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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Fountain 48 Express Cruiser

To those who argue, “Two’s company, three’s a crowd,” I say, “What’s wrong with a crowd?” Particularly if the threesome is the trio of 440-hp Yanmars that power the Fountain 48 Express Cruiser. Teamed with three Arneson/Twin Disc surface drives, this muscular ensemble popped our 23,000-pound cruiser onto plane in less than five seconds and pushed her to better than 60 mph. Even more impressive, cruising at upwards of 55 mph, she achieves an extraordinary 1.1 mpg thanks in part to her stepped hull.

It’s the kind of scintillating performance you’d expect from Fountain’s new express cruiser. But what you might not expect is the copious interior, with 6’5” headroom in the saloon, a full galley, a dinette, two staterooms, and two heads with showers. Thanks to a generous 12-foot beam, the 48 Express delivers more than mere muscle, and she does so in style.

Interior joinery is cherry laminate with solid cherry moldings and accents, a durable, low-maintenance finish that should shine for years to come. The saloon of our test boat was fitted with an optional teak sole that added a touch of class, complementing a beautiful Ultraleather settee that seats four or more in comfort around an easily removable dinette table to port.

Truth be told, I think the guest stateroom is tight, barely larger in area than the athwartship double berth it houses. It’s great for youngsters, but adult guests would not be comfortable due to the limited headroom. The master stateroom in the bow more than compensates, though, offering nearly the same generous headroom as the saloon, along with a big centerline berth and a private head. Comfort and civility way beyond what one might expect from a cruiser with this performance.

That same refined demeanor is apparent in the layout of the cockpit and helm deck. Aft of the helm station, a comfortable U-shape settee big enough for five or six adults wraps around another removable dinette table, opposite the wet bar on the port side. Atop the engine hatch is a large sunpad, but when extra seating is needed, its aft portion converts to a benchseat.

Only at the helm does the Fountain 48 hint at the muscle that lurks beneath her deck, with an instrument panel boasting an array of gauges and controls that would make an airline pilot feel at home. More than two-dozen Gaffrig gauges monitor the health of her three Yanmar diesels, while gangs of aircraft-style control levers allow individual command of throttle, gear shift, and outdrive trim for each engine, plus port and starboard trim tabs. In comparison to a typical twin-engine inboard, the helm of the 48 Express is like a sports car with a stick shift compared to a sedan with an automatic transmission. I would soon find out that the comparison applies as much to handling as it does to helm layout.

Earlier in the day, I had witnessed the preliminary stages of Reggie Fountain’s latest assault on the world speed record for deep-V hulls. Now, as he turned his full attention to the 48 Express, it was evident that he is just as committed to getting peak performance out of every boat that bears his name.

As Fountain nosed our test boat into the Pamlico River, he pulled the engines back to idle. “Count with me,” he said, as he jammed all three throttles forward; by the time I ticked off five seconds, the hull had leaped onto plane, with virtually no bow rise. As engine rpm built, I grabbed the radar gun and recorded the first of several 62-mph-plus WOT readings, and Fountain tweaked the trim on the Arneson drives to squeeze out the last ounce of speed.

After I finished recording the last of our performance data, it was my turn to take the helm. Ripping a mile-a-minute trench down the middle of the river, I was impressed by how steadily the boat tracked. Then Fountain leaned over and grinned, “Crank the wheel hard over.” Against my instincts, I spun the wheel into an abrupt port turn, and the 48 just banked and obeyed like a show dog on a leash. Back the other way, hard, and again she followed. Even through tight figure eights at full throttle, she felt stable and controlled.

I was anxious to see how the Arneson drives would handle in slow-speed maneuvers. I’ve often heard it said that surface drives aren’t well-suited for docking in tight spots, but the 48 Express put the lie to that myth. Because the outdrive turns (like an outboard motor), the boat backs straight or turns in any direction, using just the centerline drive. By working the two outboard drives in opposition (like any other twin-screw boat), the 48 will spin in her own length. With a little practice, you can even crab-walk her into a slip. And that’s without using the bow thruster.

Over a late lunch, Fountain enthusiastically shared some fine points of the 48’s hull design. The double-stepped running surface is the result of more than two years of prototype testing, determining the correct angle and stagger in each step to make the hull run with proper trim and balance. And the engines are placed two abreast in the hull, with the third mounted forward, again to achieve the right fore and aft balance (although I found access to the forward engine somewhat challenging).

To help boost the yacht onto plane quickly, tubes on the Arneson drive units ventilate the props at low rpm, letting the diesels spin up faster. Fountain even has a trick for mounting trim tabs, to get more leverage while reducing wetted surface drag: placing them horizontally across the transom instead of at an angle that parallels the bottom. Race-bred refinements like the ones I found on the 48 Express should appeal to all who share a passion for performance. Yet with her comfortable accommodations and civilized demeanor, she’ll be welcome company in any crowd.

Fountain Powerboats
(252) 975-2000

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

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