Cobalt 18BR Story

Cobalt Boat Owners:

After having read several articles / stories posted on your website that I found interesting, I began to think that maybe some of the other Cobalt owners might also enjoy reading about my story related to Cobalts that started over 40 years ago. First I will tell you about the beautiful boat I have and then later tell you how it started many years ago before I bought this one the FIRST time, than later the SECOND time, and finally the THIRD time.

The boat is a 1975 Cobalt 18BR (Tri-hull) originally equipped with an OMC 290 hp Jetdrive, which was the maximum power available, and not many were sold rigged with this power. The hull number is FGE800470874, and the trailer is the original Road Runner double axle supplied by Cobalt at the time of delivery, serial #RR4840. The original owner was one of the principals of the Coca Cola distribution company in Orange County, California, and after a couple years and his death it passed to his best friend who continued the joint family tradition of boating on the inland reservoirs of Southern California until August, 1993 when I bought it the FIRST time. I spent the next 10 months restoring the boat to basically the condition as you see in the photos, which has held up remarkably well for 20 years. I used it in the Southern California reservoirs while living in Newport Beach, and by September, 1998 was gently forced by my wife to sell it after buying two other boats during the previous 3 years. I really was not interested in selling, but sometimes it is necessary, so I told the new owner to call me in the future when that time comes that he is thinking about selling it. Then nine years later after I had moved to Costa Rica he finally found me, and I agreed to buy it back the SECOND time. Therefore in the summer of 2007 I drove from Wisconsin to Blythe, California to pick up the boat, which having been used in the clean Colorado River was still in excellent condition. On the drive back to Wisconsin I stopped at the Cobalt factory in Neodesha, Kansas to show the boat to anybody that might be interested. (See photo below of Mike Pierce and I next to the boat in the factory parking lot) There was plenty of interest, and after answering questions and a factory tour was on my way to Valders, Wisconsin to bring it to our summer property there on Pigeon Lake.

However I still had the other two boats, and both of them were now in Wisconsin also, so the competition for attention continued and the tough decisions had to be made again. The other two boats were an 18 foot RaysonCraft with a 155 hp Mercury inline 6 on the transom, and a Tempest Europa offshore powerboat with two 300 hp Johnson V8s on an Armstrong transom bracket, and sitting on a Target triaxle aluminum trailer. Both boats were top quality in their class, and I had restored both in California prior to hauling them to Wisconsin. We then decided to first sell the RaysonCraft with one of the cottages we owned there. After a couple of years we decided to reduce our fleet again and keep the Tempest since it could carry more people in the waters off Door County, Wisconsin, and sell the Cobalt to a nephew from Texas that liked it. However later my wife discovered that she did not enjoy the offshore water conditions of Lake Michigan at Door County as much as I did. At this point we realized our mistake in selling the Cobalt to our nephew, but fortunately we found out that he was too busy working and never used it, and would be delighted to sell it back to us. Therefore we sold the Tempest to someone in San Francisco and agreed to deliver it there, and on the return trip went through Texas to retrieve the Cobalt the THIRD time. On the way back to Wisconsin we stopped again at the Cobalt factory, but the factory was on a summer shutdown for retooling. However we did get the tour of the museum inside the factory and had the opportunity to meet some more staff members that were there that was very interested in seeing the boat in the parking lot and hearing this crazy story about it’s life.

Now the boat is settled in Wisconsin and used during the summer months when we are there. This boat is a good example of the “yacht quality” that Pack St Clair decided was the niche to fill in the market back in the early 70’s when he started the company. Plenty of stainless steel, teak, top quality instruments, high quality upholstery, tempered glass, etc. There is a deep insulated cooler located between the two front seats which holds all the drinks and snacks you can think of to have for a day trip on the water. Water ski storage is easy between the seats and the side walls of the cockpit. There is storage available under all the seats in the bow, cockpit, and the rear seats. The seating is great, and with with the bimini top up we would drift or anchor in some prime spot and relax, have lunch, and swim around the boat. The boat is very stable, and provides an excellent platform for diving off the bow area and being able to climb in on the teak steps at the stern with the stainless steel handrails to hold on to, all of this built in rather than some after market gadget to carry along.

My interest in these tri-hulls with jet drives started in 1974 when I met someone in Lake City, Minnesota that had one, and after spending that summer there water skiing on Lake Pepin I was smitten to buy one. The owner of the boat was Dennis Francis from Lake City, and the year before he had water skied 1842 miles down the Mississippi River from St Paul behind his 1973 Cobalt 18TH with a 245 hp Jetdrive. The trip took 14 days, and this feat really got my attention. Besides his accomplishments, Lake City, Minnesota is considered the “birthplace of water skiing” since Ralph Samuelson skied behind a float plane on Lake Pepin in 1923. Anyway to me this was heaven at the time since I also had water skied long distances and skied in shows, and many in the town wanted to learn from me. I had crossed Lake Michigan three times at that point, the first time on two skis in 1962 and the last trip on slalom was a non-stop round trip in 1967, and is still the record. The 1967 trip was 120 miles from Two Rivers, Wisconsin to Ludington, Michigan and back to Two Rivers behind a 16 foot Glastron with 110 hp Mercury OB in 4 hours 15 minutes on a Joe Cash Custom Slalom. The wave height got to 4 feet in the middle on that trip. Therefore Dennis and I had much in common and we enjoyed that summer teaching others the tricks of barefoot skiing and kite flying, which at that time was not common. That summer started the passion for Cobalts that has continued until today.

However my career was primarily overseas building US Embassies and large electric power projects, so it was usually nearly impossible to a take a boat on these assignments. But I kept dreaming and looking for a 18TH with a Jetdrive, but with little success since few units were sold, and those the owners kept for decades rather than sell. At the time a new model was a bit too expensive for me, so I was focused on trying to find a used one, and even with the help of others, including some at the factory, I could not find one available with a jetdrive Therefore during the period of 1975 to 1993 instead of a Cobalt I bought an 18 ft Donzi and later a 28 ft Maltese Magnum, which were both excellent boats, but still much different than the sought after Cobalt 18TH. However eventually as noted above I found the boat I was looking for buried in a Boat Trader magazine in California and labeled as an “OMC”, not a Cobalt. But I knew exactly what was there and wasted no time before checking it out and buying it.

My target year was 1976 due primarily to the classy paint design on the hull, the larger curved overall design of the windshield, and the rich and heavy teak design of the instrument panel frame. I was never able to find one, but after many years of actually mentally comparing the years 1975 with 1976 I have found that actually now I prefer the 1975, but only marginally. The 1976 has the teak railings around the stern edge and along the top of the hull sides, which sometimes can be inconvenient to step over while boarding, and more subject to damage vs. the classy and rare stainless steel railings around the stern only on the 1975. These railings also help secure the bimini top also when folded down. Another marginal advantage to the 1975 is the driver’s accessibility to grabbing the pier upon docking the boat due to the shorter length of the side windows vs. the 1976 model where the windows extend further aft.

So during the restoration period I took the opportunity to do some additional work, such as filling the cavity between the sole and the bottom of the hull with flotation foam to supplement the existing foam factory installed on the interior sides of the hull. This boat will not sink, but I never tested it to find out. The boat was stripped bare and completely rewired with new instruments, and installed new carpeting, and reupholstered everything in the best burgundy material I could find, which clearly paid off to do, since it has held up so well. This creates a very rich layout that you cannot find in any boat on the market today, which are basically very clinically white or gray in their treatment of materials. I reinforced the lower transom teak step with teak gussets and new stainless steel through bolts. The instrument panel frame was subject to changing shape, so I fixed that by filling the back interior of it with expansive foam material, which worked well. The fuel tank was taken out as well as the engine to access the bottom and clean and repaint with a white bilge paint. I discarded the original vinyl top as essentially unusable, and replace it with a burgundy Sunbrella bimini top which provides more height, is cooler, and matches well. I designed and installed a feature under the rear seats that are located on both sides of the engine compartment to prevent their destruction over time due to stresses from heavy passengers and/or climbing into the boat from the transom and putting high loads on them. You can see in one of the photos the feature, which was basically a way to cleat the seat bottom into a fixed device bolted to the fiberglass framework surrounding the front of the engine compartment. I made this device out of teak and aluminum, and the piece secured to the seat bottom was teak, and when the seat is lower into this device the seat is secure and does not move under any conditions. Someone joked and asked if I had patented this, which of course I did not. However some of the Cobalt employees thought it was a good design, and it might be something that some of you could use to solve a problem that all of these boats with this type of rear seat have. Every boat of this type that I have seen has damaged seats caused by this problem.

Also, I sent the OMC jet drive to American Turbine in Idaho to have them recondition it and convert it from the axial flow Jacuzzi design to a mixed flow design, which is stated to improve performance about 15%. Additionaly I replaced the original “log type” exhaust manifolds on the engine with “high rise” center type exhaust manifolds, and also increased the existing 3 inch transom exhaust to 4 inches, which helped some more on performance. It would probably test out at about 350 hp as now rigged. I also changed the standard jet intake grill to a grill that has upward deflectors fabricated into the device to force feed the jet, and supposedly slightly improve performance and reduce possibilities of cavitation during extreme acceleration. It seems to have had a positive impact on both of these, so in my opinion the cost / benefit was positive. The acceleration is superb, and I would barefoot ski behind the boat in California all the time. I could start off slalom in deep water even with 8 persons on board. The boat can go 45 mph, and rides great even in choppy water due to the deep 24 degree transom deadrise of the hull, which is very unusual for a tri-hull boat, to my knowledge the only one.

The Road Runner tandem axle trailer was ok, but I decided to clean it up and maybe got carried away with that project as you see in the photo, but I like the result. First I removed rust and treated the frame with a rust preventive that is a mess and hazardous to apply, but good for long lasting protection. After rewiring the lights, mounting new polyurethane rollers, purging the brake lines with new fluid, and installing new brake pads, I installed fresh water flush lines to the brakes to allow flushing after use if used in salt water, which only happened once. Also notice the custom designed aluminum structural member supporting the fender and anchored into the frame, which mitigated any spring to the fenders and made it possible to actually step on them during entry to the boat. I covered the top of the fenders with non-skid tape to prevent injuries when stepping on them when wet. All the lights were changed to LEDs and an additional set of taillights were mounted on custom aluminum supports to provide better visibility to the rear. Also added heavy duty custom loading guides poles to the rear corners of the trailer that are removable if desired during trailering. However the trailer needed something classy that would match better the quality of the boat it was carrying, so with much effort I machined special adaptors that made it possible to mount the 1970s Mercedes Benz alloy wheels, which I think added much to the appearance of the entire rig. The spare wheel and tire match the MB adaptors too.

This is what happens when there is a passion for doing something, and owning something that you have put much effort into because of its high quality value. I hope I did not drag this story on for too long for you, but my sense was that the individuals that follow the MyCobalt website are in many ways just like me. At this point the boat is not used too much since we spend more time traveling in our motorhome, but since we have space to store it we presently intend to keep it until that time comes for a change. However I prefer that someone that can really appreciate a boat like this will have the opportunity to be the next owner, such as the individuals that subscribe to MyCobalt. Some say I should not care about the next owner, but that is my character, and it is what it is. If anybody has any comments or questions about any of this please advise and I will do my best to respond when possible.

Jerry Halderson
Permanent Address: Escazu, Costa Rica
Summer Address: Valders, Wisconsin