In the world of boating the simple mention the word Baja to any group of boaties with a need for speed immediately turns their thoughts toward warm tropical waters, swaying palm trees, bikini clad ladies, cocktails and super fast powerboats. These are the rich guys and gals who get a buzz out of pushing the speed envelope to the max and getting from point A to B fast, very fast, or are they? Do those who like fast, powerful boats have to come from the James Bond set with the skills of a stunt driver to handle one of these powerful machines? The simple answer is no.
These days the average Joe in the street can enjoy the essence of on-water speed in a new family bowrider that is just as at home towing inflatable watersport toys around as it is powering across the water at 70mph. Baja Marine Corporation?s latest Baja 242 Islander is a boat with many capabilities all aimed at fun, albeit high-speed fun if your heart desires. Baja Marine have gone to great lengths to design hulls capable of safe, high speed running in a variety of conditions, while still retaining a practical layout that keeps them well and truly in the family boat class.
But even in this class, it is the Baja’s legendary performance and handling that keeps the need for speed groupies coming back for more. But here’s a word of warning. If you are worried about getting your hair messed up forget about going for a spin in a Baja. Having the wind in your hair is half the fun of the Baja experience. So what’s the Baja secret? Put enough power behind any craft and it will fly literally if the hull’s not designed for it ? but as the Baja designers say, straight-line speed is easy. It’s in the turns that a Baja shows its excellent blend of speed and control.
The Modern Boating team took one look at the underside of the Baja 242 Islander, as it sat on its tandem trailer and our suspicions were confirmed as to why this boat was such a high-speed performer. Out on the water this boat cuts through chop and slop like a hot knife through butter. Can your boat chew through almost a 1m chop at 50mph without crashing and banging? The Baja 242 can. Hull weight and extremely sharp bow entry and razor-like keel, extending back to the 24-degree deadrise at the transom, coupled with her well-defined strakes certainly take care of slicing through the water and straight tracking.
It feels a bit like you’re driving a go kart when travelling at speed, because the hull corrects any force wind, tide, swell etc. that tries to push it off its straight-line path. This makes the steering feel slightly twitchy when you first get behind the wheel, until you get used to the hull and stop trying to make small corrections of the wheel every time the keel bites the water. For a boat with a length of 7.86m, a 2.59m beam may seem a bit narrow. Some may question its lateral stability at rest and when underway, but their fears are unfounded. There?s a massive flat chine on each side of the hull and the downward pressure required need to be immense.
Yes, the hull does move every so slightly from chine to chine at speed in choppy conditions, only because of the hull’s extreme deadrise. But this is more of a confidence building plus than a negative, because as the prevailing conditions push the hull down on one side and the chines bounce it back. Ah, turns! Those readers who love the rocket sled on rails feel of a ski boat at full lock in calm water are going to love the Baja 242. She’s one of the few 7m-plus boats the team knows of that can almost turn in its own length at more than 45 knots without making the passengers feel like they need a seat belt to keep them inboard. Sure it’s nice to know when the drivers going to throw the boat into a tight turn, because the G-forces definitely come into play, but the hulls shoulder-high gunwales keep everybody securely inside.
Plus, unlike some ski boats, the hull doesn’t turn flat, it lies over securely as the massive keel digs in and theres more of a feel of being pushed down into the hull rather than out of it. You may have to start the wife and kids off with slightly slower turns than that, so they can get a feel for it, but within no time at all we guarantee they will be howling with enjoyment as you safely take them on a high speed roller coaster ride. The test Baja 242 Islander was powered by the optional 496 Magnum HO 425hp MerCruiser driving through a Bravo I sterndrive. Standard fitment is a MX 6.2lt 320hp MerCruiser. This massive engine has that throaty V8 roar that we rev heads love. And offshore this throaty roar?s a blast and offends no one, but in some circumstances, such as on enclosed waterways and rivers, it may annoy some local residents.
To overcome this problem Baja have fitted a Corsa Quick & Quiet exhaust system to dampen engine noise. If you want the throaty roar turn the quiet exhaust off and exhaust is expelled above water. To quieten things down turn the system on and exhaust is released below the waterline to muffle the sound. Although this boat is fitted with trim tabs, these need only be used for lateral trim when carrying uneven loads, or when the wind hits the bow from either quarter, which can cause the hull to lean slightly as it would on any vessel of this size. Trimming the sterndrive leg quickly adjust the bow angle. But as we stated earlier, this boat isn’t only about speed and about getting to point A and B in the quickest possible time.
She’s a family boat and you?ll find that cruising around at 33 knots pulling 3000rpm is a comfortable and enjoyable way of getting about. Whether you?re into skiing, wakeboarding, island hopping, or simply out on the harbour for a high-speed spin just to get the adrenaline pumping, the 242 maybe what you’ve been looking for. Unlike some of the smaller, smooth water bowrider that are now on the market, this hull has an offshore racing heritage and she can handle the rough stuff. This makes her a top offshore runabout, ideally suited to limited coastal runs, or taking up to seven passengers and crew on high-speed cruises around places such as Sydney Harbour, Port Phillip Bay, or in the Gold Coast Broadwater.
If island hopping around the Whitsundays or the likes is your bag the Baja 242 Islander has few rivals. But to carry the label of family boat a vessel needs a few home comforts for when the girls and children are on board, especially a good marine toilet. To accommodate this the 242 has a roomy locker/cabin forward of the helm station. Calling it a locker is a bit harsh, but calling it a fully blown cabin is an overstatement. So let?s just call it an enclosed toilet/storage compartment with a lockable door ? the toilet is an optional extra. Continuing with this family vein, the bowrider cockpit seats two people up against the helm cabin wall and another in the bow apex.
The entire area is heavily padded, has a non-slip fibreglass floor and features a removable card table that is stowed in the toilet compartment when not in use. There is under bunk storage in the bowrider cockpit, properly positioned grab handles and a long locker in the port gunwale. The only negative we found with this craft, was the lack of a partition to separate the bowrider cockpit from the main cockpit. At 70mph the person sitting in the navigator?s seat cops the full blast of the wind, coming the down the bowrider walkway, fair up their kilt. But fitting the bowrider cockpit cover would also stop this.
Both the driver and navigator have heavily padded buckets seats that are forward and aft adjustable. The helm station features full instrumentation, a compass, digital depth, 12V outlet, a CD stereo with six speakers and one 12 sub woofer in the front wall of the engine bay and enough grab handles and drink holders for everybody onboard. The main cockpit has clip-in carpets and a dual seat across the front wall of the engine bay. The engine bay lid uses an electrically operated hydraulic ramp to open and close and has a heavily padded top, which acts as a sun pad.
There are two narrow walkways down each side of the engine box that extend through the transom wall and make getting out to the swim platform easier than having to climb up and over the transom wall. Go for a snorkel, or maybe just a swim, either way when you come back onboard with the help of the folding swim ladder there’s a hot/cold transom shower to wash off the salt and sand. Baja have continued to push the envelope of design and performance and have made the most of the latest innovations in materials and technology to create the 242 Islander. But not only does her performance and handling stir that need for speed, but her specially design Baja Boss decals make this hull easily recognisable anywhere in the world.
Yes, she is a high performance vessel capable of speed up to 70mph, but don’t be fooled into thinking she’s simply a rev heads boat she’s also a stylish allround family day boat.
As tested with the MerCruiser 496 Magnum 425hp engine, Boss II graphics package, Corsa exhaust system, carpets and transom shower