SEA SPORT COMMANDER 2800
SEA SPORT 2800 IS FIVE TONS OF BADASS SALMON WAGON ROMPING OUT TO THE BANKS. AND IT IS ALSO HOME SWEET HOME IN A PORT FAR FROM HOME.
By Patrick McGann, SSJ Editor At Large
Let’s start with the obvious. This is a big boat, 28 feet long and just three inches shy of 10 feet abeam. For a lot of folks those dimensions conjure an image of some old fart in a Greek fishing cap and handlebar mustache cruising his 7-knot trawler from martini to martini in the Gulf Islands. Uh, no.
This a Sea Sport. It looks good with blood on the deck. But spilled malbec? Yeah, OK, that too. Yes, obviously, its size puts it up against a Ranger Tug, a Nordic or a something like a Grand Banks. But for anyone considering such an apostasy, keep in mind the the 2800 comes with twin Yamaha 300s (or Suzukes if you prefer). It will go 52 miles per hour. That again is … 52 miles per hour.
Trapped in your trawler by tides in Johnstone Strait? Puh-leeze. Storm front turning your way on a trip to Bamfield? Big whoop.
My wife and I got a close-up test ride at the Northwest Marine Industries’ digs on a gray windy day recently. NMI VP of Production, Michael Millison and one of the four owners, was sorry it was so bumpy. Jennifer and I kept looking at each other and smiling. Bumpy? At the cruising sweet spot of 25 knots it was like walking a big gelding in an alfalfa field. Bellingham Bay’s typically confused 360-degree snottiness was nicely tamed.
It felt sure at all points on the compass in the chop. You can feel it, sure, but without the lurching, jerking and gasping you’ll never escape in lighter boats. That’s important. Big boats won’t wear you out like little ones will. That means longer days and better days, and for people who aren’t salty dogs, too.
The Commander has a fully enclosed electric marine head, hot water shower, a 3.5 cubic foot fridge, a really deep crab- and laundry-happy sink with both hot and cold water with lid, ample counter space, and a 2 burner propane cooktop (easily upgradeable to a 3-burner) range/oven.
It’s a fishing boat, so you don’t call the cabin a salon, but it’s a salon with enough room to play four-hand cribbage. You can chop-chop a full blown stir fry. You don’t have to sleep with the crab bait, or with the eau du ling cod from dinner, and best of all, your coffee maker can wake you up from a real sleep in a pretty much queen sized rectangular bow berth/princess suite, and you can be having breakfast while heading out to the pinnacles. The spousal units, even the in-laws, will like it.
The helm is clean and ready to take advantage of multi-platform monitors for maximum visibility and control. Our test boat was fitted with a complete Garmin modular package which is standard (but you can get anything you want). I really like where all this technology has been going. Finally, it’s getting simpler. So, the monitor and controls at the aft steering station isn’t a complete duplicate unit. It’s just a monitor with buttons, basically. Throw in a fully-adjustable leather or leatherette captain’s chair, and getting there may not be half the fun, but half the satisfaction? Sure.
The boat we tested also had a bow thruster. That’s not that unusual. For one thing, they’re getting less expensive and for another, why not? Ever see the Shilshole fuel dock on an August Saturday at oh-dark-thirty?
The electrical, water and waste systems on the Commander are designed to be fully functional … on the trailer. So you can tow this beast (with a 1-ton and 3 axles) and use it as a camper along the way. That’s exactly what a lot of Commander owners are doing (and why the beam was kept under 10 feet.) It’s why these NMI pilot houses are showing up in San Diego, Miami, Hatteras and Galveston.
So this Sea Sport isn’t Spartan, true. But look a little closer. Instead of the old multi-color woven glass unfinished interior, there is a tough woven textured, thick fabric headliner that looks almost macrame-ed. Go ahead, poke it with a rod tip. The cabin deck looks like teak. It’s heavy duty rubber. The wood trim is beefy and grabbable. The cushion fabric is not dainty. It’ll take a chocolate Lab (or sundae) just fine. Taking a dive? Fine. Grab something. It won’t break off. It’s nice, yeah, but it’s still a Sea Sport.
Is the cockpit big enough? At 56 square feet it is. It seems shorter but that’s an optical illusion created by the beam width. You see this on all the pilot houses, glass or tin, that have stand up heads and functional galleys. The space comes out of the deck. So when I think just of myself, my hairy brute buds and my crab pots, the 26-foot Sea Sport Kenai with its 70 square foot deck is appealing, but when I add actual human beings (one of which whose signature is required) yes, 56 square feet and a hot shower is just fine, thanks.
The deck is a fish fighting deck. It’s completely clean underfoot. There is a fillet table/bait cutting board on the transom and of course the knot of two big motors and a kicker on the stern, but there’s no getting away from that.
There is ample storage. The cockpit is lined with long racks for gaffs, hooks and so forth. Plenty of rocket launchers. A great tackle locker on the port transom designed to accommodate modular soft-tackle insert boxes. I love that. On the starboard side the space is taken by a propane tank for a BBQ. And the center is NMI’s nod to the economic power of California, Texas and Florida with a big live well. (OK, yes, we have tuna, too. Three guys in this boat going after a big pay day? You bet.)
The fish box is literally the size of a small hot tub. Four halibut tags and a clean sweep? No problem. Room for some coho, cod and crabs, too. And ice. And bait. On the boat we tested, the owner is going to take a third of the fish box and install a freezer. There’s still plenty of room. It’s located just outside the bulkhead. I’m not thrilled with that, doozy of a step and all, but it’s not a big deal.
There is a storage locker just aft of the fish box that is cavernous. That’s where the big Volvo used to be. The owner of this boat already had installed a freezer in it. (And wants another one.) Plus, it holds the batteries, controllers, water systems, fuel filters, main electrical, water pumps, water heater (which circulates hot water for radiant heat in the cabin (!), all of which is absurdly easy to access, and there’s still plenty of room for PFDs, cushions, folding deck chairs, a rail mounted barbecue that doesn’t have to stay deployed all the time, landing nets, folding crab pots, you name it. It’s really big and really open, so you can configure it and re-configure all you want. Love it.
The hard top has almost infinite hard point mounting and enough space for a small inflatable when you anchor so you can go ashore and get chased by bears . . .
From the aft steering station you can easily control the boat running on the big motors or the kicker and can easily go back and forth. You can also see through the cabin easily. Crowds? No problem.
You can put twin 350s on this boat. Why, though? With regular counter rotating prop Yamaha 300s, the Commander pops up on plane like a cork. It accelerates so smoothly you have to watch the monitor to see what’s happening. As mentioned, the sweet spot is 25-ish knots. Peak efficiency is at 20 mph. It will go over 50 but you will pay dearly for that haste to the tune of a gallon per mile.
NMI added the outboard option in 2016. It’s now standard. That was a great idea. You get rid of the hump, give customers many more brand and power options, let owners in marinas get their lower units out of the water, increase maneuverability, provide a saner path toward repowering and add a whole bunch of storage space.
The rub I’ve always had with Sea Sports is that on the smaller hulls they tended to wallow in big water coming up out of the hole due to the blunt bow entry and weight in the stern. There was absolutely no hint of that on this boat and on the 28 it is just as rock solid on its side in a tight turn as it is standing straight up.
And as a true salmon wagon, when you throttle back off a run, it settles in like honker on a still pond rather than a spastic teal.
This is neither a cheap nor an inexpensive boat. As tested, you’re staring $300,000-plus in the face, but this one is absolutely loaded with custom electronics, safety gear, cooking, freezing, water and fuel capacity for nine-week-long fishing trips north of Haida Gwaii in the summer and towed to Havasu or San Diego in the winter camping with the RVs on the way.
Think about that: “Nine-week-long fishing trips…”
That wad of dough is basically the equivalent of a well-equipped Winnebago Forza … that can’t swim. Or a cabin on Gitchiegoomie Lake … that can’t move.
The first Sea Sport hit the water in 1955. They were, and still are today, designed to take regular use as fishermen use them in big water found in the Pacific Northwest. That means regular offshore pounding, regular exposure to saltwater, going out often and staying out long, riding up on a westerly 10-footer and getting smacked in the chops by a big southerly blast without wanting to be a kite.
Sea Sport has always had cheaper competitors (designed for occasional use in big water) and has always done well against them because people appreciate how well they’re made, which is by hand, using knitted glass on a biaxial orientation which is lighter and stronger. They just use more of it. These boats are tanks.
And Sea Sport has always had to cage fight the upper end southern sport cabins which are fine boats and popular in the Northwest but they’re just not designed for a family of four for a wintery week in July at Sitka.
With one of these 28s based in Puget Sound, you are in range of Swiftsure, Barkley, Nootka, Port Hardy, Hakai and Bella Bella. Or for that matter an overnight Vancouver with the Canucks. From Portland or Tillamook you can ply both Washington and Oregon coasts. From Homer or Sitka, you’re just plain out there.
Sea Sport can build your boat to order. They build each by hand, so it’s no problem to do custom work. Just work that out through your dealer. They will be happy to add options, like pot pullers, additional rocket launchers and so forth. You can visit the plant. Bug them with phone calls. Spray emails at them. They’ll help you get exactly the boat you want.
I admit my motives for taking my wife along were not the purest. As we walked away she said, “We’d have to sell the house.” I said, “OK.”
LOA: 28 feet
BEAM: 9 feet, 9 inches
DRAFT (motors up) 22 inches
DRAFT (motors down) 39″
DRY WEIGHT: ±10,000 lbs.
HOLDING TANK: 30 gal.
WATER TANK: 60 gal.
FUEL TANK: 300 gal