fishing grounds WITHOUT running full bore, and the advantage of an exceptionally seakindly hull. Even so, how much fuel this boat would actually use during a day’s fishing might just be a pleasant surprise for anyone in the happy position our dockside pundit described. Presumably Game & Leisure Boats will be able to answer queries on this point by the time this issue of BlueWater is on the stands.

For anyone who wants to maximise fishing-time and minimise travel-time, there’s certainly some ‘interesting possibilities’ to contemplate. For serious tournament anglers, I think it’s fair to say ‘especially interesting’! So with these points in mind, let’s venture downstairs to take a closer look at the Cabo 52 Express’ salon and sleeping arrangements.

First, to the salon. The galley is set to starboard at the forward end with a dinette lounge diagonally opposite, and the bathroom is tucked away to starboard beside the stairs from the helm deck. Notably, and although the (optional) tower fitted to the boat BlueWater was aboard neatly stowed a dozen rods, the touch of a button revealed a spacious rod locker against the ceiling above the dinette.

Given the relatively large amount of space afforded by the length and beam of this vessel, the salon is anything but compact. Social functions presumably sit well-down the priority list of an Express-style boat anyway. Nonetheless, four people could be very comfortable indeed socialising in this boat’s salon, and six wouldn’t be a crowd, as there’s simply lots and lots ofroom.

The galley features a four-ring electric cooktop with a microwave/convection oven and extractor fan above and a side-by-side pair of two-drawer fridges below. There’s also a big sink with a flick-mixer tap and copious cupboard space. One of the few negative points I noticed about the entire boat was the lack of rails to secure pots and pans on the cooktop. Fortunately it wouldn’t be difficult to fit some to the Corian benchtop around the stove.

A lack of side windows in the salon means natural light and ventilation are limited, so the entire downstairs space is air-conditioned as standard. The Cabo 52 Express has separate reverse cycle A/C units with 16,000 BTU available in the salon; 10,000 BTU in the bow stateroom; 5,000 BTU in the portside crew stateroom; and 30,000 BTU to cooling vents on the helm deck. These and the all-electric galley are powered by a (standard) Onan 20kW water-cooled diesel genset.

The bow stateroom has its double bed set quite high in the boat due the pronounced flare of Cabo hulls. A central companionway leads to a crew bedroom with double-decker single bunks and a dedicated bathroom to starboard on the opposite side. If you, like me, are wondering about different options for the sleeping arrangements, the good folk at Game & Leisure Boats assured me Cabo have some flexibility in their custom layouts.

Apparently a 52 Express was fitted out with three staterooms, and I imagine some people, quite possibly keen tournament anglers, might consider changing the double-bed bow berth for double-decker singles (a three-single-berth bow stateroom is mentioned on Cabo’s website). A large hatch in the foredeck contributes natural light and ventilation to the bow stateroom.

Decor-wise the salon and staterooms were well-enough appointed without being in any way lavish. I did note, however, that the cabinetwork and upholstery were of a high standard indeed. Although having been aboard quite a few Cabo boats, this was no more than expected. Cabo’s reputation for a solid, high quality build wasn’t earned lightly.

The helm deck is critical to how well a boat fishes, and Cabo company policy offers little apology for focusing first and foremost on ‘fishability’. A central helm station set on a raised section above the rest of the helm deck offers an unobstructed view around nearly all of the boat.

The helm deck is lower than a flybridge would be, but is high enough for a good view regardless. To give some idea of how high this boat’s helm deck is, there are three steps down from it to the cockpit. In terms of space for electronics, the Cabo 52 Express we were aboard was fitted with a very basic package that occupied less than half of the available dash space.

Our 52 Express had clears fitted between the windscreen and roof which were appreciated on a winter’s day. But before we were finished the weather became warm enough to discover the helm area could be ventilated by opening a central flap in the windscreen and quarter-vents each side; and remember that air-con cooling vents are available in this area.

It’s worth noting the helm included a very comfy Stidd captain’s chair matched by a mate’s seat on each side that were also raised to the same eye-level as the captain’s chair. The aft end of the helm deck was occupied by a second dinette-cum-lounge. Space along the helm deck’s starboard side was taken up by a large cabinet incorporating enough tackle drawers to swallow most lure collections, and the requisite bar fridge.

Downstairs in the cockpit the full extent of the 5.3 metre beam is very evident. ‘Enormous’falls well short of describing the size of this boat’s cockpit. Upholstered coamings line the periphery except for the central section of the aft covering board where a monstrous livewell interrupts the upholstery. A large transom door is set to starboard of the livewell and no, it’s only large, not enormous. I can’t imagine serious bluewater fishos optioning the swim-deck-mounted outboard on the transom of the Cabo we reviewed.

In the cockpit, the deck featured a big hatch on each side accessing a pair of (sorry, but we need the word ‘enormous’ again) fishboxes that can be optioned with refrigeration. A fair lump of a deckie could lie down in there, so it’s fair to comment they’ll hold anything short of a billfish. Between the fishboxes a central hatch opens to reveal a lazarette stowage area below decks – and yes, it too is enormous!

Having done my time on the deck I’m pretty particular about cockpits and was pretty happy with this one. Naturally, as you’d expect in a Cabo, the centre of the deck is reinforced to take a heavy tackle chair.

The forward end of the cockpit is occupied by cabinets with flush-set doors and tops. There’s a sink unit under there along with the (enormous, of course) bait freezer. A pair of larger doors in the middle of these cabinets opens to access the engine room. Most deckies would modify this area to suit themselves, but I thought it a great basis to start from.

No doubt few serious bluewater fishos could do without the tower optioned on the review boat. It’s quite a climb up there to a perch set far enough above sea level to afford a remarkable view into the water around the boat. Not only did the tower you see in our photo spread ‘complete’ this particular boat in pure fishing terms, I also feel it added substantially to the boat’s cool factor, but I’ll leave readers to judge for themselves. If I go on too much about it, this article will sound like a rave review!

It’s hard to do anything but fall head over heels with the prospect of fishing this boat, and admittedly it concedes less to the social aspects of onboard life than most bluewater battlewagons. Cabo’s commitment to building bluewater sportfishing boats as first and foremost fishing boats is a matter of company policy, so there are few compromises in their flagship for partying or social cruising, although it’s far from dysfunctional in either respect.


  • In a race to the shelf from port few boats indeed will match it.
  • Great fishing boat with only the merest details needing attention to suit it to personal tastes.
  • All the fishing utility of an Express configuration combined with comfortable accommodation.


  • Fuel: 5350 litres
  • Fresh water: 760 litres


  • Material: hand laid GRP composites using vinylester resins and biaxial stitched fabric reinforcement, solid ‘glass bottom, cored construction chine to sheer.
  • Hull Type: ‘Express’ configuration monohull
  • Length: 15.7 metres
  • Beam: 5.3 metres
  • Draft: 1.5 metres
  • Deadrise: 16 degrees (at transom)
  • Displacement: 25,430kg


  • Make/model: Caterpillar C32 ACERT (x2)
  • Type: Twin turbo charged after-cooled V12 4-stroke diesel
  • Rated hp: 1572 re-rated to 470
  • Displacement: 32.1 litres
  • Weight: 2600kg (approx)
  • Gearbox: ZF
  • Options: Twin Caterpillar C18 (1015hp); Twin Caterpillar C32 (1572hp); Twin Caterpillar C32 (1672hp); Twin MAN V12 1550CRM (1550hp)

Options fitted: Tower, hardtop and upper station, 2 x C32 Caterpillar engines, Rupp outriggers, bow and stern thrusters, helm deck clears, underwater lighting, Hookah unit, swim platform,
refrigeration plates in cockpit fishbox, 26-inch LCD TV in guest stateroom, bow rails, Onan 20kW genset.  

Cabo 52 Express Boat Test

Boat Test Cabo 52 Express: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
Author and photography: Warren Steptoe
Supplied by: Game & Leisure Boats

This boat test ran in ISSUE 93 of BlueWater magazine – SEPT-OCT 2012

For the complete feature, including all photos and information captions, you can purchase back-issues here

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