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Cruisers 400 Express

When I was a young boy, I loved going to the circus and seeing the clowns. One of my favorite memories was seeing a dozen of them pile out of a tiny little car that seemed no bigger than a golf cart. How could they pack so many people in such a small space?

Observing the trend over the past decade to squeeze more and more sleeping capacity into boats, one might surmise that a lot of designers and builders have been influenced by similar memories. It’s almost as if there’s a competition to see who can sleep the most people in the smallest boat. Admittedly, for many buyers, maximum sleeping capacity is an important consideration. But for cruising couples, or boating families who don’t do many overnights, additional sleeping accommodations merely detract from the space they would rather have available for entertaining or simply relaxing in comfort. In fact, the latter describes my own preference in a cruising yacht—I love having friends aboard, but I outgrew sleepover parties a long time ago. Over the years, though, I’ve found that the search for a cruiser addressing those preferences can be pretty frustrating.

Enter Cruisers Yachts’ new 400 Express. Designed with an understanding that not all customers have the same needs, the 400 offers just one stateroom, in the bow, with a centerline double berth. With a deep under-berth space, six big cabinets to either side, and port and starboard hanging lockers, there’s plenty of stowage for a cruising couple to take an extended getaway. And if guests should ask, “Where do we sleep?” I would politely suggest a quaint nearby B&B.

In truth, the saloon offers a comfortable convertible sofa that opens into a double berth. But with its luxurious Ultraleather upholstery, you’d never imagine it to be a sleeper-sofa. If you do have an occasional guest aboard, a retractable curtain offers a measure of privacy for the temporary berthing area, while dual-entry doors permit discrete access to the head from either the stateroom or the saloon.

The convertible sofa is actually part of an L-shape settee that offers seating for at least four adults, with a clever folding hi-lo table tucked into the corner of the L. With its leaves folded in, it’s a small, square unobtrusive cocktail table; when the leaves are folded out it becomes a triangular dining table big enough to set a meal without gobbling up a lot of floor space in the saloon.

One of the other nice surprises I found in the 400 Express is the view from the saloon, unusual for an express-cruiser layout. Cruisers has given the 400 three large elliptical ports along each side, at just the right height so that guests can see out, even when seated on the settee. There’s also a serious entertainment center opposite the settee, with an optional 30-inch LCD TV and Sony DVD surround-sound system.

Alongside the entertainment center is a six-foot stretch of open countertop, perfect for setting out trays of hors d’oeuvres or liquid refreshments. Opposite is a well-equipped galley that boasts a built-in Tundra refrigerator/freezer and a stainless steel double sink, big enough to handle full-size dinner plates, serving bowls, or a deep pasta pot. And seemingly everywhere I looked, there were stowage cabinets and bins—under-counter, over-counter, beneath the settee, and in almost every nook and cranny.

Joinery is attractively finished in a bright cherry veneer that contrasts nicely with the handsome teak and holly sole in the galley and the carpeting in the saloon. But between the two areas is a small step; no more than a few inches high, it seems an unnecessary trip hazard. Given the saloon’s ample seven-foot-plus headroom, Cruisers might better have simply raised the saloon sole to the same level as the galley.

I noticed another safety issue during my inspection of the 400 Express’ side deck, aft deck, and cockpit areas. The side decks are only about six inches wide (a tad lean for my size-11 feet), and I found the bowrail height to be just 16 inches above deck; on my 6'2" frame, that’s not even knee-high. Worse yet, with the side curtains in place, there is no useable handhold to grip when you’re stepping from the cockpit onto the aft end of the side deck. In fairness, however, there is an alternate route to venture forward on the 400, via molded-in steps alongside the helm leading to a walk-through windshield that opens onto the foredeck. But lacking any handhold, the trip forward by that route could also be dicey in a sloppy sea.

The helm station itself is well laid out. The dual-helm seat has a flip-up bolster that gives drivers the option of standing comfortably while at the wheel. Alongside the helm is a nifty double companion seat mounted on a swivel base so that your guests can face forward while the boat is underway or turn towards the helm and cockpit area at other times.

One of the other nice surprises I found in the 400 Express is the view from the saloon, unusual for an express-cruiser layout. Cruisers has given the 400 three large elliptical ports along each side, at just the right height so that guests can see out, even when seated on the settee. There’s also a serious entertainment center opposite the settee, with an optional 30-inch LCD TV and Sony DVD surround-sound system.

Alongside the entertainment center is a six-foot stretch of open countertop, perfect for setting out trays of hors d’oeuvres or liquid refreshments. Opposite is a well-equipped galley that boasts a built-in Tundra refrigerator/freezer and a stainless steel double sink, big enough to handle full-size dinner plates, serving bowls, or a deep pasta pot. And seemingly everywhere I looked, there were stowage cabinets and bins—under-counter, over-counter, beneath the settee, and in almost every nook and cranny.

Joinery is attractively finished in a bright cherry veneer that contrasts nicely with the handsome teak and holly sole in the galley and the carpeting in the saloon. But between the two areas is a small step; no more than a few inches high, it seems an unnecessary trip hazard. Given the saloon’s ample seven-foot-plus headroom, Cruisers might better have simply raised the saloon sole to the same level as the galley.

I noticed another safety issue during my inspection of the 400 Express’ side deck, aft deck, and cockpit areas. The side decks are only about six inches wide (a tad lean for my size-11 feet), and I found the bowrail height to be just 16 inches above deck; on my 6'2" frame, that’s not even knee-high. Worse yet, with the side curtains in place, there is no useable handhold to grip when you’re stepping from the cockpit onto the aft end of the side deck. In fairness, however, there is an alternate route to venture forward on the 400, via molded-in steps alongside the helm leading to a walk-through windshield that opens onto the foredeck. But lacking any handhold, the trip forward by that route could also be dicey in a sloppy sea.

The helm station itself is well laid out. The dual-helm seat has a flip-up bolster that gives drivers the option of standing comfortably while at the wheel. Alongside the helm is a nifty double companion seat mounted on a swivel base so that your guests can face forward while the boat is underway or turn towards the helm and cockpit area at other times.

During my performance trials of the 400 Express, I came to realize just how important that flip-up bolster might be. Trim angles of up to seven degrees (without trim tabs) while coming up onto plane hindered forward visibility while seated, but simply standing up for a moment or two alleviated the problem. Once on plane, at about 2200 rpm, the optional twin 370-hp Yanmar diesels took the hull up to its 34 mph top speed in short order, with just over four degrees of trim that offered excellent 360-degree sightlines even while seated.

Handling and course keeping were good, both at slow speed while threading through narrow channels along the South Shore of Long Island, New York, and at high speeds in the two-foot chop outside the inlet. Though her turning radius is a bit wide, she responds nicely to the helm, handling a series of wide-open-throttle turns without a whimper.

With plenty of seating in the cockpit and plenty of muscle “under the hood,” the 400 Express is a great choice for daytripping with a crowd of friends or family. But by offering less in terms of sleeping accommodations, she offers lots more for cruising couples who subscribe to the philosophy that two’s company, three’s a crowd.

Cruisers Yachts
(920) 834-2211

This article originally appeared in the January 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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