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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Cruisers 477 Sport Sedan

When someone calls to tell me he wants me to see a new boat that’s really different, it’s hard not to be skeptical. "Different" is a continuum; a change in nomenclature or even color may be all that’s necessary to justify it. "Really new"? To earn that description, someone’s got to come up with a whole new take on an existing concept. Well, Cruisers has. Its 477 Sport Sedan represents a rethinking of the flying-bridge motoryacht. Some may find her too different. But some of you, I promise, will look at her, slap your forehead, and say, "Now why didn’t someone think of that before?"

When Cruisers conceived of a new series of flying-bridge sedans (a 427 will debut at the 2006 Miami International Boat Show and a 527 sometime after that), it talked to a lot of boaters before it drew the first line, asking what was most important in this kind of boat. The company says it came away with three major requirements. One, they wanted a saloon with 360-degree visibility. Two, they wanted a protected flying bridge helm where the windshield really shielded them and which they could enclose without horsing around a lot of canvas. Three, they wanted a soft ride and would give up some speed in exchange for it.

Cruisers addressed those three requirements in the 477. While technically you can’t have true 360-degree visibility, the 477’s saloon comes darn close. Between the three-panel windshield, stylish side windows, and sliding glass aft-bulkhead door, there’s not much on this level you can’t see through. Stand in the U-shape galley, forward and to starboard, and you’re eye level with the side windows. Sit at the elevated eight-person dinette table directly to port, and you really can see all around you. The same is true in the saloon, a six-inch step down and aft. Whether you’re sitting on the two port-side recliners facing the standard 26-inch LCD TV or on the starboard two-person settee (with stowage drawer below), you have a view to the outside on all points.

The flying bridge is protected by a big windshield, although lacking structural mullions, it does flex a bit at times. Because the sculptured hardtop is standard, only drop canvas is needed to fully enclose the area, and optional reverse-cycle air conditioning makes it a fine place to be most any time of year. Standards like a beverage cooler drawer and aft sunpads with tilt-up ends that make them into chaise lounges enhance the area.

The ride? I wish I’d had sloppy seas to find out. But test day brought only table-flat conditions. I can tell you that in pursuit of a soft ride, Cruisers upped aft deadrise from 16 degrees to 18 and added considerable flare and a prominent spray knocker forward. And it doesn’t appear that buyers will give up much in the way of speed, as our boat, equipped with optional 575-hp Volvo Penta D9s, handily topped 31 knots and registered a cruise of 21.3 knots at 2000 rpm. Kudos to VP for these new all-electronic diesels, by the way, as they accelerated our 36,500-pound test boat to her top speed quickly, without smoke or hesitation.

Actually, driving the 477 was a surprise overall. Although she’s tall—19 feet from keel to hardtop—she wasn’t tender. I was disconcerted by her relatively quick steering and penchant for heeling into a turn like a runabout. Maybe it’s me, but it just seems like a boat that looks like this shouldn’t be able to carve a U-turn in two boat lengths at top speed. But she does and does it well, although I would like to see Cruisers slow the steering just a bit.

Even more surprising were her sound levels. Her dB readings were good, but they don’t tell the full story. This is one of the quietest boats I’ve ever tested. From the bridge I really couldn’t tell when the engines were running. Credit an underwater exhaust system with eight-inch mains and two-inch bypasses. Unfortunately, the engineers hadn’t worked out all of the bugs on our prototype, and there was an annoying vibration between 1500 and 1700 rpm due to exhaust gases ventilating the props. Cruisers says it’s got the fix: downsizing the mains to six inches to increase gas flow and versions reduce bubbles.

But what makes the 477 "really new" is a fourth requirement that somehow went unmentioned: room for stuff. She’s powered by V-drives, which put the engines beneath the 5’5"-long cockpit and allowed designers to create a 6’6"-long space beneath the saloon for all that miscellany—including real (as in nonfolding) bicycles—that you never have a place for. (On our boat it also housed the optional Splendide combo washer-dryer.) Cruisers is working on an option that includes twin berths and ports, which would turn this into a kid’s stateroom. But the only accesses to it are down through a deck hatch from the saloon and through a two-foot-wide door in the midcabin’s aft bulkhead. I had a problem envisioning that unless you’ve got really bratty kids.

Besides, the problem with V-drives is that you end up cramming the engines into a small space, right? Not really. The engine space is tight; there’s barely shoulder width between the D9s. But everything is accessible, including the Onan that’s aft. And wonder of wonders, you can actually reach the outboard sides of the engines if you crawl around behind them.

This whole configuration—big stowage space amidships with V-drive engines under the cockpit—contrasts with the typical European cruiser in which the engines live under the saloon and the space under the cockpit is a lazarette (stowage) and maybe crew’s quarters. The 477 may well appeal to Americans who generally eschew a captain on a boat of this size and tend to carry a lot more stuff than their continental counterparts. Still, it’s interesting to note that Cruisers exports some 15 percent of its production.

One other feature worth noting in the engine room is the presence of Racor’s fuel-recovery system. It’s standard, a first for me on production boats. We’ve tested this system, and it works: It really does eliminate diesel spit-backs during fueling. Hats off to Cruisers for making it standard, and I wish other manufacturers would follow suit.

That’s the kind of thinking that’s produced a truly different flying-bridge motoryacht. Too different? Will people buy it? I think cruisers—even just weekenders—will love the 477. She reminds me of the Ford Expedition that proved so popular because it allows people to leave nothing behind. And it doesn’t even offer a place to store bratty kids.

Cruisers Yachts
(920) 834-2211

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