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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Sunseeker Sportfisher 37

The 30-foot-plus center console sportfisherman market has numerous players: There's Contender, SeaVee, Seacraft, Regulator, Intrepid, Yellowfin, Fountain, Palmetto Custom, and Jefferson Yachts, to name a few. So why would Sunseeker, a builder noted for its silver screen-friendly performance boats (take a look at any recent Bond film) and finely detailed motoryachts to 105 feet, want to enter this standing-room-only arena? I was eager to learn the answer.

I found the Sportfisher 37 (Hull No. 1) docked side-to among a sea of sleek blue-hulled motoryachts at Sunseeker Florida's Pompano Beach facility. One of the first things I noticed about her was her 11'7" beam. Several other similarly sized vessels like the Yellowfin 36 and Contender 36 sport a 10-foot beam, while the Intrepid 348 has 10'6". Of course, the aforementioned are also completely open or offered with a cuddy cabin. Sunseeker's 37 goes a step further with an express-type layout below decks, giving her the ability to be cruised or fished.

The cabin, which is accessed via a sliding door to port on the bridge deck, is open, with a double berth forward (a V-berth is more common in this ilk) and a leather settee just aft to port of it. The open feeling below is enhanced by 6'2" headroom, which is substantial on a boat of this type. The galley provides amenities like a Waeco refrigerator, Kenyon single-burner cooktop, and Whirlpool microwave. (You don't have to just heat up soup; you could actually make an omelet.) For entertainment on or off the hook, an optional ($3,063) 13-inch Sharp flat-screen LCD TV sits above the cooktop. Like her big sisters in the Manhattan and Predator series of Sunseeker's motoryachts, the 37 has a satin-finished solid cherry interior that's grain-matched and smooth. There's even a full head just aft of the galley with VacuFlush MSD, Avonite sink, and stand-up shower. Closet space, however, is limited. There's one large locker, which lies directly to port of the steps leading down to the saloon and will hold enough clothes for a couple's weekend getaway. A pair of smaller mirrored closets to either side of the berth can handle ancillary items.

Besides all her cabin space, the 37's beam also allows for wide teak side decks above. So wide that my size 10-EE feet could comfortably fit side by side on them, and I was able to stroll to the foredeck without so much as a single crossover in stride. Once forward I noticed the area for the optional sunpad. Now that's something you simply don't see on a hard-core fish boat. But it is a great place for your nonfishing friends to flock while you drift-fish for dinner.

The 37 scored high marks for her well-appointed below-decks arrangement, sleek look, and liberal use of teak for her side decks and cockpit sole, but is she an all-out sportfisherman? (I admit a bias here, as my current boat is a 31-foot walkaround sportfisherman.) I worked my way back to the teak cockpit (the $8,670 teak deck option also includes the side decks) to find the answer to this question as Sunseeker's John D'Agostino fired up the 37's standard triple 250-hp Yamaha 3.3L HPDIs (twin-diesel stern drives are optional). He easily moved the 37 out of her berth with a shift of the Morse MY mechanical triple controls here and there and a scoot from the optional Volvo Penta bow thruster. As he piloted the 37 down the ICW, I poked around the cockpit.

I measured just less than 60 square feet of usable cockpit space, which to me is tight for a boat of this size. This is due in part to the fact that the centerline bridge-deck helm is set back to allow for a large curved seating arrangement forward. The port and starboard in-deck fishboxes are large enough for some dolphin and snapper, but tuna and wahoo will require a tuna bag. The livewell, directly abaft the centerline helm, is sufficient for a day's worth of goggle-eyes for kite fishing, and the adjacent sink will keep your hands clean while cutting bait. Although there are ten rod holders, there's no protected rod stowage. If you carry 50- or 80-pound reel-class gear, I'd consider adding overhead rod stowage in the optional hardtop. I also didn't see an abundance of tackle stowage for the fisherman who drags plastic; however, for the day troll and kite fishing in southern climes, I think she's quite suitable.

What the 37 was lacking in overall fishability, she made up for in performance. D'Agostino headed the 37 out of Hillsboro Inlet, and as the clouds thickened and rain began to pour down, I stood in front of the helm at the curved lounge to read speeds on my radar gun. D'Agostino punched the triple throttles, and she took off like a big blue bullet traveling down a rifle barrel. Her hand-laid solid-fiberglass hull bottom, which has twin steps for added lift and reduced drag and spray, was propelled across a flat-calm Atlantic at a neck-snapping average top speed of 54.4 mph at 5500 rpm. Her speed turned the falling rain into a painful freshwater facial (one word: isinglass). You can expect a comfortable cruise in the neighborhood of 39.3 mph at 4000 rpm.

I was surprised to find out this boat was not equipped with the optional Yamaha fuel-management system. As such, I was unable to get fuel-flow numbers on test day, although Sunseeker claims a WOT burn of 58.6 gph. Suffice it to say that her 400-gallon tank offers enough range to run across the 'Stream for a day or weekend jaunt. But if you do, carry a lot of oil; two-stroke engines ravenously eat it. There are three two-gallon reservoirs for the engines in the transom to starboard, and a stowage area just forward and to port of the helm has space for spare gallon containers. Maybe there'll be an oil-saving four-stroke option in the future?

After completing my speed measurements, I worked my way back to the helm to get some wheel time. I found her Drive Master power steering so smooth that I tended to oversteer at first. The throttles sat directly under my right hand, with the smaller transmission controls to their right. It took me a few minutes to adjust to this setup, but once I got going, the 37 was criminal fun. Sightlines were excellent at all speeds. The sea state on test day was flat, so I can't comment on her rough-water handling, but the 37 ran smooth throughout her engines' rpm range. Rain-soaked and wrung out, D'Agostino and I made a beeline for the dock. If it weren't for the manatee zones, the 37 could've gone fast enough to air-dry both of us.

Shaking out my wet head, I got ready to call it a day and pondered if this noted builder had hit the mark with the 37. I would say for a first entry into the center console sportfisherman market, yes. While I would not consider the 37 a hard-core fishboat—and ultimately I don't believe that's her mission—she's solid as a hybrid sportfisherman-cruiser, takes the cake in fit and finish in her size class, and ranks quite high in performance. Her sexy lines also make her an attractive tender for a larger vessel. And though the center-console market offers stiff competition, the Sportfisher 37's multitasking ability makes this English import a contender.

Sunseeker Florida
(954) 786-1866

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