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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Regal Commodore 3560

With a vague foreboding, I stepped aboard Regal’s Commodore 3560, which was docked in the little marina across the street from the Renaissance-Vinoy hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida. Even from a cursory look around, the boat seemed handsome and highly styled, with an aquiline bow, a radically raked stem, and a swept-back aluminum radar arch. Moreover, the detailing in the cockpit looked crisp. From the cushy, sculpted appearance of the vinyl-upholstered seating to the expertly joined pieces of Corian comprising the wet bar countertop, I liked what I saw.

So why the foreboding? Well, while boning up on the 3560 prior to flying to St. Pete, I’d discovered that although Regal makes stern-drive versions of this boat, I’d be testing an inboard model, with a set of V-drive-configured, 420-hp MerCruiser 8.1S High Output V-8s. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve got nothing against V-drives or gasoline engines. But over the years I’ve formed a rather strong prejudice against what results when you combine the two in a midsize express cruiser—a boat that may perform well offshore but which presents handling challenges dockside, primarily due to the comparative absence of low-end maneuvering torque in gasoline as opposed to diesel powerplants.

I noted one more dark spot on the horizon—a set of dual-lever Teleflex engine controls, throttles to the right of the steering wheel, shifts to the left. During most boat tests, I both undock and dock the test boat. Dual-lever controls typically give me fits during these sessions, at least when they’re teamed up with wishy-washy inboard power. Having to rapidly manipulate shifts and simultaneously goose the throttles to get a boat to behave during a docking maneuver is tantamount to having to walk and chew gum at the same time: not my strong suit.

I asked Regal rep Don Cobb to lift the engine-room hatch so I could install a MerCruiser Scan Tool for recording fuel flow. Cobb pressed a rocker switch at the helm, and up went the hatch, swinging on electro-hydraulic actuators from a forward hinge point instead of an aft one. The arrangement afforded me plenty of elbowroom (as well as unlimited headroom) once I’d entered from the stern.

The machinery spaces impressed me. There is a convenient, aluminum-diamond-plate walkway between the mains, with steps on the aft end. Up forward, on either side of the inboard engine bearers, Group 27 cranking batteries are secured in hold-down trays atop a surface of neat, white-painted floor panels, and the house battery, a big 8D, is contained inside a giant, plastic battery box on the port hand, with an easy-to-remove lid. To offset the weight of the 8D, the optional genset, a 7.3-kW Kohler, was installed to starboard, inside a thick soundbox. I also noted a 60-amp Charles Industries battery charger on the forward firewall and a thorough job of glass-encapsulating the stringers and transversals that strengthen the 3560’s vinylester-resin-permeated hull.

“Mind if I take her out?” I asked Cobb while routing the Scan Tool cord through the day hatch after the main hatch was seated.

“Go for it,” he replied, and I did, experiencing a modest but immediate shock. The boat handled nicely—in fact, as I became more accustomed to her helm, she handled really well. Cobb noted a few factors he thought were responsible for the phenomenon. First, he said, Regal had purposefully spaced the 3560’s props as far apart as possible—the point being to boost maneuvering leverage. Second, it had reduced propeller shaft angle by incorporating tunnels into the hull—the point being to elicit an oomph-enhancing nozzle effect. And third, while acknowledging the relative low-end feebleness of gasoline engines in general, Cobb reminded me of the gutsy nature of big-block V-8s. “They’ve got some torque, now,” he said.

All this was delightful. I twin-screwed a 180-degree turn in the fairway and returned the boat to her slip, stern first, plain and simple. No fuss, no muss, and no bow thruster! All I had to do was encourage the boat occasionally with one of the throttles and enjoy. Once I’d gotten the 3560 into the slip, I drove on out again, then showed off a bit with a 360-degree turn in the narrowest part of the fairway, grinning so broadly that a guy on a nearby dock had to stop and grin back.

Eventually I had to point the bow offshore, of course. The boat performed as smoothly in open water as a stern-drive sportboat—or, almost as smoothly. Certainly, the average top speed of 40.7 mph I recorded in two- to three-foot seas would probably have been 8 or 9 mph higher had I been driving a stern drive. And certainly a stern-drive version would have evinced a tighter turning radius. But otherwise, driver-friendly fun was the theme. Acceleration was robust, high-speed blow-out in turns was nonexistent, and tracking was superb. The leaning post that folded up out of the helm seat was comfy, sightlines from the helm were excellent, and instrumentation (with lifetime-warranteed Faria gauges) was logically laid out and easy to read at a glance.

After a good wring-out, I docked the test boat one more time back at the marina—just for the heck of it. Then I spent a few hours examining the 3560. Topside, I noted an especially nifty feature: a well-designed ground-tackle package. Not only is the foredeck area in way of the windlass flattened and nonslip-textured for safety, but there’s a trough molded into the deck to keep the whole system—from flush-fit wildcat to roller-equipped stainless steel fairlead—neatly corralled. Additionally, a stout hatch covers the trough when the wildcat’s not in use, and two flanking hatches cover access openings to the ample chain locker.

I liked the interior. Expertly finished in natural cherry, LeatherCrest faux-leather upholstery, and custom fabrics, it’s organized around a layout that’s standard for express-type boats, with V-berth forward, midcabin aft, and an enclosed head, dinette area, and galley in between. Regal adds some extra zip by isolating the V-berth area with a bulkhead and by offering the same option for the midcabin. A galley fully accoutered with top-shelf appliances rounds out the picture, along with loads of stowage and a long, Flexsteel Incliner lounge in the saloon.

I finished my tour just about the time the test boat had to go back to the dealer who’d loaned her to us—something about a customer getting antsy for a test drive, the dealer explained. Anyhow, I wound up standing on a fingerpier wistfully watching Cobb and a friend of his ease off onboard the 3560 toward Tampa Bay.

I was jealous. Not so much because this Regal is so stylish and cool, but because, for a gasoline-fired inboard cruiser, she’s just so darn much fun to drive and handle.

Regal Boats
(407)-851-4360

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