Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Robalo leads the way in quality and craftsmanship
Fifteen years had passed since I last set foot on a Robalo center console, then considered to be a “top shelf” selection among serious fishing craft of the day.
Back then, you could count on one hand the number of boat manufacturers that were producing center consoles of a quality high enough to be considered by Florida fishing guides. Robalo boats, which were introduced in 1969, were the cream of the crop, leading the way in quality, fit and finish — attributes that command a premium price.
With this in mind, I was curious when I again stepped aboard a Robalo — the new 2620 — for an extended day of fishing and cruising off of Gasparilla Island on the west coast of Florida. Had Robalo maintained the quality of yesteryear?
As it turns out, it has. In fact, Robalo seems to be celebrating its 30th anniversary by inching even further ahead of the growing pack of center console craft, including several of its long-time competitors.
The Robalo 2620 is one of four new center console models introduced by the Everett, Washington-based U.S. Marine, the same people who build Bayliner and Maxum. There are 10 Robalo models for 1999, all built in Tallahassee, Florida: four new bay boats, a pair of walkarounds and a quartet of center consoles.
Foremost among the qualities of this hardcore fishing boat is the solid feel you get the moment you board the 2620. From the first stroll around the center console, you know you’ve got something substantial underfoot.
That something is a remarkable stringer system that is tailored to each Robalo model. Cored fiberglass stringers and crossbeams are bonded to the hull, forming a complex hull-stiffening geometry that creates a rock-solid foundation for each boat.
Robalo is so confident of its work that the company offers a 10-year limited warranty on every new hull.
Boaters will also appreciate what Robalo has done with the topside space aboard the craft, which measures 27 feet, 5 inches in length when you include the optional bow pulpit. Between the gunwales of the boat’s ample, 8-foot, 11-inch beam (you’ll need an overwide permit to tow this one) are features certain to please anyone who’s spent any time aboard a center console.
At the hub of the deck layout is a center console as basic and practical as any afloat. Large enough to house a marine head and support a heavy-duty T-top, the console (48 3/4 inches tall without the windshield) is short enough to see over and slim enough (45 inches wide) to walk around. There is plenty of horizontal space on top, protected by an extra-thick windscreen that, extending up about a foot, is high enough to duck behind when dodging wind or spray.
The dash features a pair of retractable cup holders to the right of the throttles, above a shallow storage shelf that is perfect for sunglasses, hooks and sinkers, sunscreen or Snickers bars. Below the helm is a built-in angled footrest; above is a large, lockable, stainless steel electronics compartment that spans the thick, brushed aluminum supports for the optional T-top ($3770).
The welded T-top features a basic black rectangle of Sunbrella laced inside a sturdy frame that holds four rod holders within easy overhead reach of the cockpit. Below the top-mounted rod holders and just aft of the console is a combination four-slot rocket launcher/leaning post/baitwell.
By wrapping all these functions into a compact unit, Robalo engineers have left plenty of open space in the cockpit for fighting fish, donning dive gear, or relaxing on the folding bench seat located at the transom.
In the compartment beneath the bench seat, which has a back support that folds down for easy access to the outboards, are the boat’s batteries, battery switches, and controls for the bilge pumps, baitwells and aerators. A large switch to control the washdown pump is located on the front of the bench seat base.
That places all of the control switches up high, a feature pointed out and obviously appreciated by our skipper, Brian Knight.
“I like electrical switches to be as far above the bilge as possible, for obvious reasons,” he said. “I’m also very impressed with the use of space aboard this boat,” Knight added. “The freshwater washdown hose is located on the same side (port) of the transom as the folding swim ladder, for example. That sounds simple enough, but you would be surprised how many boats put them on opposite sides. That, and a dozen other little things, tells me that somebody put a lot of thought into its design.”
Walking forward from the stem, removable bolsters cushion the inside rails on both sides of the 2620. At the front of the console is seating for two with thick, snap-in pads atop a portable Igloo cooler. A trio of storage spaces topped by heavy-duty hatches are found up front; There’s one in the floor forward of the cooler seat and a pair is wedged beneath the elevated forward deck.
An anchor locker and deck pipe are features of the bow design, which is surrounded by a welded, one-piece stainless steel grab rail that extends aft to the console.
ON AN EVEN KEEL
Pushed by twin 200hp Mercury Offshore outboards, the Robalo rode like a dream, reaching a top speed of over 50 mph, and pushing aside waves with authority. I would have liked to have plunged the deep-V hull into some bigger swells, but the best we could come up with was waves we could create with our own wake on a calm weekend in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The boat tracks really well,” said Knight, who illustrated his point by lifting his hands off the wheel and leaving them at the ready while the boat surged ahead on a beeline for Boca Grande Pass. The skipper claimed that he has had the boat up to 58 mph running alone and under optimal conditions.
“And it won’t wander on you, even at trolling speed,” Knight added before handing me the wheel for a first-hand test that proved his point.
As expected, back at the marina, idle-speed maneuverability in tight places was excellent. With the ability to work the 2620’s two counter-rotating outboards independently, we could easily spin the boat around and walk it into the slip.
Whether or not you are familiar with the Robalos of old, the new Robalo 2620 is an easy boat to like, especially if you are an active diver, fisherman or cruiser. The quality and performance of this craft will let you pursue your sport in earnest — even at times when you face less-than-favorable sea conditions. And that’s probably when you will most appreciate the 2620.
Base Price: (w/twin 150hp Mercury O/B engines) $48,995
Price as Tested (w/o trailer): $55,965
Length: 27′ 5″
Beam: 8′ 11″
Weight: (boat only): 4800 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 200 gals.
Max. Horsepower: 450 hp
(twin 225hp O/Bs)
Engines as Tested: twin Mercury 200 O/Bs
Horsepower: 200 hp (each)
Engine Speed Fuel Range [*]
(rpm) (mph) (gph) (mpg) (miles)
1500 8.4 6.8 1.2 216
2000 10.5 11.2 0.9 162
2500 15.3 12.8 1.2 216
3000 24.1 15.2 1.6 288
3500 30.7 17.0 1.8 324
4000 34.8 19.6 1.8 324
4500 39.7 22.2 1.8 324
5000 44.1 27.2 1.6 288
5600 (WOT) 50.6 40.6 1.2 216
(*.)Range based on 90% fuel capacity
(**.)Optimum crusing speed
Performance figures provided by Robalo Marine