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BOATS

BOAT TESTS

Cruisers 360 Express

Even on a day fraught with showers and thunderstorms, you can't beat driving a sporty express cruiser straight down Tampa Bay with the Sunshine Skyway bridge dead on the nose. There's nothing like the sensation of freedom 40 mph produces as you swoop left and right, dodging sporadic squalls. Or the lift you get from cranking the wheel hard over and the boat banks balletically into a turn, losing hardly any rpm coming 'round, then doubles back on her frothy trail like she was sent for.

"I like how you can tweak the tabs with your fingers," I yelled at the guy in the copilot's seat, Todd Trepanier, propulsion engineer for Cruisers Yachts. Then to emphasize the remark, I extended the index digit of my right hand while maintaining a solid hold on the Mercury Marine DTS (Digital Throttle & Shift) engine control mounted on the starboard edge of our 360 Express' console. I tapped a Bennett trim tab rocker a couple of times to adapt to the sideways gusts we were hunkering into. "Don't even have to take my eyes off the road to make adjustments," I concluded with a grin.

Our 360 continued her northeasterly progress, with dapples of sunlight ahead and a veritable deluge pouring down behind. Trusting the rapport I'd already established with this well-mannered vessel (and just for the livin' hell of it), I targeted a distant high-rise and gently lifted my hands from the wheel, just enough to safely engender wanderlust if indeed there were any wanderlust to be engendered. The bow stayed glued to the high-rise for well more than a minute, which is a pretty decent slug of time when you're doing better than 40 mph. "Tracks like a train," I yelled again, just before resuming a firm grip on the wheel and carving a left-hand turn towards our marina, just across the street from the Renaissance Vinoy Hotel in downtown St. Petersburg.

A fast, driver-friendly, sweetly balanced boat that'll darn near steer herself in open water is a wonder, particularly when she also offers vivacious acceleration, a savvily prioritized dashboard with a compass on top, power-assisted SeaStar hydraulic steering, and a flip-up bolster-type helm seat that guarantees sit-down visibility over the bow even coming out of the hole. But what about dockside maneuverability, I wondered? Would the 420-hp MerCruiser 8.1S HO V-drive gasoline inboards have enough oomph to see us safely and expeditiously into our slip, stern-first? Even with the occasional stormy zephyr wafting across, a concrete seawall squeezing the fairway on one side, and an array of pricey bows squeezing from the other?

Being a careful guy, before entering said fairway I jockeyed the 360's fly-by-wire DTS sticks at idle speed while we were still in the unrestricted waters of Tampa Bay, bumping her engines into and out of gear, forward and reverse, memorizing reaction times and sniffing zephyrs. Never a fan of gasoline-fired inboards primarily because they typically offer wimpy torque (and wimpy prop bite) compared to diesels, I took my time with this little stint of homework.

Not a thing to worry about, though. The 360 maneuvered like a champ when push came to shove. Certainly, her V-drive Mercs didn't exhibit the clout of diesel engines as I pivoted the boat at the mouth of her slip, but they did what was required of them with only a little extra throttle here and there. "Is all this easy handling mostly due to the 2.5:1 gear ratio?" I asked Trepanier as we settled alongside a concrete finger pier. "Nope," he replied, explaining that the shallowness of the 360's prop pockets—and the resulting smoothness of her running surface aft—played a big part in facilitating her directionality and lateral maneuverability, especially in back-down mode. "Of course, a deep ratio doesn't hurt either," he added.

Taking advantage of a lingering break in the weather, we hit the engine room as soon as I'd shut down the Mercs, raising the big cockpit hatch via an electro-hydraulic actuator. As I stood peering into the clean, elegantly engineered, precisely organized space, I noticed a series of impressive, carefully wrought details. For starters, virtually every component was labeled; whether I was looking at the Bennett trim-tab pump in the dark area abaft the steering gear or examining the considerably more accessible Inteli-Power battery charger mounted on a King Starboard panel on the forward bulkhead, there was no mistaking purposes and outcomes. And ancillaries, from the 2,200-gph Johnson bilge pump between the inboard engine bearers to the Buck-Algonquin bronze sea strainers (for our optional Kohler genset and mains), were all crisply installed on heavy-gauge aluminum brackets. What's more, blowers and all other motorized components were on rubber isolators to nix vibration. "We're talkin' a serious level of craftsmanship here," I told Trepanier.

Luckily the rains came blasting down just about the time we began a tour of the 360's interior. The layout's standard, with a pedestal-berth-equipped sleeping area forward (with privacy curtain standard and bulkhead optional), a midcabin aft (with 4'6" headroom, backrests that convert the lounge into a double berth, and standard privacy curtain or optional bulkhead), and a saloon/galley/dinette/head area in between. I liked three things about the setup: the pedestal berth's comfy memory-foam mattress, the roominess of the separate shower stall in the head, and the abundance of watery, natural light filtering through the six hull-side windows amidships, port, and starboard.

"Great open-water performer," I concluded while walking down the dock with Trepanier at day's end. "Great dockside performer, too, and a superb example of what engineering can accomplish."

"Yup," he agreed, eyeing a black cloud threatening overhead, "I'd say we've got us a super star with the 360. She even presents well in the pourin' down rain."

For more information on Cruisers Yachts, including contact information, click here.

Probably the most distinctive feature of our test boat's exterior was a so-called rumble seat that deploys above the swim platform. When not in use the thing's all but invisible, a seeming hatch in the transom for stowing the usual odds and sods. But fold this hatch down, and what materializes is a double-wide seat that's comfortable (thanks to a cushy backrest and a somewhat less-cushy plastic seating surface) and solid—the powder-coated aluminum bracketry that both folds and supports seems quite strong and durable. The whole affair is obviously darn convenient for socializing with dockwalkers. And deploying the Protect-Mantis umbrella (see above) adds the extra of offering adjustable shade to strolling passersby.—B.P.

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This article originally appeared in the October 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.