Cat Can Do

First Impression: Commander 2800 Cat


Hot Boat

October 2002

By: Bob Brown

The high-performance “cat wars” are definitely warming up. Just a few years ago, 80 mile an hour was a very respectable number when the throttle stick was all the way down. Now that level of respectability has risen dramatically to a three degree integer. But can you get there in a 28-foot cat with only a single engine? That answer is yes, if you happen to have a Commander 2800 Cat working for you.

A couple of years ago, our Hot Boat test staff got turned in by a new 2800 Cat powered by a stock Volvo 500 DPX (470 PSHP/DuoProp) package. Not expecting a whole lot out of this big cat/twin-prop combination, we were greatly surprised by its overall sterling performance and exceptional 80-plus-mph top speed. It was the “sleeper” of the entire test.

But as outstanding as the stock Volvo package was, it was also evident that the performance potential of the 2800 Cat was just beginning to be tapped. And that’s why it was so intriguing to get an opportunity to run a different 2800 Cat with about 300 more horsepower under the engine hatch.

Although most of the really hot single-engine cat setups are sticking to Bravo One drives or one the updated aftermarket products like IMCO’s X-Treme Advantage or the B-Max, Commander took a different tact with this setup. Instead of the MerCruiser Bravo, they reached into Mercury’s Hi-Performance department and secured as Speedmaster V (five) drive which is more commonly found in twin-engine offshore applications. The reason for the V (five) drive is the fact that it has a very streamline lower-unit configuration (good for top speed), and it is also able to accommodate lots of horsepower. What it doesn’t have, however, is the ability to shift –the gearcase of the V (five) drive is always in gear, and it turns either rotation, left or right. Having a recreational boat that’s always in gear is a definite nuisance, but that can be solved by simply installing a transmission between the drive unit and the engine.

And that’s exactly what Commander did with a two-speed (low gear and direct 1:1) automotive-style tranny converted by Carson Brummett in Pasadena, California. Although it’s a bit more expensive on the pocketbook that a Bravo, and it does position the engine a few inches further forward in the boat, you’ve unquestionably get the best performance deal going with a practically bulletproof drive and transmission combo. Also, don’t forget the Mercury V (five) drive has no accommodation for thru-the-prop exhaust, so be prepared to do a separate thru-transom exhaust installation.

The particular customer that Commander built this 2800 Cat for had his eye on top speed (100-plus mph) and good handling. To achieve those objectives, Commander began by mounting the drive with a slightly elevated X-dimension. Then, to assist with initial acceleration, an adjustable tunnel tab was installed to provide extra planning surface and lift at the transom during takeoff. In the engine compartment, Pro Boat delivered a 502-cubic-inch supercharged Chevrolet engine that dynos at approximately 750 horsepower. And on the business end of the proshaft is one of Mercury’s wicked-looking stainless-steel 32-pitch cleaver propellers.

Sitting in the driver’s seat, the dash panel and controls are pretty simple with dual-lever shift and throttle, mechanical indicators for dive and tunnel tab and a nice assortment of easy-to-read instruments with cool-looking gauge bezels. On the far starboard gunnel is a rather inconspicuous-appearing rocker switch that manually controls the gear selection (low or high) of the transmission. You might ask, “What do you need the two-speed tranny for?” Actually, in this application, the low gear is primarily used for idling in and out of no-wake zones and minimizing speed around the dock and trailer during launching. Since there’s a giant 32-pitch cleaver spinning on the propshaft, even a conservative engine idle of 800-900 rpm will push you along at nine or ten mph in high gear, which will put a frown on many marina dwellers. In low gear, at that same rpm, your speed is cut to less than half of that, and you’re constantly worried about loading up the engine or fouling a spark plug while you’re at the pedestrian pace.

In some cases, low gear us a benefit during initial acceleration. By flipping the switch to do an on-the-fly up-shift into high (1:1) gear will produce an impressive holeshot. The Commander 2800 Cat, however, doesn’t need that. Since you’ve got gobs of available brute torque on the bottom end, thanks to the blower motor, hammering the throttle in low gear only blows out the prop, and you go nowhere. Instead, best acceleration is achieved by switching from low into high gear at about 1,000 rpm and letting the motor do the rest, with the tunnel tab down and the drive tucked in, the 2800 Cat got with the program in about five seconds…a very respectable planning time for a 5,000-plus-pound payload.

At a gentle cruise (30-45 mph) speed the Commander 2800 Cat again proved to be one of the most well-mannered air-entrapment hulls we’ve tested. It rides flat, no tendency to porpoise or bow-steer. At about 50 miles an hour, you begin to feel the effect of the tunnel, and the hull begins to lift. It’s definitely a rock-solid, stable ride. At about 4,500 rpm, the 2800 is really starting to act like a cat, as the GPS Speedo indicates 70 mph. Bump the throttle a little more to 5,000 rpm, and the Speedo jumps an impressive ten miles an hour to 80. Roll deeper into the throttle, and you’re soon looking at 6,000-6,100 on the tachometer. Depending on whether you’re going with the wind (102-103 mph) or into a slight head wind (105-106 mph) the Commander 2800 Cat is definitely in its element –fast, smooth and so very predictable.

And does this Cat corner? Yes, it does. Although not built or intended for one pin 180s, it does hold a beautifully smooth arc in mid- and high-speed sweepers with very little hint of high-side lean. In most cases, with the drive unit trimmed slightly out past neutral, the 2800 Cat turns flat with consistent results regardless of water conditions.

Because of the unique choice of equipment (Speedmaster V, two-speed tranny and custom-built 750 supercharged engine), the price tag on this package pushed its way to the $140,000 plateau. But considering all the factors and the admirable performance, still a very food value for a custom piece. If, however, your boating appetite isn’t quite so gourmet, perhaps you’ll be impressed by Commander’s suggested base price for the 2800 Cat starting in the $61,900 range. Sounds like a diet most of us would be happy to go on.



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