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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Sea Ray 38 Sundancer

It was a picture-perfect Sunshine State day, the mid-September morning I arrived in Melbourne to test the Sea Ray 38 Sundancer. Bright blue sky, puffy white clouds, sun beating down—the kind of day Florida is famous for, the kind of day that makes you want to slow down, take a deep breath, and relax. My flight from New York City had landed early, there was nobody in line at the rental car agency, and I was en route to the company's Merritt Island facility way ahead of schedule. It was about the best Monday morning I'd had at work in weeks.

Then something on the radio caught my attention: "Governor Jeb Bush has ordered a mandatory evacuation of the Florida Keys, and the mayor of Key West said Tropical Storm Rita could potentially be a category 2 or 3 storm when she makes landfall on Tuesday."

What? This was the first I'd heard of Rita, and she's slated to be a major hurricane aimed right at the area I've just flown to? I immediately rescheduled my flight out for that night instead of the following morning. I'd be spared the wrath of Rita, but I had a lot of business to take care of in one afternoon. So much for my relaxing day in Florida.

In retrospect, my frenzied attitude was perfectly fitting for a boat that says get up and go, right down to her exterior styling. The 38 I tested had sleek lines and a low profile, plus a hull finished in the optional metallic pewter. She had plenty of places above and below to relax and, as I learned later, plenty of performance to match.

I met up with Sea Ray rep Gary McCloud, and we quickly got to work. The first order of the day was inspecting the 38's full-beam (12'6") engine room, located under the hydraulically raised cockpit sole. Inside I found a pair of standard 370-hp 8.1S MerCruiser gasoline V-drives with all routine service points accessible, despite the fact that there was only about 16 inches between the powerplants.

McCloud piloted the 38 out of the slip while I inspected her exterior. Her standard fiberglass hardtop has a three-foot Sunbrella sunshade attached to its after end, but what I really liked was the hatch in the middle of it that allows a breeze to flow through while keeping spray out.

But it was the 38's cockpit that I found most inviting. Seating abounds, especially aft, where there's U-shape seating for two to port and an L-shape settee to starboard with room for at least four more, both with stowage below. There's a wet bar on the port side of the cockpit, with a Corian countertop plus a trash receptacle and cooler beneath it, a detail that eliminates a lot of trips below. Touches like these, plus stainless steel drink holders and four stereo speakers spread around the cockpit (handy, since a six-month subscription to Sirius Satellite Radio also comes standard), make the 38 a top-notch choice for anyone who entertains aboard. If it hadn't been for the impending hurricane, I could've happily spent the rest of the day right there.

The helm, forward of the cockpit seating areas and to starboard, is almost as nice. It's accented in high-gloss cherry with stainless steel gauges neatly in a row, a single helm seat with a comfortable flip-up bolster, and a molded-in fiberglass companion seat for two to port.

Once we were out in the ICW, I ran numbers on the 38, which reinforced her sporty appearance. With her standard power, she planed quickly and reached her top speed of 37.5 mph in only about 25 seconds. With the numbers complete, I took the helm, and since the ICW was flat, I wasn't able to evaluate the 38's seakeeping. But I can tell you that she's responsive, thanks to her Sea Star hydraulic power-assisted steering, and that she made hard-over, full-speed turns in about two boat lengths, with a barely discernible drop in rpm. Sightlines all around were excellent, even for me, and I'm 5'1".

With testing complete, I turned the wheel back over to McCloud to save a little time (the sky was beginning to cloud over) and went below via the 24-inch-wide curved door and down a few steps into the saloon/galley area to check things out. That door, by the way, slides way back on its tracks, so it lets plenty of light and air enter the saloon and galley (two opening ports on either side of the forward master let in even more). But since it was 90F and felt like 1,000-percent humidity, we decided to fire up the 7.3-kW Kohler genset (located in the engine room) and 18,000-Btu Cruisair reverse-cycle air conditioning, both of which are standard. The galley, immediately to port of the cockpit stairs, is accented in rich-looking, grain-matched cherry and has the amenities you need for a long weekend away or a day of entertaining: two-burner Kenyon cooktop, 3.9-cubic-foot Waeco refrigerator and 1.6-cubic-foot freezer, and microwave. However, that microwave—and the DVD player located just above—will be hard to reach for some. It's about six feet off the sole, so I had to stand on one of the cockpit steps to access it. A standard 20-inch Zenith LCD TV drops down from the galley overhead and is viewable from the Ultraleather dinette settee directly to starboard, which seats four adults and has a high-gloss cherry table.

The 38's two-stateroom, one-head layout is plenty comfortable for weekend cruisers, either a family with one or two young children or a couple who occasionally overnights with another couple. The forward stateroom features a queen island berth (with innerspring mattress), hanging lockers on the port and starboard sides, and a standard 17-inch Zenith LCD TV/DVD player. There's private access to the port-side head, which is also accessible from the saloon. The head features a VacuFlush MSD, mirrored medicine cabinet, and separate compartment with a roomy, stand-up shower with 6'2" headroom.

The midcabin, at the after end of the saloon under the bridge deck, offers slightly more than five-foot headroom and has sliding curtains that, when drawn, separate the stateroom from the saloon for privacy, so it'd be fine for kids or adults. It's not a particularly bright space, a common situation in a midcabin, but there is a small porthole and port lights on both sides of the L-shape Ultraleather settee that converts into a double berth. My test boat featured the optional 15-inch Toshiba flat-screen TV/DVD combo. And in case your guests would prefer an airier space, or you just like to cruise with a crowd, the dinette converts to yet another berth.

I found the 38 to be so comfortable that once I was back at the dock, I wanted to linger for a while and get really comfy. But there was a video crew—and a hurricane—on the way. So I packed up my test gear and headed for the airport. And although the afternoon was a whirlwind (no pun intended), I had enough time to get to know the 38. She’s not only sleek-looking, but also has a long list of standard equipment, good performance, and predictable handling. She's a perfect vessel to get the whole gang together for fun on the water and under the sun. That is, unless there's a hurricane on the horizon.

Sea Ray Boats
(800) SR-BOATS

The midcabin, at the after end of the saloon under the bridge deck, offers slightly more than five-foot headroom and has sliding curtains that, when drawn, separate the stateroom from the saloon for privacy, so it'd be fine for kids or adults. It's not a particularly bright space, a common situation in a midcabin, but there is a small porthole and port lights on both sides of the L-shape Ultraleather settee that converts into a double berth. My test boat featured the optional 15-inch Toshiba flat-screen TV/DVD combo. And in case your guests would prefer an airier space, or you just like to cruise with a crowd, the dinette converts to yet another berth.

I found the 38 to be so comfortable that once I was back at the dock, I wanted to linger for a while and get really comfy. But there was a video crew—and a hurricane—on the way. So I packed up my test gear and headed for the airport. And although the afternoon was a whirlwind (no pun intended), I had enough time to get to know the 38. She’s not only sleek-looking, but also has a long list of standard equipment, good performance, and predictable handling. She's a perfect vessel to get the whole gang together for fun on the water and under the sun. That is, unless there's a hurricane on the horizon.

Sea Ray Boats
(800) SR-BOATS

This article originally appeared in the January 2006 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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