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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Rinker Fiesta Vee 390

Syracuse, Indiana, might not be as quickly associated with boats as, say, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but on the quiet Syracuse street called West Chicago, the number of boats produced last year almost equaled the town’s 3,000-plus population. The builder responsible for this? Rinker. Some people say Rinker is Syracuse, since it employs about 15 percent of the area’s residents. By the look of things, the builder might need to hire a few more hands now that it has launched its 390 Fiesta Vee, its largest to date and the flagship of its cruiser series.

I stopped by Rinker’s plant and saw several 390s, which have solid hand-laid fiberglass bottoms and end-grain balsa hull sides (Rinker says it will soon move to Divinycell coring), in various stages of production. Some hulls were white, some two-tone blue, some pewter, and some black (all standard color options for the 390). I also noticed a test tank where 31-footers were getting rained on with fresh water. Rinker’s marketing manager Kim Slocum told me that every vessel gets soaked for four hours to ensure there are no leaks before going out to an owner.

The facility was buzzing, as Rinker is cranking out two 390s per month and plans to soon build one per week. According to Rinker plant manager Chris Dumford, if the builder doesn’t increase production, it will take two years to catch up on current 390 orders. Two years? What put this vessel in such demand right out of the box? To find out, Dumford and I ventured to Lake Wawasee, the largest natural lake in Indiana, to test this flagship.

Styling may be one explanation for the 390’s success. I’ve seen other express cruisers that appeared top-heavy or boxy, but that’s not the case with the 390. The standard curved radar arch helps soften the boat’s lines. The arch can also be lowered with the removal of a couple of bolts.

I stepped onboard the solid swim platform, which several guests could hang out on and take advantage of the standard transom shower. What the swim platform had in size, the electrically opening transom garage offered in space. Inside was an array of neatly hung standard shorepower cords (two 50s, plus adapters for other 30- and 50-amp configurations), battery switches (I’d prefer to see them inboard for safety reasons), and the optional 3.3-hp Mercury outboard for the optional Mercury 270 RIB. The RIB package is one of only a few options offered. Why? Because most everything is standard, including but not limited to a Raymarine electronics package that includes an RL80C radar, GPS, and plotter, ST60 Tridata, plus a 10-kW Kohler gasoline genset. In the 390’s genre, these amenities are often options. Dumford says its extensive standard equipment keeps the quality consistent.

My test boat was certainly rigged and ready to test. Just prior to Dumford starting the optional 370-hp Cummins 370B diesels (twin 420-hp Mercury 8.1L Horizon HO gasoline V-drives are standard), I jumped into the engine compartment for a look around. The area is accessed via a cockpit hatch and has 4’5” headroom and 1’101/2” inches between engines, which take up quite a bit of the space.

Even at 5’7” and 160 pounds, I found the compartment tight and wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time working here. The Racor fuel filters were difficult to reach, requiring me to stretch across the front of the diesels. Outboard access was equally difficult.

I could, however, spend the whole day in the 390’s cockpit and bridge deck. The proximity of the starboard-side, U-shape cockpit seating to the helm station just forward of it keeps the cruising experience interactive for captain and guests. Of course, this arrangement also keeps everyone near the standard flip-up Pro blender at the wet bar to port. (Can you say frozen margarita?) A Corian countertop, ice maker, and two-cubic-foot Tundra refrigerator round out this space and make the cockpit party central. A few steps away, the helm is neatly arranged with Morse mechanical controls and throttles that flank the wheel with Teleflex steering, a setup that enables your hands to go from controls to wheel to throttles smoothly—no reaching required.

Dumford cranked up the powerplants and headed the 390 out onto the slick-calm lake. The diesels were coupled to a Hurth transmission with 2:1 gear reduction and 22x24 four-blade Nibral props (no cup). This duo propelled the 390 to an average top speed of 33.8 mph at 3000 rpm while burning 40 gph. That’s a nice turn of speed and admirable fuel efficiency. But when he took the engines down to 2500 rpm, I recorded an average speed of 27.7 mph, and the fuel burn dropped to 28 gph, making the 390 fuel miserly.

But I wanted to see if the 390 handled as well as she looked. I found the low-end torque of the diesels helpful with slow-speed, close-quarters maneuvers. (In this size range, I think diesels are a better choice than gasoline powerplants when it comes to boathandling, and you’re likely to do better at resale.) While the 390 handled well at high speeds, she leaned considerably going into turns. This caused the standard biminis (there are two) and acrylic canvas enclosure, which covers the entire cockpit, to obscure views aft of amidships on the side she’d lean into. Sightlines straight ahead were good, however, with a maximum trim angle of seven degrees sans trim tabs.

On the way to the South Bend airport, which took some time as I got caught behind an Amish family taking their horse and carriage out for a ride, I started to formulate what Rinker had accomplished with the 390 Fiesta Vee. Her roomy below-decks area (7’2” headroom) offers a forward island berth, aft guest berth, and single head, which is a great setup for the cruising family. The birch interior makes the saloon warm and inviting, while the laundry list of standard amenities (see specs) enhances the 390’s appeal to the cost-conscious boater who wants to enter the 40-foot market. And the 390’s respectable performance will turn a head or two.

I concluded that the Rinker 390 Fiesta Vee’s look, features, ease of use, and price (base is $229,000) will help the boat become a staple in the builder’s line. Who knows? If the initial burst of interest continues for the 390, production boats may soon outnumber people in Syracuse.

Rinker Boat Company
(574) 457-5731

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