Like most longtime boaters, Larry Dario started young, around 6 years old. The 52- year-old dentist from Warren, R.I., remembers sailing a Tech dinghy at a summer camp on Boston’s Charles River, and other sailboats followed: the 110, Solings, International One Design — all classic designs.
So when it came time later in life to get into powerboating Dario started out with character boat, too, buying and restoring a Bertram 25 Moppie to serve his passion for fishing. Eventually, he sold the twin sterndrive express to a Swedish yachtsman who put it on a container ship and rode away.
Now Dario has himself another “keeper,” a 1986 Blackfin 29 Combi, and the cuddy cabin sportfishing cruiser is another classic, this one with deep New England roots. That pedigree helped Dario decide to buy the boat, sight unseen, in 1996 from a Naples, Fla., owner. The price was around $39,000.
“I [did it that way] partly because of the low price,” he says. “I had a budget I was trying to stay within.” Dario had the boat surveyed, and the report came back: “It’s like out of the box.”
But price wasn’t the only factor; Blackfin boats had a reputation for seaworthiness and fishability. “It was a Blackfin, so I knew it would be good offshore,” says Dario. “I also wanted a single-level boat, rather than a flybridge, since I was doing a lot of fishing by myself.”
The boat’s solid fiberglass hull presented “no coring issues,” says Dario. “That can be a concern in boats of that era [the 1980s].”
Dario’s 29 Combi was a cruising model — in other words, no fishing gear, not even a rod holder. But that made it easier to turn into a fishing boat. “I started with a hull and a windshield,” says Dario. “That was an advantage.”
He replaced the original 300-hp gas engines with twin 315-hp diesels, which deliver 30-mph performance, burning around 20 gallons an hour; she burns around 12 gallons an hour at 29 mph. “Put 600 hp in a boat that weighs 10,000 to 12,000 pounds, and it’s going to fly,” says Dario. “They’re about the same weight as the old gas engines, but you get a world of torque.”
The boat’s custom 290-gallon fuel supply means a range of around 400 miles. “You can cover a lot of distance in this boat,” Dario says.
He added a custom instrument console (rather than an overhead box) with radar, GPS/chart plotter, color fishfinder and other electronics mounted flush, in line-of-sight with the wheel. “It’s real easy to see and use in rough water,” he says. “I like it better [than an overhead box].”
The steering station is well laid out too, says Dario, important when you’re running the boat for hours at a time. “Riding at a normal trim you’re looking through the windshield, not through the frame,” he says. “The whole helm design — the angle of the wheel, the placement of the instruments — they’re all where they should be.”
The boat sports plenty of rod holders now, along with an aluminum half-tower, outriggers, raw and freshwater washdowns, a bow rail and pulpit, even an EPIRB and a life raft. “Stuff happens offshore,” Dario says. And that’s where the 29 Combi truly shines. A low center of gravity moderates the snap roll, making for a stable fishing platform. The engines are far apart, set low in the deep-vee hull, and the high-aspect rudders are externally hung.
“That makes the boat very maneuverable; it’s like a Porsche,” says Dario. “When someone’s fighting a fish, you can move the boat any way you want.”
In the end, the 29 Combi is all about the ride. Pursuing his passion, Dario regularly tests the boat on the “character building” waters between Narragansett Bay and Point Judith, considered by some to be among the region’s most challenging. And he’s usually the smallest boat on the canyons, meeting up with 45- and 50-footers. But it’s all in a day’s work for the Combi, says Dario, paying his vessel the ultimate compliment: “It’s a trustworthy boat.”
The Blackfin 29 Combi (and later 29-2 Combi) rides a true deep-vee hull with 22 degrees of transom deadrise, matched by a sharp entry conducive to offshore performance. Combined with a wide beam that exceeds the usual 1-to-3 beam-to-length ratio, the overall shape delivers what one observer calls an “incredible rough-water” ride.
The original’s open express profile shows a moderate, even sheer over a low hull with plenty of bow flare and a slightly curved transom. The helm is to starboard on the raised bridge deck, behind a large, three-panel wraparound windscreen, with a small panel for electronics. The 29-2 Combi, introduced in 1995, came with a redesigned instrument console and a curved windshield.
In both, the cuddy is laid out with the basic necessities: enclosed head compartment, compact galley area with a small stove and refrigerator and a convertible dinette/twin berth forward. Power in the original 29 Combi was standard twin gas engines around 320 hp for a cruising speed of around 25 mph. Diesel power plants (320 hp) deliver a cruising speed closer to 30 mph and a top end of 35 mph. The original Combi’s cockpit engine boxes were converted to an aft-facing lounge seat on the 29-2.
The Blackfin 29 Combi (and 29-2) is readily available on the used boat market, thanks to its reputation for fishability and durability. Prices generally are in the five figure range, with some newer or better-equipped boats fetching around $100,000. Here are a few examples: A “clean, one-owner” 1995 model was available in Massachusetts for around $85,000, with twin gas engines, GPS/chart plotter, fishfinder, autopilot, radar, tower and upper controls. A 1986 Connecticut boat “in excellent condition” was listed for around $75,000, with a pair of new Volvo diesels, all electronics, and such fishing extras as outriggers. Another Massachusetts boat, vintage 1996, was listed for just under $100,000, with twin 318-hp diesels, custom tower with controls, and outriggers. In New Jersey a 1987 Combi was priced at just under $105,000, with twin 300-hp diesels, fighting chair, outriggers, washdowns, rocket launchers and spotlights.
Steve Knauth is a contributing writer for Soundings Magazine. This article originally appeared in the January 2007 issue.