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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Cruisers 300 Express

I love drivin’ boats. Always have. Particularly when they’re even a little bit like the new 300 Express from Cruisers Yachts. Not that the 300’s a guts-and-glory go-fast, with engines high-strung and rebuild-prone. Nope—she’s a bonafide express cruiser, with all the standards that make weekending on the water (or even vacationing now and again) as kickback comfortable as it is fun. More to the point, if you think there’s no way to fit two, elbowroomy staterooms into a mid-range watercraft, one at the bow and the other abaft an expansive saloon/dinette/head area, get ready for a shock: The 300 pulls it off.

But back to drivin’ boats for a bit. I’d arranged to pick up my 300 in St. Petersburg, Florida, so Tampa Bay was my sea-trial venue for the day. Weather conditions were typical South Florida summertime fare: A temperature of 92 in the shade was roasting coastal St. Pete, and a southerly breeze was generating little more than a one- to two-foot chop. It was so hot even the dolphins cavorting beyond the sea buoy were sweating.

Fun was the watchword at the helm, though. The 300 was fast—I recorded an average top speed of 48.1 mph with my radar gun. Not exactly blistering from the go-fast standpoint, but rip-snortin’ for an express-type cruiser loaded down with appliances and amenities. And the way she handled was flat-out exhilarating—there’s nothing that more readily evokes solid cornering and swoopy straightaway performance than a power-assisted steering system synched into a well-balanced, modified-V hull form (with a transom deadrise of 18.5 degrees) designed by an experienced guy like Mike Myers, Cruisers’ naval architect.

I contacted Myers a few days after the test, to enthuse about the 300’s open-water performance. He said two major design elements were at play. First up was a keel pad (with an average deadrise of 7 degrees), which stretches from transom to forefoot—it produces well-balanced lift, thereby boosting speed and tightening turns. Second was the set of “trip,” or secondary, chines that back up the primary chines of the 300’s running surface. Not only do they increase transverse stability both at rest and underway, they also add five inches of beam (each secondary chine is two and a half inches wide), a detail that translates into a roomier interior layout.

“Feels like drivin’ a raceboat,” I told the two Cruisers reps onboard as I carved a figure-eight and headed south toward the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. My seat was cushy, with a fold-up bolster that made for a high, cool vantage point. Sit-down visibility was excellent as well, whether astern, to the sides, or through the Taylor Made windshield. Lenco electric trim tabs were quick, although seemingly unnecessary, except for windage adjustments. And the switches on the dash looked so intriguingly state-of-the-art that I had to ultimately stop the boat and ask what the heck made ‘em tick.

“Fly-by-wire technology,” replied one of the guys, nodding toward the two dashboard panels I’d been sneaking peeks at, each one a nifty, sealed, rubberized display of push-buttons. He explained that the panels were interconnected via a single, twisted-pair wire, then connected via another much longer wire to two multiplex breaker boxes in the engine room. The boxes were linked to pumps and other components with short, wholly conventional wires. So when you push the bilge-pump button, for example, a digital signal travels back to the boxes, which then energize the pump through the conventional wiring.

The virtues were obvious. To begin with, the push-button panels on the dash are waterproof. Then behind-the-dash wiring is comparatively simple—gone is the multicolored “spaghetti” of yesteryear, replaced by those few single simple wires. And finally there’s the weight savings. Hundreds of feet of conventional wire runs traveling between each individual dashboard switch and its engine-room component have been nixed, replaced with a few simple wires.

When finished with the switches, I headed back to the marina. Docking the 300 after our sea trial was a breeze, despite the fact that the detents on the single-lever, cable-type engine controls were poorly adjusted, making it difficult to tell whether I was in reverse, forward, or neutral. Still, I enjoyed spinning the boat around a few times—and S-curving her backwards down the fairway—prior to returning her to the slip. You can’t beat the directionality of the DuoProp stern drive, especially when going astern.

As soon as we were tied up I discovered the 300’s cockpit is eminently sociable. Although we all sat in different places to discuss the 300’s topside layout—one of us on the crescent-shape lounge to port, another on the benchseat aft, and me at the helm—normal conversation was no problem. And nifty details were numerous. The stainless steel handrail for the molded steps to the windshield-walkthrough was rock-solid. The 25-quart cooler under the port-side wet bar seemed like an excellent idea—for portability, a cooler beats a small refrigerator any day of the week. And, the rigidity of the cockpit sole testified to solid, all-glass construction, with highlights like a urethane-cored stringer grid and a bolted hull-to-deck joint that’s also chemically bonded with methacrylate adhesive.

As mentioned earlier, elbowroom is the major-league feature of the 300’s interior. I suggest you check the boat out at your nearest dealer or at an upcoming boat show, since there’s no way to fully convey in words or pictures the super size of the saloon/galley/head area, especially when you consider the midcabin offers a hanging locker, bureau-type stowage, and sit-down headroom; and the sleeping area forward offers virtually the same features. The fact that Cruisers was able to add comfortable double berths to both spaces lends extra clout to my contention: for a mid-ranger, the 300’s layout is immense.

Once our 320-hp Volvo Penta 5.7Gxi’s had cooled down, I lifted a pneumatically actuated hatch in the aft cockpit sole, which lifts on electric actuators and gave our engine room a gander. I was again impressed. Everything was labeled with crisp, clear tags, from the cast-bronze Buck Algonquin seawater strainers to the plex-shielded fuses for the dash, D.C. panel, and Maxwell windlass. The electrics were a joy to behold, with heavy-duty battery leads going to intermediate busbars, connections brush-coated with corrosion-resistant Corrosion-X liquid, and circuit-board-like wire runs. The one thing that mystified me was the optional Kohler genset—there was no soundbox, although the unit’s location, amidships forward of the engines, offered enough space for one. Cruisers engineers have since told me that Kohler does not offer a soundbox for its 5-kW gasoline-fired models.

Twinges of regret niggled me as I wound things up. Given the exigencies of airline travel these days and the fact that I had a Coast Guard Auxiliary patrol scheduled for the morrow, there was absolutely no time to even briefly revisit Tampa Bay with the fast, sweet-handling Cruisers 300 Express.

“Too bad,” opined one of the Cruisers reps with a conspiratorial grin.

My trip to the airport at the helm of a wimpy, tin-can rental car only served to confirm the guy’s sad sentiments.

Cruisers Yachts
(920) 834-2211

This article originally appeared in the November 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.