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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Meridian 368

Although this is a test of Meridian’s new 368 Motoryacht, it’s impossible to talk about the boat without talking about the company that builds her. In fact, you could say this article is as much a report on the builder as it is on the boat.

Meridian was born in an unconventional manner when Brunswick, its parent company, decided to relaunch Bayliner’s motoryacht line (basically everything over 34 feet) under a new name that didn’t carry a low-price image. In August 2002 it introduced a line of Meridian flying bridge motoryachts that were indeed, with the exception of the 411 Sedan, rebadged Bayliners. Whether that was a good thing or bad depends on your opinion of Bayliner motoryachts. I thought they were a lot of boat for the money, and so did quite a few other people, especially on the West Coast.

In any case, Meridian quickly followed the 411 Sedan with two more boats, the 408 aft cabin and the 459, which was basically a 408 with a cockpit. Power & Motoryacht tested both and found them to be fine, modern cruisers. But something was missing—namely a company identity. Everyone was asking, “Who is Meridian? What does it stand for? And why should I buy one?”

Not quite two years from its birth, company representatives introduced Meridian’s fourth new boat and finally answered those questions. At a presentation in May, it unveiled a prototype of the 368 Motoryacht—a scaled-down 408—and, equally important, a mission statement for Meridian. They call it “The Meridian Difference,” and as you’d expect from any boatbuilder, it includes some hype. But there’s substance, too, in a package of features—all present in the 368—designed to make Meridians superior cruisers. Among them are a stringer system that extends all the way to the bow strakes, where the greatest loading occurs in a seaway; underwater exhaust ports that are molded in, not cut out, reducing the chance of leaks; radar arches of fiberglass, not painted aluminum; and oversized prop shafts—two-inch-diameter on the 368—with dripless PYI seals.

Also impressive are superstructures molded as a single piece, reducing the chance of squeaks and leaks, and load-bearing bulkheads glassed to the hull and deck for better rigidity. My favorite feature is The Smart Battery System, which automatically lets you draw house power from cranking batteries when you need it, but never lets them fall below the capacity necessary to start the engines. I suspect a lot of buyers will be more attracted to Meridian’s standard ten-year hull-and-deck warranty and Docking On Command system that integrates bow and stern thrusters in a single, logical control.

All those features are important here because, frankly, Meridian didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel on the 368. Which is not to criticize, for the aft master/forward VIP/elevated saloon design is proven, and with good reason—it makes maximum use of space. And the 368’s designers have added some thoughtful features to make their boat different. For example, boarding is safe and easy from the 11/2-foot-deep swim platform. Five molded-in steps protected by sturdy rails take you to the unfurnished cockpit above the aft cabin. A hardtop and wing doors that lead to generous side decks are standard; a complete enclosure is optional. High, sturdy bow and stern rails provide lots of security, except at a large gap between the two on either side where there’s no gate.

Three more steps up from the cockpit and you’re on the bridge, with two guest-seating modules, a three-person bench aft and a starboard settee, half of which faces aft and half of which faces forward. (A forward-facing navigator’s seat is another part of “The Meridian Difference.”) The helm is effectively laid out with adequate room for electronics, none of which are standard. (Two packages are available.) The single pedestal helm seat has a flip-up bolster that improves the view but isn’t terribly comfortable for extended periods. Nor did I care for the split controls, compared to single-lever units, a feature hardly exclusive to this boat. Sightlines forward and to the side are good, but the view aft is restricted, typical of aft-cabin boats.

The saloon, down five centerline steps from the cockpit, is also conventional, and is dominated by a small hi-lo table and, on our boat, an optional Flexsteel convertible sofa. (Double Flexsteel recliners are standard.) An entertainment center occupies the aft port corner, while an aft cabinet is devoted to electrical service. Our boat had an optional lower helm with duplicate instruments, but with restricted sightlines forward, too; I could see no closer than about 20 feet off the bow. The dual controls here are mounted vertically, making them difficult to modulate.

Another trademark Meridian feature is proprietary air conditioning ductwork that’s integrated into the overhead and reportedly draft-free. Not only did it work as advertised, but the system was also quiet, even with the fan on high. If you prefer natural ventilation, there’s an opening window on either side.

The L-shape, port-side galley is forward and one step down, with plenty of stowage—including an illuminated Lazy Susan, an undercounter refrigerator-freezer, and Karadon countertops—and lots of light. Immediately to starboard, the head has two doors, so it can serve the forward stateroom or function as a day head. It has a roomy stall shower and standard VacuFlush MSD.

Two layouts are available for the forward stateroom, which is another step down. My boat had the optional V-berth, table/filler, and port-side pilot berth, a design aimed at couples with children. A traditional island berth layout is standard, and both versions benefit from a full cedar-lined hanging locker to port, a half locker to starboard, and ventilation from a hatch and opening ports on both sides.

At the opposite end, an angled island berth dominates the compact aft cabin. A larger head with shower takes up the forward port corner, and stowage comes courtesy of a forward starboard full-length locker and shallow triangular half locker in the forward port corner. A large aft hatch provides for air or emergency egress, and there’s an opening port on each side for more ventilation.

This being an aft cabin, I didn’t expect much from her performance—my mistake. In short, steep chop, a brisk breeze, and with eight on the bridge, the 368 was surprisingly stable and, believe it or not, responsive to helm input, although I did find her steering heavy. I unsuccessfully tried every course to make her pound and appreciated the way she responded to trim tabs. By deflecting them, I could cruise on plane as slow as 2000 rpm.

Boaters looking for an aft-cabin motoryacht in this size range have a lot of choices today, and with most having basically the same layout, they’re looking for nuances like performance that make one model stand out from another. Certainly one of those will be the image of the builder, and now that Meridian has a clear one, it should find the job of selling boats like the 368 a lot easier.

Meridian Yachts
(866) 992-2487

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