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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Meridian 408

Maximizing room and comfort aboard is a daunting task for designers and builders. Big boats obviously have big space to work with, but when you get down around 40 feet, just a few feet—and in some cases even inches—can make a world of difference. So just how much space can you build into a 40-foot aft-cabin cruiser? In the case of Meridian's 408, the answer is plenty.

The 408 is the first really new model from newly created (last summer) Meridian Yachts, part of the Brunswick Boat Group, which includes such familiar brands as Sea Ray and Bayliner. With relatives like those, buyers are bound to expect generous helpings of room and comfort, and they won't be disappointed.

Take the galley-down setup, for example. Here I found lots of workspace for food preparation atop the Karadon counters, along with enough cabinet and drawer stowage for a week's worth of stores. Standard appliances include a three-burner stovetop, Sharp microwave, Princess convection oven, and Norcold refrigerator/freezer. The sole is Pergo, a laminate that looks like wood and is both durable and easy to maintain. However, it was the headroom here that most impressed me and made the area seem larger than it is. I measured eight and a half feet from sole to overhead.

Another nice touch that illustrates the judicious use of space aboard is the optional Splendide combo washer/dryer that's neatly tucked in a compartment under the steps that lead from the saloon to the galley. The steps lift easily via a gas-assisted ram, and a pair of lights in the compartment illuminates the interior space.

It doesn't stop there. The saloon, with 6'8" of headroom, has large, two-tiered windows on both sides to make the room light and airy. The Mirage leather couch to port is actually a trio of reclining sectionals, and as I found out, a gentle tug on a leather strap on each effortlessly transforms it into a comfortable lounger.

A J-shape couch to port, which has stowage beneath it and also converts to a berth, provides additional seating. A hi-lo coffee table adjoins it. Additional stowage areas include a pair of end tables and, on the end of the aft-most recliner, a slide-out cabinet for holding magazines or books. An entertainment center is aft and to port and features both a Sony 24-inch TV and DVD player.

The two-stateroom, two-head layout also exemplifies a good combination of space and comfort. The forepeak has a centerline queen berth with stowage in three drawers in the berth's base and two closets. My test boat also had the optional 13-inch TV and DVD installed here. There's an entrance to the day head from these quarters—there's also one opposite the galley—and a large hatch overhead with screen and blackout slide provides light and air to the sleeping space.

The entrance to the aft cabin is via the saloon and is a few steps down on the port side. Headroom here is also impressive: 6'5". There are two closets and lots more stowage in various tables and cabinets. Separate head and shower compartments are located on the port side with a sink and vanity between the two doors.

But all this room had to come from somewhere, and that's the engine compartment (accessed via a hatch in the middle of the saloon), which I found to be really tight. How tight? Well, I'm 5'9" and about 170 pounds, and I tell you, getting to all but the most important fluid checks required some contortionist-like maneuvers.

Notwithstanding that, a walk around the 408's exterior reveals the same roomy and comfortable design as found inside. On the bridge the centerline helm has additional seating to either side—there's stowage under both of them—and offers an uncluttered console with plenty of space for all the necessary electronics. My 408 easily accommodated the optional Raymarine electronics package, including 48-mile radar, Pathfinder RL80C GPS/plotter, 6001+ autopilot, and ST40 depth indicator. Aft of the helm there's an L-shape lounge with stowage beneath and to port an optional refrigerator.

There was something else mounted on the console of my test boat: the control for the optional Docking On Command (DOC) system. This neat gizmo allows you to dock the boat by utilizing both bow and stern thrusters. You get the response you want by simply turning the knob in the direction you need either the bow or stern to go. If you push the control knob completely over to either port or starboard, engaging both thrusters in that direction, you'll be able to slide in and out of the dock. Or twist it and you can oppose the thrusters. Does it work? I'll say it does. My test day saw me often shifting locations from Placida to nearby Gasparilla Island on Florida's west coast. Between frequently moving the boat in and out of the dock at both locations, especially in the tight, skinny-water quarters at Uncle Henry's Marina on Gasparilla, I was glad I had the DOC. This is one option you should put on your must-have list.

The aft deck also has some nice features, including a wet bar with Corian countertop, dunnage-box seating aft with stowage beneath, and a hardtop with a pair of stainless steel grabs overhead. A pair of Plexiglas wing doors seals off the area, and there are three integrated steps to port leading to the bridge. But boarding from either side must be done with care, as the height of the boat makes it a bit of a stretch to get a leg up. A shoreside boarding box should help.

Out on the water, with flat-calm seas prevailing, I found my 408 test boat to be an adequate performer compared to similar boats of her ilk and power that I've been on in the same conditions. She tracked straight and true, and with her smooth Teleflex hydraulic steering, turns and maneuvering in the seaway were effortless. Her best cruise, with a pair of optional 330-hp Cummins MerCruiser diesel inboards turning 2600 rpm, was an average 22 mph. That's no surprise given her profile as a coastal cruiser—I could envision a Gulf Stream crossing, for example, on a pleasurable day—but you'd have to consider her tankage before leaving the dock. Given that it's 330 gallons, even with an economical 27.2-gph burn at cruise, you can only expect a 209-NM range with the 330-hp diesels and obviously somewhat less should you opt for the larger 370-hp engines.

If you check Webster's dictionary, you'll find meridian defined as "a high point." The Meridian 408 actually has three: roominess, comfort, and economical operation.

Meridian Yachts
(877) 9YACHTS

This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.